Tower’s World: Magic

For the Tower world, I decided to play with some, continually evolving, ideas about magic.  Initially, I decided to divide magics into “low” and “high” categories.  Low magic would be slower to use and less powerful, although not generally as effective and wide ranging.  On the other hand high magic would be significantly stronger and faster to use, although somewhat more difficult to learn.


For low magics, I decided on three: waerlomancy, witchcraft, and wizardry.


  • Waerlomancy involves communing with spirits of various sorts, whether forcing them to act on the mage’s behalf or convincing them to do so. Most practitioners are referred to as warlocks, although those who specialize in dealings with spirits of the dead are necromancers.


  • Witchcraft involves rituals and various materials, from herbs to pieces of hair, bits of string to birds eggs. All witchcraft rituals are ad hoc, that is they are created on the spot based on intuition.  The same is true of the materials used—a witch gathers and employs whatever materials seem appropriate at the time.


  • Wizardry is the opposite of witchcraft. It also involves rituals and materials, but it is rigid and proscribed versus witchcraft’s seemingly random nature.  Wizards follow painstakingly researched and formulaic rituals with precise ingredients and motions.  In many ways, wizards see magic as a science, compared to witches who see it as an art.


Obviously, these three, as the basic magics, heavily influence how individuals interact with and understand magic in the world.  So, all mages learn one of these three basic, low, magics.  Which one often depends on the faction they are raised in, as each faction has preferred magics.


The high magics were originally conceived of as individual specialties.  Before I started putting together the first typed versions, though, I decided that each of the six high magics would have its own purpose.  These purposes broke down into three categories: basics, item creation, and power generation.


  • Sorcery (Basic) became the versatile, and gateway, high magic. It is the one that all who study high magic in the modern fictive world learn.  From that foundation, they can choose to learn other high magics.  So, sorcery contains all the fundamental elements, theory, and understanding of high magic.  However, sorcery cannot be used to create long term magic items (although it can potentially create one-use items).
  • Alchemy (Item) is fairly traditional, based on medieval and early modern European conceptions. That is, the alchemist mixes myriad ingredients in a sort of magical chemistry to create elixirs (potions, pills, and unguents) that possess special powers.  Most study this magic in order to create basic items.  This can take the form of the herbalist (witches) or the chemist (wizard) as well.
  • Lithomancy (Item) is the magic of gemstones, and it primarily used to create magic items. Practitioners study gem cutting, gem powers, and some trade/craft skills to incorporate gemstones into various items.  Gems can be used individually, without being in objects, but this is relatively rare in the modern world.
  • Cryptomancy (Item), also called rune lore or glyph lore (my preferred), is the magic of symbols and words. It requires significant study and knowledge of languages and cultures.  Most who study it primarily focus on creating items—etched, painted, carved, written, or otherwise visibly part of the item—though the words and symbols can be used independently of other objects.  An obscure side branch of cryptomancy is yantromancy, the use of symbols on living beings, via tattooing.  The principle is the same, only the subject changes.
  • Blood Magic (Power) requires the sacrifice of blood some some living being to quickly generate potentially phenomenal amounts of magical energy. Most mages do not require such levels of energy and recover power naturally, but blood mages can gather a great deal of energy for major workings.  Obviously, the source matters—a rat isn’t as potent as a human; and rumors of especially potent sources such as dragon blood or the blood of royal lines, abound.
  • Coitomancy (Power) is, in short, sex magic, used to provide power for spells from other magics. For instance, coitomancy could be used to reinforce a sorcerous ward around a building.  In this fictive world, it requires two people to work and quality matters more than quantity (a sort of tantric principle).  There are rumors that some partners are more efficacious than others, based on species or other factors, as well.

After some further development and consideration of hidden species, I started thinking about hidden or lost magics.  To that end, I decided that the last two high magics (blood magic and coitomancy) were the oldest high magics and were at one time much more versatile than they are in the modern fictive world.  That knowledge, of course, was lost millennia ago, soon after the non-human species were driven to extinction.  At which point, other high magics were developed and rarified, or expanded, in various ways—to alchemy/cryptomancy/lithomancy and eventually to sorcery.

