Book Blog Archives - The Art of World Building
Apr 152021
Height of Power

When wizards are in their prime, we should determine their options in society. Deciding on magic prevalence once against helps us decide their prospects. For example, if magic is common and accepted, they might begin to instruct others, possibly at schools. They can live openly, make people feel safe, be honored (with statues or presiding at ceremonies), and enjoy good relations with leaders, military, and anyone else. When magic is rare and wizards are feared, they may teach in secret, maybe far from others, hide their location or nature, be shunned, and have an attitude about all of it. All of this would be on someone’s mind when entering into wizardry just as we envision our prospects in any career. Don’t overlook this. Using the techniques in chapter one to invent a culture for them, and be sure to vary it by sovereign power and, to a lesser extent, within regions and settlements.

Wizards are often thought to amass powerful items and wealth, whether it’s true or not. When magic is common, there may be special vaults and banks like what we see in Harry Potter, but without this, keeping their hoard close (such as at home) is more likely. This can lead them to become a target, one who has various kinds of protection (magical or otherwise) to conceal and protect their homes, whether there’s anything valuable there or not. We need to think about where they might choose to live, based on how magic and its practitioners are viewed. They’ll want to feel safe, whether that means living openly or in secret, and with physical or supernatural protection or not, and even though they might be very powerful and inspire fear, the terrified often attack in the name of preemptively defending themselves.

All of this affects a wizard’s family life, too. They’re so often shown to be loners that we can easily overlook this. Don’t they have friends, lovers, children? Are some of them magical? Or strong in other ways, like knights? Many will be just as respectable or disrespectable. It’s tempting to see a wizard as all-powerful, but even they get sick, injured, or tired. Fantasy is prone to sorting people as good or evil, but many supposedly “evil” people just have a different viewpoint, one shared by many others, around whom they’d feel safer in weak moments.

The Waning Years

Powerful wizards have powerful enemies, but sooner or later they are going to start aging and become increasingly vulnerable. Who is going to protect them? Maybe this is a scenario where the wizard’s apprentices protect their former master, or do they prey upon him? This is part of the magical culture. This could also be one reason that there are magic guilds, with one of the benefits of joining being this protection as we age and become weaker and vulnerable to our enemies. Might not a wayward wizard in youth curb his worse tendencies as he ages so that he’ll be accepted – and protected?

Just as we imagine our prospects for a healthy career, we might think of our retirement. How is a feared wizard going to live peacefully? Move away so people don’t realize? Who wants to end their life in hiding, away from anyone they care about? It seems reasonable to find another way. Might not a wizard cultivate good relations for just this very issue? Even an evil wizard, if smart, would find at least one kingdom where they’re see as good and retire there.

Apr 122021

Even wizards who can do magic with will power, not spells, can benefit from training. One element that distinguishes mankind (at least on Earth) is the ability to learn from predecessors. And wizards are likely the elite, having more specialized knowledge that can be passed down. While some of that can be done via books or scrolls, personal interaction tends to be superior to written material. To determine how much training is available and what form it likely takes, we should determine the prevalence of magic as previously discussed.

At its rarest, magic will only be taught by individual wizards in a master/apprentice scenario. At its most common, there are wizardry schools, possibly many of them held in differing esteem, and with and practices. Aside from prevalence, the other major factor determining this is public and government attitudes toward magic. Naturally, where it’s forbidden, the secret apprenticeship is more likely, but where it is openly accepted and plenty of wizards are around, a school may exist.

We can use this to develop character backstory. If they have little to no training, that will explain some mishaps and inconsistency. They may even be able to do some spells without all of the words, gestures, or ingredients, somehow compensating for it. Someone who goes to a prestigious wizardry school will be known for that. Those who had a secret internship, possibly with someone disreputable, may keep quiet about it and refuse to admit to their master’s whereabouts. Every wizard is likely to have an accident of some kind in their past, and training certainly influences the number and severity of these, plus the emotional and even physical scars that result. A wizard without fear is a fool.

To create a school of magic and its curriculum or books, we can leverage subjects from our own schooling. What typically exists? Potions, summoning, communication, creating and using items, material usage (plants, animals, etc.), history, school of magic, types of magic, general spell casting 101, and more. Unless we’re planning to have a character in a Harry Potter-like setting, we don’t need too many details, but it’s worth inventing this once and having it in mind for most of our fantasy worlds because much of it would exist on all of them, even if the class or book titles change. Inventing a magic curriculum can be fun.

