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Fantasy Magic: Form, Power, and Prevalence

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Poll: General Preferences regarding Magic in Fantasy (40 member(s) have cast votes)

What form(s) of magic do you prefer in fantasy?

  1. "Whimsical magic"- Magic should be abstract and unpredictable, working behind the scenes. (13 votes [8.23%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 8.23%

  2. "Ambient magic"- Magic should be evident in the setting and its fantastical locales. (28 votes [17.72%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 17.72%

  3. Magical objects/tech- I like there to be inanimate objects with magical essences. (29 votes [18.35%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 18.35%

  4. Magical creatures- I like the bestiary to include magical creatures, either friendly or hostile. (29 votes [18.35%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 18.35%

  5. "Domesticated magic"- I think it's important that civilized races have come to exert some control over magic (wizards). (24 votes [15.19%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 15.19%

  6. Magical symbols- Magic is truly only present in words, numbers, etc. (11 votes [6.96%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 6.96%

  7. Plot device- Occasional supernatural events should serve to move the plot forward. (23 votes [14.56%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 14.56%

  8. None of the above. (1 votes [0.63%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 0.63%

How powerful should magic be in your ideal fantasy setting?

  1. Hedge wizardry- its potential is inherently limited. (15 votes [22.39%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 22.39%

  2. "Scaled magic"- Different objects, creatures, and races have differing propensity for magic. (21 votes [31.34%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 31.34%

  3. Mercy is the only thing restraining the most practiced of mages. (8 votes [11.94%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 11.94%

  4. Magic should mainly be limited in the frequency of its use, rather than its power. (11 votes [16.42%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 16.42%

  5. Magic should be extremely costly (either financially or health-wise) to the practitioner. (11 votes [16.42%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 16.42%

  6. None of the above. (1 votes [1.49%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 1.49%

How is magical ability attained? How prevalent is it?

  1. It's an innate talent for some people, the select few. (22 votes [25.58%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 25.58%

  2. It requires learning and practice that few can afford/obtain. (30 votes [34.88%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 34.88%

  3. Every individual of a civilized race has intrinsic magical talent. (6 votes [6.98%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 6.98%

  4. Magical education is widespread, and the mages are many. (3 votes [3.49%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 3.49%

  5. It must be bestowed by a supernatural being, or requires the gods' favor. (8 votes [9.30%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 9.30%

  6. The protagonist must have an exceptional talent in this regard. (7 votes [8.14%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 8.14%

  7. The protagonist and his crew can/should over-represent the prevalence of magic in the setting. (7 votes [8.14%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 8.14%

  8. None of the above. (3 votes [3.49%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 3.49%

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#1
mcmanusaur

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This is just a poll to see what people's general preferences are in terms of how much "magic" is necessary in the fantasy genre, and whether certain forms of magic are preferred to others. As such, the poll questions do not directly pertain to wishes or expectations to Project Eternity, but I feel it would be worthwhile to survey the community anyway; the results should prompt interesting discussion regarding Project Eternity. I had to rush the poll a bit, but hopefully it suffices.


Edited by mcmanusaur, 25 July 2013 - 08:48 AM.

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#2
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My ideal fantasy setting is one where magic does what magic needs to in order to push the themes along.

I'd like a word where magic is ubiquitous and controlled to the point that people queue up at the tele-port to take vacations in hell, yahoo.
If the world is ending and magic is totally at fault, raging entire cities with apocalyptic disasters because one wizard OMMed when he should have OHMed, that makes for an intriguing story.
If there's rumor of one legendary sword that gives the wielder the strength of 3 guys, but everyone thinks it's a myth because magic's totally not real and you're a fool for leaving on a quest to find it, well, that sounds like an adventure all the same.
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#3
Mr. Magniloquent

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I typically like magic to be potent, but obscure and difficult. I believe the word for that is arcane. Ha! I don't want to cast Ice Bolt or Firaga II several thousand times. This type of action game mana casting bores me. This has always been my primary appeal to D&D. A spell that causes your foe's intesines to violently erupt from their abdomen and heal you when sprayed by its gore? What about weaving an illusionary terror so potent, that it kills someone? Thank you, sir! May I have another!

 

As for settings, I prefer low magic campaigns with a more gritty and survivalist feel. High magic often trivializes and invalidates all classes, skills, and abilities--including that of Wizards. Furthermore, when magic items are aquired or spells cast, it gives them a sense of awe.


