Book Blog Archives - The Art of World Building
Mar 082021
 

Using the elements is one way to organize our magic. In addition to the four elements of water, air, earth, and fire, people sometimes decide that spirit is a fifth. We can also invent other elements, especially on non-Earth like worlds. Whatever we decide, this is a convenient way to divide spells because many spells will only use a given element. If we want our wizard to be able to do something with fire but he is a water wizard, this restriction is built in. We can also have rare individuals who are able to do one or all of them. But we don’t need to decide that people can only do one element. Perhaps everyone can do all four but there’s a “high” and “low” magic that distinguishes them. Or some are just better suited to one and, while they can do all, struggle with some.

We can decide that practitioners need the element to manipulate and cannot conjure it from “thin air.” For example, in a desert, a water wizard would have nothing to work with. Or we can decide they’re able to sense and draw it from wherever it is within a given range; while there may appear to be no water in a desert, it’s still there somewhere. Water and fire are the only two that might be unavailable, generally, but even water is usually around. It’s fire that’s less naturally occurring, putting such wizards at a disadvantage.

ElementPossible Uses
AirThe ability to fly, manipulate weather, suffocate others, breathe underwater, cause fog
FireStarting/extinguishing fires, fireball spells, wall of flames
EarthCausing earthquakes/sinkholes, softening or hardening of earth (to create mud or stone), creating or commanding stone golems
WaterDehydrating someone, hydrating them, creating drinking water, parting the sea, walking on water, causing rain, and possibly controlling sea life
SpiritControl, communicate, or summon/banish ghosts
Mar 042021
 

Psionics is the ability to communicate or perceive beyond the five physical senses. This fits our definition of magic. While fictional, these are considered innate talents people are either born with or develop. They’re usually depicted as natural, meaning they don’t require spells, but we’ve also seen them portrayed as needing an external element. The crystal ball is the most famous of these. We can add anything we desire to make these unique in our setting, while also making them easier or harder to accomplish. Multiple subtypes exist and are briefly summarized next. Any combination of these can exist in the setting. We can treat all of them like magic, meaning we decide their prevalence, training needed, the distance restrictions, and other elements discussed in this chapter.

AbilityDescription
ClairvoyanceThis is the ability to see events or people beyond the range of normal sight. This can be broken down into precognition (the future), retrocognition (the past), and remote viewing (the present). It can also imply clairaudience (hearing) or be mutually exclusive, meaning some people only have one talent. A theme of this chapter is imposing limits, so don’t be afraid to restrict them.
EmpathyAn “empath” can read or sense another person’s emotions and may even be able to control or influence them.
Mind controlOne person impacts another’s mind, including removing, suppressing, or replacing memories, or causing the victim to sense phantom pain.
PsychometryThe talent for gaining foresight by touching objects.
TelekinesisTelekinesis is the ability to move objects with the mind.
TelepathyReading another person’s thoughts or communicating directly with their mind.
Mar 012021
 

In shamanism, the shaman communicates with spirits or other beings believed to be in another plane of existence, one that intersects with ours. It often involves an altered state of consciousness achieved through meditation, trace, or hallucinogenic drugs. In SF, we might choose to inject something or more advanced technology such as direct brain stimulation or implants, but in less technological settings, we’re likely using liquids (drinks), solids (food), gas (to be inhaled), meditation and ritual, or a combination. Shamans experience dreams or visions that have messages, but they can also physically, or more commonly, spiritually enter a spiritual realm. A shaman may also try to bring energies from the spirit world into his own. That there can be benevolent and malevolent spirits adds danger and unpredictability to shamanism.

Within a culture or village, different shamans can exist, specializing in specific functions. We can divide these as we wish. Some functions include healing, communicating, fortune-telling, leading souls to their rightful afterlife place, or keeping traditions alive by knowing and relating stories that teach, instruct, and bring the community together. Reasons for such divisions can include the difficulty or danger inherent in certain tasks. Perhaps a younger and physically stronger shaman should do certain things, or if a shaman dies performing a function, only some of their knowledge dies with them because other shamans perform other duties. Another shaman can always contact them in the afterlife for that information, assuming another can do it.

To become a shaman, someone is expected to become so sick as to risk death, and possibly die, before returning to life. This will assist their later ability to access the afterlife/underworld. The thought is that, to understand sickness and heal others from all ailments, they must have experienced something as severe first. It should come as no surprise that some would-be shamans don’t survive this. Others might be scarred physically or another way from the ordeal, though being of sound-mind and not having “a demon” would be required; if they haven’t healed their mind/soul from the ordeal, how can they do so for others?

