Skip

A Wizard's Staff Has A Knob On The End
December 9, 2011 3:10 PM   Subscribe

The Rules of Magic. Every fantasy saga has its own rules for magic, and its own explanations for how the magical arts work. Where does magic come from? Who can use magic, and how? io9 has compiled a list of the rules of magic in 50 fantasy sagas. (jpg)
posted by zarq (63 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
Obviously, the graphic contains spoilers.

The io9 staff has been updating the list based on reader feedback.
posted by zarq at 3:12 PM on December 9, 2011


I was expecting more of a morphological analysis (ritualistic, sympathetic, runic, sacrificial, etc...), but interesting.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:13 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


c.f. Isaac Bonewits' The Laws of Magic.
posted by Zed at 3:17 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


You can calm down, guys, the film Hocus Pocus is in there.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:18 PM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Why can't folks make informational, text-plus-line-art images like this PNG files instead of JPEG files?
posted by trackofalljades at 3:20 PM on December 9, 2011 [11 favorites]


Hocus Pocus is about a group of nice ladies who just want to teach some kids the true meaning of Halloween.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 3:21 PM on December 9, 2011


I am also pleased every time the question of how to defeat magic is "More magic."

None of the answers seem to be "bullets".
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 3:23 PM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Dave Duncan's A Man of His Word series has one of the more interesting and carefully-thought-out magic systems I can remember reading. Shame it's not there. Also his The Great Game series, in which, like in American Gods, power comes from others' belief.
posted by gurple at 3:25 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hocus Pocus is about a group of nice ladies who just want to teach some kids the true meaning of Halloween.

Gosh, and here I thought Ray Bradbury did that in 1972.

Plus ca change, plus c'est le meme chose.
posted by elendil71 at 3:28 PM on December 9, 2011


Also sadly lacking Her Majesty's Wizard.
posted by mstokes650 at 3:29 PM on December 9, 2011


You guys can submit those to i09. Go on!
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 3:33 PM on December 9, 2011


The Terry Pratchett entry is incomplete. Where the "key to defeating magic" reads "Unclear", it should read "Huge dinners and tenure."
posted by darksasami at 3:35 PM on December 9, 2011 [32 favorites]


Oh man I remember having an entire notebook of "rules" for how magic was deployed in my home-made RPG setting to have it make sense (since the wealth of the city-state was built on a very clear understanding of how magic works, which followed musical composition like rules about harmony and discord) that ended up eating any desire to actually make the thing on RPGMaker2000 cause it was more fun to just endlessly worldbuild then to make a narrative.
posted by The Whelk at 3:36 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


cause it was more fun to just endlessly worldbuild then to make a narrative.

Which explains series like The Wheel of Time.
posted by mek at 3:40 PM on December 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


And also pfft. No Zelaznys Amber? The concept of magic as world affecting reality comparable to gravity in todays world ignored? For shame.
posted by elendil71 at 3:40 PM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


trackofalljades: "Why can't folks make informational, text-plus-line-art images like this PNG files instead of JPEG files?"

I don't understand why this is an image at all.
posted by brundlefly at 3:44 PM on December 9, 2011 [13 favorites]


I don't understand why this is an image at all.

Handy way to prevent plagiarism if nothing else....
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:53 PM on December 9, 2011


None of the answers seem to be "bullets."

In Cimmeria, the answer is steel.

Missing: The Cthulhu Mythos

Where does magic come from? The horrifying nature of the universe.

How do you wield it? Reading ancient tomes and long buried runes. Chanting and secret ceremonies are often a plus. Blood sacrifice is not always required, but it is rarely unwelcome. Just becoming aware that supernatural beings exist is often enough to summon them.

Is there good and evil magic? Nope, just varying degrees of evil.

Can anyone learn? Magic is mostly restricted to the insane,* but that's not very restrictive seeing as attempting to do magic will probably drive you mad. Consider joining a cult.

What's the secret to defeating magic? There is no hope, not for you, not for anyone.

Is magic a secret? Yes and no. It's always there, lurking at the edge of your peripheral vision and the corners of your dreams. However, few have become fully aware of it and fewer still have survived the experience. In time, no one will be able to escape the true nature of reality. "In His House at R'lyeh Dead Cthulhu waits dreaming, yet He shall rise and His kingdom shall cover the Earth."

