EelKat Wendy C Allen - Dark Fantasy Author

The Princess Bride predicting Covid-19?


Please be aware that nearly every page on this website contains spoilers to something. I talk about a lot of fandoms, and go into great detail analyzing them when I do. If I am talking about The Witcher series, InuYasha, Disney Ducks, the Quaraun series, or any other fandom, you WILL encounter spoilers about it. 

Magic Systems and How to Build Them | Writing Fantasy Books with Eelkat Wendy C Allen

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Magic Systems and How to Build Them | Writing Fantasy Books with Eelkat Wendy C Allen

I am answering random questions today about world building, over on Reddit and decided to take my answers from there and expand upon them even further over here. So that's what this page is. Me rambling on about various aspects of world building techniques I use when writing the Quaraun series. The questions I am answering are embedded here. Clicking the link in the embedded question will take you to the original Reddit page where you can see the original answer along with other people's answers. If you wish to comment, you can do so on the Reddit page where a place to do so is provided.

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I don't know either of the examples you gave here. I've heard of Tolkien, but other then knowing the name of the book he wrote was Lord of the Rings, I don't know anything about him, his books, his characters, or what type of magic system he wrote. I know there's wizards in it, so there must be some sort of magic, but not knowing the book, I can't say if my magic systems are like it or not as I don't know what magic system it uses. i assume since Dungeons and Dragons was inspired by Tolkien's work that Tolkien's work is therefore very rules heavy with specific step by steps of "do this to get that" type magic.

I've never heard of Sanderson before at all, so no clue what that might be referring to. Is it a book? A game? Movie? Who wrote it? What is it about? I'm afraid I can not give you a specific answer as you have not been specific with your question and I've no clue what you are talking about. I will therefore try to make a guess instead.

When you say:

  • well-defined, rule-oriented


  • structured and predictable

I think Dungeons and Dragons, Harry Potter, or Pathfinder.

As mentioned above, when you say Tolkien, my thought was rules-heavy, because D&D is supposed to be based off Tolkien and I know D&D inside out, though I don't know Tolkien. What confuses me here is the fact that you define Tolkien magic as the OPPOSITE of rules-heavy magic.

I'm sorry, but when magic has step-by-step instructions you have to follow or else, that is in fact the very definition of magic that is rules-heavey.

I'm now left wondering, if you think extreeme OCD, annal retention of rules to the point of having to carry a spell book with you because there are too many rules to remember (which is what D&D wizards have to do - literally - if the wizard loses his spell book, he's sunk, because the D&D rules don't allow for a wizard to have a good enough memory to do his spells without his spell scrolls.) If you think THAT sort of magic is NOT rules heavy, and classify is as the opposite of rules heavy when saying this Sanderson is rules heavey instead.... then dang... whatever this Sanderson this is, it must be rules out the wooo to the point of being mgi-tech and not actual magic at all! (Which actually doesn't inspire me to want to look it up to find out what it is, as it sounds like something I've no interest in.)

When you say:

  • esoteric/arcane


  • ones that depict magic in a more mysterious way

I think Enochian Magic, Ceremonial Gardnerian Wicca, or Merlin the Magician, wizard-priests and monk-mages floating around in love struck hippie like ways because their god is the best danged thing ever and they are so full of god's ever loving love that now they can poop out magic spells and no one cares how it works because god gave them the power to poop out magic spells so it must be good.

So... that's the images that popped into my mind when reading your question.


I'm not sure that I have a preference for one way or the other. I think this is partly because my world is so huge (130+ novels since 1978) and features so many characters (the 3 primary characters each have friends and family and relatives, and meet new people each volume, which means there are close to a 1,000 named "active" characters in the series, not including random unnamed cast characters.) The series follows one family through the generations from early medieval times (800) till the end of the world (2525), though the bulk of the series takes place in the 1400s and the 1970s. Which means, magic changes and evolves over time.

As the series is so massive and each character so different from every other, and magic changes over time, the end result is no one magic system is seen exclusively. Each character that uses magic has their own system, unique to them, their religion, their culture, there race, where they live, and what time period it is, etc.

I'm trying to think, is it rules heavy or not?

I think it's not, rules heavy, in that, in Quaraun's world magic is an energy field that exists in everything, and depending on the person tapping into it, it can be used to do pretty much whatever you can think of.

On the other hand it does have rules to some extent, in that, you can't just grab hold of the energy and sling it around all willy nilly. It requires years - decades- of training to learn how to focus your mind and be able to control magic, bending it to your will.

I think if I was to try to compare it to a well established magic system that it is somewhat like "The Force" used by Jedi and Sith in Star Wars, though it's not the same as that, but that's the closest one I can think of for being similar.

I think the magic is Quaraun's world is very spiritual-esoteric type, but that at the same time it takes a hell of a lot of time, dedication, and patience to master using it to your advantage, thus applying rules to it. So, I think my world's magic falls in the middle somewhere, of being both esoteric and rules.

Most people in Quaraun's world view magic as distant and mysterious and it's not seen as useful or practical for everyday use. Most people see wizards as silly old men who are too overly obsessed with religion and are too busy trying to play gos to get real jobs. So there is definitely an esoteric mindset about magic from the population as a whole.

On the other hand, the men who are actually using magic, the wizards themselves, they see it as very serious business and are devoted to mastering it and have built up this vast ritualistic system of step by step rules and guidelines that they have to follow exactly in order to master using magic successfully.

So I think too, there is a matter of character perspective at play, because some characters see it all as a load of hooey, while others see it as an exact scientific art, and other characters see it as mysterious and godlike, while others see it as a way to use people (scam artists often use magic, for example.)

Plus there are dozens of different types of magic systems, each one is then changed depending on the group teaching it to others. Schools teach magic very scientifically, while churches and temples teach magic with reverence to a god allowing them to use it by his/her will. Every school has a different method and philosophy, and so too does every religion. It's further complicated by the fact t