Besides that big old question of whether one prefers more role-playing or roll-playing in their fantasy games (also phrased as whether one prefers role-playing or hack-and-slash), there’s another question out there that’s just as important to many fantasy gamers – “What level of magic do you like in your games?”

While JRR Tolkien’s Middle-Earth can be said to have single-handedly given birth to the fantasy genre, there are currently as many fantasy worlds out there as there are writers. Many of these writers may be paying homage to Tolkien’s work when stretching their world-building muscles – you’ll definitely come across a handful of standard fantasy tropes that some writers find so difficult to escape from, but each writer likes to have at least one thing about their world that sets it apart from the “standard fantasy world” that we (readers and writers) are all too familiar with.

The world’s system of magic is one of the elements that, when properly thought out, can have a large hand in making the writer’s fantasy world seem truly unique and special. The writer can decide on the world’s level of magic, or lack thereof, and then weave that into his/her world’s mythology. One of the first things a reader remember about a particular series’ is the presence of magic in that world, and what form it takes -  the best worlds are those where there’s some consistency and rationale between the level of magic and all the heroic stuff that goes on in said world.

What do we mean by consistency and rationale? Well, if the world has a high level of magic, and more than a handful of people have access to all-powerful magic, then has the writer thought about what would happen if just one of these all-powerful magic users decided to utter a secret power-word of magic that will obliterate every living soul in the world? There has to be a check, a counterpoint of sorts, in the world to prevent this from happening.

Or, on a smaller less-morbid scale: if magic that allows one to fly is commonplace in the world, then has the writer taken that into account when creating adventures for the heroes? Have the writer also taken that into account when designing the world’s various governments and their standing army? Because if it’s that easy to access magic that allows one to fly, then the heroes would never need to brave the dark, evil Noxdarin Mountains in order to reach the Beautiful Elven Land – they’d just skip it by flying all the way to the end destination. And if every Brave Adventurer and their mother had access to such magic, you’d be left wondering just how believable the world can be if the writer has forgotten to place anti-air units in all the standing armies of his/her world’s governments.

Small little things like this add to the consistency and believability of the story. Sure, it’s fantasy, so readers have to deal with things that don’t make sense in our world – like magic! – but readers can only suspend their disbelief so far. 

And now that we’ve explored how a fantasy world’s magic system and level of magic can help define and shape that world, let’s have a look at the various levels of magic that can be present in the different types of fantasy worlds out there… Read more…