Like the vampire post, I’m going to open by asking you to consider the relationship between magic and religion. Are your witches and wizards members of a pagan (or neopagan) religion? Are they Satanists straight out of the Malleus Maleficarum? (Er, maybe they shouldn’t be?) Are their religious beliefs irrelevant to their magical abilities? Harry Potter aside, there’s often a strong historical relationship between magic and religion, and I think the author should be intentional.

Are your witches and wizards born or initiated? If they’re born, is it hereditary or a quirk? If they’re initiated, what’s involved in the initiation? Can it be both? If they’re born, are there magical “noble” families that hold wealth or influence? When do magical abilities manifest?

Where does magic come from, anyway? Is it granted by a deity, like a Dungeons and Dragons cleric? Is it something that comes with a bargain from a powerful being (most commonly a demon or fae creature), like a Dungeons and Dragon warlock? Is it simply a matter of learning spells, like a Dungeons and Dragons wizard? If it’s a matter of learning, is there a magical language where one learns the magic names of things, like in Le Guin’s Earthsea books? (The DND “just born with it” is sorcerer—they tap into magical forces and some kinds of sorcerers have magical backfire effects. There are also druids who use nature magic and can shapeshift into animals. These are also cool!)  

Are some spells easier for some witches or wizards to learn than others? Why is this? Is it an elemental system (as in, fire witches can’t do water spells, and either can’t or have trouble doing earth and air spells)? An alignment system (good witches can’t do evil spells without their alignment changing, and vice versa)? Just a natural talent for, say, Potions?

What limits does your magic have? (It should have some!) Does it use your life force? Does it use power “from nature”? Is it a matter of knowing a spell? Are there required ingredients, or is it just a matter of the caster’s will? What can cause a spell to fail?

Are there “illegal” spells? What happens to someone who casts an illegal spell?

How fully are you planning on explaining your magic?

Common types of magic include:

  • Potions
  • Enchantments/Curses
  • Divination/Prophecy
  • Magic items and/or creatures
  • Spells

I’ve separated Enchantments/Curses from Spells under the assumption that Enchantments/Curses are cast on other people. They’re probably mechanically similar (wave a wand, say an incantation, use ingredients outside a Potions context, etc.), but if you have an alignment system, does it affect it to Enchant someone into doing what you want? Is this different from Cursing?

Can Potions and Magic items be used by people without magic abilities? If not, what’s the benefit? Does it allow you to cast spells “above your level” or guarantee success? Potions are created by witches and wizards; where do magic items come from? Are they also created by witches and wizards, or by fae, demons, elemental spirits, etc.?

Divination is a particularly prickly problem, in my opinion. Is it related to religion? What does the existence of divination say about the existence of free will? Can the future shown in divination be changed? If you’re simply using divination to spy on others in real time (“scry”) and you have an alignment system, does this affect the diviner’s alignment in any way? Is it ethical to spy on others, or only ethical in certain circumstances, or never ethical?

Do other magical creatures (vampires, werewolves, etc.) exist? Can they also be magical? If the magic system is hereditary, what happens if a magical child is bitten by a vampire or werewolf? If the magic system is initiated, can a vampire or werewolf be initiated? Why or why not? Does the magic being elemental or alignment-based affect your answer? If you have fae, are they naturally magical? Can they grant magical powers to humans?

What is the relationship between magic and money? Yes, if one can duplicate items one can duplicate money, but wouldn’t that lead to devaluation and inflation if taken to excess? What kinds of jobs do witches and wizards do? If one can magically create food and shelter, does one need a job? Are witches and wizards healers? What about magical law enforcement, or teaching? Is there a magical school where young witches and wizards learn? Are there research institutions? Do they take ordinary jobs, like file clerk or veterinarian?

And about that magic school: Is there more than one? Who runs it? Is it run by a beneficent Wizard Council, or is it an evil indoctrination camp for a magical army? Do witches and wizards instead learn through an apprentice system? Are they just born knowing spells? If so, what stops them from hexing classmates in grade school?

Does the world at large know about the magical world? How is it kept hidden, if it is? Do they do magic as a job, if not? Can diviners predict the stock market? Are there enchantments to make people more successful artistically? How expensive are these services?

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