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Old 12-17-2012, 06:49 AM   #1
Fanatic Rat
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Magic Police

I was just curious, but for those of you writing fantasy involving forms of magic, what kinds of regulatory systems do you employ, if any at all? For example, if magic (for lack of a better catch-all term) is something everyone knows about in your story, are there people to make sure that not every average Tom, Dick, and Harry can learn it, or is it not necessary?

On an aside, I know it differs from setting to setting, but what are there any sorts of magic regulating devices or organizations you've liked from anything you read, or a typical schema that appeals to you?
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Old 12-17-2012, 08:21 AM   #2
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In my secondary world fantasy, magic is regulated by the tyrannical emperor. He possesses it naturally and has the ability to grant it to others as he sees fit.

In my MG contemporary fantasy, everyone who has the ability to do magic can do magic. The laws are similar to normal laws (i.e. you can't use it to hurt people or steal stuff, etc.).
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Old 12-17-2012, 12:49 PM   #3
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My mages have a tendency to get executed if found...and also, not everyone can use it, so little chance of everyone being able to learn it (sort of like not everyone can roll their tongue or waggle their ears).

In the Harry Dresden books (just for an off the cuff example) there are laws regarding magic IIRC, which seems a common one. In the Discworld, the University 'polices' magic. It also keeps them concentrated on trying to outdo/assassinate (in the earlier books) each other rather than unleashing themselves on everyone else. In contrast, the witches are autonomous pretty much and self regulating. They keep an eye on each other for cackling, but that's about it.


I think most magic in fiction has some restrictions of whatever type (inherent or applied from external sources), though they may not always be explained in the story.
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Old 12-17-2012, 05:06 PM   #4
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Magic is something all humans can and do use but only on a utilitarian level. Typically humans have the capacity to use two of the four basic elements per their lineage.

Those that want to use it for more potent applications need to resort to rituals that give them command over more power / magics they would not usually be able to use. Using magic in this way uses their lifespan as a resource.

The exception is the Female MC, as she can use all four basic elements but unless she has an adequate (and significant) external magic source, she is bound to the limitation of her 'resource'. That being the same mental fatigue that keeps her awake and conscious.
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Old 12-17-2012, 05:13 PM   #5
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I have a story that starts with a murder that magic seems to be involved in, forcing the relatively clueless police try to investigate something they don't understand. Sure there's magic in their world, and they are aware of it, but it's a relatively esoteric thing, and they have a law that says the testimony of wizards and seers is inadmissible: There's no practical way of knowing whether a wizard truly sees something with his second sight or just says that he does.
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Old 12-17-2012, 05:50 PM   #6
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There's a single kind of magic in my setting, and it's regulated by the School, a religious body. It's the main source of magic knowledge in the city-state, and all practitioners need to be licensed in order to legally practice it within the city, even the rare person who didn't learn the magic from them. It has its own paramilitary group to enforce its laws, and cooperates with the government to make sure they're followed.

In theory, anyone can practice magic, but the cost of training, regulations, and religious decrees the School has implemented restricts it mainly to a few upper-class men native to the city-state. The restrictions placed on women is the driving motive for the FMCs choice of becoming a criminal; she'd rather do what she wants illegally than kowtow to the sexist, classist laws.
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Old 12-17-2012, 08:21 PM   #7
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Basically, the most powerful magic-users control the others. If someone steps out of line, they deal with them. Sometimes with extreme prejudice.

But where the line lies depends on the individual with the power. So the antagonist goes around trying to prevent anyone developing power, while the protagonist is constantly trying to find some space in which to get his to grow.
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Old 12-17-2012, 08:47 PM   #8
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Mine also is of the theory that not everyone can do it, some can do it better than others, and that some people are even immune to its effects. It's always been known in the world, society has developed to include it in its laws and customs, and no one blinks at it much. The police have wizards on the force who can detect and understand spells used in crime, and they're just normal detectives.

The presence of magic is status quo in this world. People use it for good and ill, just like they do anything else.
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Old 12-17-2012, 09:06 PM   #9
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My current story (which will be part of a series of short fiction set in one world) is a secondary world fantasy inspired by native cultures of North and South America. Not everyone can get magic in this world - it has to be given to you as a gift by the goddess of light magic (or alternately, by the god of dark magic, to members of the tribes that follow him). This gift, magical ability, is to be used to counter the other type of magic in the world. It can't be taken or distributed by humans. It doesn't make a person all-powerful, it just gives them a better chance of defeating someone/something that uses the other type of magic.

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Old 12-17-2012, 09:19 PM   #10
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In my story very few people are able to channel magic. They are limited only by the amount they can channel. What they can do with it depends on their imagination. Could they transform lead into gold? Yes. Could they transform all lead on the planet into gold? No, they wouldn't have access to enough magic to do that.
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Old 12-18-2012, 10:31 PM   #11
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Lots of interesting systems here. For my own WIP, people are born with certain powers (keep in mind the idea for the universe was inspired partly by comic books, so yeah) but it's impossible to practically tell who has them or not until they use them--there is a way, but doing so has a tendency to kill normal people and leave the magic-users heavily addicted to a substance, so it is neither practical nor ethical. To that end, the government more or less tries to fight fire with fire by recruiting those with powers into a specialized police force in order to combat other supernatural criminals, but it's not always necessary (being able to shoot fireballs from your hands doesn't stop bullets, after all). There's also a lot of people with powers who simply go about life as regular unassuming citizens.

