Posted in Blog Post Museum

Writing Laws of Magic in a Fantasy World

musemThis post is part of a blog museum, archiving old writing from a previous blog.


griffonMagic… it’s a common thread throughout fantasy worlds. Though it’s given many different names and many different sources, it results in people who can develop extraordinary power to do things that ordinary people cannot. From card tricks and rabbits-in-hats to the power of flight, healing, tossing fireballs and shape changing, magic has a seemingly endless range of accomplishments. However, as tempting as it is to develop a world where magic is limitless, often it is the laws that you place on magic users that give depth and meaning to their power.

We are always so enthralled by imagining up all the things that magic can do… it may be unusual to stop and try to figure out what magic cannot do. Yet, as common as the concept of magic is across fantasy worlds, it is the limitations and structure that an author places on these unseen forces that can set their “brand” of magic apart from everyone else’s.

Here are a few suggestions on how laws and limitations on magic can be used to develop a foundation for a unique system for your world:

The Chosen Ones. Is magic rare in your world — are there only certain people that can tap into it? If so, why? Is it based on race, gender or place of origins? Maybe only children have a certain kind of power and not the adults? What determines if someone is magically gifted… and what are the social results of these chosen magic users (for good or bad)?

Everyone Has A Little Bit. Is magic so common in your world that it’s seen as completely normal? If so, does everyone have their own unique ability… and what do they have to do to learn it? What do they do with this ability… does it become like an occupation? What happens if someone is magic-less in a magic-ful world? How is society different because the plentiful presence of magic in everyone?

Magic Comes In Types. Magic in this world is based on strict typology. It can’t do everything, but it can do particular things within a certain, specialized area. Maybe magic is created through music or voice. Maybe magic is created through crafting of runes and special written languages. Perhaps there are mind-sensitive people who can use the power of thought in special ways. There may be those who can bend the elements of the world to their will. It doesn’t matter what type you choose to use as long as magic users are bound by the rules of that particular specialization.

Magic Only With Outside Aid. Magic exists in this world… but requires the use of items or more powerful beings to channel and use it. This opens up doors to lots of questing for special items and the possibility of mis-use if these items were to fall in the wrong hands. Maybe magic only comes from a certain source? If so… what is this source called and what do people have to do in order to gain power from it?

Magic With Consequences. Think about the Three Wishes and Genie in a Bottle stories. You’re given the possibility to wish for anything you want – that’s similar to magic in a way. However, you have to be very careful what you ask for… because the consequences of your wish coming true may be more risk than you’re willing to take. Magic can work like that as well. Perhaps your magic users have to be very careful of unplanned consequences every time they cast their magic. This could make for a lot of fun scenarios!

The Lawbreaker. Sometimes, rules of magic can be put in place so that you can create a character specifically to break these rules. When this character rises above the limitations that everyone else seems to be bound to, they prove themselves to be more skilled and powerful than the norm. It’s a great way to use limitations to highlight certain legendary characters… or to develop your own new legend by exploring how rules can be overcome.

There are lots of ways you can choose to structure your system of magic – the above are just a few samples. What kind of laws and limitations do you use in your world? If you haven’t nailed down a structure, it might be fun to sit down and brainstorm some concepts of how your magic works – where it comes from, what it can and cannot do, and who is able to use it. You might just find that laws (and breaking laws) are a lot more fun than you knew!


I'm a technical writer by day, gaming gal by night. I have a wide array of gaming interests, though I most often blog about MMOs, RPGs, and Nintendo fanstuffs. Like what you just read? Check out my Webcomic and Fantasy Fiction projects!

10 thoughts on “Writing Laws of Magic in a Fantasy World

  1. This is a very good post! Thanks for explaining different ways that magic can be implemented in a world. I always enjoy it when writers break away from the standard magic conventions.
    .-= Joyuna´s last blog ..WWKIP Day =-.


  2. “I thought about you, Al, when I picked this picture, actually. I know how you like griffons! ” –Aywren.

    Why, thank you! Would I find anything else I might like where you found it?

    I’ve been playing around with the consequences of magic on Draezoln. I know that using magic is exhausting, and possibly fatal if you can’t handle the spell (so powerful spellcasters actually have to keep in shape so they don’t kill themselves with their spells… spellcasting is hard for frail old men on Draezoln), but I’m still discovering what the limitations and requirements are.


  3. Not sure. I think I found the picture randomly on Google.

    Let me know what you come up with! I’m always interested in hearing different takes on magical rulesets. I guess it’s one of my curiosities. 🙂


  4. Ah rules of magic. That’s one of my favourite subjects ^^ Concidering that I have written more than one world I’ve had to figure out all different kinds of rules for magic, all of which create worlds in completely different ways. I think it’s fun to think up all the different ways magic can be used (and abused) and all of the consequences that can come from said magics. Actually this is a subject I comonly end up discussing with my boyfriend, who also loves working out the rules of magic in all different kinds of world settings. I actually once, a few months back, had to have a 6 or 7 hour debate about the rules of magic in a steam punk level tech world so that I could write out the plot and world setting for an RP I was doing with a few other people. The problem was that me and two of the other roleplayers were in agreement over the level of magic and how it worked with the technology level, but on of our roleplayers just could NOT grasp the concept of magic and any sort of technology getting along, and therefore we had to drop the level of tech a good deal, as well as the level of magic, just to get it to the point where we were all in agreement. Of course that’s one big can of worms that i’m not going to open up right now ^^;;;

    Anyways it’s really fun to see this sort of advice about what you should concider when writing about a world with magic. I can’t wait to read more about magic, both the laws of it and use of, in the future ^^
    .-= Rainel´s last blog ..Cedric in Garage Hymnal =-.


  5. Magic, in the Swallow-verse, behaves in a similar manner to an atmosphere in that it clings to the planets, if you get too far away from your homeworld no magic for you, this also means my magic is a case of “Everyone Has A Little Bit”. However, the magic clings best to creatures with the best mental equipment to control it so it seems more like a case of “The Chosen Ones” witch (ha ha) seems like a complete contradiction. As every mind is different this equipment is greatly varied thus a case of “Magic Comes In Types”. Although it could be argued that an individuals potential in magic is only limited by their willingness/capability to learn as you can be taught the techniques thus creating new equipment in your mind for magic to cling too.

    There are trade-offs of course. For one, a head can only hold so much information, it’s easiest to specialize in one or two fields of magic if you want to be able to learn conventional trades (although some mind mages have found loopholes in this). You also have the 50% rule, that is, if you use more than half your total magical strength you start get to get drained as much as if you were doing it manually. This is different in the field of mind magery as there is no normal manual method, while the 50% rule still applies the measure of how draining it is is different but equivilent. Finally, due to the nature of the magic of the Swallow-verse, if/when a world goes boom and it’s inhabitants escape they suffer proportionally to the strength of their connection to their erstwhile world: those who never had a strong enough connection to cast may get minor headaches while those with the strongest connections will get large gashes across their bodies, internal bleeding and emotional/mental torture based on the type of magic. Thankfully there are incredibly few of the latter variety and the gap between the two extremes is vast.

    What do ya think? 🙂


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