Are "elemental" magic systems cliché?

editing_for_authors
Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

Roxxsmom

Beastly Fido
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 24, 2011
Messages
19,920
Reaction score
3,651
Location
Where faults collide
Website
doggedlywriting.blogspot.com
There have certainly been plenty of variations on this theme over the years. It's quite popular in fantasy rpgs, with different magical specialties that are based on elements and so on. That doesn't mean you can't put your own twist on it.
 

Simpson17866

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 26, 2016
Messages
503
Reaction score
58
I tend towards 'affinities' in my magic-users, but they can do other magics. One person has a specialty in healing, but she could do shielding if she worked hard at it. Just doesn't have much talent at it. Her father can do it much better. Or another might do curses/blessings particularly well.
That would certainly go a long way towards alleviating the UnEqual Rites you apparently see a lot.
 

Wrigby Paige

Registered
Joined
Oct 24, 2016
Messages
7
Reaction score
0
Something I've always wished to see is political rivalry among elements. And not: "Water mages hate fore mages." simplistic bullshit.

Or class rivalry. Maybe wind and water mages are popular with poor farmers, while the military elite prefer fire and metal magic. Maybe artisans are big on metal and wood magic. Priests might prefer wind and fire magic for the heavenly associations of light/fire/lightning but dislike earth and water magic due to their associations with the profane or decay.

I know some of those are pretty cliche connections, but you rarely even see that much attempt at creativity with elemental magic in published works.

Anything that lends itself to making the world around the magic richer and more cohesive is a huge plus, and dare I say, a killer of the cliche.
 

Cobalt Jade

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,201
Reaction score
242
Location
Seattle
I would LOVE it if someone based a magic system around the four humors: Sanguine, Phlegmatic, Choleric, and Melancholy. No one's ever done that, AFAIK. It would be different.

And hey! How about a magic based on the Seven Deadly Sins as well?
 

Simpson17866

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 26, 2016
Messages
503
Reaction score
58
I would LOVE it if someone based a magic system around the four humors: Sanguine, Phlegmatic, Choleric, and Melancholy. No one's ever done that, AFAIK. It would be different.
Intruguing :)

And hey! How about a magic based on the Seven Deadly Sins as well?
I will get right on that. Starting with Sloth.
 

ihavewritersblock

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 19, 2016
Messages
70
Reaction score
3
Well anything is cliche if you never try to take a new spin on it. If the story is good even the most mundane and cliche elements can be amazing.
 

rwm4768

practical experience, FTW
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jan 12, 2012
Messages
15,472
Reaction score
765
Location
Missouri
I would LOVE it if someone based a magic system around the four humors: Sanguine, Phlegmatic, Choleric, and Melancholy. No one's ever done that, AFAIK. It would be different.

And hey! How about a magic based on the Seven Deadly Sins as well?

For interesting magic systems, you might give Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher a try. In that one, people's delusions shape reality. I haven't read it, but a lot of people I know online have enjoyed it. It's rather far on the Grimdark side of things, so I haven't gotten around to it (not my preferred sub-genre).
 

Richard White

Stealthy Plot Bunny Peddler
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Mar 27, 2005
Messages
2,991
Reaction score
594
Location
Central Maryland
Website
www.richardcwhite.com
I would LOVE it if someone based a magic system around the four humors: Sanguine, Phlegmatic, Choleric, and Melancholy. No one's ever done that, AFAIK. It would be different.

And hey! How about a magic based on the Seven Deadly Sins as well?

Check out Paizo's "Rise of the Runelords". Basically an ancient empire is divided into seven kingdoms, each run by a wizard/wizardress who specializes in one of the Seven Deadly Sins. My gaming group is playing the follow-up path to that campaign "Shattered Star", where we're tracking down remnants from the war that destroyed the seven magi.
 

Cobalt Jade

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,201
Reaction score
242
Location
Seattle
Check out Paizo's "Rise of the Runelords". Basically an ancient empire is divided into seven kingdoms, each run by a wizard/wizardress who specializes in one of the Seven Deadly Sins. My gaming group is playing the follow-up path to that campaign "Shattered Star", where we're tracking down remnants from the war that destroyed the seven magi.

Really, wow. I guess every sort of abstract that comes in a series has been magified. One has only to review 40 years of Japanese TV to see that.
 