Determine how long school lasts in hours per day, months, and years and if there are ranks that people achieve at various stages. This can help break “wizards” from one organized mass into smaller groups distinguished from each other. An obvious decision is for multiple years, and with this chosen, we can choose ranks. For example, if it’s seven years, we can use the seven colors in the spectrum to denote those at each stage of completion, and maybe they wear robes of a given color to show it. If it’s four, maybe we use seasons or elements.

Are there tests that must be passed to advance? It seems obvious. We don’t have to decide what they are, but it can add interest, particularly if each year has one test that is more feared than the predecessors. It’s a chance to invent stories about what happened to one person or another when failing. We shouldn’t go too far with this sort of thing unless our story is to heavily feature it.

At what point do graduates become eligible to teach others, whether at school or in an apprenticeship? Why would someone want my teaching instead of yours? Expertise and prestige are two reasons. We can gain the latter due to pedigree, training, accomplishments, and fame. Or even having past students of a given instructor go on to achieve greatness. Invent a famous instructor in the setting and determine why this is so.

We should also determine what happens if someone fails training or is expelled. Are they literally marked in some way, like a thief with a notch in their ear? Or perhaps their abilities have been removed. These people will be around and it makes our setting more believable that one should be encountered, particularly in longer tales. Their fate should be a warning to those in training.

Apr 082021

We won’t look at how a wizard, shaman, or other type of practitioner spends his day so much as the phases of his career, from how the ability is gained and lost, their training, what life is like at the height of power and then if they begin to lose strength with age.

How the Ability is Gained and Lost

Even if everyone in a setting can perform magic, we must decide how the ability is gained (or lost). Our default is that it’s like talent; you’ve either got it or you don’t. However, even among those who do, they sometimes don’t know it, feel it, or have it until they reach a given milestone. This can be an age or event, such as losing virginity, a first period for a female, or the first time we draw blood or kill someone. Maybe we even need to die and be reborn. Perhaps the ability can be given like a gift under certain conditions. We might have to consume something once or regularly, like a potion, pill, plant, or animal.

What about losing the ability? This seldom gets a mention but is worth focusing on. If magic is a talent, then it theoretically never goes away. But maybe it depends on how the magic works. Songwriters always have the talent to write music, but as we all know, some are better than others and there are times when a band seems unable to write great music anymore. If performing magic requires some originality or inspiration, then maybe some wizards have fallen from grace, their “heyday” behind them. They can still do it, but they’re out of ideas for new actions. They’re the equivalent of a “has been” band still touring and playing their greatest hits.

If an event causes magic ability, can another make it stop? Maybe a potion, pill, plant, or animal takes it away. Perhaps someone must be celibate like a priest; this raises the unfortunate prospect of rape being used to render a wizard non-magical. What if killing someone, drawing blood, or another act causes the ability to weaken or fade? The gods can make this a reality to punish people, particularly if magic was used to perform the act. A benevolent god might do this, but perhaps a nefarious one grants the talent for causing mayhem.

If the ability is gained or lost, decide if this is permanent or not. Maybe having it was never forever anyway. Maybe the sun gives the ability, but the sun is too far away in winter and wizards cease to be one for part of the year. Do magic items stop working at that time, too? What if an item was holding up a building?

Apr 052021

Let’s decide spells are not needed. Mortals can do magic without them. All those safeguards we just discussed will be absent. There’s no recipe, path, or guideline to follow. There’s no “if I do this, I will get this result.” We may will something to be and have unconscious thoughts intrude and also be willed into reality. Or maybe we weren’t thinking of one aspect of our intention and it’s omitted as a result. We may be able to fix these mistakes at once, but it might also be too late, such as willing an arrow fired at us to veer to one side, causing it to strike our best friend and kills him instantly. If we’re not powerful enough to bring someone back or reverse time and opt for a redo, we’re out of luck.

This willpower business is inherently more dangerous and uncontrolled – and one reason to reserve it for gods. The odds of a mortal wizard doing something wrong but still achieving an accidental result are probably far higher. And this might be why optional spells still exist, to achieve and control a specific result (within a defined range of possibilities). Spells would therefore place limits on magic, not make magic possible.

Given this, does it make sense to cast a spell and have it go wrong but still do something? If we wanted that to happen, we wouldn’t be using the spell. It should be a pass/fail scenario – either we do it right and it works (within parameters) or we do it wrong and nothing happens. This is a viable option to consider for our world.