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#4
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To flip flop on my non-answer earlier, I have to say that I would like to see more outrageous fantasy worlds. Which I think is helped along by having more magic in some way. Either because the landscape is outrageous or the things people have accomplished is.
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#5
Kjaamor

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Personally, the only two things I care about when it comes to Magic within a game's world are;

 

a) That it sets out rules for itself and behaves within these rules rather than being the universal get-out clause

 

2: That magic in the story is not incongruous with magic in the gameplay

 

If it can obey those rules, then I'm really not fussed about form or function.


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#6
Micamo

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I think it depends on the setting: What's appropriate for a really grim and gritty dark fantasy setting isn't appropriate for a really idealistic high fantasy setting, and vice-versa. Both types of setting can be interesting but they appeal in different ways.
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#7
Lephys

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I think the obscurity of magic is an important thing. It should be rather nebulous in its possibilities, kind of like martial arts or swordsmanship (or engineering), in that even people who are quite familiar with it shouldn't know all there is to know. I think that's one of the things that makes it so bland in a lot of worlds, is everyone always referencing "fireballs" and such. It'd be interesting if some people couldn't even affect certain elements, for example. Maybe there are mages who can't do a lick of ANYTHING with fire. Almost like benders in The Last Airbender story. Almost.

Anywho, it'd be great if magic wasn't just some cliche thing. "Oh, so you telekinetically move things and shoot fire? Cool." It'd even be pretty awesome if there were some sort of mystery/crime you had to forensically solve, as a mage (or at least as someone familiar with magic/a researcher of magic), by tracking down another mage and figuring out how/what they did. Mage frame job, making it look like bandits with firebombs or something, etc.

But, that's the best I can say about it: It's good when even a Mage couldn't really tell you what another Mage is capable of. And the more magic there is just being tossed about willy-nilly (obviously there can only be so much, feasibly, but there IS a range), the greater the need for anti-magic countermeasures. If magic isn't often used/seen on a regular basis, then maybe countermeasures are pretty rare/obscure as well. Maybe there are Ghostbusters-style traps for spells, so they act as a defense, AND form a sort of counter-offensive, should you decide to release the spell-energy trapped within. Maybe they don't always come back out in the same form, because of structural deterioration of the energy, *shrug*. Maybe people just know of ways to non-magically silence/otherwise disable magic.

Basically, it doesn't need to be "some people can use magic willy-nilly, and everyone else is just completely helpless, and totally fears all magic, and knows all magic, and everything's just all static and blatantly unbalanced in the world and boring, yet, somehow, mages don't rule the world..."
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#8
mcmanusaur

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I think it depends on the setting: What's appropriate for a really grim and gritty dark fantasy setting isn't appropriate for a really idealistic high fantasy setting, and vice-versa. Both types of setting can be interesting but they appeal in different ways.

 

This is true of course, and the decision process could go either way here; a setting creator could have a specific tone in mind and base the magic level on that, or decide to include little magic and from that extrapolate a grimdark tone. At any rate, part of what I mean to ask is whether people have a preference between these two, since magic ostensibly must be uniform throughout a particular setting.



#9
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I tend to look at fantasy Worlds from a 'realism' slant. They have to deliver some sort of cause and effect or the narrative and immersion break apart like an old spinster's dreams.

 

My chief problem with magic is that a world in which individuals can wield it easily and without cost is a world which logically wouldn't move beyond feudalism. Or at most some sort of Chinese Song dynasty bureaucratic feudalism.

 

I think human behaviour, endeavour, and relationships would be pretty degraded and monotonous in such a setting. The only meaningful pursuit would be individual pursuit of magical power.

 

Sorry, bit scattered. Just caught this before bed. :)


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#10
mcmanusaur

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My ideal fantasy setting is one where magic does what magic needs to in order to push the themes along.

I'd like a word where magic is ubiquitous and controlled to the point that people queue up at the tele-port to take vacations in hell, yahoo.
If the world is ending and magic is totally at fault, raging entire cities with apocalyptic disasters because one wizard OMMed when he should have OHMed, that makes for an intriguing story.
If there's rumor of one legendary sword that gives the wielder the strength of 3 guys, but everyone thinks it's a myth because magic's totally not real and you're a fool for leaving on a quest to find it, well, that sounds like an adventure all the same.

 

I assume you mean the narrative themes, so kind of like a plot device? Are we talking about themes/motifs other than "magic" itself (in which case I could agree)? I guess for me a lot of the time in fantasy occurrences of magic serve to accomplish thematically little more than saying "this is a world where super cool/magical/extraordinary/exceptional stuff happens". In your example, which themes do you think magic facilitates, out of curiosity?