Magic Revisited: Symbol vs. Tool

Lately, I’ve been working on several projects including posting things here. These include:

 Company Earth/Section 15—An urban fantasy worldbuild and story (about 2400 words, middle of chapter 2)

Kingshaven—An urban fantasy piece (about 2730 words, starting chapter 2)

Great Covenant—An urban fantasy worldbuild

Eight Cities—A fantasy worldbuild connected to the Great Covenant Earth

Kindred Spirit—A fantasy worldbuild and story (about 13,250 words, starting chapter 8)

The Tower—An urban fantasy worldbuild and story (about 1900 word scene)

 I list these here mostly because I’ve been looking up a lot, and thinking, about magic again lately. These six settings all use magic differently to one degree or another. Some are more different than others, whether at a fundamental level or a more superficial level.

 Symbolic Magic versus Magic as a Tool

I’ve come across a variety of blogs and writer (sadly didn’t save any of them) who argue that all magic must have a cost, whether in terms of fatigue or something more significant (life?). Others have suggested that magic should symbolize something, or be a character unto itself.

 An alternate view, and one I prefer, is the idea that magic is simply a tool. In this set up, magic is ultimately no different than a hammer or sword, regardless of how one actually performs the magic. I suppose one reason I like it is that there is still significant room for variation and playing with the idea, and at the same time there is no inherent moral or other symbolic element. And it can still have a cost.

 Rowling presents a good example of this method in which magic, while an important element of her world, is little more than a tool and has a cost, albeit a minor one, in the form of learning time, and sometimes fatigue (or more, as shown in Deathly Hallows with Voldemort’s blood sacrifice protection and the horcruxes).

 High Magic versus Low Magic

As I’ve been working on the settings above, I’ve become interested in this idea. In short, the concept is that there are two (or more) layers of magic: low and high. These can have internal layers as well. So, low magic would be simple, basic magics; the hedge magic or hedge witch idea. It could be roughly equivalent to a secondary school education or an apprentice in a trade. On the other hand, high magics would be advanced, potentially superior (and more costly) magics. They are special, powerful, and require extra training. Perhaps only a certain percentage of the magical community undertakes the necessary education, roughly equivalent to modern grad school or a master in a trade.

 I like this concept because it brings in the idea of abilities and knowledge hidden (because of danger, power, or some other reason) from the majority of mages. In a way it is also somewhat realistic, in that the master or grad degree holder has a higher degree of knowledge and information, or tricks, than the apprentice or high school graduate.

 Old Magics versus New Magics

Another concept I’ve been playing with is old versus new magics, or different ages for different magics. In my own thinking, this has mostly been an evolutionary track, but it could also take the form of lost magics or a host of other possibilities. And the different magics could exist concurrently in the modern era.

 Older magic could be taken as more raw in terms of power or involving less control. Alternatively, the old magics could be potentially more precise and stronger (in a form of declining magical arts). Meanwhile, new magics could be more precise, though perhaps weaker and/or more specialized. Trudi Canavan plays with this idea to a certain extent with her Black Magician trilogy (lost, powerful magic). Esther Friesner works with evolved, rarefied modern magic in Split Heirs. Steven Brust also plays with the concept in the Dragaera books with the differences between raw, powerful, uncontrolled Elder Sorcery and modern sorcery. Ilona Andrews does as well with the Kate Daniels series, through the title character and her father’s family.

 Raw Power versus Skill/Control

I’ve also been thinking about differentiating raw power from control. An individual may have a phenomenal amount of potential power, but little to no control (at least initially); such as the Skywalker clan, supposedly. On the other hand, someone could have great skill and knowledge, but very little raw power. Canavan suggests this possibility throughout her series as well.

 Power Generation versus Spellcasting

If energy is being used by the magician, there is also the question of how power is generated, acquired, or replenished. Some work with ambient absorption, a sort of unconscious recharge based on rest and time (Canavan uses this as do others). Others involve active rituals and even sacrifice (also appears in Canavan, via bloodletting).

 Sometimes, there are magics that exist solely to provide energy and power for the caster—blood sacrifice, organ consumption, draining magic items, tantric magic—while other magics are involved in actual spellcasting, e.g. creating effects with that power. This is something I’ve been playing with to an extent as well. Allyson James’s Stormwalker series seems to use this idea to some extent, ex. sex magic appears to be used solely for the purpose of powering other magics, whether already in place or cast during the act (ref. Stormwalker in which Janet and Mick reinforce her wards on the hotel).

