Best and Worst Magic Systems You've Seen

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Jedi Knight Muse

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Best and Worst Magic Systems You've Seen
« on: November 20, 2017, 10:50:53 AM »
This was inspired by a Reddit thread I was reading.


What are the best and worst magic systems that you've seen? What makes you enjoy them so much? Have your own magic systems been influenced by them (i.e. have you purposely stayed away from something in a magic system because you didn't like it in someone else's system, or have you tried to do something similar to something an author used because you enjoyed it so much)?
« Last Edit: November 20, 2017, 10:53:47 AM by Jedi Knight Muse »
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Jedi Knight Muse

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Re: Best and Worst Magic Systems You've Seen
« Reply #1 on: November 20, 2017, 11:00:02 AM »
I admittedly haven't read as many fantasy books by now as I should have with a lot of magic systems that I can remember offhand, so I'm sure my list will be rather short. The obvious would be Harry Potter. I don't really remember much about what I thought of the books and things like the magic system they have while I was reading the books 'cause it was so long ago, but I feel like there was definitely a fascination that I had with them, even if more on an subconscious level. There's nothing super complex about it. You just wave a wand and say an incantation, and poof! Magic. It's simple, and it works.

I don't know if I've come across a bad magic system yet.
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JayLee

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Re: Best and Worst Magic Systems You've Seen
« Reply #2 on: November 20, 2017, 11:22:18 AM »
See... I very strongly disliked the magic system in Harry Potter. It felt so slapdash to me (even way back in middle school) that I had trouble believing it was anything actually useful. Sure, magic did stuff.... but the way it was shown in the books was kinda like this: What are you talking about... Harry only ever needs to show proficiency in three spells. And yes, he's going to win with one of those beginner level spells in the end, because he doesn't need to be an awesome wizard. He's the chosen one, so there.

Magic constantly broke its own rules, introduced an elitest system even though it didn't do much better than magic from muggle borns or than tech... The most interesting instance of magic, by far, had to be when they showed spells could be modified, and new spells could be written. Otherwise, HPs magic was just about everything I find disenchanting in magic systems in books.

But I've read plenty of books with more slapdash feeling magics that made it work. These were used as wild, or fairy magics, based on gut instinct and the fabric of the world. Some of those I liked because their bounds were unpredictability. There were consequences, and there was a lot of study involved to "master" it. I also really liked the magic system in "Imager" because it was based in what we would call physics. The rules there were incredibly strict, and magic was limited solely by a person's cabability to use it, and somewhat their tolerance to pain. Very fascinating. I've also liked the magic in "Dragonlance" with the three types, and the need to refresh spells in the memory constantly, and so on and so forth. The Wild Magic vs High Magic in "The Enduring Flame" was fascinating, but another instance where magic fell a little short to me. While the Wild Magic was very interesting to read about, I felt the High Magic fell just a little bit short in some regards. I've got a few others, but I'll sum things up.

All in all, I read a lot of books without distinct magic systems. Magic is simply there, in the background, and taken for granted. I actually prefer that over poorly developed, or cliche magic systems being described very carefully in the book. Personally, my magic systems tend to have limitations as a primary goal, and they can be science-based as well. But I've only had one book where I lay down the rules for the reader, because magic was literally converting energy to matter and matter to energy, and it made no sense without the explanation.
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Jedi Knight Muse

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Re: Best and Worst Magic Systems You've Seen
« Reply #3 on: November 20, 2017, 11:30:27 AM »
Okay, see, you clearly remember more about the magic system in Harry Potter than I do. :P So I totally didn't use the greatest example, haha.

I read one of the Dragonlance books but I think it was in the middle of the series (Dragons of Autumn Twilight) and it was ages ago and I don't remember anything about the magic system, if it was mentioned.

I like it when magic is just there, in the background, without being super complex, too. Like, I'm reading The Mage's Guild, and while I am only 113 pages in, it seems like it's pretty basic as far as magic goes. The main character hasn't received any actual training with magic yet so her control of it is kind of all over the place, but it also seems to be emotion based, so she thinks about something that makes her angry and she's able to light a table on fire with her mind. There's another character who can send mental images to another person, too. That kind of simple magic is what I really like, because then it's not super complicated and it's easy to understand, and it's the kind that I always try to use in my stories, too.
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Ahryantah

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Re: Best and Worst Magic Systems You've Seen
« Reply #4 on: November 20, 2017, 03:41:17 PM »
The more subtle the magic is, the better, I think. It just always feels awkward and kind of ridiculous to me when mages start throwing fireballs at each other, like I'm suddenly watching a cartoon or a D&D campaign. Yet I'm a hypocrite because a lot of the magic in my own books is of the "Cast Firestorm!" type, so I don't know. I guess I expect other people to be better writers than I am.  :P

There was a book I read ages ago; I couldn't even tell you the name because I never made it more than a couple chapters in before I returned it to the library. Anyway, in that world magic required some kind of physical sacrifice, like simple spells just exhausted people but more difficult spells actually required stuff like sacrificing body parts, and I just couldn't keep going with that. I'm certainly not against magic having some kind of price, but lopping off fingers or worse was just too squicky for me. So I count that as my personal worst magic system, though I can't say anything about if it made sense or was well thought out, because I never made it far enough into the book.