I had an idea for a different kind of story in which anyone could learn how to use magic but it was heavily regulated by the government, leading to a lot of underground societies trying to spread information on it through the internet and other means, in a sort of Anarchist Cookbook style, if you will.
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Old 12-18-2012, 11:31 PM   #12
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In one of my WIP, my modern UF, everyone has the ability to use magic but most don't think it exists anymore. Of those who do, there are two groups who regulate those who overstep the boundaries. (The definition of 'boundaries' differ between the groups.) One group will hunt down anyone who uses magic and will 'disappear' them. General results of this 'disappearance' are either death or recruitment.

The other group is a little more lenient, although maybe not by much. For the most part, they make sure that people don't get hurt. The laws are pretty much similar to 'mundane' laws: don't use magic to kill or steal, etc. One thing that's different is to make sure that 'normal' people don't realize the magic users exist so that the other group doesn't become aware of them.

In my second WIP, my post-apocalyptic one, magic is policed differently from town to town.
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Old 12-19-2012, 12:05 AM   #13
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In my fantasy trilogy, there are two races. Humans have no magic. The other race I created (a race that has been enslaved by humans) has magic, but it's pretty limited. For example, the MMC has it. He's a healer and his magic allows him to make his healing balms, salves, teas, etc more effective.

Magic is actually illegal. If the humans find out someone has it, they're killed. So, it's known that magic exists, but people who have the ability tend to keep quiet about it.
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Old 12-19-2012, 01:35 AM   #14
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In my WiP, magic is inherited/religion based (worship the god of X for a few generations, and magic starts cropping up). The Runemages (followers of the God of Magic for Y generations) rule the nation absolutely, so if a few random peasants get torched, well they weren't really people anyway.

There's a rogue magic as well, given to humanity by their original patron deity - that too can be inherited, but it can also crop up out of nowhere, purely because the person is human. That magic is considered absolutely evil in the nation (partly because it is, but not least because it threatens the Runemages' superiority), and possessors are executed whenever they're found... mostly.
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Old 12-19-2012, 05:20 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fanatic Rat View Post
I was just curious, but for those of you writing fantasy involving forms of magic, what kinds of regulatory systems do you employ, if any at all? For example, if magic (for lack of a better catch-all term) is something everyone knows about in your story, are there people to make sure that not every average Tom, Dick, and Harry can learn it, or is it not necessary?

On an aside, I know it differs from setting to setting, but what are there any sorts of magic regulating devices or organizations you've liked from anything you read, or a typical schema that appeals to you?

There's magic in my world, but it's very minimal. In fact, my mc only knows three spells. He can make food (a tasteless piece of bread), make fire (just a spark, not a big fireball or anything like that), and he can make things bigger.

If he casts his spells too often, he loses consciousness.

I like how magic is regulated in the Iron Druid books. Check them out.
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Old 12-19-2012, 05:32 AM   #16
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I like the idea that magic regulates itself. Try to use it in a way it doesn't want to be used, and it will turn on you.
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Old 12-21-2012, 05:07 PM   #17
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I like things that make sense in the context of the society, what they are doesn't matter.

My two favourite organisations are a society called the boxers in a comic called fables published by DC and the Psi corps (ok, technically not magic but same principle.)


The boxers are a regiment in an army. The world has magic as an unequal resource with some people having massive amounts of power and most people none. Soldiers with a degree of magical talent were organised to take down major threats, but no one of those soldiers was a major threat alone. Their nickname came from the magical boxes they imprison the unkillable major powers in. Basically the culture was feudal, and people achieved positions according to their power, ambition and ruthlessness, so magic was largely unchecked unless a local mob picked up pitchforks, someone more powerful wanted your stuff or the central Empire noticed you'd stepped too far out of line.

Psi corps was enjoyably creepy. The population had such a great fear of telepaths that everyone had to be registered, monitored and trained, or take medication to restrict their ability. The most powerful telepaths were groomed and persuaded to join the psi cops, and psi cops policed the psi corps. If you then happen to have a morally dubious git with a superiority complex (like Alfred Bester) at the head of the organisation you have no protection from your protectors.

Most societies would have more than one organisation though. Take the x-men universe. Prox X founds the xmen to protect people from Magneto and other evil mutants. Simultaneously the government is building giant mutant-hunting robots, vigilante groups try to run mutants out of their neighbourhooods and various scientists try to find ways to track, depower, sterilise or imprison mutants for the good of humanity.

For me, the richness of the lore and the understanding of why that society has tried to protect itself from "power" in that particular way is the draw.

