Sir Jerric

How to Build a Magic System (with Sample)

6 posts in this topic

So, you want to write a fantasy, and you want to have a magic system. Perhaps you've never tried this before, perhaps you don't like how that last one turned out. What ever your reasons might be, you might have come here looking for ideas on how to proceed. Or you might have come here looking to help someone else build a magic system, in which case, you are also welcome here.
 
I've noticed that this section of the forum has a regularly reoccurring request: I need help with my magic system. Recently, Cstryon asked a slightly more interesting question. He asked for help with the process and the documentation of a magic system.
 
I thought that was a really good question. Mostly because I've designed quite a few magic systems, and most of the inside the last two years. And yet when I put my fingers to the keyboard, I found that I didn't know how to respond. I have magic systems, but they just . . . happen, I guess. Several times over. Whenever I want them too.
 
That answer did not satisfy me one bit. I listen to Writing Excuses. I hear professional writers dissect their writing process on a regular basis. And here I sit, on the edge of a yawning chasm full of swirling mist in the middle of my world building process. I hesitated for a day.
 
Then I dove in.
 
My rules:
1) Start from scratch.
I cannot analyze what I did if I'd already done it. I had to find a combination of ideas that I had never even considered for a magic system before. Luckily, I managed to scrounge up a couple of interesting seeds in somewhat short order.
2) Write down EVERYTHING.
I do a lot of world building and character design while I putter around doing menial jobs at work. But this time, I needed notes on everything. So I had to force myself NOT to think about the project unless I had it up on my display.
3) Analyze after.
Corollary to rule two. I needed something close to stream of consciousness notes. I had to focus on the building and the writing. Finding the order behind the process could wait.
 
The rest of this post is what I learned about my process, along with the notes from my sample. I hope that those who want advice can find something useful.
 
I am open to absolutely any type of feedback people want to leave. Including the people who want to have fun building a world from the magic system presented here (if this is you, the orderly presentation is under the Spoiler in Step 6).
 

Step 1: Concept
Like most everything in writing, I wasn't going to start without something cool. And more than that, I like to work on the intersection of multiple cool ideas. I took a plot conflict that I'd been sitting on, and the magic power of an old magic item I'd crafted for a role-playing game, and set to work.
 
Grab an idea, or several, that makes you say "OOOooooo." Saying "The claw!" is optional.

Seed elements:
Saving someone by means of a permanent curse.
Limited intangibility.



Step 2: Broaden
Next, I went over the ideas and asked myself what they meant together, and what all the pieces meant by themselves. I prowled around with a shovel, turning everything over and looking at what was underneath. Two cool ideas can set a direction, but I was out to build a road.
 
Why are those ideas cool? What parts do you like? What does that imply?
 
John Brown talks about a technique he calls list and twist. This is the list part.

These two elements in conjunction suggest the obvious relationship of the curse conveying intangibility on the target. But why go for the obvious?
 
Curses:
Primary effects are in some way undesirable. Is this a global feature of magic in this world, or are there just some powers that lean in the "curse" direction?
 
The concept of curses suggests that the power has a direct impact on living people, or that the effect of the power is at least attached to a person. Otherwise, it is hard to claim that someone is "cursed".
 
Permanent:
Is this based on having continuous effects, reoccurring effects, or one-time transformative effects?
 
Saving someone:
Is this a side effect of the curse, or the primary nature of the curse?
 
What was at stake? The individual's life? Their social standing? Reputation? Wealth? Trading a really bad curse for a less debilitating one?
 
Intangibility:
Defined as the ability to pass through other things.
 
What are some things that are intangible? Ghosts, spirits, emotions, abstract concepts, illusions, hallucinations, thoughts, time.
 
Can any preexisting intangibles be used to create a theme? (Reaction against self: already have a world designed to bring ghost stories to life.)
 
Illusions - Transformed into a living illusion
Hallucinations - manifest only as a hallucination of another person's mind
Ghosts - Transformed into a ghost; dead, but not dead; side effect?
Spirits - Changed into a intangible entity with new abilities, or some kind of power
 
Emotions - Trigger curse based on victim's emotional state.
Abstract concepts - Curse attaches negative physical conditions to positive mental conditions: love, confidence, joy
Thoughts - Victim has to avoid certain thoughts or memories to avoid curse effects
Time - Curse is turned on and off by the passage of time



Step 3: Define
Now that I had a pile of ideas and concepts, I tried to carry them farther. I went through the concepts and tried to fine dependencies and mixtures that maintained that cool factor. More than that, I wanted ideas and combinations that sounded cooler than what I'd began with. And beyond that, I wanted the things that mixed with the original and took cooler up to awesome.
 
Compare the ideas to the original direction. Set your path toward the most fun. Bring in other ideas you want to use, like character elements and plot conflicts. Remember that your magic system is there to add to the story.
 
I put a {research note} into this section. If I were doing this to write a story, that is when I would have started cross-referencing my ideas. Since I didn't, I wound up running with four different system ideas trying to find a solid direction.
 
In the John Brown list-and-twist, this is the twist.

What are the effects of absolute intangibility?
 
Cannot interact with the physical world at all. No breath, no speech, no hearing. No interaction with light, total blindness. No senses at all. (Result: no fun.)
 
Which effects to limit out of the above?
 
Interacting with light would allow for the victim to see and be seen.
 
Should I add secondary powers, like telepathy? Could replace sound for interacting with other characters. Interesting way to experience the world; cursed with deafness.
 
Physical intangibility would be immune to gravity, but also has no means of propulsion. Magical "flight" is a practical necessity unless the character is doomed to immobility as well. Even immobility could get loopy if the planet orbits away without them.
 
Suspended physical necessities will be another practical detail to allow for the permanence of the curse to be more than a "just until you starve to death" situation.
 
That makes for general rules, but which more specific manifestation works best for my goals? {Research note: Consider story conflicts. Manifestation type is a setting element and should create conflicts with the character's dreams, or the plot's events.}
 
As a ghost:
(Classic Plot: Victim is given the chance to not pass on, but acceptance of ghosthood does not provide the means to achieve the unfinished goals. Victim has to work around the restrictions of their new status to achieve their goal.)
 
Ghosts fit well with the concepts of time-based limitations. Invisible by day, can be seen and perhaps spoken with by night? Perhaps doesn't even experience daytime, just one moment it is sunrise, the next the sun is setting? (Could depart from classic ghost theme and just run with that curse, drop the entire intangibility part.)
 
Go the other direction and become intangible by night? Or during the new moon?
 
Become ghostly on emotional cues, or on particular thoughts?
 
Become ghostly to people with whom the victim had a previous close relationship?
 
(Conflict: My family cannot see, hear, or interact with me, nor can my friends, but the neighbor down the street can interact with me normally.)
 
How close of relationships does this affect? Once they get close to a new person, does the curse kick in on that relationship too?
 
I am guessing that they become a full "ghost" when in the presence of curse-afflicted relationships, preventing them from interacting with the environment around their family and friends. Can other people witness this intangibility? Or do they vanish to everyone's perception? What if someone sees them vanishing before their eyes?
 
