Creating Magic Systems with the AALC Method
So much of the fantasy genre is bound up with magic, so much so that some say magic systems define fantasy.
But what makes an enchanting magic system?
Unlike other magic system generators or templates, the AALC method allows the author to flesh out their magic system ideas based upon the needs of their story
All fantasy magic systems follow this basic progression, with each one building on the one before. From these, we derive 13 basic types, moving from Soft to Hard:
Each magic system builds on the one before, so while you can have a Soft System without Costs, you can't have a Cost System without taking Appearance into account
APPEARANCE (Soft Systems)
Soft Systems cannot resolve conflict in the story without feeling like deus ex machina
But they can CAUSE CONFLICT
They are often tied to character arcs
The magic doesn't have to make sense, it just has to look cool
ABILITIES (Point Systems)
Point Systems measure the change wrought by magic
Greater change = Greater effects = Greater difficulty
Effects are usually measured by Amount of Change, Range, Duration, & Area of Effect
What you set for points is always arbitrary and up to the creator
I prefer base 10 for measuring abilities, but any number of levels works
I use a modified Fibonacci sequence to scale it, but linear, exponential, and logarithmic work too
Let's say we're going to make a fire-based magic to hurt someone...
So a fireball that causes drastic harm (10) to 5-10 people (5) at ten feet (3) instantaneously (0) would cost 18 points
While a nuclear-level explosion (65) that affects 100s (25) a mile away (10) and lasts a day (5) costs 105 points
Or you could flip it and say it's a healing ability to repair drastic harm (10) to one person (1) a state away (25) = 36 points
Remember that the Points Systems only describe the effects of the magic
What the magic actually is (fireball, necromancy, psychic powers, etc.) is determined by the APPEARANCE of the magic
You'll also need a magic pool for points and to know how quickly they recharge, which I discuss more in the accompanying video:
Points Hard is the hardest of the systems, and is frequently used in progression and litRPG subgenres. It focuses on resource management.
Points Opaque is more frequently used in stories, but has trouble resolving conflict since it's so much softer. So it frequently used in secondary characters.
LIMITS (Level Systems)
Level systems are based on Sanderson's second law that Limitations > Powers
Characters unlock their abilities, then have unlimited uses
They can either be Soft Levels, where the audience doesn't understand the rules
or Hard Levels, where the audience understands, which can resolve conflict
Characters demonstrate their creativity by exploiting their understanding of the rules of the magic
This forces the author to be creative in designing their systems
Harry Potter is a great example of a Hard Level Advancing system, where each year of schooling equals one level they advanced
Each year they learn increasingly powerful spells = unlocking a new level
They then have unlimited uses of those new spells
You can just eyeball the abilities assigned to each level
OR you can create specific spells by assigning Points Pools for each level
Level Systems build on Point Systems by making sure each ability does not exceed the point pool
So the 18-point fireball we designed in Point Systems would be a 4th-level ability, while the 105-point nuclear blast would be level eight
What the spells cost and how many points in the pool is up to the creator because all systems are arbitrary
The aim of this is to keep the power scaling consistent
While Points Systems create dilemma by forcing choices by the characters, Cost Systems forces the characters to make sacrifices to gain their powers
This allows for power leaps, making the characters capable of powerful magic
But it always comes with a cost
For Cost Systems to be effective, the costs must always be equal to or greater than the abilities
The audience must also experience the sacrifice with the characters. It can't happen off-screen!
Both types use impediments, which are things that make life more difficult for the character to use their magic
Impediments can include: length of time required to do the ability, special/ rare materials, level of exhaustion afterward, intelligence requirements, specific times for the spells, and loss of sanity or morality
Or the characters can be left permanently changed by their sacrifice
Potions in Harry Potter are a great example of a Static Cost system, with the kids able to make the powerful Pollyjuice potion in their first year because of using impediments like: intelligence (Hermione only one smart enough), length of time to cast (weeks), and special ingredients (hair from victims). This means their power jump feels earned
New or more powerful spells can be made on the fly for characters to resolve conflict with more powerful abilities through impediments
You can eyeball the impediments, or...
Use the chart to make up the difference in points
For example, if we had a Level System character with a pool of 25 points, but the author needs them to cast a 45 point spell, we could add impediments like the spell taking an hour (3 points), costing thousands of dollars in materials (10), which leaves the caster exhausted (10) and unable to fight back in the finale to make up the difference (23 points)
What your impediments are and how many points they give are up to you since they're arbitrary
Impediments also work as MacGuffins by forcing the characters to acquire special equipment, character arcs where they make moral choices, or plot points woven into the story
Thanks for checking out the AALC Magic System, I hope it was helpful.
I have other worldbuilding resources over at my... well, resources page
Also be sure to check out my YouTube channel: Forging Fantasy Realms
My worldbuilding books are pretty good too, if I do say so myself...