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Old 12-21-2012, 05:44 PM   #18
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It's your story, so set the rules you want. In my book, magic is natural in the world, but only in a few people. People who know magic exists but don't possess the ability naturally must resort to "dark" means to get it. But that is just me. Magic isn't real, so if it real in your world write your own rules.
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Old 12-22-2012, 04:47 AM   #19
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I do have a vague intention to write a sci-fi/fantasy book, but as yet it is almost completely unformulated and exists only as a nebulous pocket of idea vapor. But, that said, I did have an idea as to how I might handle magic...

In my yet-to-be conceptualized book's yet-to-be solidified universe, magic all has to do with balance. In order to draw from the well of magic in one way, a character will need to contribute in an equal and opposite way. Need a fireball? Better be ready to contribute a hunk of ice of equal proportion. Want to do something evil? You first need to pour some good into the magic pool. In a way, it can be extremely limiting; however, depending how far a character is willing to go, it could potentially be close to limitless.

This also would pave the way for an antagonist who has figured out a way to circumvent the system and withdraw from the magic pool without contributing. This will give the antagonist way more power than they should be able to have and also create an imbalance in the forces of magic - these will both be the challenges that the protagonist(s?) must overcome.

It's just a little baby infant idea at the moment, but it could possibly grow up and become a good story some day...
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Old 12-22-2012, 07:27 AM   #20
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In my world, most people could ostensibly do magic, though people do vary somewhat in their talent and inclination. I sort of took the non-traditional tack and decided it was a polygenic trait that is influenced by the environment as well (though the people in my world currently have only a vague and crude pre-Mendel's laws sense of inheritance, so they wouldn't put it that way) like athletic ability, mathematical talent or musical talent, rather than a simple binary "yes/no" thing. But it requires years of education and training to do much more with it than heat water or be able to read emotions. And magic in my world is energetically costly and exhausting (the energy used to cast the spell has to come from somewhere and it creates entropy elsewhere, and channeling it takes a lot out of a mage)--so most people just don't bother (or have access to the training needed to get very good at it).

It's kind of like academia. Most people could become experts in some discipline or another if they spend a decade or more in training (after gaining a basic education first), but nearly all but an obsessive few are happy to let other people do all that hard work.

One type of magic is also rather illegal, not to mention socially unacceptable, in my world. It's the only form of magic that allows you to steal the energy needed to cast it from other living beings. So there's definitely a price associated with using it--unless you get a bunch of corrupt temple officials on your side, of course.
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Old 12-22-2012, 09:58 AM   #21
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In my WIP, only about 25 people have magic, and four others have divine magic. The divine magic users are the heads of their religions and are untouchable by civil law. If one of them goes out of control, it takes the concerted effort of several armies to bring them down.
The regular magic users fall into two groups- religious and secular. The secular ones police themselves with a University based council. The religious ones, fall under the protection of their church leaders.
Non-magical people- the rulers and what not, may protest against their excesses, but there are so few and valuable, no government is going to piss them all off by having one executed or arrested.
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Old 12-22-2012, 12:23 PM   #22
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The thing about people, is they love rules. They love games that have rules, with restrictions and prescribed methods and limitations, that they both have to adhere to and get to enforce. Not only because they understand it (people are much more sophisticated than that), but because it creates a finite universe, something to be manipulated and exploited if it can. A challenge, and eventually a common language. And suddenly you can develop that click in your story, that moment of insight where the rules and the methods have been laid out so well that, as you develop a particular plot or introduce a gripping dilemma, and the magic is paramount to the circumstance, the reader says, "oh boy, I see where this is going."

Some stories have "rules" but they are vague, and magic stores (storage? mana bar?), for example, is ill-defined, which makes sense to do because you have flexibility.

Also, here is a blog post that is worth reading.

http://brandonsanderson.com/article/...sons-First-Law

Also, unlike Brandon Sanderson, I've been drinking. I'll probably not apologize tomorrow if this doesn't make any sense.
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Old 12-22-2012, 02:28 PM   #23
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This was interesting for me. Designing a magic system for my WIp I found myslef continuously cutting back on power and abilities of magic users,because magic, being magic, has the risk of letting the characters do whatever they want whenever they want, and that was bad.
In the end it came down to cost - the price you pay to wield magic. Other people mention this in various ways.
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Old 12-23-2012, 12:12 AM   #24
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Magic + police..?

We (wife is co-author) took a little different approach in OLD BLOOD since it's a series hosted in the multiverse. The laws of physics are somewhat different in each universe/realm; what magic works one way in one realm may not in another - hence a rash of unintended consequences. We're defining magic as the manipulation of energy and/or matter by a means as yet unexplained/understood.

Every character who manages to transit from one realm to another is subtly altered; some latent genetic code is stimulated and a subsequent trace of talent/ability is enhanced - or inhibited.

A pair of police officers from our reality are drawn into this metaphysical maelstrom by the FMC. They face a steep learning curve in quest through realms populated by the creatures of myth and folklore, most of whom can also use magic to some degree.

Of course, some magic pales, its awe diminished as it becomes understood in the context of these respective laws of physics. Overall it was a lot of fun to write with characters torn between professional cynicism and child-like fascination.
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