Cobalt Jade

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,201
Reaction score
242
Location
Seattle
I was thinking of the Kamen Rider type shows (of which Might Morphin Power Rangers is one) bu,t yeah.
 

Simpson17866

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 26, 2016
Messages
503
Reaction score
58
I'm planning on using Elemental magic in my UrFan series because it is so cliche ;)

Magic isn't an exact science in my universe in that the mage's expectations are almost as important as the technical details of whatever ritual they're performing. When my protagonists' Wild Card ally/rival agrees to train them in magic, my charcaters could have ask her to teach them one of the more obscure schools, but the fact that elemental magic carries such strong associations in their minds means that they would have an easier time learning it than they would learning a different school of magic (even one with technically simpler rituals) that didn't carry the same associations.

Has anybody else here ever tried explaining it this way?
 

Maxx

Got the hang of it, here
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 26, 2010
Messages
3,227
Reaction score
202
Location
Durham NC
I don't think they're cliche. Although if you use the standard 4/5 Elements from the Western system, then there's a lot of books already out there you have to compete with.

I would love to see some Elemental magic with a more creative system.

The Chinese system is still under-utilized, for example.

In one story, I used stone, water, and wood as the elements.

I agree. Elements are cool. And element might even be an Etruscan word. BUT even in the supposedly "Western" Aristotlean system there is a fair amount of wiggle room and in earlier Greek systems even more. But why not go Chinese? Seems good too.
 

Will Collins

Will Collins
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 24, 2010
Messages
1,235
Reaction score
35
I think as long as you add something to your magic system that's unique to you, it's fine.

In my series the elements are just half of the magic system, and each magic-user can only wield spells from a few different areas.
 

Latina Bunny

Lover of Romance Stories (she/her)
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 26, 2011
Messages
3,801
Reaction score
707
I would think elemental magic systems could still work, depending on how you write it. I think it could be cliche if you used a lot of overdone tropes.

I don't know much about books since I don't read much books anymore (especially adult SFF) outside of occasional cozy mysteries and MG, but I still see elemental magic stuff in various video games (especially fantasy RPGs) and some manga/anime.

I personally love elemental magic systems, but I haven't read a SFF book with such a system in a long time. (Though that could be because I don't read much SFF in general anymore).

I do sometimes get tired of tropes. For example, like water mages always being calm (and usually female). Water is NOT always calm and peaceful all of the time, if the rough ocean waves, high tides, and wild river streams, and disasters, when combined with other disturbances, like tsunamis and floods and hurricanes are anything to go by....
 
Last edited:

Simpson17866

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 26, 2016
Messages
503
Reaction score
58
I do sometimes get tired of tropes. For example, like water mages always being calm (and usually female). Water is NOT always calm and peaceful all of the time, if the rough ocean waves, high tides, and wild river streams, and disasters, when combined with other disturbances, like tsunamis and floods and hurricanes are anything to go by....
I am planning on subverting and/or explanding on some of these too ;)

1) There are different schools of elemental magic, so just because my main characters' water magic is powered by tranquility doesn't mean that every water mage's power is going to work the same way.

2) The main character is a woman whose water magic is powered by "tranquility," but in her specific case, it's not a personable, wall-flower tranquility so much as it is a drug queenpin's cold-blooded professionalism and sociopathic detachment.

3) It is pointed out by one character that my leading female character is a healer who's water magic is powered by tranquility, whereas the guy who works for her most loyally "gets to" be a terrifying fire mage, but then the fire mage in question points out

The woman who's learning healing as a form of water magic is the boss, so she's not supposed to be fighting her own battles, she has people for that (think Don Corleone and Luca Brasi)

The guy is also learning water magic in addition to fire.

The bit about how the boss's "tranquility" is that she's a cold-blooded sociopath

The boss's second element being Earth means that she will eventually become bulletproof

The boss doesn't need offensive magic to supplement her defensive/healing magic because she's very good at shooting people, and you do not want to be in a gunfight against another shooter who is bulletproof

The second woman in the group is also going to be a fire mage and an earth mage, so she'll have the boss's invulnerability and the guy's flamethrowing.