A spirit guide may help a shaman, who can acquire more than one. These acts as guides, messengers, or protectors. As world builders, we can choose the form and power a guide may take, including animals of our invention. These spirit guides can lend strength to the shaman on his journey and even provide the power needed to enter the spirit realm. The guide’s form, such as a duck, is sometimes chosen as one that is comfortable both below and above water (including flying), which symbolizes the ability to navigate both the normal world and underworld.

Goals

The goals of shamanism vary but include:

  • Communication
  • Divination
  • Bringing otherworldly forces into ours
  • Healing

Communication with the undead allows access to what ancestors knew when alive or knowledge that they gained in the afterlife. This trope gives our characters another way to learn something about the world or current situations (in other places or the earthly one). Whether that intel, or the person providing it, can be trusted is another matter, and this creates another storytelling dynamic.

Divination, the practice of gaining knowledge of the future, can come through visions or direct interaction with spirits who may know, or claim to know, what is to come. When ancestors are contacted, a presumption of truth telling and well-wishing toward the living may give confidence in the answer. This will still depend on the ancestor contacted, for as we all know, not everyone gets along.

Bringing forces from another realm into ours requires more power, experience, possibly training, and maybe a stronger connection to the ancestors, possibly through increased interaction as a shaman; this is unlikely to be a task for a novice. A willing force is much different from an unwilling one. Either may require compensation.

Healing via shamanism is an alternative to supernatural healing by priests. Perhaps the latter invokes the [consistent] power of gods while shamans invoke the unpredictable, potentially evil power of spirits, who might exact a price from healer or healed. Moreover, if an ailment is considered to arise from one’s soul, that’s the kind of illness that shamanism is thought to heal, as opposed to a physical matter. In a world where wandering spirits (or something else like a weapon) can cause supernatural damage, perhaps such a wound is on one’s spirit in a literal sense, not just the figurative.

The latter means someone has “a demon” that causes bad behavior. For example, a trauma in childhood could create a demon that leads to alcoholism. The demon is a metaphor, not something literal, though in SF and fantasy, we often make it so. Similarly, we may say their spirit is wounded. Thus, on Earth, a shaman attempts to heal this figurative wound. Or in our invented world, it’s a literal wound, maybe one that doesn’t respond to other means of healing.

This conjures a philosophical debate for figurative wounds of the spirit. Is it better for an external source, like a shaman, to fix us, or should we self-heal, possibly by forming a better understanding of ourselves and our psychology, growing as a person and overcoming our demon without such outside assistance? The former offers a quick and easy fix for the wounded. Where would modern psychology be today if shamans could wave their metaphorical magic wand and my demons, and yours, could be vanquished so that I’m just a happy, productive member of society instead of argumentative, boozing, and generally screwing up my life because a demon haunts me? Am I stronger because I grew as a person, the hard way? Yes. Am I stronger because a shaman “fixed” me the easy way? Not really. I only lost a problem that made me weaker.

Feb 252021
 

Magic that involves the dead is called necromancy, which can be its own type of magic in our world. Communication with the dead means understanding how the afterlife works. After all, if spirits are simply obliterated, bringing one back or interacting with it is impossible. The nature of an afterlife might also aid or inhibit the recruitment with or contacting of the dead. Would a Satan-like figure make that contact easier so that more hell is loosed upon the Earth? Would a God-like figure inhibit it? Or would God allow interaction because it might be benevolent? Having a justification and multiple barriers can make scenarios more plausible.

Communication can mean the equivalent of a long-distance phone call, meaning the spirit never leaves where it resides. This seems easier than summoning the spirit to cross boundaries; this is where inventing afterlife barriers figures more heavily. A third option is raising a body from the dead and restoring the soul into it, a more intense experience for both necromancer and victim. This is especially true if the target does not become undead but a living person once again. By dividing these concerns this way, we can begin creating a system of magic for necromancy.

We should also understand what death has been like, as this impacts the mind or emotions of anyone thus contacted. That, in turn, will affect behavior, including how cooperative they are, though perhaps our necromancer can force obedience – at least until he’s incapacitated and the undead either get free and go their own way, return to the land of the undead, or take revenge upon the necromancer who awoke them into servitude.

We can decide that the undead have acquired unlimited knowledge, increasing their value, or only have firsthand knowledge just as in life. The Roman poet Ovid speculated that an underworld marketplace exists where undead exchange news and gossip, which not only expands what undead know, but creates a place where the living can travel. Perhaps knowledge isn’t the only item traded here.

