You have a world, you have people to inhabit your world, and you know how the world affects the people. Now you get to find out what capabilities those people have through fantasy technology and/or magic in their day-to-day lives.
What Purpose Does it Serve?
You can either create a piece of technology and then answer this question, or you can build fantasy technology to serve the needs people would have. For instance, you could create a cool spinny device with propellers and recording abilities and decide it’s used for communication, or you can ask “What do these people use to communicate?” and develop the idea of a propelled recording device.
You’ll also want to think about how many different ways something can be used, either on its own or as part of something larger. Maybe the propelled communication device isn’t only used to relay information from one person to another, but it’s also embedded in fans and used as a surveillance tool, or used to eliminate the need for door-to-door survey people. Just get a propelled recording device to collect the answers instead! Technology is rarely used in only one way.
Who Uses It?
Is a propelled recording device so expensive only members of the upper class can buy it? Is it hard to make, so it’s rented out instead of being privately owned, so fewer are needed? Is it made of a material that a certain race can’t interact with, so only other races can use it? Is it considered taboo by certain cultures because they think it’s too big of a privacy risk?
Also think about how this might change over time. For instance, when computers were first invented they were only used by big companies, and they were way too big to fit in a private home. Now we have smartphones with almost all the same functionalities as a desktop computer, and almost everyone has one!
I know magic is something some Christian authors and readers are wary of, so here’s my (brief) personal take on it. To me, a fantasy world isn’t the real world, so the source of magic doesn’t need to be the same as in the real world. A lot of the magic in my own books is more like science that doesn’t exist on earth, or in-born like superpowers. In my opinion, these are totally fine. Fantasy worlds don’t have the same natural laws as Earth. It’s only when things get too similar to demonic real-world magic that I think things need to be handled more carefully and shown in a negative light, or avoided altogether.
If this topic of how Christians ought to write about magic is one you’d like to explore further, I do have a post focusing on that question. For the sake of this post, though, let’s get into the mechanics of building a magic system.
What Purpose Does It Serve?
What can magic do? Does it allow the bearer to influence others, like mind control? Does it allow them to talk to animals, or run at super speed, or see things others can’t?
As with technology, people are likely to try to find as many uses as possible for one type of magic. You can talk to animals? Cool! Go use your gifts as a tracker, or a bounty hunter, or a zookeeper, or even a meteorologist. You have super speed? Be a mailman, or a soldier, or a travel photographer. Just don’t try to join an Olympic race or you’ll be immediately disqualified.
If you have more fantasy-science-style magic, is that glowing fungus used to help you live longer? To give you more acute hearing? To make your brain work to a fuller capacity so you can ace that next test?
Who Uses It?
Are people born with magic? Can they learn it? Can it be transferred from one person to another?
Who can find that glowing fungus of longevity? How expensive is it? Is it only found in the heights of the mountains, giving rise to a myth that the mountain men are immortal?
How Is It Treated?
Are people with magic embraced in society, or shunned? Is there a mix? Are people with powers worshiped like gods, and if so, how do they feel about it? Is this practice discouraged or encouraged? If magic-users are shunned, are they completely exiled, or simply ignored?
Do people think the longevity fungus is a great way to spend more time with the grandkids, or an unnatural and unnecessary life-drug?
What Is the Price?
Do people with super speed tire more quickly? Are mind-controllers more susceptible to being manipulated themselves? Do people who can talk to animals often have a parade of wildlife following them everywhere? Does that longevity fungus give you an awful stomachache?
Magic loses its credibility if it gives your character too much power without a setback. You don’t want to end up using your world’s magic as a deux ex machina somewhere down the line.
What Is Its Base?
Is your magic system powered by the four elements? The five senses? The phases of the moon? Or is there only one variety of power, cut and dry? If there are different varieties, what are they and why? Do people with a power based on smell simply have a heightened sense of smell? Can they smell emotions? Can they identify people based on smell? Are they just really good at identifying people from only a picture of their nose?
How Is It Integrated with Technology?
Have cobblers started making heavy-duty, heat-resistant shoes for people with super speed? Are there hats that block the influence of mind-controllers? Can you diffuse the oil of the longevity fungus and get the benefits without the taste? Do animal-whisperers have bracelets that keep animals from incessantly trailing them?
Are there any varieties of magic that enhance fantasy technology, instead of technologies that enhance or block magic?
Hopefully this has given you some ideas for your own fantasy technology and magic systems. Let me know down below whether you prefer more tech or more magic in your books, and what your favorite fictional piece of technology or magic system is. :)
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