Of Magic and Mythical Creatures
For the second post of “What is Gunpowder Fantasy” I’ll be discussing the use of magic and mythical creatures in the sub-genre. (The bulk of this post taken from my guest post at A Way With Worlds)
Magic has been in fantasy from the very beginning of modern Fantasy. C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkein both made extensive use of magic in their worlds.
So it would be natural that Magic would be another element of traditional fantasy that can be used to connect your Gunpowder Fantasy to the bulk of Epic Fantasy.
The exact nature of your magic system is up to you, but there are a few major points that you need to address when you’re building a magic system.
First, and with everything in your world, you have to make sure that you are consistent. If magic works one way at the beginning of the book, it needs to work the same way in the middle and at the end.
The Prevalence of Magic is usually one of the first aspects that I approach when I am building magic into one of my worlds. How common are magic users within your world? Are there mages and witches and wizards in every town and village? Or are they rare? Or is magic thought to be extinct except to a very select few?
One aspect of your world that will be affected by the Prevalence of Magic within your world, and one that not everyone considers when they are building their world, is the Impact on the technology of your world. If magic is extremely common, then technology will develop differently and perhaps more slowly than in a world where magic is rare or nearly extinct. Why develop improved weapons when everyone can cast a fireball with their minds?
Something that will affect and be affected by the Prevalence of Magic, is the Source: how does one go about becoming a magic user. Is it a natural gift? (Here you can increase or decrease the prevalence of magic by deciding on how common the gift is.) Is it a knowledge based system that only requires study and how common are the books that teach magic? Is Magic only gained through some ritual and how difficult are those rituals to perform? Lastly, can magic only be gained through some accident or event? This particular source would be best paired with magic that is very rare as accidents can’t be controlled.
With the Prevalence and Source of Magic decided, another aspect that must be approached is the Energy of Magic. What gives the user the ability to cast their spells? Do your magic users have to carry talismans of power? Do they need to draw their energy from themselves or from the people around them? This can be another factor in the Prevalence of Magic. A system that is learned by anyone is all well and good, but if it relies on certain talismans that are very rare, then very few will be able to learn.
Limits of Magic is an aspect of your system that is very important. Magic systems without limits can become boring quickly if there is nothing to keep magic users in check. Even stories where the magic users seem to have unlimited power should have some weakness, otherwise the story can’t progress.
Limits can come in many different forms, several of which are similar to the Source of Magic and can tie into Prevalence. Your magic system can be limited by Knowledge: mages must learn spells and those scrolls or tomes can be rare. You can limit your magic through the Energy of Magic: if the mage has to draw from their own energy, at some point they should become exhausted and unable to cast new spells. You can use other magic-users as a Limit: anyone who grows too powerful or too reckless can be put down by other magic users.
An aspect of your magic system that is more open to personal interpretation is Divisions of Magic. This aspect isn’t integral to the system, but can add flavor to it. You can have your divisions “hard”: magic users can only draw from a single school or aspect of magic. Soft divisions allow magic users to draw on any aspect that they have access to (this ties into your Source and Energy categories).
The magic system that I use in my Griffins & Gunpowder universe is rather limited. I would rate it as “Rare” Prevalence: only a certain, random portion of Elves are born with The Gift. This covers both the Prevalence, Source and Impact: technology in this universe has advanced to rifles and early steam power. Magic users can draw from energy within themselves, and can “store” this energy beforehand to have ample supply, and some can draw on the energies and emotions of those around them.
Magic users in the Griffins & Gunpowder universe are limited by both energy and knowledge. They will quickly burn through even the largest “stockpile” of energy and must study spells to perfect them. This is further complicated by the fact that magic users have a Major and Minor aspect that are randomly drawn from one of the four divisions: Shadow, Light, Life and Death. Books teaching each of these aspects are rare and the magic users have to learn prerequisite spells before they can learn more advanced selections.
So, when planning a Magic system remember to maintain consistency and consider each aspect of your system and how it impacts the other aspects and your story in general.
I was considering folding this discussion into the “Settings” part of my little series here, but I decided to give Mythical Creatures their own quick discussion.
Dragons are probably the best known mythical creatures used in Fantasy. They’re iconic. But there are many other types of mythical creatures that can be used to tie your Gunpowder Fantasy to mainstream Fantasy.
Going through the Pantheon.org Beastiary is a great way to find mythical creatures that could fit into your world.
You can use these mythical creatures as they were originally believed to be or you can turn the stereotypes on their heads and use your mythical creatures in a completely different way. I would suggest keeping the more popular mythical creatures at least vaguely similar to their more popular myths, but it’s your world.