As an illusion:
Victim has become a magical construct that lacks real substance. Might still be able to produce sound / speak. Is visible per "normal rules".
 
What happens when the victim passes through something? Do they get to play ghost, or are there other consequences?
 
Does the victim appear in their original form, or are they able to modify their appearance? Or is their appearance assigned by the one who cursed them?
 
(Milieu: Illusions are normally static, but there is a "dark" art that uses people to make complex, interactive illusions.)
 
As a spirit:
Victim is no longer a human. They have transcended, and have gained magic powers of their own. But they are also removed from their previous environment, can no longer interact with their former social circles on the same level.
 
Instead of wandering all over, wondering what powers the victim has in spirit form, I'm going to add in a base element of bestowing power. Instead of direct interactions with the world, the victim now has the ability to grant magic powers / boosts to regular humans.
 
(This has a bit of a genie of the lamp flavor. Might want to run with that connection.)
 
Spirits have special standings, considered a resource by governments. Begs the question of what leverage people (or other spirits) have over the victim. Removed from physical needs, intangible to physical force. Are there weapons / magics that can be used to bind or injure a spirit? (Demons and pentagrams Djinn and arcane circles!)
 
Additional limitations on bestowing magics: Close range? One power to more than one person at once? Several powers at once, each to one person at a time? Only one power to one person at a time? Multiple spirits giving power(s) to a single person?
 
(Plot: After the transcendence, elects to be bound to an old friend to avoid being involuntarily bound to a stranger. But the friend starts abusing the relationship, and now the victim wants to escape.)
 
As a hallucination:
The victim had been human, but has been converted into an intangible being who is only perceived by one person. As if the observer has developed schizophrenia, but the hallucination is a real, formerly independent person who has been magically locked out of interacting with the rest of the world.
 
If an observer has multiple victims attached to them, can those victims interact with each other? (I am liking yes.) Can all of the hallucinations interact with each other, regardless of attachment? (Also liking yes. "My hallucinations are speaking to people that aren't there. Who's insane here?")
 
The observer is the magic-user who converted the victim into an intangible entity to save the victim from something; most likely a fatal injury. "Nazi vs Jew" type persecutions, and hiding the victim?
 
What happens to the victim if their observer dies? Dead themselves? Inherited by the observer's next-of-kin? Victims choose their new observer? Observers choose what and when?
 
Do they still age and pass on, or are the victims now immortal? Do they have a fixed term of life?
 
What happens if the victim wanders away from their observer? Are they restricted to the perceptions of their observer? Can they "teleport" to their observer's side? Can their observer summon them? Can they resist such summons?
 
Why would anyone want to collect hallucinations? Ready access to their knowledge or advice? Can the victims see and hear independently of their observer, useful as spies and counter-spies? Can the observer draw upon their victims' former skills and attributes, becoming superhuman?
 
Are there ways to convert people that are involuntary? Does the observer have to collect new victims by manipulation?
 
(Plot: A person requests conversion after getting into a horrible bind. After they are trapped, the new victim learns from the other victims that their observer is a wicked man who orchestrated the entire event. The victims team up to interfere with the observer's schemes.)



Step 4: Focus
As I said before, The magic system needs to add to and support the story (or the gameplay, or whatever your objective is). I knew this was coming back at the {research note}, and now, it was time to buckle down. Ever heard of world builder's disease? It's bad enough with only one world. I wasn't going to do four.
 
Ideas are cheap, so piece together what is working now, and toss the rest in the bin for later. The first steps worked on the breadth, next comes the depth. Time to pick one.

(Conflict: My family cannot see, hear, or interact with me, nor can my friends, but the neighbor down the street can interact with me normally.)
 
While some of the ideas in this are interesting, this conflict can be implemented in the other setting approaches, and nothing in this "ghost" setting really appeals to the types of story elements I currently find interesting. Ideas from this branch are recycled into the "Cool Ideas to Use Sometime" document.
 
(Milieu: Illusions are normally static, but there is a "dark" art that uses people to make complex, interactive illusions.)
 
As a general rule, I prefer the magic to be amoral of itself; a tool that can be used for a variety of purposes. Thus the quotes around dark. I gave myself the impression that the ability to change people into living illusions is an element likely to see abuse and will thereby achieve a commonplace opinion of the practice as "socially unacceptable". The assumption that the magic-user holds additional control over the living illusions is another rung in this ladder.
 
The story options in this world sound intriguing and warrant further consideration.
 
(Plot: After the transcendence, elects to be bound to an old friend to avoid being involuntarily bound to a stranger. But the friend starts abusing the relationship, and now the victim wants to escape.)
This milieu is the best fit with my original concept, which had an undisclosed resolution riding on it. I had seen the permanent curse as something the the victim would eventually come around to accept the new status as something they can enjoy despite the initial impression of having lost everything they held dear. The plot above is a different angle that could be implemented in this world. It could also be used as a gradual build toward the lost everything moment, instead of starting so low.
 
This milieu has some interesting flavors, with characters becoming minor genie spirits and magic contracts being used against them to restrict choices and increase conflict. Definitely warrants additional exploration.
 
(Plot: A person requests conversion after getting into a horrible bind. After they are trapped, the new victim learns from the other victims that their observer is a wicked man who orchestrated the entire event. The victims team up to interfere with the observer's schemes.)
 
This milieu has creepy and awesome written all over it. I don't care much for horror, so my take is going to lean away from those tropes. But the option for a clear and present darkness is quite appealing. I could even format this story to use the plot and conflict ideas from the "spirit" and "ghost" milieus as well, which also appeals to me. Again, definitely warrants additional exploration.
 
So, I still have three magical transformations. One themed off of illusionists, one themed off of genies, and one themed off of hallucinations. Each would be best served by research into those fields, followed by making deliberate decisions to either tap into prior experience for efficient story telling, or to move counter to prior experience to provide twists and identify areas where more care is needed in the descriptions.
 
But research or not, these are three different magic systems, and continuing to develop all three at once is going to confuse this process. I think I shall proceed with the hallucinations system, because almost all the plot ideas I caught during this process can be fit to that system. My next favorite, the genie system, fits well with a different plot design that I've wanted to use, but is not the type of plot that I have on my mind right now.



Step 5: Refine
This is where I got into the gritty details of the magic. This is the part where cool ideas become powers with costs, and limitations. This is when the magic becomes a system.
 
How did I do it? I've mentioned this part in answer to other threads. Ask questions, look for consequences. Pick answers arbitrarily, try them on, throw them out. Find themes, use them for guideposts.
 
And this time, my advice comes with examples.
 
Be warned. This section gets deep. Over 5,100 words deep. There are a bunch of cool ideas in here, but be prepared for a lot of reading.

Jargon: since I don't want to be writing hallucination, observer, and victim all of the time, I should try to establish in-world jargon for the two categories. However, I don't have any terms coming to mind at present. Will continue to ponder this as I build the world and culture ideas around it.
 
