My new fantasy world building law of magic? No matter the genre, level of societal or technological advancement—it should work.
When I first developed my fantasy world my intention was it would suit a medieval setting. You know, swords, spells, and low to no technology. A few years ago, though, I decided to go in another direction.
Why do I do these things to myself? I’m a writer.
I can’t explain the complete workings of magic in Ontyre here and, believe me, you don’t want to hear about it all. For instance, the most basic principles in the Ontyre Rules/Laws of Magic is currently a list twenty-two items long (so far).
And then there are the facts. The facts literally fill a book.
Let’s look at a couple of facts.
There are two forms of naturally occurring magic in the air: natural magic and raw magic. Natural magic is the more benign, raw magic the more wild. Those are partial definitions. One law that applies directly to raw magic is:
#8 Raw magic is a wild force that, if restricted in the presence of an open flame, reacts violently, producing mindless spells.
Believe me, you don’t want to be around when that happens.
Thus, in moving to a more technologically advanced society I’d run headlong into a problem. A BIG problem. What about engines, heating, and weapons? What about, more specifically, pistols? Deflagration meant they couldn’t exist because of the rules above, but in the mechanical, steampunk-like society I envisioned they were a necessity.
I do dislike it when I do these things to myself.
Scrap all the magic I’d spent years developing and start over? It crossed my mind. It also crossed my mind that any good system should withstand advances in technological development. It was up to me to find that developmental thread and follow it while making certain it worked within the laws already established.
After all, the electricity of 1417 is the same electricity of 2017. It’s our understanding and ability to harness it that’s changed. I just had to follow the path of all the great scientists and inventors and apply what I learned to Ontyre.
Oh, is that all?
Of course, as is the case with any world building, and especially in the case of fantasy, there’s no need to develop magic/technology in ridiculous detail. Nor does the reader want paragraphs (or *cringe* pages) on the operation of a pistol. At the same time, consistency and a touch of logic and plausibility are crucial. It isn’t sufficient to say, “It’s possible because of magic,” and move on.
*This was quite a challenge for a writer who’s strongest science subject was geology and who’s never fired a pistol. Fortunately, I have a doctorate in Ontyre magic.
In addition to coming up with enough detail to make a pistol believable in a magical world, I had to take into account the magic external to the pistol. For instance, it wouldn’t do for a wizard to be able to explode the pistol in your hand. How rude!
That led to a feature that offers limited protection, but that must be renewed by a skilled spell-caster. Thus, like breeding and selling gargoyles, a new industry was born.
There are multiple world building points to be made here, the primary which was that any magic system should be versatile enough to adapt to an evolving society. Another is that anything you develop/write isn’t necessarily wasted. Be careful what you send to the trash. Too, record all your rules, be careful to examine new developments from all angles, and remember you only need to provide sufficient detail for the magic to seem plausible.
So, yes, pistols are possible because of magic. It’s also necessary to spell tagon gas (an idea developed in a short story) and construct the weapon from a dennust alloy. That spell that protects the weapon? It doesn’t protect you, and it only protects the weapon in your hand if you remember to throw the switch that engages the protective ward.
Yeah, it’s like that, and on it goes…