Fantasy: Magic System – Foundation

This is the underlying foundation i like for an RPG magic system.

Everything has a spirit/soul: people, animals, trees – even rocks and waterfalls. Some of these spirits are too small to matter so the minimum 1-point spirit is a human, animal, tree. Non-living natural objects e.g. waterfalls, lakes, meteoritic rocks, generally only have a vestigial spirit.

Humans generally can’t use their one point of spirit power to effect things in the physical world.

Spirits can spend power in the spirit world to influence things *indirectly* in the physical world.

Humans can transfer their one point of spirit power to a spirit through prayer – consciously or unconsciously. (It takes about a week to recharge.)

Ancestors will often hang around after death for a generation or two to watch over their descendants. Ancestor spirits generally only have their one point of power which isn’t enough to do anything with in the physical world but ancestor worship transfers the worshipper’s power – one point for each – to the ancestor spirits to use. It’s still not much – say 1 point allows the ancestor spirit to cast a +1 luck spell on their descendant for a single task once a week – but better than nothing.

Famous ancestors – successful tribal chiefs or healers/innovators – may become venerated by a whole clan tribe and not just their own descendants. This transfer of power can over time create great spirits which eventually can even grow to become demigods or gods.

Unconscious prayers are possible also due to prayerful reactions to natural phenomena. Examples of these might be:
– reaction to a weird looking rock formation
– waterfalls
– lakes
– fascinated staring into fire
– fear of lightning
– fear of the dark/shadows
– fear of death
– fear of storms at sea
– sunrise over the ocean
– sunrise over mountains
– oak trees
– moon


This unconscious prayer also create great spirits and gods. “Fear of” reactions tend to create dark gods but not always. Gods spawned by “Fear of Lightning” often become war gods. Gods spawned by “Fear of Death” are very varied leading to necromancy on one hand and Bushido-like warrior cults on the other. Some great spirits are benign as a result of the reaction that spawned them e.g. most spirits/gods to do with dawn and sunlight – except those sun gods created by creatures that fear the sun. Moon gods can be a mixture: sexual, occult, things that happen at night. Spirits that grow out of other benign reactions e.g. oak trees providing acorns as food, will tend to be benign also (to their own local population not necessarily outsiders).

Some are mindless or neutral – the sea god doesn’t need worshippers because it is fed by fear of storms. It can be bribed to leave people alone but otherwise doesn’t care. Fire doesn’t need worshippers either – although it has them also – because it gets so many unconscious prayers. So the great spirit of fire is mindless and doesn’t care – but can be bribed.

A funny-looking rock leaning out over a mountain path which looks a bit like a monster at a certain angle and scares travellers into the cultural equivalent of crossing themselves will over time create a malign great spirit (which could be defeated and exorcized but would always eventually be recreated as long as the rock caused the same reaction to travellers in the future).

The power of the great spirit will vary with context. A small but beautiful waterfall in a remote location that has only be seen and received unconscious prayers from a small number of sentient creatures might only have a small nymph spirit. The spirit of a gigantic waterfall with a city at the base might be a demigod.

This will be the basis for most magic – rituals that involve gifting power to spirits in the spirit world in return for the spirits using supernatural means to help the giver in the physical world.

Lots of different forms of ritual magician.

– standard ancestor worship

– shaman working with animal spirits

– mediums contacting the recent dead
– alchemists manipulating the spirits of growing things
– hex wizards trading with spirits for curses and blessings
– artificers
– diviners
– priests

(Ritual magic will be very difficult by default (e.g 12+ success) but with a lot of modifiers for things like
– consecrated ground
– ritual markings
– specific times
– specific components
e.g. cutting a useful form of mistletoe might require 12+ on 2d6 but a druid that knows the correct ritual and cuts the leaves with a silver sickle in a druid grove at full moon while repeating a particular chant might get +8 so for them successfully getting the item would be a 4+. The difference between ritual magic and standard RPG magic is it generally has to be done in advance so it’s not *directly* combat magic – although a summoned warrior spirit ally might give you a bonus to your combat skills.)

1) Solitary ritual magicians need to build a personal relationship with one spirit at a time to turn them into a permanent ally. As they become more experienced ritual magicians can call different spirits without the first one becoming too jealous.

2) A priest officiating at a group ceremony gifts one point for each worshipper.

3) Gifted ritual components e.g. the spirit’s favorite food or gold or silver are effectively substitutes for gifting power.

4) In a lot of cases Priests are basically salesman getting commission from the spirit.

5) Evil spirits/gods will often view their worshippers as food. Their cult priests will bring people to worship and get them to gift their power. In exchange the priest will get a small cut. All the worshippers get is the god not hurting them – and not even that if the god is hungry.

6) Sacrifice is often done slowly to ensure every drop of the spirit is extracted for the god.

7) It’s possible for a priest to create a great spirit. If a charlatan can persuade a group of people to worship any object then bit by bit the transfer of their spirit to the object will awaken and grow the minuscule spirit within the object. The newly created spirit will often be submissive to the priest as the conduit for their new power or they might betray them and select a new more pliable priest.

8) You could view a Cthulhu-like cult as a kind of pyramid / ponzi scheme. The base worshippers give one point a week and in return get a 3-point of magical help in their life every three months or so so they’re at -9 over three months. The next level maybe get a 3-point of help every two months so they’re -5. The outer inner circle might get a 3-point every month and are only -1. The inner circle – maybe only the cult leader – give 1-point every week and gain 6. The rest goes to the god.


All this power flowing to and fro between the physical and spirit world – including all the combined minuscule amounts as every beetle and blade of grass is born and dies – is floating around like dust in the air. This is “mana” and the basis for scientific wizardry.

Wild wizards or sorcerors are individuals who can instinctively and naturally tap into this “mana” and use it to create magical effects themselves without spirit aid. This is powerful but dangerous and restricted. Sorcerors will tend to a specific aspect e.g. animals or fire or healing, and have a collection of spells from that aspect. They don’t learn spells they have a list available which they instinctively get as (if) they become more powerful. Sorcerors are often insane and tend to destroy themselves or get destroyed. Some of them may be possessed.

Wizards are those who study the underlying science of magic. (They know mana fuels it but think mana is separate from the spirit world when in reality it is spirit in transition between the two worlds – hence they think they are superior.) They don’t gain power so much as a) learn how to leverage their one point of spirit power more effectively so their one point is equivalent to two or four or six and b) learn how to draw mana from the surroundings. Wizards usually need a focus for this. Sorcerors do it naturally.

Because of this what really fuels Wizard power is knowledge. Knowledge teaches them how to leverage their limited natural power and knowledge teaches them how to extract the most mana from the environment. Knowledge also teaches them how to first create and then how to upgrade a focus which acts as a mana extractor and battery.

(Spellbook magic will involve spells and mana but the driving force will be knowledge measured by a Lore stat.
– example: At Lore 20+ a wizard might be able to leverage his one power point into two, at Lore 30, 3, at Lore 40, 4, at Lore 50+, 5 and plus one for each 50 lore after that so at Lore 400 he’d have 12. Similarly with extracting mana.
The wizard’s magic would be directly fuelled by power/mana but indirectly by knowledge.)


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