Cool factor: Attach an element to the system specifically to add a cool, unique imagery to the process of using the magic.
 
Open hooks for hanging imagery:
- Transition from person to hallucination
- Drawing abilities from hallucinations
- Using abilities drawn from hallucinations
- Summoning hallucinations
- Inheriting hallucinations
 
Basic questions:
Who can use this magic? Broad access seems interesting. Would allow for a number of different cultures to express different experiences in using the magic.
 
Consider the connection to theme of ancestor worship: what if some cultures locked their elders into hallucinations on their deathbeds, giving them the chance to continue advising and interacting with their descendants for several generations or more? The king inherits not just the throne, but the ability to commune with the previous kings. Plus the king can use the ability boost function to become superhuman; always a useful feature for prominent figures in magical societies.
 
I am inclined to make this a learned ritual magic system. No special parentage necessary.
 
Does this magic have a material component, or components? The obvious item is the requirement of a living human to change into a hallucination. The more important question is what restrictions are there on converting people?
 
Have to be blood-relatives? No.
 
Have to have a prior relationship? Perhaps.
 
The ritual involves a free-will agreement by both parties? Probably. The requirements on the subject would need to be minimal for the deathbed conversions to be practical. I prefer having free-will be always available in my stories, but I also like the angle that one can receive permanent consequences for a ill-considered decision.
 
What qualifies as agreement on the part of the subject? This might have to vary depending on the format of the ritual. The magically required minimum is probably any action that is executed freely by the subject at the request of the recipient. This allows for a huge breadth of extraneous ritualism to be attached by people who take the approach of "if it isn't broke, don't fix it".
 
What requirements does the recipient have to fulfill? The recipient has to request an action on the part of the subject. Alone, that could happen to anyone at any moment. There needs to be a degree of complexity sufficient to avoid accidental invocations of the magic.
 
Are three agreements required? Or some other number?
 
A statement of intent presented to and understood by the subject? How thoroughly expressed intent? What degree of understanding? Don't want to eliminate ignorance from the subject.
 
Instead of general agreement, the subject has to accept food and drink from the recipient? Cooler, but needs something more.
 
The recipient has to perform an act of service at the request of the subject? Or several acts? Serve someone to gain power over them is cool.
 
Can the ritual be done as a checklist over an indefinite period of time? No, leads to greater chance of accidents.
 
Can the ritual be suspended on the cusp of completion for an indefinite period? Sure. Allows for "last breath" conversions if the prepared recipient is on hand.
 
Can someone function as a facilitator in the ritual for the other parties? So long as the parties do their minimum parts, I don't see why not. A facilitator is more of prompt; doesn't have any magical function in the ritual.
 
Can a subject have multiple suspended recipients at once? Sure.
 
Can a recipient have multiple suspended subjects at once? Sure.
 
Is there any particular element of the magic system that ties it exclusively to this world? If I require a particular fuel component, then people would need to have it available to conduct the ritual. I don't want to restrict the availability of the ritual in that way. I suppose I might just answer "Yes, for undisclosed reasons."
 
In summary: The material components of this magic system are two people, participating of their own volition, and a set of actions performed by the two parties that establish their respective roles in the conversion. These actions are services done by the recipient at the request of the subject, and an acknowledgment of each by the subject as requested by the recipient.
 
If the subject does a service for the recipient, something more significant than an acknowledgment, that would break the flow of the ritual, causing the roles to lose definition and invalidating the process. But what constitutes a service versus an acknowledgment?
 
What about the option of a set of unacknowledged services? That sounds good, because any acknowledgment on the subject's part would break the process, something that could easily happen by chance.
 
(Telling children to always say thank you takes on a whole new scope.)
 
(Has a flavor of old fay curses.)
 
Indefinite checklist is more of an option in this paradigm, because the greater expanse of time allows more chances for failing the ritual rather than more chances for success.
 
This is also becoming something that a conman could try running on people without their awareness. Which is a neat abuse of the system.
 
I think that there ought to be something active on the part of the subject at either the beginning or the end of the process to define their participation. The beginning is unnecessary, since each of the qualifying services is done at the subject's request. But the conclusion of the ritual ought to have an action by the subject. An acknowledgment of the services previously unmentioned, which seals the ritual and allows the recipient to invoke the conversion at will?
 
I like the number seven, as it carries a number of magical connotations. It also makes the ritual complex enough to make the process of conning a conversion tense and interesting in itself.
 
What does the recipient gain?
They have the ability to communicate with the subject at will. They can summon the subject to them if they need to. They can draw on the subject's attributes to enhance themselves. They can hand-down the subject to another person.
 
Does the conversion do anything to language barriers? No, no reason to.
 
What attributes can be drawn upon? Classic things like strength, speed, agility. The physical skills. Possibly draw on muscle memory as well. But the mental attributes are not available. They have to talk to the subject for their knowledge or expertise.
 
A personal trainer to help with learning skills. Assuming the subject is cooperative.
 
Are the limits on the ability to draw on the subject's attributes?
 
If I set a range limit, or range diminished effect on this, then the ability to summon the subject will offset it. Require the subject to hover about to keep the boost at maximum effectiveness? Allow non-cooperation by running away every time the subject is summoned? Cute and distracting, and petty revenge it may be, but I think non-cooperation should be more of a mental fight. Attribute boosts are not range limited.
 
Is there a ritual to gain the boost? Is the boost always active? I'm going to play Mr. Incredible here and go for always active. They have to learn to deal with expanded capability.
 
Is healing--regenerative ability--part of the physical attributes? Yes. Along with improved recovery from poisons and disease and the like.
 
How complex is summoning a subject? It might be interesting to have unintentional summons be an option. To force a summon, the recipient thinks the name of the subject three times, or just focuses hard enough on the memory of the subject, and they are drawn to the recipient. Casual use of the subject's name or thinking about them can also summon them if the subject doesn't resist.
 
For amusement, a summoned hallucination always appears nearby, but never within the recipient's line of sight. Even if they are intangible, they should give the impression of being a potentially real person.
 
How does transferring the subject work? Automatic or manual, or both?
 
Automatic transfer would be to the recipient's next-of-kin. Use biblical inheritance laws; two shares to the eldest child, one share to each other child? If these parties aren't available, does the subject get released / follow the recipient into the afterlife?
 
Automatic has some appeal in aiding the ancestor worship theme, but it isn't necessary.
 
Manual transfer would be a ritual that must be conducted before the recipient's death. Could the ritual simply specify the heirs, like a will? Takes effect automatically on death. This would notify the heir that the recipient had died, which could be interesting to have available.
 
Is a magic will the only means of transfer? No, I believe an option for elective transfer would be more interesting.
 
Do the heirs have a role in the transfer ritual? Yes. But no transfer to infants. Wouldn't be nice.
 
What are the requirements in a transfer ritual? Hmm, hmm. Probably simpler than the conversion ritual. Requires consent from both the recipient and the heir. Does the subject have a choice in the matter? I think I'll go with no; but, I'll give a little back when I get to the subject's section.
 
