Inventing Spells: Materials - The Art of World Building
May 032021
 
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Whether creating spells, potions, or magic items, viewing ingredients as like those for a recipe is a useful analogy. Everything has its purpose, or it isn’t there. The combination of water and flour make dough, which is needed for anything requiring bread or a crust. Yeast is to make dough rise. Spices are optional flavoring. Fruits, meats, and vegetables are for flavor and nutrition. For cooking, the heat can melt items together, bake some ingredients, or convert separate items into a whole. The type of pot matters. Some things can be fudged (“add spices to taste”) while others will botch the result if not exact.

We can use all these cooking techniques to determine spell ingredients. Just as yeast is used to make dough rise, we can decide a common plant is used to bind elements together. A spell that has words, gestures, and only one ingredient doesn’t need this plant, but one with two or more ingredients does. Similarly, maybe there’s a spell type that results in a glass object and we therefore need a bit of sand, warm water (for its heat), or actual glass to achieve this. Whether someone is creating a crystal ball or an orb for light, these same ingredients would be needed even though the spells differ in other respects. Quantity would depend on the object’s size.

The point of a spell is to achieve a specific result, just like cooking recipes. If we’re following the recipe for apple pie, but don’t get the preparation or quantities and/or ingredients right, we don’t end up with a blueberry pie. Or an apple. Or a plant. We also don’t melt the countertop, destroy the baking dish, or grant life to the apple slices. That said, it is possible to substitute ingredients, which is a good way to allow a wizard not fully prepared to cast a spell produce something similar with the ingredients available in the moment. Decide how flexible the spells are. If they need two oz of white sand but only have two ounces of black sand, what happens? If they have the white sand but only 1.5 oz, does the spell still work but results are smaller than it would have been? Less range? Less powerful? To answer these questions, know what each element of a spell is causing. We can start with our cooking analogy, the purpose of various items, and then imagine substitutes.

Element and PurposeSubstitute
Warm water and flour (wheat, bread, whole, etc.) to create doughA liquid and a grounded plant. The liquid could be ordinary or unusual/magical
Dough to form a container, base, or new whole, and which can be shaped many ways (pie, pretzel, muffin)“Dough” to act as containers, projectiles
Yeast (makes dough rise)Grounded plant to alter/accentuate ingredients
Water to cook (noodles, rice), sanitize, break down or congeal ingredientsAny liquid to boil, purify, breakdown or congeal ingredients
Spices for variations in tasteSmall materials for variation in power/other details
Meats, fruits, and vegetables for nutritionMeats (for strength), plants, and other elements for shaping results
Pots, pans, containers of metal, glassSame, possibly of unique materials
Tongs, spatula, etc., to handle hot itemsSame

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