Their Practices

Necromancer rituals can last for hours, days, or even weeks, and sometimes use moon phases or the placement/configuration of other heavenly bodies. These often take place in or near graveyards, tombs, and mausoleums, though the churches of evil deities are an option. While words, gestures, or materials might be involved, these rituals often involve a circle drawn in blood, holy water or an equivalent, salt, or writing. These serve to protect the practitioner from possession, assault, death, kidnapping, and more, from the very forces they seek to control a threat to their lives and soul. These circles can also concentrate magic power where the target dead will be imprisoned after summoning; bringing a potentially malignant being to this realm is inherently dangerous and unpredictable, making this precaution wise.

Sacred talismans, relics of the dead, and body parts such as bones may be involved, whether worn, laid on circles or altars, or used during gestures. They could be mutilated, incinerated, or otherwise destroyed, which naturally means they can’t be reused, which places emphasis on success the first time. Placing a limit adds urgency that benefits stories. The practitioner may be wearing the deceased’s clothes or an item that held importance to them.

Foods that symbolize death, and fluids like blood, are often present. These are consumed by either the necromancer or enthralled spirits. We can invent a reason for this, such as giving a spirit more substance and therefore power over a world of which they are no longer a part. Perhaps consuming it binds them to the world, to the necromancer, or to do the deed for which they’re now recalled. Can the necromancer force them to consume it?

A more extreme practice involves sacrifice, which could be an item, animal or human (or an invented species). This might mean a life or the soul, too. The victim could be the infamous virgin, but an excuse for this might help alleviate this cliché to something more palatable. If we state that innocence, more than virginity, can counter the evil forces involved in necromancy, or fool a guardian of the underworld into letting our necromancer access a spirit by suggesting we have pure intentions, this concept makes more sense. Youth also seems plausible for younger people’s strength, but a baby has little, so a teenager might be ideal.

Feb 222021
 

While we all know what’s typically meant by witchcraft, also known as witchery, the term is a broad one. Both white and black magic interpretations exist on Earth. It can mean using the supernatural to cause harm or be more beneficial such as divination. Using spirits for these practices is assumed to be dangerous and possibly evil; there is an assumption that spirits who have not gone to the afterlife, or are willing to be contacted by the living, must be nefarious. This rises from fear, ignorance, and lack of comfort with all of it, with people assuming the worst about what these spirits and those contacting them are capable of.

Pagans have often been considered witches, which has led to many associations, such as full or partial nudity, being barefoot, wearing loose and flowing clothing, chanting, singing, and dancing in the woods to conjure spirits, typically at night and during specific moon phases. The celebration of basic natural elements can be seen as championing base human needs and instincts like sex. This combination, along with fear, leads to the assumption of copulation with the devil or similar figures as a means of gaining supernatural powers.

One practice common to witchcraft is the use of archaic runes or symbols inscribed on a target, such a person, building, or item that is the focus of the spell. Another is a poppet, a figure made of wax or clay to represent another person, with the spell cast on this. Incantations differ slightly from speech in other magic types in that they are often chanted or sung rather than simply spoken, sometimes specific actions being taken at moments within the incantation, rather than there being no coordination. Witchcraft that involves scrying often makes use of reflective materials such as a mirror, blade, or scrying ball. This reliance on a material, the existing properties of which offer some aid, helps distinguish witchery from other magic types.

As with necromancy, we should understand the afterlife in our world if any interaction with the dead is to take place. And if beings like demons are to be communed with, we’ll benefit from having worked out places like Hell, where they dwell. The rules we’ve devised for such places can impact the rules we craft for witches and others to interact with the beings there.

Feb 182021
 

Alchemy is the practice of turning one material into another, usually an ordinary item to a valuable one, such as lead into gold. While this is not possible on Earth, it might be in a world we invent. The practice held other goals of interest, such as creating healing potions, an elixir of immortality, or a universal solvent that can dissolve anything (called an alkahest). If you’ve ever wondered why the British edition of the first Harry Potter book is titled Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, this refers to a legendary item that combines all of these powers and which was the ultimate goal of an alchemist.

The morphing of material is thought to be an analogy for personal transformation into a better, purer state, meaning alchemy is considered a spiritual matter, not just physical. We could see alchemists as a cross between the wizards and priests of our world. The transmutation of specific materials can be thought to cause specific changes within a person, and we have leeway to invent these. For example, if I turn a piece of lead in your hand to gold, perhaps I’ve made your spirit more noble and high-minded, too. Maybe this can reform a criminal, and the opposite can be done to someone pompous, like an absolute dictator. Or maybe the impact is to make you more knowledgeable, or change your desire or aptitude for learning rather than outright granting knowledge.