If the conversion is rooted in the idea of debt of gratitude creating a master-slave relationship, how does the transfer fit into this picture? The recipient being satisfied shouldn't enter the picture, as that would be an expunging of the debt. Transferring the debt to a new person seems ill-fitting.
 
The original take was more of a service-for-service, where a series of seven services were given unacknowledged, and the subject has to serve the recipient in return.
 
Every look at this concept indicates that the subject should have some choice in whether their service is transferable. But . . . The service is basically for the term of the recipient's lifetime. What if the recipient can transfer the subject's service to another of the recipient's choosing, but only until the original recipient dies? That maintains the same term of service.
 
What happens if a new recipient dies before the original? I haven't written this below yet, but I begin to grow fond of an on-death-of-recipient choice for the subject. In that paradigm, the subject in this situation would have the option of returning to the original recipient. More on this subsystem later.
 
How does a transfer ritual differ for inheritance versus immediate? Transfer on death is a matter of making the heir an option in the choices that the subject has, rather than something that can be forced on them.
 
New thought: what about the transfer being the same as a conversion ritual, where the heir takes the role of converting the recipient, and the subject is given over in the recipient's place? This does have some interesting dynamics in making a transfer a fall-back protection for a unwitting subject, but it doesn't fit quite evenly into the quasi-justice of the system. Going to turn that approach down.
 
Still need to address the design of the transfer ritual. What method? What approach? The ritual is an enactment of a contract, surrendering the services of the subject to another. Something is given in return. That something could be symbolic in nature. Or it could be parallel to the cause of the original binding: the subject failed to repay service with gratitude, so does the ritual involve the heir giving gratitude to the recipient in excess of service rendered? To fit properly, this would need to be done in name of the subject, to establish a connection with the subject's debt.
 
This might enable a scenario where a recipient could be manipulated into losing the service of a subject by a suitably clever heir. That is a neat option for a story; someone being conned into service, and being "rescued" by one of their friends in a con on the conman. That would be pretty cool.
 
So, in order to enable such, the holder (formerly recipient) needs to have minimal involvement in the ritual. The holder can be steered through their role by eliciting certain modes of response.
 
The subject was trapped by failing to show gratitude for seven services. The parallel would be for the heir to express gratitude for seven services in the subject's name. Does that mean that the holder has to be tricked into doing seven services for the heir? Since this is being done in the name of the subject, it might be appropriate for the seven gratitudes to be matched to the original seven services. That causes a difficulty in chained transfers; how are the later heirs to know what the proper gratitudes are? In other words, the transfer ritual for a particular subject would be unique to them. Which makes for an interesting puzzle in the rescuer heir story. The formulaic rituals used in the ancestor worship cultures would mean that all subjects converted by that method would be transferred by a similarly fixed formula, which also pans out nicely in supporting the chained transfers formerly mentioned.
 
So the transfer ritual is a series of seven displays of gratitude done in the name of the subject to be transferred. The minimum would be a correctly sequenced list of thank yous for the seven services, headed by a reference to the subject in whose name these gratitudes are being given. I think that for an extra challenge, the holder needs to in some way acknowledge that the gratitudes are being accepted in the subject's name. Or does the subject have to participate, and inform the holder that they have acknowledged the heir's right to act in their name? I like that better, but more so that the holder must acknowledge the subject's transfer of authority to the heir.
 
Order of events: the seven gratitudes are definitely required to be in correct sequence, but when does the subject have to inform the holder, and when does the holder have to acknowledge? I think both should be done before any of the gratitudes are expressed, so that they can be understood in their proper context. A final acknowledgment of the gratitudes by the holder is needed to conclude the ritual.
 
The gratitudes, while they can be as simple as thank yous, have as a minimum requirement that each refer to the service they are connected to. This is not required of the original ritual breaking gratitudes, as the transfer gratitudes are out of context, and thus the context must be provided for each. The gratitudes can be communicated in any way that fulfills these requirements, including a series of gifted statues commemorating each service, if one wanted to go that far.
 
One last point: I had been trying to restrict the subject's freedom in this system, so in order to take some of that power back from the transfer ritual, I will latch on to the holder's acknowledgment. The holder has to acknowledge because their position of mastery gives them the final say in the transfer, and in extension of that, the holder can bestow the authority to offer gratitudes in the subject's name. Thus, in most cases, the subject is not involved, but if someone were to dig, they might uncover the fact that the subject can make the selection, and the holder only needs to acknowledge that. Telling that story is going to be a difficult balance of obfuscation and reveals, I think.
 
What does the subject gain?
The subject has been converted into a hallucination. Their material existence is no longer tied to the basic necessities of food and shelter. They are not subjected to the ravages of time.
 
I might make their appearance slightly warped by the ideals of their holder's mind. No conscious modification by either, just subconscious adjustments. The subject's clothing will be appropriate for their original station, but modified to fit the current paradigm of the holder. And they age with their holders, appearing relatively old to any descendant holders, never appearing decrepit unless the holder is of extreme age.
 
For example, the fifth-great-grandfather who is remembered for his decisive leadership in an ancient battle will seem middle-aged to his thirteen-year-old holder, and will be arrayed in a sample of last decade's military uniform appropriate for his former rank. The style of clothing will remain stable throughout the holder's life, while the grandfather turns hoary and grows wizened and wrinkled.
 
A new subject will maintain their original appearance, but continue to "age" appropriately, slowing significantly once their apparent age reaches the eighty plus range if the holder is significantly younger. The relative appearance rules apply following a transfer to someone who hadn't known them before the conversion.
 
So, the other gains: net immortality, freedom from having to converse with most people, freedom from concerns of health and diet.
 
The subject is effectively a ghost when not attending to their holder. They can levitate about, are completely intangible, and are able to see and hear all that goes on in their presence. All converted are able to see and hear each other as well, so trading information or learning new things from another converted is totally possible.
 
When summoned by the holder, the converted is manifest only to the holder's mind. The subject also becomes subject to what the holder believes are normal restrictions on movement. The subject appears out of their line of sight, often behind the holder or around a corner, and they can walk about and touch things in the environment, and even the holder. But they will seem exceedingly weak if they try to do anything physically aggressive, as they do not truly have any substance. The subject will not be able to find purchase to grab things, and will rapidly discover that trying such things is pointless except in trying to confuse their holder about their limits.
 
The subject can appear to the holder of their own volition, selecting their own arrival point. And the subject can leave the holder's line of sight for a reasonable duration to vanish again, so long as their disappearance is moderately plausible from the holder's perspective. (The holder is theoretically insane and hallucinating, after all.)
 
What about the auto-transfer business? The subject, on their holder's death, drops into a black void. In this void, the subject sees an arc of people, the array of potential holders. This group includes the blood-heirs of the deceased, the subject's blood-heirs, and any people who were authorized to present gratitudes in a transfer of the subject (whether or not they succeeded in the rest of the ritual). The subject may step up to any of these people and attempt to touch their image. On contact with the image, the subject manifests to the new holder as if summoned.
 