No, not mental illness as we know it -- comic book insanity. There should be cackling. Fugue states, delusions, hallucinations and megalomania, all at once, that's the stuff. Abdul Alhazred would scoff at your ADHD.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:54 PM on December 9, 2011 [10 favorites]


I am also pleased every time the question of how to defeat magic is "More magic."

None of the answers seem to be "bullets".
This table omits Larry Niven's The Magic Goes Away series; sadly, since the magic there is slightly more "rules"-oriented than most (non-renewable mana, used as background, a plot mechanic and an allegory for fossil fuels).

It has a couple good short stories on the opposite extremes here. "What's the secret to defeating magic?" would be a list including both "much, much, much more magic" and "unexpected sharp things".
posted by roystgnr at 3:58 PM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I feel like I could write a much better version of the Oz rules- like "everyone in Oz is magical and you can't actually kill anyone- you can chop someone up into little bits and all of those little bits! still alive!" Plus there's like 2 levels of magic- magic inherent and like MAGIC-magic which is practiced by witches and a wizard. Plus the secret to defeating magic in Oz is outwitting it.
posted by Zophi at 3:59 PM on December 9, 2011


Why can't folks make informational, text-plus-line-art images like this PNG files instead of JPEG files?

That's handled in the infographic that asks "Is There Good Design and Evil Design" and "Can You Defeat Evil Design?"
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:00 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Missing the Laundry series, which has one of the best thought out magical systems (basically a branch of applied Mathematics) and the Diane Duane Wizard books, which incorporate a lot of technology.

The Laundry



Where does magic come from?


The realm of pure mathematics which has a real effect on the physical universe and the human brain. Also undying unknowable monsters beyond the veil of reality. Ultimately it's the human brain doing calucations, but that's dangerous and computers do it much faster.

How do you wield it?

iPhone apps, or any computer system, even down to a chess set. Some magical devices exist but are rare.

Is there good and evil magic?


Spells involving murder or cannibalism are almost never used for good, and they very act of using magic attracts the attention of said unthinkable unknowable monsters that thick human brains are tasty treats.

Can anyone learn?

Pretty much, but a strong background in Computer science or mathematics is essential. Some people stumble onto this by accident of course i:e: Cults.

What's the secret to defeating magic?

Being smarter then the spellcaster, exploiting holes and weak spots in spells, breaking a magical device with a power surge, etc.

Is magic a secret?

It falls under the Official Secrets Act so yes. They are spies after all.
posted by The Whelk at 4:03 PM on December 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


The only universal truth I know is that red is for life and blue is for mana.

Everything else is details.
posted by rokusan at 4:05 PM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


I am also pleased every time the question of how to defeat magic is "More magic."

None of the answers seem to be "bullets".
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 3:23 PM on December 9


Well, the ending of Bakshi's 'Wizards' gave that one up.
posted by FatherDagon at 4:07 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


No Dragaera?

“No matter how subtle the wizard, a knife between the shoulder blades will seriously cramp his style.”
― Steven Brust
posted by yeolcoatl at 4:07 PM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


No, not mental illness as we know it -- comic book insanity. There should be cackling. Fugue states, delusions, hallucinations and megalomania, all at once, that's the stuff. Abdul Alhazred would scoff at your ADHD.
Critical spell failure; roll against table DSM-IV for effect.
posted by eruonna at 4:11 PM on December 9, 2011 [16 favorites]


Now I want to write a story where being really ADHD makes you great at spellcasting
posted by The Whelk at 4:12 PM on December 9, 2011


Critical spell failure; roll against table DSM-IV for effect.

Back in 2ed, you rolled against the DSM-III. Due to some errata failures, that meant a result of 04 on your d100 meant you turned gay. Changing social climates caused this to be written off the chart in 3ed; however the perennial 'Girdle of Opposite Gender' still proves the bane of many a PC who fails their 'sexual identity comfort' check.
posted by FatherDagon at 4:16 PM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's only appropriate that I misread ADHD for AD&D, due to not paying attention as well as hey what's that over there
posted by FatherDagon at 4:17 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Actually in the Call of Cthulhu RPG there are insanity tables, but it's best IMO to pick an insanity that fits the situation. Like if someone is shocked by seeing their best friend being slowly consumed by an unspeakable horror, you could decide that he now has an intense and extreme fear of meat, manifested by sudden and militant vegetarianism.
posted by muddgirl at 4:23 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sadly missing The Wizard:

Where does magic come from?