Due to the power inherent in these changes, alchemists guarded their knowledge so that any written information was done in a language only they understood or which had a cypher to obscure understanding. Their books and scrolls could be quite cryptic. Most were trying to create the aforementioned stone, a project known as the “magnum opus,” which in ancient times had four stages, each associated with a color, the final state being the goal of personal development via alchemy. In later times, these were expanded, but the original four stages, each with a spiritual or psychological aspect achieved through the listed physical transformation, were:

  1. Nigreo (blackening): facing one’s internal demons, through a cleansing and decomposition/putrefaction of the base material.
  2. Aledo (whitening): achieving an awakened, receptive soul, caused by purification.
  3. Citrinitas (yellowing): achieving wisdom (in one’s soul), by the transmutation of moonlight to sunlight (silver to gold).
  4. Rubedo (reddening): discovering and attaining one’s true nature in body, mind, and soul.

Alchemy has an advantage over magic for writers; magic is often thought to be nothing more than physical manipulation to achieve a physical result. By contrast, alchemy achieves change within the self or others by transmutation of physical objects that represent something. As authors and audiences enjoy symbolism, this makes alchemy useful in adding meaning to an alchemist’s behaviors. It’s a missed opportunity to portray one as solely wanting to become rich by changing lead to gold, for example.

Adopt symbols to represent these stages. On Earth, birds have often been used to represent the progression. This includes the phoenix, already known for its transformation. The colors are sometimes emblazoned on the clothing of those interested in achieving a higher state. We can add both symbols and colors to anything, including government buildings, homes, or institutions that consider themselves to be in pursuit of enlightenment.

Feb 152021
 

When most of us think of magic, we mean wizardry unless indicating a subtype as described in this section. Wizardry is broadly defined as the harnessing of magical energy, using any combination of words, gestures, and components (aka ingredients), with practitioners in a robe, wielding a staff, and being of advanced age; all of these clichés are best avoided.

Once we define types of magic, we begin breaking them into groups that people can perform or not. What follows is a high-level discussion of several types, but more can be found with an internet search. There are specialized forms of magic that other world builders have imagined, which are public domain, and which we might want to include in a setting in addition to anything we devise.

When deciding on our needs, we should consider how many people can perform each type of magic and why that is. Rarity means more valuable and feared. The specialists in this section are just that and can be treated as generally less available unless our setting and story requires a lot of them. The next chart lists reasons for magic being rare or common.

Reasons for RarityReasons for Commonplace
It’s dangerousIt’s safe
It’s fearedIt’s accepted
Practitioners are fearedPractitioners are admired
Training is unavailable, limited, hard, or costlyTraining is available, easy, and inexpensive
Materials needed to perform it are hard to acquireMaterials are plentiful
Spell books are rare or poorSpell books are common and good
Talent is rareTalent is common
There’s no money in itIt’s lucrative
Family and friends shun youFamily and friends are not impacted

For each magic type in our setting, we can mix and match commonplace and rarity, such as making the talent or spell books common, the magic dangerous, and the materials rare. Such variations make our worlds more believable and help distinguish types from each other.

White and Black Magic

Magic can either be beneficial or harmful to others and the environment. These are referred to as white and black magic, respectively. We can also think of them as good and evil, possibly associating them with good and evil beings (gods, demons, etc.) as the provider of each. This can mean that a wizard aligns himself with a deity, who might have requirements for behavior and their mental or spiritual state. A white wizard might need to be noble, benevolent, and kind, for example, and perform mostly for the benefit of others (rather than the self) or access to the power fails.

Black magic may include voodoo with its hexes, curses, poisons, and association with zombies. What must a black magic wizard be like or do regularly? Sacrifice animals or people? Sow discord? Black magic is considered bad due to being used for selfish or evil purposes. In popular culture, practitioners are feared and shunned not only for their practices, but what those practices say about them as people. This is a convenient way to characterize someone.

Those with a poor understanding of either may confuse someone doing white magic with one doing black magic; this trope has been used with witches, where all are branded evil due to ignorance and fear of their practices, reputation, or appearance. Other types of magic in this section can be considered black, such as necromancy or shamanism, but this often results from ignorance about the practices. People fear what they don’t understand, and we can cause conflict by including magic practitioners that act, dress, or talk strangely or secretively (even if for good reasons). For all magic types, consider dividing them along this good vs. evil axis. Another option is “grey magic” that lies between these extremes.