#11
Micamo

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This is true of course, and the decision process could go either way here; a setting creator could have a specific tone in mind and base the magic level on that, or decide to include little magic and from that extrapolate a grimdark tone. At any rate, part of what I mean to ask is whether people have a preference between these two, since magic ostensibly must be uniform throughout a particular setting.


Actually, if anything high magic settings have much more potential for grimdark than low magic ones, if we assume the distribution of magical power is symmetric: That is, "low magic" means "no one has strong magic" and not "everyone has strong magic except the players." But I digress.

Personally, I've gotten rather sick of save-the-world-from-the-BBEG plots in RPGs: I find myself invested much more when victory means "This child gets to keep her mother" and not "This means the universe keeps continuing exactly the same as before."

#12
mcmanusaur

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I typically like magic to be potent, but obscure and difficult. I believe the word for that is arcane. Ha! I don't want to cast Ice Bolt or Firaga II several thousand times. This type of action game mana casting bores me. This has always been my primary appeal to D&D. A spell that causes your foe's intesines to violently erupt from their abdomen and heal you when sprayed by its gore? What about weaving an illusionary terror so potent, that it kills someone? Thank you, sir! May I have another!

 

As for settings, I prefer low magic campaigns with a more gritty and survivalist feel. High magic often trivializes and invalidates all classes, skills, and abilities--including that of Wizards. Furthermore, when magic items are aquired or spells cast, it gives them a sense of awe.

 

I like this method more than its most common alternatives, but I'd also like to see some fantasy RPGs take more exotic approaches toward magic; namely the idea that magic can be so reliably controlled by human(oids) is one trope that bores me. I agree that somewhere along the line magic begins to lose its sense of wonder, and perhaps that has a lot to do with the fact that it's employed as a means of providing characters with generic superpowers more often than it is as anything else more bizarre, chaotic, fantastical, or obscure. I almost have to wonder whether we're getting to the point where a mgically barren protagonist- or even the traditional sword and sorcery approach- is completely out of the question. Even all of the hybrid RPGs (Bioshock, Dishonored, etc.) these days have magic in some form or another. Would a fantasy setting that was "magical" in some capacity but that didn't allow the player to control magic just be seen as a complete sham?

 

Maybe this seems like a huge contradicition, but I think I'd love to have an RPG set in an extra bizarre, unpredictable, and even psychedelic setting, but with less controllable magic than your average fantasy setting. That seems like a world I could get lost in, and maybe the thrill of being able to shoot fireballs out of your palms would just be unnecessary given how fantasical and wacky the setting was.



#13
mcmanusaur

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This is true of course, and the decision process could go either way here; a setting creator could have a specific tone in mind and base the magic level on that, or decide to include little magic and from that extrapolate a grimdark tone. At any rate, part of what I mean to ask is whether people have a preference between these two, since magic ostensibly must be uniform throughout a particular setting.


Actually, if anything high magic settings have much more potential for grimdark than low magic ones, if we assume the distribution of magical power is symmetric: That is, "low magic" means "no one has strong magic" and not "everyone has strong magic except the players." But I digress.

Personally, I've gotten rather sick of save-the-world-from-the-BBEG plots in RPGs: I find myself invested much more when victory means "This child gets to keep her mother" and not "This means the universe keeps continuing exactly the same as before."

 

Hmmm... I'd be very curious to hear how you'd argue that high-magic has more potential for grimdarkness. I can see how the grey morality that often accompanies grimdark settings might not be as gratifying as a clear moral victory, but if anything BBEG's (assuming you mean Big Bad unambiguously Evil Guy) are closer to the latter, and I'm not sure that's directly related to the level of magic in a setting.



#14
mcmanusaur

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To flip flop on my non-answer earlier, I have to say that I would like to see more outrageous fantasy worlds. Which I think is helped along by having more magic in some way. Either because the landscape is outrageous or the things people have accomplished is.