If the subject chooses, they may step away from the arc of holders and instead walk off into a mysterious light behind them, vanishing into the afterlife.
 
This is an irrevocable choice, but it is available each time a holder dies.
 
If there is somehow no options available among the range of people specified, then the subject is released into the afterlife regardless.
 
And as I said earlier, the concept of hallucinating infants does not appeal to me, nor does the superhuman toddler. So if the heir selected is not yet ten years old, then on contact with their image, the subject is swept forward in time until either that heir is ten years old, or the heir dies in the intervening time. Which leaves the subject facing a new array of candidates in the void as available at the time of the heir's death.
 
That about covers the basics of the situation. This arrangement leaves the option for the subject to become a super-spy, able to go anywhere and hear anything. I am not certain I like that. It is restricted in some degree by the presence of other converted, if they have the ability to physically wrestle with each other. They wouldn't have any weapons. And even that becomes rather difficult in a situation where everyone can float around without respect to walls, floors, or ceilings. At the least a converted could manifest to their holder and warn them that a spy is around. And while not manifest, they could talk over the conversations that the spies might be trying to hear or a number of other silly tricks.
 
Still, I have been debating the option of restricting the subject to a limited region around the holder. Within their ability to perceive? They would get locked into little rooms with their holder and have no where to go, which I am not fond of. Within an arbitrary distance, like a mile, or two hundred feet?
Better, but it does reopen the spy issue, though on a smaller scale. And the smaller scale means that counter spy measures would be able to discover the spy's holder relatively easily, which would allow the other holder to take physical action against them. I'll go for the tighter ranges; probably one or two hundred feet.
 
Another option is that the subject is stuck in a void with the rest of their holder's converted whenever they aren't manifest, but that greatly cuts the ability for the subject to interact with the converted of other holders, and I like having that option better.
 
One more thing: what happens to a holder who gets converted? Their subjects get to select heirs? Their subjects are attached to the new holder along with them? I think the former sounds more appropriate to the design of the system. I have avoided allowing the subjects to have their terms potentially extended, and in this case being for their holder's failings, I am even less inclined. Though one could say that they had the chance to warn their holder. Perhaps the new holder in such a scenario could be included in the options for transfer. That seems a reasonable compromise.
 
That about covers my current range of questions for this system. More questions will doubtless come up as the plots of this world's stories are developed, but that is beyond the scope of this analysis. But I'm not quite done.
 
Jargon and Cool Stuff:
This system is still lacking in a nice set of cool, unique imagery and descriptive names. So, to reiterate, here are my original ideas for where cool stuff could be fit in to this system.
 
Options for hanging imagery:
- Drawing abilities from hallucinations
The manual-triggered draw of abilities was not used in the system, so this isn't available anymore.
 
- Summoning hallucinations
To keep with the theme of hallucinations, I elected for this to be handled in a subtle manner that would allow for the holder to believe that the subject might be a regular person, and allow the holder to become confused and distracted by that. Which is a cool touch by itself.
 
- Inheriting hallucinations
The subject being transferred is not manifest, and on their attachment to a new holder, they appear as if summoned. The only element of special imagery in this is the afterlife void decision.
 
- Using abilities drawn from hallucinations
This can still be a place to attach some cool visuals.
 
- Conversion from person to hallucination
This is the biggest opening I've left myself.
 
The conversion:
What would a witness to a conversion see? Would there be a flashy effect? Does the effect even occur instantly? For that, I would go with the instant, or at least rapid effect. Otherwise, the deathbed or battlefield conversions don't work properly.
 
My trend in this system has been to keep the magic very subtle. I believe that I don't want to violate that trend. But how does a person subtly vanish?
 
Perhaps I should look at the other two viewpoints, and consider how the conversion appears to them. For the holder, they have just completed the last step of the ritual, claiming the service of the subject. What happens? In part, it might depend on how they claimed their service. I didn't specify if that was purely a verbal action, or if there was a material element to the process. Touching the subject? Some particular gesture? Or a range of gestures, so long as it is culturally appropriate for or to some degree symbolic of the binding or the subservience? Does the gesture need to be combined with a declaration, or is the gesture declaration enough?
 
Could the gesture be one of mutual agreement, as in shaking hands on a contract? That would be a type of binding. I don't think I want to require a mutual gesture; that would limit the range of successful conversions. But, everything else in the ritual was designed for a specific meaning. Leaving this element too open-ended would violate the schema.
 
Binding, dominion, master-slave. something of that nature needs to be brought across in that final step. But the specific gesture can still be something culturally defined. I do like that part.
 
So, in that case, the holder and the subject are within arms length to allow the holder to touch the subject. Being able to see the subject is almost guaranteed. So does the subject vanish? From the holder's perspective, I'm going to go with no. The holder sees absolutely nothing change, and has no idea that the ritual succeeded. But they will find that they are physically enhanced, and that might tip them off.
 
The subject will also find nothing significant to see. But any attempts to interact with the environment would end in failure. No purchase on any object they try to move, weakness when trying move anything besides themselves.
 
At what point does the subject first become aware of the other converted? Assuming that another is at hand. Might as well be immediately. Which could be entertainingly disconcerting for the newly converted if there are a whole crowd. Or if there is an argument going on. Which would also be weird for the holder to see the person they were talking to suddenly react to a crowd that the holder might have been completely unaware of.
 
And the third party viewpoint? The others get to play insane, as that was the theme, but a third party to the conversion is going to see something. Given the lack of substance that the converted now suffers, an observer would see the subject vanish before their eyes. A ghostly fade out? One moment present, the next moment gone? A flash of light? A wisp of smoke? A heat haze?
 
I am liking the heat haze one. A momentary rippling in the space they had occupied, that collapses in on the holder. And that imagery can tie in to the next element.
 
Superhuman ability:
While everything else has been very subtly, and mental, the fact that a holder gets the physical prowess of themselves and their subjects combined, they will rapidly develop into a superhuman. Under normal conditions, at rest, the holder of a handful of subjects will be indistinguishable. But with even one subject, exertion beyond normal capacity is accompanied by a heat haze that steams off of their body, concentrated around the working muscles. Moving faster than normal will leave a trail of rippling air.
 
The visible duration of this effect increases linearly with how far beyond normal the holder is performing.
 
The breadth of the distortion increases along a logarithmic scale, becoming noticeable even at rest beyond a threshold of about 5-7 subjects. A holder with more than a dozen subjects who does something dramatic will be accompanied by a swirling cloud of visual distortion.
 
Transfer ritual:
Because of the visual effect of the conversion ritual, it is appropriate for a similar transfer of haze to flow between the holder and the heir.
 
Death of a holder:
Also, any time a holder dies (or is converted), the release of their subjects is evidenced by a slightly larger explosion of heat haze than would have occurred if they had caught a boulder or something similarly flashy.
 