Feb 112021
 

Creating a magic system is about organization; without it, we don’t have a “system.” The problems with an on-the-fly approach are numerous, one of the biggest being inconsistency. Readers are astute. If rules prohibit a character from doing something at one point, and we have them do it (or something similar) later, in defiance of that rule, readers will notice. This can happen due to forgetfulness and not writing down any spontaneously invented rules. We also sometimes imply a rule without realizing we’ve done so, only to break it later. And breaking our own rules makes it apparent we don’t know what we’re doing.

Another problem is giving people the ability to solve something with magic right when they need it. Deus ex machina is considered poor storytelling. If we want to do this, we shouldn’t make the magical solution perfect. If they need to go fifty miles, make the spell only transport them forty miles, depositing them somewhere that presents new issues. Perfect solutions eliminate conflict, which is the heart of any story. Having a system helps us create limits. Without a system, it’s harder to contrast multiple styles or types of magic. Each should have its rules, limits, benefits, and problems. The point of a system is to decide who can do what and under which circumstances, bringing order to the potential chaos of magic being everywhere and there being no limits.

But we don’t always need a system. If we’re writing a short story, we’re less likely to break rules, for example, because our tale will end before we can. The longer a work is, or the more times we’ll use the setting, the more we need a system. And if magic is very prevalent, we’ll need a system to impose limits and be realistic; without one, we’re at greater risk of inconsistency and mistakes. But if magic is rare or a minor part of a story, we may do well enough without one.

Randy Ellefson’s Laws of Magic

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Feb 082021
 

World builders can choose to enforce any, all, or none of my laws for creating magic systems for themselves. These laws are not about how to use a magic system once created, but how to create those systems. Most are self-explanatory with a single sentence, but a few words follow each. Some include examples, which are not meant to build upon each, but rather offer possibilities and world building prompts. Use these ideas as guidance for what we should do to craft a magic system.

First Law

World builders shall decide what the laws of magic are.

The universe (or another authority such as gods) has determined what works and what doesn’t, and under what conditions. This should be defined for all magic types. Examples:

  1. Spells are required.
  2. Magic can be performed at-will like a god.
  3. There is a finite amount of magic energy and once consumed, it is gone.
  4. Naturally occurring places exist where magic doesn’t work.
  5. With rare exceptions, a wizard can only perform one type of magic and they do not get to choose.
  6. Elves cannot perform elemental magic.

Second Law

World builders shall define what makes someone capable of performing each magic type, and how common practitioners are.

Examples:

  1. Anyone born with the talent can perform magic. These people are rare.
  2. The gods decide who can do magic and can grant or revoke ability at will.
  3. Anyone who consumes a specific item with a specific frequency acquires the ability as long as said item continues to be consumed.
  4. Witchcraft requires a deal with Satan. Witches are common.
  5. A near-death experience is required to become a shaman. Shamans are rare.
  6. Consumption of alcohol eliminates the ability to perform magic for several days.

Third Law

If multiple types of magic exist, world builders shall define what is possible in each, the differences between them, and whether practitioners can perform more than one type (and under what circumstances).

Short examples (yours should be much more in depth):

  1. There are two types of magic, with most practitioners relegated to one type:
    1. Low magic: only simple spells to assist daily living (like cantrips)
    2. High magic: all higher level, more powerful spells
  2. There are several magic types:
    1. Alchemists: can only work with materials to affect personal change
    2. High wizardry: can draw on magic energy in the environment
    3. Witchcraft: must work with spirits or demons for power

Fourth Law

World builders shall determine what happens when an attempt to use magic fails.

Examples:

  1. A spell either works within its parameters or fails. There are no accidental results.
  2. A failed spell will visibly/invisibly release gathered energy chaotically/safely.
  3. A failed spell traps gathered energy within the caster’s body until released
  4. A failed spell produces an unexpected result of a different nature but not extremely so.
  5. Magic (done without spells) energy is safely released back to its source when the casting fails.

Fifth Law

World builders shall decide what local laws exist in each location where a story takes place.

