When Spells Are Not Needed - The Art of World Building
Apr 052021
 
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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.

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