 

I think for me a lot of fantasy worlds inhabit an uncomfortable middle ground, attaining both "mundane" and "exceptional/supernatural" without ever becoming either fully realistic or truly fantastical. I'd equally love to see hyper-realistic simulationist RPGs set in fantasy settings but without any magic whatsoever, and a bizarre/outrageous/philosophical/psychedelic/unpredictable but also more thematically rich kind of RPG, where magic is something that happens to you rather than something that you do. Actually, the surreal dreamlike aspects of Assassin's Creed are one of the few things I like about that game (haven't played any beyond the first one). Either of those would be preferable to the trope-saturated standard "real world + fantasy races + generic superpowers + moral conflict" formula that seems to pervade most "fantasy" RPGs; it seems our imaginations are quite limited. Where's the Alice in Wonderland of the RPG genre?


Edited by mcmanusaur, 25 July 2013 - 04:02 PM.


#15
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I think the obscurity of magic is an important thing. It should be rather nebulous in its possibilities, kind of like martial arts or swordsmanship (or engineering), in that even people who are quite familiar with it shouldn't know all there is to know.

 

This sounds good to me, but then the huge problem that this runs into is that, while magic might be presented this way from a narrative perspective, from a system/rules standpoint its scope is quite necessarily limited and pre-defined (it has to be programmed into the game somehow, just like everything else). So this can lead to a great sense of disconnect in the manner that Kjaamor mentions. Any interesting ideas for how to account for that difficulty?



#16
Micamo

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Hmmm... I'd be very curious to hear how you'd argue that high-magic has more potential for grimdarkness. I can see how the grey morality that often accompanies grimdark settings might not be as gratifying as a clear moral victory, but if anything BBEG's (assuming you mean Big Bad unambiguously Evil Guy) are closer to the latter, and I'm not sure that's directly related to the level of magic in a setting.


Well, imagine this: An entire city filled with a secret, magical mind-control field that lets any of the city's authorities hit any of the denizens with a Mind Rape effect, as the spell, no save. The effect continues after you leave the city's boundaries.

Edited by Micamo, 25 July 2013 - 04:46 PM.


#17
Lephys

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This sounds good to me, but then the huge problem that this runs into is that, while magic might be presented this way from a narrative perspective, from a system/rules standpoint its scope is quite necessarily limited and pre-defined (it has to be programmed into the game somehow, just like everything else). So this can lead to a great sense of disconnect in the manner that Kjaamor mentions. Any interesting ideas for how to account for that difficulty?


I'm not sure exactly. The answer's in a lot of factors, I think. To put it overly simply? Don't give a preview of the entire spell system database to a tiny Mageling. You don't even really know what you can learn, except what is contextually near to what you are studying/working with. Or, you bump into Trainers and such who can teach you things, but they don't really just plain give you preset, globally-wielded spells (not that there COULDN'T or even WOULDN'T be ANY globally-adopted spells).

This is one of the reasons I advocate a more fluid spell system. I think it's silly that people go around all "Wait, you ALSO know Melf's Acid Arrow! Cool!". And that's it. Like... How did Melf ever cast his own Acid Arrow before it was a pre-defined spell, as recorded by himself?! I bet the first person who ever ran into Melf was like "Okay, I know this guy is a Mage, so I'm prepared with various magical defenses." And he was all "Ha-HAH! This shield repels fire, frost, AND lightning! Do your worst!" And Melf was all like "BOOM! Acid Arrow!". And the shield-wielder FREAKED out. Then, he probably ran off, all maimed from acid, and started spreading the tale, and everyone misconstrued it, and didn't know if it was true or not, and maybe other Wizards heard about it and started trying to mess around with acidic effects. *shrug*

All I know is, if it were a wee bit more fluid, it would be functionally the same as the weapon system for all non-magic classes. How do you know that Warrior isn't about to fling some throwing knives at you, even though he's currently going at you with a greatsword? Or what if he specializes in disarming? Or what if he is actually practiced enough to hurl that sword as a last-ditch effort? OR to just throw you off, drawing a couple of shortswords while you're WTFing at the thrown greatsword, and finishing it all in a matter of seconds with the advantage of your complete and utter bewilderment?

Sure, there are typical fighting styles and such, and typical weapon styles. But, you just don't really know exactly how people are going to USE what they have at their disposal. You don't even know exactly what they have at their disposal.