Examples:

  1. Alchemists must register with the local guild.
  2. Wizards must surrender their staves upon entering the city limits.
  3. Only valend wizards may create magic items.
  4. Only those with a valid permit may use magic items within city limits.
  5. Wizards will be killed on sight.
  6. Necromancy is forbidden except within 48 hours of the deceased’s burial.
  7. Wizards are not allowed on the city council.
  8. Those accused of witchcraft must identify another witch to avoid execution.
  9. Unlicensed mindreading, without written permission from the subject, is illegal.
  10. Public sources (such as the water well, torches, etc.) are not to be used for elemental magic.
  11. Elemental wizards who do not participate in resolving a public crises (like a flood or fire) are to be sentenced to one year’s hard labor.

Sixth Law

World builders shall follow the rules they set forth.

This rule applies to all world building, not just magic systems. Fantasy and SF audiences are adept at noticing our mistakes, so keep a list of all rules and abide by them. It can be best to narrate a rule with some flexibility. For example, “most (italics) wizards cannot do so-and-so.” One trick is to narrate the law this way: “people said wizards couldn’t do so-and-so.”  That makes it popular opinion, not a statement of fact. Another trick is to have a character, not the narrator, state a law. Characters don’t always get things right, so when our story proves them wrong, it’s not the author breaking our rule. However, do this on purpose. Why would we want to? Because we might want to suggest something to the reader, and then surprise them later, but it must be a good surprise. It is effective when a character finding out the truth protests that another character told them so; this also channels the audience’s potential upset into acceptance.

Seventh Law

For each location, world builders shall decide if magical training is available, what form it takes, what is involved, limitations imposed before graduation, testing criteria, and what restrictions if any exist on those who graduate.

This one is more of a suggestion; not doing so is unlikely to cause problems, while doing it will almost certainly benefit us. Examples:

  1. Training is only available via an apprenticeship where sanctioned by the sovereign power
  2. Wizards must pass the Kierdyn Test by the third attempt or have magic ability suppressed for life
  3. Prior to graduation, only low magic spells can be performed outside the guild
  4. Wizards are tested for the ability to release magic energy safely

Laws of Magic

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Feb 052021
 

Sanderson’s use of the word “law” led me on an interesting thought exercise that adds clarity to creating magic systems. According to Merriam-Webster’s The Third New International Dictionary, “Law is a binding custom or practice of a community; a rule or mode of conduct or action that is prescribed or formally recognized as binding by a supreme controlling authority or is made obligatory by a sanction (as an edict, decree, rescript, order, ordinance, statute, resolution, rule, judicial decision, or usage) made, recognized, or enforced by the controlling authority.” Laws are authoritative, definitive, to the point, and arguably avoid explanation to minimize public arguments when accused of breaking one.

By calling his principles “laws” and asserting that there are three of them, Sanderson invokes comparison to Isaac Asimov’s famous Three Laws of Robotics. However, Asimov’s laws were invented for specific stories and societies described in those stories, meaning they are actual laws there. By contrast, Sanderson has proposed three laws for building magic systems. But no world builder is beholden to another’s ideas on this (and he admits he does not intend that). His laws do not apply to any society, invented physics/limitations, world builders, or even stories. He cannot enforce them except on himself, which applies to us: we can choose what to enforce on ourselves.

Sanderson’s laws are restated here as a single sentence for comparison. None are declarative and each leaves room for interpretation:

  1. “An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.”
  2. Limitations are greater than powers.
  3. “Expand what you already have before you add something new.”
Local Laws

Compare those to the following laws I invented for this section. These are laws that might exist in a city or sovereign power, both of which have authority to impose and enforce laws. They are designed to instruct people on what’s permitted and when. We might craft something similar for localities.

  1. Magic shall not be performed within the city limits except within designated areas or by those holding a valid permit.
  2. Magic shall not be used to inflict physical harm or death on a living being except in defense of one’s own life or that of another.
  3. Magic shall not be performed on the Holy Day.
Laws of Magic

What about laws of magic? These would delineate what is possible and what isn’t, due to the equivalent of physics for magic, like nature’s “laws.”, such as the law of gravity. These would be discovered and defined by the species/races through experience and observation of what [usually] works and what doesn’t. Here are some examples:

  1. Black Magic and White Magic cannot be performed by the same wizard.
  2. Magic cannot be performed by virgins.
  3. Magic can only be performed by spells, or by items imbued with spells.
  4. Wizards of the Moon must be exposed to two hours of moonlight each night to perform Moon Magic between then and the next moonrise.
World Building Laws

What about laws that world builders should follow when creating a magic system? This is what Sanderson intended. These are ones that will impact the storytelling we do and what local laws and laws of magic we design; as such, they should come first in our work. The next section has my thoughts on this.