Magic in the Untitled Fantasy Western

More world building for my Untitled Fantasy Western.

I think magic is important to a fantasy setting. It’s what helps ses the genre apart. Because it’s so important, the system of magic you build into your fantasy world should be something you think very carefully about. Yes it’s fiction and you can really do whatever the hell you want with it – but things are better when they’re internally consistent. Magic should have rules, and those rules should be followed. Readers don’t want to see you contradict your rules, like having something suddenly work when it wouldn’t have before just so your characters can get out of a tough spot.

So here’s what I’ve been thinking about in regards to the magic in the world of UFW (Untitled Fantasy Western).

Magic is done by talking to spirits. The spirits of this world are everywhere, living inside various things. They live in rocks and trees. They live in the ocean. They ride along on the wind. Which is not to say that they’re purely elemental spirits – one might decide your pocket watch is pretty cozy and decide to take up residence. That said, where spirit decides to live helps influence what sort of things it can do.

A spirit that lives in a fireplace might become more comfortable mucking around with heat related things. A spirit living in a tree would be more able to influence plants or other living things. That spirit that lives in your pocket watch would be better able than its brethren to tinker about with machinery or other complicated human made things.

The ghost in the machine is quite real in this world, and as technology has advanced and become more prevalent the number of machine spirits has likewise risen. BUT! In places where there hasn’t been any technological presence, you won’t find many. Back in the Old World, where they make trains and have factories and the like, machine spirits abound. Out in the Badlands, where humans and their machinery are just now showing up, all that will be available are those spirits that decided to come along for the ride.

It’s rather like trying to find a fish in the middle of a desert. They don’t live there because there isn’t any water, so if you want one you’d better have brought one with you.

Now, the way magic is done in the world of UFW is that a Spirit Talker literally speaks to the nearby spirits. They have an actual conversation, in which the Spirit Talker convinces the spirits to do what he wants done and gives explicit instructions on what needs doing. Many spirits are more than willing to carry out a Spirit Talker’s request. They’re helpful like that, unless they’ve been made unhappy by something – say, their home tree just burned down. Not happy. Especially if it was your fault.

There’s also the danger that you’re dealing with a spirit who just happens to have a capricious side. Magic in this world is never a hundred percent guaranteed. Most spirits are pretty straightforward, and those used to working with humans have generally gotten a pretty good idea of what is expected, but every once in a while you get ahold of a dangerous one. And then things get… interesting.

Innate magic versus learned magic is another issue to consider when building a magic system. In UFW, it’s a little of both. The spirits don’t talk with everyone. Many people they just ignore – maybe because the spirits can’t actually hear them. I like to think this is a point of scholarly debate in UFW. In any case, those people the spirits do listen to need to talk to them in a particular way. It’s called the First Words, an ancient language that’s nowdays only used when Spirit Talking.

There are two ways of learning the First Words. One option is getting instruction via specialized schools or apprenticeship to an existing Spirit Talker. The other option is to have the spirits themselves teach you, which is more a process of trial and error than anything else. Nevertheless, a “hedge mage” phenomena exists where people have learned the First Words without formal schooling.

Something else I’ve been looking at is relative power from one Spirit Talker to the next. I’ve decided that it should be a matter of eloquence. Since what you’re doing is asking supernatural things to do stuff for you, it makes sense that the more persuasive you are the better you’d be with magic. I imagine some Spirit Talkers have a stable of spirits they’ve convinced to live in various trinkets they carry around on their person, thus ensuring there’s always one around when needed. Also, the more spirits working together on a spell effect, the more powerful it will be and the bigger “bang” you’ll get out of it.

Contested magic. What happens when two Spirit Talkers go at one another? In a fight between magic users, it comes down to a contest of the spirits themselves. While it would be easy to say the spirits just fight it out and the stronger one wins, I like the idea that instead they have a short of debate. Each one would go over the instructions given to them and how persuasive their Spirit Talker was, and decide on a winner. This would happen instantaneously, or with such little delay as to be hardly noticeable.

Overall, while magic is useful in UFW it’s not so prevalent or powerful that you could base your society on it. It comes in handy, but there’s still enough reason for technology to advance to the point of revolvers and trains and steamships.


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