But there can be more to this. Willpower wizards can clearly draw energy without help from a spell. This suggests that the point of spells is to control the energy’s release, which they can also do, but that this will aid them in doing so. There might also be issues with controlling the drawing of energy (such as taking too much or from poor sources), and therefore spells do (italics) include this. And authors of spells can include or omit safety features or be better or worse at inventing them, as we discussed in the previous section.

So where does that leave us? Whether using spells or not, we can have magic go wrong and still produce a result, even when the whole point of spells is to do it right. But we should generally opt for a pass/fail scenario if spells aren’t required. If spells are likely to be of little help, then many people wouldn’t bother with them. Perhaps they’re viewed like training wheels on bikes and few people use them after a certain experience level.

Apr 012021

Let’s say spells are needed to perform magic. The spells would harness magical energy, but if the spell is performed wrong, we have two options: nothing happens, or magic still happens but in unintended ways. Both are plausible. Failure can mean that the energy wasn’t harnessed at all, which seems the safest poor result. Failure can also mean the energy was harnessed but discharged improperly, resulting in an alternate outcome, whether that’s a deadly explosion or a minor variation in the intended result. It’s up to us to decide which we want.

Comic results are sometimes desired, particularly in children’s books like Harry Potter. But we can also show the dangers of magic with perilous failure. Imagine how few people would want to do this if it’s so dangerous. By contrast, if nothing happens, an attempt is less fraught with worry. We might badly need the spell to succeed and feel pressure for that reason, but if we can’t do it right, we and others aren’t dead or worse. Decide how dangerous magic should be in the setting. It’s easy to imagine wizards who are a nervous wreck when doing something powerful if disaster could result. This can also cause strong restrictions by governments and others. It also ramps up the apprehension people feel when someone tries a spell. If you’re a wizard and about to do something, I might run for my life even if you’re my friend and I trust you. All of this can be significant reason for training facilities. But if nothing happens when failure occurs, everyone would be far more casual about it. What do they have to lose?

We can also invent solutions per situation or spell type (or even magic type). What if I’m a spell author and I know how to make my spell recipes safely dissipate energy when done wrong? But another guy had no idea and his spells are therefore more dangerous? My spell recipes are more desired. Why would anyone use the other guy’s spells? Because those are the only ones they’ve found.

Breaking a spell down into parts helps with this. Maybe the energy must be harnessed first, then manipulated before being expended. Can a wizard sense the harnessing? If so and it’s not working, he might stop right there. This failure will not expel energy and therefore nothing will happen. But if the energy is harnessed, and then the expulsion part of the spell is where failure occurs, an accidental result seems more plausible. For this reason, maybe some wizards craft their spells in reverse: the part to control the energy comes first, followed by the gathering of energy. This way, if failure happens during the first part, the harnessing also fails and nothing happens. Regardless of the order, some spell authors might’ve put in a failsafe that causes energy to be quietly released back to where it came from or safely dispersed elsewhere.

It seems plausible that all of these options would exist in the same world. We can have individual spell creators with a reputation for one thing or another. There can be entire schools of magic that only teach one kind of spell, whereas rogue wizards are willing to do the more dangerous spells. Perhaps the latter are only created by rogue authors trying to achieve an end result that sanctioned places, like a school of wizardry, forbid. Or maybe truly powerful spells require so much of the wizard’s energy to perform that some spell authors dispensed with the safeguards because it made the spell that much more taxing or complicated. Short cuts happen in all parts of life, even when unwise.

Mar 292021

It may seem obvious that spells are needed to perform magic, but that depends on our definition of “spell” and “magic.” Magic is considered powers that don’t exist on Earth. But in our fictional world, magic is real, so does this definition fail? On that world, yes, but our audience is on Earth, so it still holds. But any physical changes that can be done without manually manipulating something, or using tech, can be considered magic. As for spells, this typically means words, gestures, physical materials, or some combination of these, to perform said magic. If all of this seems obvious, there’s a reason the distinction is being made.

Gods are considered real in fantasy worlds especially. And gods make things happen that don’t occur in the real world of Earth. Does that mean they’re doing magic? Unless we have a pressing reason for using a different word, yes. Perhaps gods and mortals are tapping into the same well of supernatural power, but one difference is that people are weakened by this and gods either aren’t, or to a lesser degree, but we can safely say gods (usually all of them) are capable of magic.