Terminology:
Terminology. Jargon. Call it what you will, but I have yet to come up with any particular ideas.
 
In part, this is due to my system having so few slots for special terms. I should list them out:
- holder (noun)
- subject (noun)
- heir (noun)
- convert (verb)
- transfer (verb)
 
Another element that is limiting me is the desire to tie the terminology into the culture. I haven't selected the technology level of this story (although I considered many of the complications from several levels), but I do want to explore a breadth of ways of interacting with the system.
 
Some cultures are going to use the system as a means of preserving their ancestral heritage. Some might use it to hand down their priesthood or their kingship. Some might use the system for the power, making an army of fanatic super-soldiers who concentrate their might as they are struck down in battle (spooky awesome).
 
Some of the above cultures may consider the use of the magic taboo outside of certain circles, or even consider the whole system reprehensible.
 
Each of these uses can and should have names that carry some meaning toward how the magic-user is considered by the society. And this argument applies to all of the nouns in the list above.
 
The verbs on the other hand, are more definite. Somewhat. They can be flexed to some degree to carry positive or negative connotations, but as they are used to describe the final acts of the rituals: the tying of the subject to the holder, and the change of the subject's status. Both meanings need to be carried--a subservient binding relationship--for the conversion.
 
But, then again, the perspective and the opinion carry a great deal of weight. Even in the verbs, the holder is going to gain mastery in the binding, and the subject is being bound. Active and passive, master and slave. What a mess.
 
And then there is the objective version of the terminology. Where many cultures might hold a subjective view of the system, there is room for researchers and others to take an objective view. Those terms would land more along the lines of the ones that I used in my list, expressing the relationships without passing as much judgment on the participants.
 
Ideally, the imagery of heat haze would be incorporated into the selected terminology, since that visual effect is independent of culture.
 
(This is the part where I like to describe the system to other people and see what terms they use to converse about it. I also raid the thesaurus and dictionary for alternate terms.)



Step 6: Summarize
Did you try to read that example above? I don't recommend it. That's how I thought the system through, but there is no way I'm going to be able to use that as a reference while I'm writing the story.
 
This is where the ideas need to make sense, not just in your mind, but on the page.
 
This part was not written as a stream of consciousness. This part is methodically arranged for clarity. It is a bit dry, but I prefer my system rules that way. I aim for them to give shape to the ideas in my head. Then I add in sections for examples, or write the examples in my other design documents.



Overview
In this world, magic has three functions:
(1) It can change a person into a bonded spirit,
(2) It can transfer a bonded spirit to a different person, and
(3) It provides passive enhancements to the bond holder.
The two active functions are accessed by complex rituals. These rituals can be successfully performed by anyone ten years old or older. Any rituals involving an individual under this age fail, no matter how precisely the rituals are carried out.
 

Bonded Spirits
All bonded spirits are formerly regular persons, who have obtained freedom from the limitations of normal life in exchange for perpetual service to their bond holder. They must have a bond holder at all times, and may not have more than one. Their existence has two states, which we will refer to as native, and attending.
 
In both states, bonded spirits retain all memories and mental faculties from their former life. They are aware of other bonded spirits, as they can see, hear, and speak with each other.
 
The appearance of a bonded spirit is subjective, defined by the expectations of their bond holder. A newly bonded spirit maintains their original appearance, but appears to continue aging. This aging slows once their apparent age exceeds eighty if their bond holder is significantly younger. After a transfer, the bonded spirit's age resets to be relatively old to their new bond holder. Their clothing remains appropriate for their former life status, but modified to fit the paradigm of the new generation.
 
In their native state, bonded spirits are physically intangible and are fully invisible and inaudible to regular people. They can see and hear everything around them. They have full freedom of movement, having the ability to move with a thought, and can bypass all physical barriers. But they are unable to move more than two hundred feet from their bond holder. They can physically interact with other bonded spirits, though all are immune to any harm from rough handling.
 
Bonded spirits can be summoned to attend their bond holder at any time. A summons manifests as a tugging sensation that can be resisted, but resistance is easily overridden. Alternatively, bonded spirits can elect to attend their bond holder at any time. In both cases, the transition is accompanied by a brief blackness.
 
While attending, a bonded spirit vanishes and reappears in a random location just beyond their bond holder's field of vision. They regain their sense of touch, and move as in their normal life. While they can touch things, they are unable to move anything; however, they can be moved quite easily. Their bond holder can see and hear them in this state, though all others are oblivious to their presence.
 
An attending spirit can choose return to their native state when their bond holder has not perceived them for a few seconds. There is no blackness, nor vanishing and reappearing in this transition.
 

Bond Holders
A bond holder is a regular person who has obtained one or more bonded spirits, and has thereby received enhanced physical abilities.
 
The enhancements impact the bond holder's strength, speed, durability, rate of healing, and muscle memory. Each bonded spirit adds their former physical capabilities to their bond holder's. These enhancements are not immediately adapted to, and for the first few additions, practice is usually required before the bond holder can function better than an infant. Most bond holders have little trouble adapting to additional bonds after the first four.
 
While at rest, the holder of a handful of bonded spirits is indistinguishable. But with even one bonded spirit, any exertion beyond normal capacity is accompanied by a visual distortion like that produced by a red-hot bar of iron. This distortion steams off of their body, concentrated around the working muscles. Moving faster than normal will leave a trail of rippling air. The visible duration of this effect increases linearly with how far beyond normal the bond holder is performing. The breadth of the distortion increases along a logarithmic scale, becoming noticeable even at rest beyond a threshold of about 5-7 bonded spirits.
 
The bond holder's death is accompanied by a burst of visual distortion scaled by how many bonded spirits were held by the deceased.
 
A bonded spirit can be summoned to attend the bond holder by thinking about them. This simple requirement can lead to unintended summons if the mind is not quickly turned to other matters. Talking about a bonded spirit almost invariably summons them to attend.
 

The Rituals
Despite the label of ritual, which does describe the common method of invoking magic, the invocations are a structured sequence of communication between two people. This sequence can take place over an extensive period of time, and unless certain sequence breaking events are communicated, the magic will be invoked with the last event in the sequence.
 

Bonding
The ritual that bonds a new spirit to a holder requires the involvement of two people: the subject to be bonded, and the invoker to take the subject's bond.
 
The sequence of bonding can be considered in two sections: the services, and invoking the debt.
 
The services: This section begins when the subject makes a request of the invoker. The invoker must complete this request and provide the result to the subject. The subject cannot acknowledge the completion of their request, but must instead make another request. This cycle continues until the invoker has completed seven requests.
 
The sequence is broken if any rule above is not kept. If the subject makes a new request of the invoker before the previous is complete and provided, the sequence restarts as if the new request was the first. If after the seventh result is provided the cycle is continued unbroken, the sequence is not considered interrupted, and the seven most recent requests will be the ones that apply to the bonding (see The gratitudes below). If the subject makes a new request after the seventh is completed, the invoker may advance to the next section without having to complete that request.
 