Most importantly to the guy running down this list: she's the boss, and she says that's what she's focusing on (water for calmness, earth for directness) because that's what she wants to do.​

Plus, going back to the first point, I've also realized how much I want them to run into a rival water mage whose power isn't based on calmness the way the boss's water magic is :)
 
Last edited:

Latina Bunny

Lover of Romance Stories (she/her)
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 26, 2011
Messages
3,801
Reaction score
707
Yeah, I think anything can work if the writing is done well and the characters (and/or plot) are engaging enough.

The tropes thing is more of a personal taste/preference thing...though if enough of the audience gets tired of a trope to the point of being overly cliche or if the cliche is outdated (or overly offensive for the modern times)...

One thing I would love to see is the Fire types not always portrayed as a negative or constantly destructive being/concept. Fire and heat can be dangerous, yes, but they have some positive aspects. Fire/heat gives us light, keeps us warm in the freezing cold, cooks and bakes our food, helps with making art and some types of items, helps with metalworking, and maybe even helps soothe our muscles (like warming pads they use for massages/therapy), etc.

In high school, I drew a character who was a spiritual fire guardian in the fire place, because I liked thinking that fire-type character could be good in a domestic setting.

With all of the above positive stuff described above, I also think fire-types could be have some good personality traits, like being passionate, having lots of energy or spark, having lots of (pun) warmth and love in their hearts, and maybe even a sense of light and humor from within.

In terms of the firery temper trope: Maybe one fire type is the kind that flares up, while another is the type to hold in their anger, letting it simmer until it gets put out, or until ends up bubbling up and exploding/erupting like a volcano, lol. XD
 
Last edited:

Simpson17866

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 26, 2016
Messages
503
Reaction score
58
One thing I would love to see is the Fire types not always portrayed as a negative or constantly destructive being/concept. Fire and heat can be dangerous, yes, but they have some positive aspects. Fire/heat gives us light, keeps us warm in the freezing cold, cooks and bakes our food, helps with making art and some types of items, helps with metalworking, and maybe even helps soothe our muscles (like warming pads they use for massages/therapy), etc.

In high school, I drew a character who was a spiritual fire guardian in the fire place, because I liked thinking that fire-type character could be good in a domestic setting.

With all of the above positive stuff described above, I also think fire-types could be have some good personality traits, like being passionate, haifng lots of energy or spark, having lots of (pun) warmth and love in their hearts, and maybe even a sense of light and humor from within.

In terms of the firery temper trope: Maybe one fire type is the kind that flares up, while another is the type to hold in their anger, letting it simmer until it gets put out, or until ends up bubbling up and exploding/erupting like a volcano, lol. XD
I just realized how much fun I'm going to have with the fact that fire magic already has a ton of "good" applications that I've come up with (super-speed, -strength, and -endurance, powering electronics, conjuring illusions, manipulating metal, cooking food without access to modern technology, cauterizing injuries) that my sociopathic villain protagonists are going to turn destructive anyway :evil
 

Evaine

Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 23, 2006
Messages
729
Reaction score
63
Location
Hay-on-Wye, town of books
Website
lifeinhay.blogspot.com
I would LOVE it if someone based a magic system around the four humors: Sanguine, Phlegmatic, Choleric, and Melancholy. No one's ever done that, AFAIK. It would be different.

And hey! How about a magic based on the Seven Deadly Sins as well?

The Widdershins comics by Kate Ashwin is a series, with each comic based round a different Deadly Sin. She's done five so far, starting with Sleight of Hand.
 

Myrealana

I aim to misbehave
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Nov 29, 2012
Messages
5,406
Reaction score
1,868
Location
Denver, CO
Website
www.badfoodie.com
One thing I would love to see is the Fire types not always portrayed as a negative or constantly destructive being/concept. Fire and heat can be dangerous, yes, but they have some positive aspects. Fire/heat gives us light, keeps us warm in the freezing cold, cooks and bakes our food, helps with making art and some types of items, helps with metalworking, and maybe even helps soothe our muscles (like warming pads they use for massages/therapy), etc.
My fire-types are based on controlling molecular excitation, so they can cool things as well as heat them. They can extinguish or control destructive fires and back in the times when people actually believed in magic, they were honored for their work, almost as much as the earth-types who could manipulate crop growth.

The spirit-types are the destructive ones in my world. They have a tendency to go mad and start destroying people's minds.
 

Featured Book