Unresolved childhood trauma, apparently.

How do you wield it?

Via kicking ass at video games. May be enhanced by hanging out with future members of Rilo Kiley.

Is the good and evil magic?

Not as such, though the Power Glove is implied to not be capable of anything but evil. In any case, it is certainly not "good" by any standard definition.

Can anybody learn?

Yes, though the training involves a childhood trek across the North American deserts, including finding a way to get three unaccompanied minors checked into a room at a Reno casino and hotel.

What is the secret to defeating magic?

Unclear. Though not tested in-universe, disqualifying one competitor for early, unwitnessed access to the gaming center would logically work.

Is magic a secret?

Not to those who visit circa 1990 competitive gaming tournaments. So, essentially, yes.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:26 PM on December 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


Whats more true than the Bible and has more magic than Harry Potter.
Castaneda, Carlos (also, where is the Movie.)
posted by JohnR at 4:30 PM on December 9, 2011


Saddened that the Bas-Lag books aren't here. Though I'm also sorta saddened that Mievelle beat me to writing a fantasy series where the answer to the "what is the source of magic?" question is "the dialectic."
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:31 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Handy way to prevent plagiarism if nothing else....

Side benefit: jpeg makes the entire table completely unreadable on iOS. Like there is no possible way to make it appear to be anything other than a really blurry pile of nothing. Way to go, guys.
posted by caution live frogs at 4:47 PM on December 9, 2011


Yeah. Can't read it at all on iPad. The sad thing is I really want to so I'll go look on my windows pc now.
posted by jeffamaphone at 5:33 PM on December 9, 2011


Now I want to write a story where being really ADHD makes you great at spellcasting
It doesn't, actually, but under modern rules you're allowed 50% extra time per turn in combat and a private room if you're having a hard time remembering your spells under pressure.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:35 PM on December 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


"Wait, being depressed increases your casting range? That's great!"

"No, it's awful, it only works when I'm depressed, so I can't even feel good about it or goes away."
posted by The Whelk at 5:40 PM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


I can convert it in gimp and upload to imgur in an hour or so.
posted by zarq at 5:45 PM on December 9, 2011


I wanted to be able to say "your list sucks because it's missing my favorite example," about this, but instead I've spent the last while wondering if Zelazny's Lord of Light has magic in it or not.
posted by Gygesringtone at 5:57 PM on December 9, 2011


That... That's a very good question.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:04 PM on December 9, 2011


"I've weaponized my anxiety attacks, if I get too nervous it teleports me ten feet away."

"How does that help?"

"Not much, but it beats what it did before."

"Which was"

"Teleporting everyone else around me ten feet away. you ever try to cut someone out of a wall? I have."
posted by The Whelk at 6:16 PM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


ended up eating any desire to actually make the thing on RPGMaker2000 cause it was more fun to just endlessly worldbuild then to make a narrative.

You have just described my every attempt to DM/GM any roleplaying games. God I loved running Fading Suns so much. My players could not possibly have been more bored, but you know what? They could plausibly have visited any of several hundred worlds and done almost anything they wanted to.

I've been playing around with something recently that has schools of magic which relate to each other rock/paper/scissors style. I've decided that you can boil magical systems down to three philosophies: ritual magic/willworking, spirit magic/shamanism, and naming magic. It's the first time I've been able to come up with interesting, plausible systems that didn't basically boil down to Ars Magica ripoffs, and the links in this post are actually going to be fucking fantastic resources for that. Thanks zarq!
posted by penduluum at 6:31 PM on December 9, 2011


Missing the Laundry series, which has one of the best thought out magical systems (basically a branch of applied Mathematics)

Curious. The Lord Darcy series of magic/detective stories also uses math as the underlying mechanism of magic.