But are gods using spells? Or are they doing magic by force of will? I’m inclined to say it’s will power for several reasons. One is that we should distinguish between gods and mortals. It seems clear that gods can innately do magic (will power), but mortals must struggle to learn and master it, even if they have the talent from birth. Gods may have imposed limits, via spells, on what mortals can do. We can find other ways to impose limits, but it still raises the point: either beings can do magic by force of will or they need spells.

We’ve seen depictions of gods making gestures or speaking words to achieve their result, which suggests they’re using a spell, but perhaps they’re just controlling the force better this way. In visual media, people are typically shown doing these as visual/audible cues as to who is causing something to happen. This is sometimes omitted when it’s already been established who in the scene has the ability, such as Darth Vader in Star Wars, or when ambiguity is desired (either by characters or storytellers). Since will power is innate, gods may not need spells. Non-gods are typically portrayed as needing to learn how magic works; they study various things like the language of magic (an innate skill for gods), and then read spell books to learn how each spell is done. Then they practice. What little power they start with grows with that practice. We assume gods aren’t doing any of this because we show them as strong. Whether gods are using spells or not is semantics, except that if we have a choice between gods and mortals using willpower, the least sensible option is gods needing spells and mortals using willpower, because the latter suggests fewer restrictions and more power, both of which apply to gods.

What about mortals? Can they do magic via will power or are spells the only way? We may want to have both in our setting and use a name for each, like wizard vs. sorcerer.

Mar 252021

The words for magic users can be generic or imply meanings. The phrase “magic user” is a catchall that includes everything: wizards, mages, sorcerers, magicians, necromancers, witches/warlocks, and more. Many of these are virtual synonyms that carry no specific meaning unless we decide to differentiate them.

“Magician” sometimes implies a trickster or a charlatan. If we have true magic users and charlatans, “magician” might be for the latter and seen as an insult. On Earth, a magician is an “illusionist,” who appears to be doing magic. Such people can exist on a world with actual magic, so it’s likely there’s a word for them, and real wizards hate being considered one. This adds a dynamic. If we use “magician” for real magic users, we need another term, such as “trickster,” or “illusionist,” for these other guys.

“Mage” is familiar to fantasy audiences as a synonym for magician, but some haven’t heard this term. A simple reference will educate them, like this example: “Kier was a mage, or magician, of great renown.” This is slightly better than, “Kier was a mage, or wizard,” because the first ties “mage” and “magician” together better than “mage” and “wizard.” The word itself is archaic and fell out of usage until fantasy games like as Dungeons & Dragons revived it.

If we’ve invented types of magic for our setting, each needs a name. The inhabitants will have named them even if we try to skirt this issue. We can append other words to it, such as “high magic” and “low magic,” or create new words altogether, like my “valendry” from Llurien. We can also use the words in this section to refer to different practitioners.

Mar 222021

Whether magic is rare or not, there may be laws that vary by location about its usage. We can create an entire area of law, crime, and punishments. These often originate from problems that have already occurred, so think about wizards doing bad things, especially in public, and how society has tried to deter this. We can invent some history and infamous incidents and characters (including victims), after whom a law may be named.

How can they inhibit wizards? The purposeful use of anti-magic zones is one way, in sensitive areas like a courthouse, or a device that can be placed on someone to cut them off from magic. Maybe they’ve figured out how to permanently remove the ability. Perhaps they can only limit access, such as making someone weaker so that only minor spells can be done. If they don’t have a supernatural way to inhibit, they could just drug someone so that they’re too weak to do it and regularly administer this. We can invent plants that have this effect once properly prepared. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

The more common magic usage is, the more social customs will arise from it. Casting a spell on our date without their permission is probably frowned on! But is casting a spell on ourselves prior to it okay? That likely depends on the result. If it’s considered dishonest, like making us appear 100 lbs. lighter, this is probably bad, but if we only changed our hair color, maybe not. It depends on whether we’re up front about these things. To create these, think about how life would be and what you’d want to do if you had magic and how others would react to you doing it.

There’s always a power disparity between wizards and muggles, to use a Harry Potter term. Do people consider it rude for a wizard to use magic with non-magical people? How concerned are people about this? Imagine being one of the few who can’t do magic and how intimidating that might be, and how we might try to hide it or compensate. What if we’re the lone person who’s unaffected by magic? What sort of bullying is done due to magic or via it? Be prepared to think about these elements if magic is prevalent.