I loved Melanie Rawn's books when I was younger, especially the Sunrunner series, and I liked how magic was used in those. But then at some point she started trying to explain the genetics behind how magic was passed down and expressed, and even as a high school kid I was like, "lol no, that's not how genetics works." Like it was all weird Punnett square stuff (and not even used correctly) like what people learn in beginning biology classes, and apparently that was the extent of what Rawn knew about genetics. Like, don't try to combine your fantastical concept with real world scientific concepts unless you've actually done a little bit of research!

That said, I do like magic systems that are at least a little bit beholden to the laws of physics. I don't remember much about how magic worked in Mercedes Lackey's books, but I do remember reading a book once where it explained that people just couldn't do things like create fireballs out of thin air; there had to be something flammable around to actually catch a spark.

Actually, creating stuff out of thin air is one of my pet peeves in magic systems. The Harry Potter series is bad as well as inconsistent about that, like wizards can make chairs and stuff just pop into existence but apparently not food or money? There are still poor people in the wizarding world why? I kind of liked Anne Bishop's way of dealing with it, where people could store stuff within magical pocket dimensions and pull it out whenever, so it looked like they were creating something from nothing, but they could only pull out objects they had stored in the first place. There was an explanation for it, not "and suddenly this knife just came into existence."
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Jedi Knight Muse

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Re: Best and Worst Magic Systems You've Seen
« Reply #5 on: November 20, 2017, 06:28:31 PM »
Actually, creating stuff out of thin air is one of my pet peeves in magic systems. The Harry Potter series is bad as well as inconsistent about that, like wizards can make chairs and stuff just pop into existence but apparently not food or money? There are still poor people in the wizarding world why?

Hm. See, I honestly can't remember enough about the books to really be able to respond to this. I've seen the movies so many times, though, it's ridiculous. I know that in Sorcerer's Stone, Dumbledore does make food appear on the tables in the Great Hall at the end of the book for a feast. And then eventually for Deathly Hallows, Hermione has her bag with the extension charm that she used on it that has a tent and all sorts of other stuff (so basically she's Mary Poppins XD). But you're right, it doesn't seem to be a consistent thing. Like, the Weasley's theoretically could have had a lot of money, but they didn't and were considered poor which is why the Malfoy's picked on them so much. It seems weird that they couldn't just conjure thousands of gold coins for themselves and make themselves rich. Unless maybe there was something with Gringotts bank, though I can't imagine what it would be if it's like a normal bank. Hm.

Maybe Rowling wanted to keep it "realistic" by showing that there are different classes of wizards that aren't all filthy rich just because they have magic or something. Or maybe she just didn't think about it enough when creating the world, haha.
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JayLee

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Re: Best and Worst Magic Systems You've Seen
« Reply #6 on: November 20, 2017, 06:58:07 PM »
I kind of liked Anne Bishop's way of dealing with it, where people could store stuff within magical pocket dimensions and pull it out whenever, so it looked like they were creating something from nothing, but they could only pull out objects they had stored in the first place. There was an explanation for it, not "and suddenly this knife just came into existence."
ermigersh. This makes me so happy! Glad I'm not the only one who has this as part of a magic system... Though, to be fair, I was making fun of video games in my own cynical sort of way. Suffice it to say, I have a wizard in Killing Crow who pretty much has this as her magic :)
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No One of Consequence

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Re: Best and Worst Magic Systems You've Seen
« Reply #7 on: January 01, 2018, 06:21:13 PM »
I remember a book once - the name escapes me - where the earth was mirrored by another planet in a separate dimension. Mages manipulated pairs of opposites by linking the two realities, so that whatever pairing they controlled (each mage only had one) the opposite effect happened in the other earth. Summon fire here? In the mirror earth, a sudden sleet storm rose up. Healed someone in this earth? In the corresponding location in the other world things began to sicken or even die.

It wasn't explained in any scientific way, but it did mean there were complex moral questions raised with the use of magic. Once you know about the other earth, can you morally create a destructive effect on the other one, just to help you out with a situation here?