Also not mentioned is Rachel Caine's very inventive Weather Warden series, which uses a combination of psychic control over the elemental forces of nature & tapping into the power of enslaved Djinn by a secret society of Weather Wardens who shape the forces of natural disasters to limit their damage. There's also a lot of sex, just to warn you.
posted by scalefree at 6:46 PM on December 9, 2011


Robert Asprin's MythAdventures books were popcorn fare in most respects, but I liked the treatment of magic. It worked differently in different dimensions, but made prominent use of ley lines. Different from the typical D&D or Tolkein stuff.
posted by rikschell at 6:51 PM on December 9, 2011


No Dying Earth? For shame.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:52 PM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I like the magic in the Spellsinger series. The power of your magic is related to the amount of classic rock you can rock out to.
posted by Quonab at 7:00 PM on December 9, 2011


No Fritz Leiber? Whatever.

The seven eyes of Ningauble the Wizard floated back to his hood as he reported to Fafhrd: "I have seen much, yet cannot explain all. The Gray Mouser is exactly twenty-five feet below the deepest cellar in the palace of Gilpkerio Kistomerces. Even though twenty-four parts in twenty-five of him are dead, he is alive.

"Now about Lankhmar. She's been invaded, her walls breached everywhere and desperate fighting is going on in the streets, by a fierce host which out-numbers Lankhmar's inhabitants by fifty to one -- and equipped with all modern weapons. Yet you can save the city."

"How?" demanded Fafhrd.

Ningauble shrugged. "You're a hero. You should know."

posted by jquinby at 7:01 PM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


They didn't include C. H. Cherryh's Fortress in the Eye of Time series. I bah them!
posted by winna at 7:28 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Elric of Melnibone & the entire Eternal Champion metaverse, which introduced us to the eternal struggle between the Gods of Chaos & Lords of Order as a new axis of moral alignment & source of mystical power.
posted by scalefree at 7:30 PM on December 9, 2011


One aspect of The Magicans use f magic I really liked is that the bulk if magic is just tedious and repetitive and pointless, sure you can eventually fly to the moon or transverse universes but 90% of what you do is very taxing busywork.
posted by The Whelk at 7:34 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


(to add)

Missing: The Cthulhu Mythos

Q: Where does magic come from?

A: I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.


No, really, you'd be better off. In fact, I'm going to blow my brains out right now. *K-BLAM*

Q: .
posted by Smedleyman at 8:28 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Master of the Five Magics and its sequels was pretty much written around finding out how magic worked in that multiverse. By the last book , it turned out that almost any system that could be defined was Turing-in-a-wizard-hat complete.
posted by Sparx at 8:40 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Imgur apparently converts png back to jpg, so here are gif and jpg versions.
posted by zarq at 9:00 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm happy they included the Riftwar saga. It's maybe not an example of great writing, but it was the closest thing to a Lord of the Rings style epic that I read as a teenager. Feist didn't have the linguistic or historical chops of Tolkien, but I think he was better at writing believable and memorable characters, and I really enjoyed those books.
posted by A dead Quaker at 9:08 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


What, no Ethshar?
posted by fings at 9:52 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


What, no Pliocene Saga?
posted by dvdgee at 10:00 PM on December 9, 2011


Nya! What guide to fictional magic selects the godawful film version of The Neverending Story as its primary source? Fie upon it.
posted by howfar at 2:45 AM on December 10, 2011


I remain annoyed that there is no reference to any of Jack Vance's work. To illustrate just how lame this omission is, see this PDF. Also this.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:46 AM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


No My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic?

I am afraid I shall be taking my pageviews elsewhere, io9. GOOD DAY.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:54 AM on December 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


This table omits Larry Niven's The Magic Goes Away series;

'What Good is a Glass Dagger?' was the first thing I thought of when I saw the title.
posted by ovvl at 6:49 AM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


They forgot about the True Power in the Wheel of Time :( WHY DO I KNOW THIS
posted by en forme de poire at 12:24 PM on December 10, 2011


Hold on, there are good and evil magicians in the Hyborian Age? Please tell me they are not thinking of Kemsha.
posted by ersatz at 1:49 PM on December 10, 2011


Tell Me No Lies writes "Handy way to prevent plagiarism if nothing else...."

Free, web based OCR. It's choking on the column formatting so you'd have to do each column individually but that shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes.
posted by Mitheral at 9:05 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


« Older Things go BOOM!   |   Nothing says Christmas like... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post