Invoking the debt: After the seventh service is completed, the invoker must call the subject's attention to their lack of gratitude for the invoker's service. The subject must acknowledge the invoker's statement. At this point, the sequence is locked, and once the invoker completes the next step, the subject becomes a bonded spirit, and the invoker the bond holder.
 
The final step requires that the invoker make physical contact with the subject. Either the gesture used for the contact, or words spoken along with the contact must convey the master-servant relationship. Once this final communication is made, the subject becomes a bonded spirit attending their bond holder. (This is the only exception to an attending spirit entering that state outside the field-of-vision of the bond holder.)
 
Third parties to this conclusion witness the subject vanish into a hot-air distortion that flows into the invoker's point of contact with the subject. The invoker witnesses no change. The subject immediately gains the ability to see and hear other bonded spirits, and by that means might recognize the change, but they will otherwise witness nothing unusual.
 

Transferring
There are two methods of transferring a bonded spirit to a new bond holder: a ritual that effects an immediate transfer, and a decision made by a bonded spirit following their bond holder's death.
 

Ritual Transfer
The ritual that transfers a bonded spirit to a new bond holder requires the involvement of two people: the current bond holder, and the recipient of the bond.
 
The sequence of transferring has two distinct sections: authorization, and the gratitudes.
 
Authorization: The bond holder must authorize a recipient to present the gratitudes on behalf of the bonded spirit. This requirement can be fulfilled in two ways: the bond holder can directly authorize a recipient by name or by implication, or another person can recommend a recipient, and the bond holder confirms the recommendation. This recommendation can come from anyone, but must specify whom they recommend and which spirit they are recommended for.
 
This segment of the ritual is distinct in that a successful authorization influences the options in a decision transfer.
 
The gratitudes: An authorized recipient must present seven displays of gratitude. Each gratitude offered must refer to one of the bonded spirit's seven requests, and they must be presented in the same order as the requests. The gratitudes must be acknowledged by the bond holder to conclude the ritual, either individually, or collectively at the end.
 
The gratitudes can be communicated in any way that fulfills these requirements, down to simple thank yous. The gratitudes do not need to be similar to each other in method of presentation. If the gratitudes are not presented correctly, the authorized recipient must begin again with the first gratitude; authorization is not revoked.
 
Once all seven gratitudes are presented in order and the bond holder acknowledges them, the transferred spirit is immediately summoned to attend the recipient. The former bond holder loses the enhancement provided by the transferred spirit and can no longer summon that spirit to attend to them.
 
If the transferred spirit was attending the bond holder, they could witness the spirit vanishing. Third parties can see a brief stream of distorted air leap from the bond holder to the recipient.
 

Decision Transfer
A decision transfer is the only means a bonded spirit has to continue their life following the death of their bond holder.
 
The bonded spirit drops into a black void. In this void, the bonded spirit sees an arc of people: the array of potential bond holders. This group includes the blood-heirs of the deceased bond holder, the bonded spirit's own blood-heirs, and any people who were authorized to present gratitudes on behalf of the bonded spirit.
 
The bonded spirit may move up to any of these people and attempt to touch their image. On contact with the image, they are summoned to attend their new bond holder. If the person selected is not yet ten years old, then on contact with their image, they are swept forward in time until either that person is ten years old, or they die in the intervening time. Such a death returns the bonded spirit to the void, facing a new array of candidates as available at the time of their last selection's death.
 
The bonded spirit may move away from the arc of candidates and instead head into a mysterious light behind them, vanishing into the afterlife. This is an irrevocable choice, but it is available each time a bond holder dies. If somehow there are no options available among the range of people specified, then the bonded spirit is released into the afterlife regardless.


 
Feedback? Did I miss something? Want additional explanation? Found a hole in the process or the system? Wondering how Sanderson's Laws are applied? Want to springboard off of something I said and build your own system? Want to make use of the systems I dumped in step four? Want to ask for applied advice for your own system? Found some horrible grammar in my "clearly written" system manual?
 
Want to tell me to stop asking so many questions? =) Sorry, it's compulsive.

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I'm wondering what happens to things the subject is wearing or holding as they are bound. Say, for instance, Alan and Becky have found the Macguffin of Doom, and it's about to go off and destroy the world. Could Alan hold it, enter a contract with Becky, and make the object he's holding turn spirit as well? When a spirit decides to die at last, what happens to their body and things? Do they coalesce from the ether and drop? If so, where - the location the were bonded, the place their last bonder died, at the feet of the first heir to their services? Can a spirit be destroyed in any way at all? What about magically binding contracts that could, for example, give a spirit complete control of a subject's body for a time (expressed in a way that made it clear that the gift of a body for x amount of time was given in exchange for the service of using said body to do y during x amount of time)? Say that the seven Gratitudes were performed, and the acknowledgement took the form of some kind of token - a signed document, a trinket, a coin. It seems to me that the spirit, while bound to the recipient, would also be connected to the token in some way. Perhaps it needs to kept on the recipient's person, or perhaps its destruction simply voids the contract.

What about mental condition. Say that Becky's great grandfather has arranged to be bound to her on his deathbed, but unfortunately has severe dementia when this happens. However, in a moment of lucidity, he beckons her close and, weakly, they complete the ritual. Is his mind restored? Does he remain forgetful and still have trouble speaking, despite his apparent age reversal? In a similar vein, physical strength is transferred, but is that a quality of the spirit or the body? If Alan was parapalegic, and was bound to Becky, would that show in a lack of enhancement in those areas? What about mental abilities, like a photographic memory or a particular mode of abstract thinking? Would those transfer?

Can a spirit be destroyed in any way while bound? Is there anything a spirit can do to change the output of its power - can it purposefully sap its strength to deprive its master of that same strength? Is the area which the spirit cannot leave arbitrary, or does that vary depending on the magical strength of the holder? How long can a spirit last before the weight of their memories makes them go mad? Are there any creatures that inhabit the spirit side - perhaps the binding of animals to become spirits is a lost art (based around separate principles, perhaps overcoming with strength rather than extracting debt for services rendered)? Are there any coexistent magical arts in the world? Is there any way, any material or ritual, that can exclude a spirit's natural form from a place?

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Thanks for the reply. I'm going to tangent for a moment before I respond directly.

Since this topic was all about the process, Swim's post full of additional questions makes a good example of why I harped on attending to your plot and character ideas while building the magic system. Many of the ideas behind Swim's questions are plot options that did not come up as I designed the system. And because they weren't addressed, some of those ideas are simply not going to work with the system I designed.

Does this mean that my system is flawed? No. The system I have is capable of presenting solutions and challenges for the types of stories I want to tell in this milieu.

Perhaps someone reading this disagrees, and thinks that these questions should have been address, or should be addressed. They can be. I could throw those ideas into the mix, and refine them, analyzing the conflicts and the consequences, and hash out a new draft of the magic system to support those ideas.

But in many ways, that would no longer be the same system. I won't speak of better or worse. Some of Brandon's novels are better or worse than others, and many on this forum will disagree on which ranks where.