 Enchanting versus Enchantment

There is also an interesting, not really confusion but multiple uses of the term enchantment. Traditionally, enchantment refers to mind affecting magics. Since at least the early days of D&D, enchantment can also refer to the creation of magically imbued items, e.g. enchanted items. I think much of the issue here comes from the real lack of definitive usage of terminology, both historically and in modern usage. This is true, in its own way, of virtually all terminology related to magic—e.g. sorcery, wizardry, magic, witchcraft, necromancy—that are, in some cases, used interchangeably, or for multiple things.

 To clarify this, some have referred to the creation of magic items as “artifice”. However, that term also refers to trickery, cunning, and deception. Recently, I’ve been favoring “crafting”, as in “He carried several Crafted items” or “She was a master of Crafting” versus enchantment (for mind affecting magics).

 Props versus No Props

Some writers, bloggers, and readers believe that all magic should involve complication. This can include the use of rituals, special words, or other devices that make it showy for the story—Rowling’s use of wands, for instance. Others, less commonly, prefer to employ sheer willpower for magic, with little to no “showiness” (Canavan). Some mix a variety of things—Brust, for whom most Dragaeran sorcery requires a simple thought, but witchcraft requires ritual, and advanced sorcery sometimes requires materials, psychic abilities work . . . differently.

 Props certainly limit the usage of magic, but whether props are effective or needed varies widely by world and writer.

Merlyn Dee’s Origin of Magics: Evolution of Magic

While working on my Aethoth worldbuild (secondary world fantasy), I’ve recently been considering, and decided to implement, the idea of evolving magic.

We commonly see a variety of magic systems at play in a setting, ex. Tolkien (wizard magic v. elf magic v. dwarf magic), Brust (sorcery v. witchcraft), or Pratchett (wizard v. witch). We also regularly see a decline of magic, ex. Tolkien (the fading of elf magic and withdraw of the wizards) or Pratchett (sourcery -> wizardry). The best I’ve seen of what I’m getting at with evolved magic, though, is Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series, in which magic is constantly changing and adapting to a post-apocalyptic Earth. To some degree, the Dragonlance (5th Age?) approach might be akin to what I’m thinking as well, but I’m not really familiar with it.

For Aethoth, I’m thinking that an old race (the aiser) used a rune-based magic millennia ago. This was later adapted by one of the older human nations into sigils—stylized forms of the runes—that no longer connected with the aiser language. Then in the modern world there are three magics—sorcery (blood and/or spirit magic), witchcraft (ritual and/or focus), and wizardry (visualization and willpower)—that all come from the sigil-rune roots adapted to a new era and changes in the nature of magic.

This may tie into the concept of magic as a living entity. As such, magic would adapt over time, changing to better survive within its environment. The old throwbacks still exist and work, perhaps even thrive, in certain niches areas (ex. sharks and crocodiles), but the new versions have better evolved for other, more common, niches too and are therefore much more common.

Witches, Munchkins, and Scarecrows? No: LME Races

On the Earth I’m putting together, there are technically four categories of sentient species. All are native to Earth.

-Humans: Regular, everyday, normal people.
-Mages: Long lived humans capable of tapping and using magical energy.
-Shifters: Humans capable of changing form into the guise of animals. Class 1 shifters can go human to animal, class 2 have human-hybrid-animal forms, class 3 can assume the shape of any animal.
-Adepts: Humans with just enough talent to store tiny amounts of magical energy and use it for relatively small effects.

All except goblins and hadeans are immortal.
-Gargoyles: Masters of ley lines and strongly connected to the earth. Known for their patience, stone-tough skin, and sometimes inhuman appearance.
-Goblins: Tusked, pointed eared, human sized beings known for their red and/or blue genetic tattoos. Impulsive and masters of yantromancy.
-Hadeans: Hairless humanoids who look basically human except for the gemstones genetically implanted in their arms, heads, and chests.
-Liches: Body hopping spirits capable of sustaining a stolen body for a decade or two before burning it out. Masters of necromancy, controlling spirits and undead.
-Sirens: Attractive (at least by the individual siren’s standards) human-looking beings, masters of tantromancy.
-Treefolk: Humanoid trees acknowledged as masters of thaumaturgy.
-Vampires: Living human-like beings with fangs, masters of sanguomancy.

