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Because what better place to go for help designing a magic system than a Brandon Sanderson fan forum, right? 

One of my big inspirations in designing a magic system has been Sanderson's Metallic Arts in the Mistborn books. I especially admire the storytelling simplicity of Allomancy, a list of ten twelve sixteen powers that are easy to remember, thematically linked with each other (Pushes and Pulls), and all seemed like an intuitive fit for the kind of epic fantasy heist novel that The Final Empire was. 

I'm trying to do something similar, only instead of making powers that would fit well within a heist novel, I'm trying to think of interesting magical abilities that would fit within a detective/mystery story. How the magic will work is already decided, but I'm having trouble actually deciding what it will do, if that makes sense. I'm trying to think of a good thematic link for them that also would make them useful to a detective-like character. I'm leaning towards two ideas:

  • Magical effects that alter the user's interaction with/perception of time (since interacting with the past seems like a very useful magical skill for a detective character) 
  • Magical effects that share a thematic link to blood (since blood sacrifice and bloodletting are an important component of how the magic will work) 

Basically, I'm looking for ideas on not how the magic will work, but what it can do, and giving the "things magic does" a connecting theme/element so they don't feel like a bunch of generic fantasy spells thrown into a box. Any suggestions are welcome. If you need more details on the "how magic works" side of the equation, I can elaborate, though in general I'm leery about giving away too much.

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My first thought is expending blood to produce a reconstruction of a crime, from a crime scene.  (e.g. you come upon a mugging and can expend blood to have ghosts reenact the crime as it happened)  Then the rest of the plot involves tracking down the elements suggested by the recreation, e.g. the reconstruction has one party dodge over to a trash can or something, where the detective finds a murder weapon.  To preserve the tension of figuring out the mystery, the simulacra caused by the spell need not have faces.  

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Here are some magical abilities that might be useful (but not overpowered) to a detective.

  • low-level telepathy, i.e. the ability to know when you're being lied to.
  • object reading, like picking up a scarf (or a drop of blood, or a bullet) and sensing who it belonged to, and what emotions it's been exposed to.
  • A nose for violence, like the sniffer Hurin in WoT.
  • Pewterarm-type powers, because these hardboiled types get beaten up a lot.

Conversely, here are some powers that might be useful to a criminal.

  • Mind-clouding confundus charms.
  • Invisibility.
  • Anything violent or destructive.
  • Walking through walls.

Since you like the push-pull dynamic, you could have a dualistic magic system. Some powers are considered 'dark magic' because they're so suited to crime, and others are considered good because they're handy forensic tools.

Without knowing anything about your story, I'd be wary of the time manipulation. If a detective can look into the past, that might make his job too easy. A detective does two things: collect clues, and put them together to find the truth. The first part can be aided by magic, but the second part should be by wits alone.

But I like where you're going with this. I'd love to hear more if you're willing to share.

Edited by Belzedar
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I like the object-reading idea, and being able to mentally reconstruct a crime scene by identifying the blood of the participants is a cool concept.

The way magic works is, as vaguely as I can put it, the powers are divided up and hereditary. Instead of fantasy races, there are different subspecies of people that have evolved the ability to use a small portion of their life-force to power a magical effect. Each of these subspecies has a power unique to them: while the "magic gene" for the power is dominant in that subspecies, it still requires training to learn how to use, just like how you can have plenty of fast-twitch muscle fibers via heredity but you still need to practice to be a good sprinter. Two different versions of the "magic gene" cancel each other out, so interbreeding is possible, but produces a child with no powers at all. The idea is that everybody gets one power naturally. The blood magic part comes in because you can gain more than one power by killing someone with that power in a ritual sacrifice and carving their bones into a set of special needles. When a bunch of those needles are inserted into (painful) loci on the body, they fool the Universe into thinking you're of the same subspecies as the needles' progenitor, and you get to use their power. Sort of like Allomancy, if the only way to produce a Mistborn was through Hemalurgy. The unique elements that differentiate it from the Metallic Arts are as follows: 

  • Because you need a whole network of needles across the body to successfully fool the universe into thinking you're another subspecies, you can only use one extra power at a time. This means that you can carry sets of needles granting all the powers, but you can only use two (your own native one, and a single set of needles) at once, you still need time to swap the needles out if you want a new power. Sort of like swapping out a game cartridge.
  • You can use your life-force to activate your own innate power instinctively, but the stolen power requires a little more *oomph* to get started, meaning you need to burn through more life-force (via shedding your own blood) to use it. The more blood spilled, the more powerful the effect. This creates a dynamic where someone with a stolen power can "spike higher" than a native user, but a native user will have been practicing with it longer and have more fine control. 
  • An evil empire of mages in the setting's past used to declare race wars on their subject peoples and hunt down their power-users, like a combination of ivory-poaching and the Aztec Flower Wars. Over the centuries, they hunted a lot of the other peoples to near-extinction, making their powers extremely rare and needles carved from their bones almost priceless. The lingering animosity from this empire's fall has meant that there's a strong incentive for power-users to remain hidden, both for fear of being killed for their bones and in order to avoid the stigma of being associated with a race of genocidal blood mages.

