73 – Limits on Magic

The Mythcreant Podcast

While it might be fun to imagine a world where magic has no limits, it won’t work for your story. Without some sort of limit, magic will destroy all conflict and make a mockery of your setting. This week, we discuss how best to put limits on magic, and which stories have done particularly good or bad jobs. As always, Chris is super prepared with actual rules and patterns while Oren and Mike think it’s a great idea to get into the details of dragon-supply logistics.

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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

How to Create a Rational Magic System By Chris Winkle

Time Turner from Harry Potter

Luck Potion from Harry Potter

Storm Front (The Dresden Files, Book 1) by Jim Butcher

Valkwitch (The Valkwitch Saga, Book 1) by Michael Watson

Bloodbending from Avatar: The Last Airbender and Avatar: Legend of Korra

The Final Empire (Mistborn, Book 1) by Brandon Sanderson

Force Powers from Star Wars

Star Wars: Dark Forces and sequels from LucasArts

The Runelords (The Runelords, Book 1) by David Farland

House-elf from Harry Potter

Devil’s Trap from SupernaturaD

A Secret Atlas (Age of Discovery, Book 1) by Michael A Stackpole (accidently referred to as Cartographer Series in podcast)

Weave from A Wheel of Time

Ebberon Campaign Setting

The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastards, Book 1) by Scott Lynch

Grief Seed from Madoka Magica

Willow Rosenberg from Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Willow (1988)

Dragons from the Temeraire Series

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  1. Quinte

    When you were talking about magic through appeasing higher entities I was curious if you had read Bartimaeus trilogy? The magicians have no power of their own but they can summon and enslave demons to do their will.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Can’t say I’ve read that one, but it sounds neat. Do the demons appreciate this?

      • Quinte

        No. The demons only follow orders under the threat of murder and torture. The titular character Bartimaeus regularly schemes to kill his master and avoid doing his work.
        The setting is also pretty awesome. The mages being powerful took over the English government and they rule the public despotically and the plot of the books centres around various attempted coups.
        I’d recommend the books, they have deep characters and explore some dark themes. The books are written for the same age range as Harry Potter, though I’d say they are better.

  2. Pyrut13

    About ATLA bending, bending with little to no movement was around as early as season 2 of the first series, remember Bumi bending with just the muscles in his face?

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Bumi’s facebending was a pretty natural extension though, since it’s still movement and he was established to be very skilled and eccentric. The real leap was Sparky Sparky Boom Boom man, who could just cause explosions with his mind and we had no idea where he came from or how he did it.

  3. Michael

    It’s never explicitly said in the books, though in the fanfic Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality Harry surmises that ancient wizards made them as slaves (and also created their love of serving humans). Of course that doesn’t make this right, but would explain things at least. They come from the tales of brownies in European folklore, but brownies weren’t slaves. I think it would have been better if they were portrayed as helpful, but free.

    A failure to play out the implications for magic in a setting is definitely a problem of many works. I think one way for people to limit magic is just to have fewer mages, even aside from the effects themselves. Harry Potter and works with genetic magic have the problem of it being hereditary. In time you would expect the number of mages to rise simply through having children. We can imagine that mages would be highly sought as mates, if anyone who has magic would have an advantage (as usually seems to be the case). Over time “muggles” might simply die out. I think having a work in which everyone can do magic to some degree would be interesting, but that doesn’t show up too much.

  4. Exillus

    “measuring spell charges by calories” well damn lemme cast firaga 16 times so I can get that sweet bod!

    • Cay Reet

      This is the explanation why wizards are so thin: they use more calories for their spells than they take in through food. Unless they live on the Discworld, in which case they eat a lot, but don’t cast any magic.

  5. Danny

    I want to say the BIGGEST problem with Korra’s blood bending was making people who could do it without a full moon, that was the limiter, like the fire boost of the comet.

  6. Cece

    What do you guys think about Hunter x Hunter’s power system?

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