If you've never read any of the Wheel of Time series, you should. I think the One Power in those books is quite an excellent example. There's a healthy combination of fear, rarity, and obscurity that goes on with that. There are people who don't even know they can tap into the power, and weave it. There are OODLES of ways in which to weave it, such that even the most trained in its use are aware of just how much of its use they're unaware of. It's dangerous, because it's an externally-existing force. People can read "residues," so if you think you'll just slaughter a bunch of people, then "Ha-HAH!" your way out of there via a portal or something, others who can use the power can track you. People can detect when you're using it (if they can use it, or have a device that can alert them). So, if you think "Hmm, I'll just weave a giant explosive fireball and hurl it at-", Boom, you just got shielded. Someone wove a shield before you could finish doing what it is you were doing. Just the same, you start weaving that stuff, and some guards notice, or someone calls out? Boom. Arrows in your back. You CAN weave a shield of Air, to stop arrows, but you have to know about them, and weave it, and know that no one's detecting you while you do that, or during its duration, before you accomplish what you're trying to accomplish. Plus, if a weave (spell) is "tied off" rather than maintained (kinda like non-channeling versus channeling... heck, the spell-casting in that universe is all called "channeling," heh), it's a lot easier to dismantle/counter/affect. And, again, we're back to "you only have so much focus/effort to distribute between tasks/weaves."

Annnnywho, I could go on for ages and not make the point as well as I'd like.

A few things, I guess:

Rarity -- everyone can't be an uber powerful person. Even if 50 people in a town can use magic, maybe they all have drastically varying levels of potency/precision/effect-producing-range. This was one reason I mentioned The Last Airbender. You've got effectively "equal" people still using drastically different abilities. Some Earth benders know how to do things other ones don't, etc.

Co-existence -- it's got to coexist with the physics (for lack of a better term) of the rest of the world. With the concrete slab of reality that the fantasy world is based upon. If you can weave a fireball, you've still got to concentrate on that process until it's done. You're still only human. There need to be very real threats to even a potent magic-user's well-being. Everything else in physics has inherent limitations, and so should magic. It's just a fictitious form of physics-manipulation. It's not outside the realm of physics. It's just the source that's artificial, really. Not the effects. Not inherently, at least.

I've just babbled a bunch of stuff. I don't know exactly how to answer that question. But I'm all for exploring for an answer.

Edited by Lephys, 25 July 2013 - 05:00 PM.

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#18
Micamo

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This is one of the reasons I advocate a more fluid spell system. I think it's silly that people go around all "Wait, you ALSO know Melf's Acid Arrow! Cool!". And that's it. Like... How did Melf ever cast his own Acid Arrow before it was a pre-defined spell, as recorded by himself?! I bet the first person who ever ran into Melf was like "Okay, I know this guy is a Mage, so I'm prepared with various magical defenses." And he was all "Ha-HAH! This shield repels fire, frost, AND lightning! Do your worst!" And Melf was all like "BOOM! Acid Arrow!".


In D&D it's always been in the rules that a spellcaster can invent their own spells: Most DMs just don't allow this for the same reasons you aren't allowed to make up your own races, classes, or feats.

Edited by Micamo, 25 July 2013 - 05:34 PM.


#19
Mr. Magniloquent

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Maybe this seems like a huge contradicition, but I think I'd love to have an RPG set in an extra bizarre, unpredictable, and even psychedelic setting, but with less controllable magic than your average fantasy setting. That seems like a world I could get lost in, and maybe the thrill of being able to shoot fireballs out of your palms would just be unnecessary given how fantasical and wacky the setting was.

 

I agree. I wish "backlash" mechanics and other consequential devices were used with magic in games. I attempted to develop my own RPG once, with this as a central thematic. Attempting to control the irrational force that is magic, caster need to make a check to successfully impose their will to cast a spell. Failure resulted in possible damage to their psyche ranging from becoming comatose, psychotically paranoid, berserk, or even actively suicidal among others. It was a very difficult system to design; however, the "push your luck" mechanic of it made spellcasting very thrilling for both the player--and their party.


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#20
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For me I like magic to have rules that define it. As much as I understand why D&D magic is the way it is I much prefer something with narrower scope. If anybody is familiar at all with Brandon Sanderson's books he has a great talent for building interesting magic systems with strict rules as to what you can and cannot do with magic. I prefer this vastly over the MAGIC CAN DO ANYTHING ways of D&D or the completely amorphous magic of say Lord of the Rings where people say Gandalf is a wizard but damned if I ever see him do anything magical.

 

Also I think it's important that the presence of magic inform the culture of the world somewhat. Here you have people that have access to extraordinary powers that most people simply do not have. Why wouldn't they be kings ruling over lesser folk? Perhaps they would be treated like slaves much like channelers (Damane) are treated in Seanchan in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. In the end I think the worst thing you can do in a fantasy setting is treat magic/mages like it's a day job.


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