As an author, you are completely within your rights to take or leave any ideas that are offered to you. You can say no. Often, I would hazard that it is better to say no, given the advice I hear on handling writing groups.

But in this case, I built this whole thing as an exercise, and posted the entirety where anyone can see it. Perhaps I don't want to incorporate anyone's ideas. What is stopping you from doing so? =)

@Swimmingly: Writerly ramble aside, I'll offer a direct response. But first, I'm going to guess that the only Spoiler tag you read was Step 6, correct?

Now: your questions, head on, answered by the rules as is.

Clothing, accessories, items in your pockets, items in your hands; all of it vanishes with you as you are bonded. Which is to say that you would still have a spiritual representation of all of those items. They might not function quite the same. A sword isn't going to cut anything, since you can't move anything physical, and Bonded spirits can't be harmed.

What happened to your body and the items? If there is anything in this system that could be considered a fuel, that is the closest to meeting the definition. All gone, used up, consumed. Won't reappear, ever.

Tangent: Could the spirit lose the spirit items they were carrying? The items would be part of your image. They would be bound to remain within the same region as you are. And they probably would be with you when you transition to the attending state. They would go back to the native state of their own accord if you left them lying about unwatched, mostly because it sounds funny for an attending spirit to lose their glasses that way.

Congratulations. That's one point you've sold me on addressing directly in the manual.

So, you could eliminate your MacGuffin from the physical world using Alan and Becky as stated. Having a bomb as part of your spirit image would be a little odd. I suppose that might be a case where the perception of the bond holder comes into play; you aren't expected to have the bomb after it explodes, and time is an established modifier of a spirit's image. So if a person holding a bomb was bound just before it went off, the explosion would do no damage. And Alan is trapped as a bonded spirit for the rest of Becky's life, which might be considered collateral damage in some circles.

Next question: No, bonded spirits have no ability to possess anyone in this system. I skipped that idea in part because of one of my other systems has ghosts and possessions and magic contracts, and I didn't have any inclination to use those elements in this one.

However, if I were wanting to add more complexity to this system, more rituals that modified the relationship with a bonded spirit is the best opening for expansion without damaging the flavor of the system. If you (or anyone) wants to brainstorm some other ideas for contracted effects, feel free. You might even talk me into using them. =)

Next question: Physical tokens are deliberately not in use. That was one of the things I considered early in Spoiler Five, though looking back I see that I wasn't entirely clear on that point. It is mostly in the idea of not wanting to disable the use of the magic from lack of available materials. Sure, in your point, one could grab some pebble for a token.

But the other reason I don't have that element is in Spoilers One and Two, and the word Permanent. I like exploring permanent consequences, and attaching the bond to a token has a large measure of impermanence to it.

Next: Mental failures due to physical debilitation or decay are offset by a bonded spirit's immunity to health problems. His mind would clear immediately. His appearance and age would be unchanged until his bond was transferred to a person who had not known him personally. Then the relatively older business would kick in.

The physical enhancement is based on a healthy person of that age, since the bonded spirit does not suffer health issues. In this case, there would still be a benefit all around, but unbalanced exercise would modify the gains. Bonding a runner would provide a different benefit than bonding a rower.

Mental abilities are the bonded spirit's, not the bond holder's. The spirit is the only one who has them, and will still have the ability to exercise them in whatever method they chose.

Congratulations again. I ought to address this more clearly as well.

More questions:

Can a spirit be destroyed in any way while bound? Nope. Totally immortal.

Is there anything a spirit can do to change the output of its power - can it purposefully sap its strength to deprive its master of that same strength? Considered something of this in Spoiler Five, and while it might be amusing, the bonded spirit is in service to the bond holder and allowing pettiness didn't appeal to me.

Is the area which the spirit cannot leave arbitrary, or does that vary depending on the magical strength of the holder? The bond holder has no magical strength. The bonds they hold enhance their physical capability. More details on why I set the range as I did are in Spoiler Five (as usual).

How long can a spirit last before the weight of their memories makes them go mad? Memory-induced madness is not a thing I believe exists. Other mental issues may use memories to manifest, but the memories themselves? Most bonded spirits are going to be like everyone else, remembering notable things, occasionally remembering things that relate to current events, and having trouble recalling specifics of anything on demand.

Are there any creatures that inhabit the spirit side - perhaps the binding of animals to become spirits is a lost art (based around separate principles, perhaps overcoming with strength rather than extracting debt for services rendered)? Nope. Binding is based on guilt and debt, which doesn't apply to animals in the way it does to humans.

Are there any coexistent magical arts in the world? Nope. Covered that in Spoiler Six, Overview, sentence one. =)

Is there any way, any material or ritual, that can exclude a spirit's natural form from a place? Only way to interact with a spirit in native state is to be another spirit and wrestle with them. Or to frog-march their bond holder far enough from the area to prevent them. So, yes: move their bond holder.

There you are. All answered. Two points to Swimmingly.

And if you don't like my answers: change them, redraft the system, and come back and share. And if you want to write a story with your version or mine, at least consider putting me in the acknowledgements? =)

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Well, I think a really fun story could be a murder mystery, with the catch that the victim, witnesses, and quite possibly the murderer are all hallucinations bound to one person, or perhaps a small community of people who, for various reasons, possess bound spirits. Though that wouldn't work under your rules, perhaps some kind of brutal psychological damage, leaving the victim shocked or insane.

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You are quite right. That does sound like an interesting story. And you're also correct that it doesn't quite fit this system.

What are the consequences if spirits can murder other spirits? Does the method of murder have the potential for only causing injury? Can a spirit recover from such injuries?

Trying to find a good psychologist for your hallucination is a story that could be told with this system.

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It seems to me that a spirit could make your life a living hell - imagine, for a moment, just what kind of depravities someone with no ability to be hurt by you, no physical needs, and the ability to appear to you at any time could get up to. Do you enjoy sleep? Hahahaha good luck with that.

 

Also, on the nature of items made spirit-y: Do they act like the items themselves, or are they sort of "idealized" versions of the items? Not in appearance, but in function. For example, if I bring a notepad and pencil, does the pencil wear away and the notepad run out of pages eventually, or do they turn pseudomagical, giving me an infinite number of pages to scribble on and tear out? If I leave those pages around for the person who holds my binding, will they find them even if I'm in my natural state at the moment? Perhaps, is it simply that I can renew any item I bring back to its original state every once in a while, erasing all the pieces of it I've left about? It seems like, if the idealized item thing works, you just might want to bring a pack of cards.

 

And something alcoholic to drink.

 

It occurs to me, with the renewal thing, a drunk spirit can instantly sober himself by renewing the bottle of liquor he drunk from.

 

Without renewal or hallicinomagical items, a savvy to-be-spirit might bring as many small comforts as he can carry with him to exchange for favours or other goods. Like cigarettes in a prison.

 

What happens if one spirit gives something he brought to another one? Does that thing change ownership, and is from there on bound to that spirit?

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