-Centaurs: The classic man-horse hybrids described by the ancient Greeks.
-Dragons: Once fearsome quasi-reptilian beasts, dragons now look human but possess great powers over nature.
-Dwarves: The stout, often subterranean, humanoids found in legends around the world.
-Elflings: The Little People, the source of tales about brownies and other small Fae.
-Elves: The source of tales of the Sidhe and related peoples around the world.
-Giants: A dying race of 10-12′ tall humanoids, being driven to extinction by dwindling habitats.
-Nymphs: Quasi-spirit women bound to natural features (lakes, mountains, groves, trees, streams) around the world, very territorial and starting to share the giants’ problem.
-Satyrs: The male equivalent to nymphs, goat-men described by the ancient Greeks.

Long lost collection of species believed by paranormals to have influenced the development of Earth and its cultures as well as creating most of the major pocket realms. They vanished from the world roughly 300,000 years ago (actually closer to 750,000 years ago).

Magic Systems, or Writers are Often Masochistic

Since I’ve strayed from world building and, arguably, writing a bit lately, I thought I’d get back to my recent world build. To set the stage, this is an Earth-based urban fantasy with some high fantasy elements potentially possible. But, the important thing, as per my title, is the magic system(s) I’m developing.

Because I’m a glutton for punishment, this world has four types of magic wielding beings:

Mages—basically human, somewhat extended lifespans, and ability to harness and shape magical energy

Mage-Born—once human mages, changed over 600,000 years ago into different species

Adepts—basically human, have some magical talent but not enough to do true magic, they can channel very tiny amounts of magical energy that become concentrated if they remain in the body, e.g. are used on the adept, but are virtually non-existent otherwise.

Non-Humans—Centaurs, Dragons, Dwarves, Elves (Sidhe-ish), Elflings (Little People), Giants, Nymphs, and Satyrs, each species has its own magic abilities.


Mages have access to seven different methods of using magic. These are really more techniques or styles than they are different systems. To compare, they are sort of like Rowling’s magic subjects—ex. a Harry Potter wizard can make someone happy via Charms or by getting them to drink a Potion, same effect but different method.

Alchemy—magical chemistry, more or less; the creation of elixirs through mixing myriad ingredients

Cryptomancy—use of words and symbols to focus and direct power

Enchantment—use of magic to permanently imbue objects with spells (versus short term, temporary imbuement that other methods can do)

Hermetic—use of, often complex, tried & true exacting rituals; “scientific magic”

Sorcery—use of a familiar to focus and direct power

Wizardry—use of a specially prepared and attuned staff to focus and direct power

Witchcraft—use of ad hoc rituals and ingredients, often whatever feels right at the moment, never the same ritual twice for any given spell

The mage-born were once human practitioners of some of the oldest forms of magic in real Earth history. Then magic changed, and in the process those mages became something else. They are the only people in the modern world capable of using their specific magics, and they sometimes produce mages of their own (but not adepts). Human mages are, if they can find a teacher, able to learn the basics of these magics, but only the specific mage-born species can go beyond the “apprentice” level.

Geomancy (Gargoyle)—the magic of ley lines and earth

Lithomancy (Hadean)—the magic of gemstones (genetically embedded in hadeans)

Necromancy (Lich)—the magic of spirits and the dead

Sanguomancy (Vampire)—blood magic

Tantromancy (Siren)—sex magic

Thaumaturgy (Treefolk)—the magic of trees and other plants

Yantromancy (Goblin)—tattoo magic (genetic; each goblin is born with specific tattoos)

Adepts are basically wuxia-style chi wielders, except they channel general magical energy not chi/ki.

Non-Humans were never human, still aren’t, and cannot produce offspring with humans. And they each have at least one magic-like ability specific to their species:
Centaur—Brewing (basically beer-based alchemy), Healing (uncommon to rare)

Dragon—Air Control (Eastern), Fire Control (Western), Water Control (Eastern)

Dwarf—Crafting Enchantment (uncommon), Earth Control

Elf—Glamour (illusion)

Elfling—Concealment (easily, magically, hide), Land Connection (sense things about the land)

Giant—Magic Resistance

Nymph—Feature Control (move trees, cause rockslides), Feature Sense (know what happens around associated natural feature)

Satyrs—Emotion Control (music based; fear, panic, desire, etc.)