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? 

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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

Appearance
Abilities
Limits
Cost

A.A.L.C. =

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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:

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Based on Brandon Sanderson's Laws of Magic and The Four Cs of Worldbuilding, AALC finds what the author needs to raise the drama and stakes within a narrative

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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

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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

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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

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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...

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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:

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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

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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

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COSTS

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

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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!

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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

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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)

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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...

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