Some communities might reject magic while others take advantage of it. Religious beliefs or conservative values (that resist change) can affect this. So can fear and significant historical acts. It’s an oversight to not have such places, or even zealots who denounce wizards or are on a crusade to capture, kill, or render them magicless. By contrast, some will worship the powerful or seek to be an apprentice, resulting in fierce competition. Sorcerers might be viewed like athletes are here. Give serious thought to what social elements are impacted.

What is the Cost of Magic?

 Book Blog, Volume 3  Comments Off on What is the Cost of Magic?
Mar 182021

Everything requires energy, and magic is expending it, or at least redirecting it elsewhere. We can say the same amount of energy exists before as after, and we’ve repurposed it, but this is a philosophical subject. We care more about the cost to the practitioner here. Those who suffer few or no effects of performing magic are almost gods, but mortals aren’t so lucky. Adding a cost to wizardry is an easy way to limit their powers.

The obvious and default answer, which no one will feel is a cliché, is that it’s physically draining to perform wizardry. Everything else is, so why wouldn’t it be? We also can decide that using it is like alcohol, which is a depressant but, in the short term, acts as a stimulant instead; people can feel energized during a magical battle but “crash” when it’s over, needing a deep sleep if they expended a lot of energy; use an analogy of your choice with different side effects to invent something original. We can decide that magic ages the practitioner prematurely, or reduces their ability to have children due to exposure to the energy, as does radiation. An old idea is that a spell needs to be memorized and, once cast, the wizard forgets it and must relearn it; what if casting it affects the mind in other ways? Maybe the spell isn’t the only thing they forget. Or perhaps magic makes them have nightmares or slowly go crazy. Just be sure to invent a price.

Where Does Magic Originate?

 Book Blog, Volume 3  Comments Off on Where Does Magic Originate?
Mar 152021

Even a physicist might say that magic must come from somewhere. There’s a fine distinction between the origins of magic and its sources.


The origins of magic in our world is the answer to the question, “Where does magic come from?” And the answer can be the universe (nature) or the gods (or a being with god-like abilities). There aren’t many more options, though we can get more specific than the “nature” option, such as saying it’s radiation, or a lifeforce, or some other energy. We don’t need to explain it to an audience. Magic is accepted. Its origins are a philosophical question and therefore ignored if we choose to, whereas the source of a wizard’s power is a practical matter to which we should pay some attention.


To perform magic, a wizard must draw power from a source regardless of the origins of that source’s existence. Inventing sources is an easy way to create multiple types of magic, one per source, if desired. What follows an inexhaustive list of possible sources:

  • The planet
    • Elements
    • Gravity
    • Magnetics
  • The solar system
    • The sun
    • The moon(s)
    • Ring system (like Saturn)
    • Comets
  • Other realities
    • Other planes (like the Astral plane)
    • Parallel dimensions
  • Beings
    • God(s)
    • Demons/angels, etc.
    • Aliens
    • Plants, animals, humanoids, etc.
    • Souls (possibly from the living) or “lifeforce”
  • The “force” from Star Wars

The latter option is an implied one in many stories, though only Star Wars (italics) calls it that. The energy just exists all around us and those with the talent can sense and manipulate it. A large source, such as the universe, has an advantage. When a wizard draws energy from a source, it seems reasonable that the source is temporarily drained. An analogy would be blood drawn from us. It replenishes in time, but of course someone can take it all, killing us. A truly powerful source like the sun or the universe is unlikely to be noticeably drained.

But if magic draws energy from living beings, it seems clear we could kill them by taking too much at once, or too often. Wizards could draw from multiple sources to mitigate this. We should determine the source of our magic and within what radius from the wizard that source must be. This is irrelevant with some sources that permeate everything or are seemingly always the same distance; while a planet gets farther or nearer to the sun, this is imperceptible to the naked eye, but what if wizards are always weaker in winter because their source, the sun, is dimmer? But then perhaps it doesn’t matter that the radiation and other elements the sun expels in our direction change distance. It’s up to us to decide. But we’re always looking for ways to limit what sorcerers can do and this is one way.

If a wizard draws from the living, it’s an obvious way to kill people, intentionally or not. But perhaps only some species can be so drained. Either way, imagine this person leaving a trail of corpses or people who’ve suddenly got a type of “sickness” with symptoms indicating a wizard used them as a source, likely in violation of the law. Consequences make for conflict, which makes for story. If we don’t have a need of this source being impacted, then we can decide the source is everywhere, in which case, we can also avoid mentioning it at all.