I've never been a fan of high magic settings, where catch-all magic comes to solve the problem like a giant deus-ex-machina just at the right time
Nor do I like "the chosen one" bull****, and while we're at it, prophecies are the lamest plot device in recorded history.
I opt for a subtle magic, where magic feels wondrous, more than it feels powerful.
I don't mind magical abilities to be powerful, but only because of skilful use, not because you kamehameha'ed your over 9000 powerlevel straight at the goblin's face (also goblins, heh, because we couldn't make humans diverse and interesting enough to serve as enemies all the time, I guess.)
Like the Jedi powers of Obi-Wan in Star Wars Episode IV, using a mental distraction (did you hear a sound over there?) as misdirection.
I like magic to be intrinsically linked to the natural world, like the summer glade where water eddies in a stream with just the right amount of heat and sunlight and shade so that anyone near it hearing the babbling feels the slow current charging them, invigorating them.
That's magic, that's wondrous.
I enjoy the ephemeral nature of magic where you don't know for sure if someone is magically capable, incredibly lucky, or just cheating without us realising it.
Someone who seems to avoid all guards on their patrol routes, and when you observe them making a mistake, knowing they will be seen by the guard, the guard suddenly stumbles or stops to tie his shoelaces.
Or the "I got a bad feeling about this". It maybe clichéd, but the notion that this underbelly feeling is in fact not just nerves or your subconscious, but rather some tenuous connection to the living force telling you someone is sending you bad vibrations, that feels magical to me.
Magic which is created or used with knowledge of how it affects the world without betraying too much of its nature.
A door which no-one sees, not because it is invisible, but because it is created in such a way that most people's subconscious automatically makes them ignore it, that's magical.
And some people who are particularly bright, observant, or somehow confronted with the door with no way to avoid it, for them the illusion will shatter.
Magic which while some may have talent, (that guy often has lucky dice throws, always wins at games) it is truly only in the hands of those who have trained and studied hard to understand a fraction of it. Each one understanding and capable of something different. Different parts of the same whole.
So to sum up:
unconventional and surprising. (feeling of wonder)
hard to define but following a logic which no-one fully understands yet.
true mastery is the capability of consciously manipulating magic to a purpose, rather than a passive understanding or uncontrolled usage.
the way I'd envision to see this in a game is that there are plenty of wizards around, each can teach the player something else, but the player will be limited in learning by his or her character. A player who lives life as thief or stalker will more easily learn to understand stealth, misdirection, darkness/shadow/light, silence and sound, observation and awareness.
Someone who lives his life surrounded by politicking bastards will quickly learn observation and awareness, communication, manipulation and misdirection, and psychology and motivations.
someone who lives her life in the wildest of nature will likely learn about endurance, resilience, observation and awareness, energy flows, resource efficiency, life and death, growth and decay.
someone who grows up around stories and music will learn about motivations, about curiosity and learning, about pacing and tempo, about passion and imagination. about sound and silence, about rhyme and rhythm, about structure and creativity, expectations and originality.
So each wizard would be fairly specialised.
A player could learn from any number of them, but not all could be learned by any one character.
I hope that made sense.
mcmanusaur and Lephys like this