It functions sort of like a mix of Allomancy (a small number of powers), Hemalurgy (kill people and stick pointy things in you to take their power), and Mantling (trick the Universe into thinking you're someone else to use their power).

In terms of dividing up the powers, I'm thinking of having eight powers in groups of two, after the eight "blood-types" (A+/-, B+/-, AB+/-, O+/-) with the +/- division being the division between active and passive powers. Active powers would be those that affect the external world, while passive ones would be those that only affect the user's body or his perception of the world. Still deciding on what the four divisions would be, though I'm leaning towards focus on the different symbolic meanings of blood. The following is very tentative: 

Group 1: Bloodstream Powers 

Bloodstream-Passive: "Medical Vision" that allows the user to see the blood vessels and life-force of someone else through their skin. Useful applications for medicine, piercing disguises (identify someone through the unique patterns of the blood vessels in their face), and detecting liars (sensing changes in facial blood flow)

Bloodstream-Active: Puppeteering another person's body by telekinetically manipulating their blood/muscles. Basically bloodbending from Avatar, though not as OP. 

Group 2: Blood-Oath Powers 

Blood-Oath Passive: Mentally sensing the web of obligations and relationships a character has with others. My current idea is that these would appear in the user's vision as red lines connecting the target to other people, and maybe the way the line appears can indicate whether that relationship is positive or negative. I'm trying to avoid this power becoming an "Instant Backstory Machine;" the user can sense that a relationship exists between two people, and broadly whether it's a good or bad one, but they don't know exactly what that relationship is. 

Blood-Oath Active: Forging a powerful, mutually-binding agreement between the target and someone else. Both parties feel intense pain upon seriously considering breaking the oath. Actually breaking it will kill the party who did so. This opens up all kinds of possibilities for both good and evil characters. 

Group 3: Genealogy Powers 

Genealogy-Passive: Generating gold shadow-like phantoms (visible only to the user) of who they could have been, had they received a different combination of their parent's genes. These "shadow-brothers" may or may not be able to possess other people/objects for a few seconds (if the target is a person) to a few hours (if an inanimate object).

Genealogy-Active: Forcibly regressing a target further back along its genetic heritage. This can do anything from temporarily shapeshifting the target to look like their parent as a disguise, to "devolving" them into an ape-like or lemur-like creature, Hollywood Evolution style.

Group 4: ???

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@Unlicensed Hemalurgist sounds like a very cool magic system and story setup.

Here's a suggestion for Group 4.

Group 4: Viscera Powers

Viscera-Passive: Increased mental acuity and overall enhanced perception. Explanation is that blood to the viscera is "charged", this could potentially be a passive state that has to be actively engaged.

Viscera-Active: Ability to manipulate the "charge" of the blood going to the viscera of others. This could include the dimming of wits, the clouding of vision, the slowing of a heart. This could be a proximity based power that seriously is a near proximate effect so that it's not too OP.

Another possible way to approach coming up with the powers is to think of the full causal chain of the mystery as a series of events and discoveries, and work backwards from the final discovery that uncovers the truth of the mystery back along the causal chain of events. And then, with each of the events, think what type of magic would be useful to reveal the secret of the event without it being able to reveal it in and of itself. For magical detection to be interesting their still has to be some other agency that helps in the revelation of the secret.

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On 11/1/2017 at 0:07 AM, Unlicensed Hemalurgist said:

Group 2: Blood-Oath Powers 

Blood-Oath Passive: Mentally sensing the web of obligations and relationships a character has with others. My current idea is that these would appear in the user's vision as red lines connecting the target to other people, and maybe the way the line appears can indicate whether that relationship is positive or negative. I'm trying to avoid this power becoming an "Instant Backstory Machine;" the user can sense that a relationship exists between two people, and broadly whether it's a good or bad one, but they don't know exactly what that relationship is. 

Blood-Oath Active: Forging a powerful, mutually-binding agreement between the target and someone else. Both parties feel intense pain upon seriously considering breaking the oath. Actually breaking it will kill the party who did so. This opens up all kinds of possibilities for both good and evil characters. 

 

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One year later, yet here I am. This blood oath passive you have reminds me of a book series I used to read called Zeroes by Deborah Biancotti, Margo Lanagan, and Scott Westerfeld. They had 2 people with similar abilities to the passive. Bellwether(Nate) and Anonymous(Thibault). They could see lines of connection. Nate could create connections to him making him extremely charismatic and having people listen to what he had to say. Thibault was the opposite. He was practically memory-proof. Anyone who did not focus on keeping their attention on him forgot him easily. He had the opposite of Nate's ability he could snap connection lines making people forget him. Don't know if this helps especially 1 year later but I just felt like mentioning it.

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