I finished some work on A Dream of Dragons. Anyone interested can read about the Magic System of the Setting. Anyone who doesn’t mind possible spoilers for the later work can read on about the Gods themselves and the Genesis of the world.
All Magic is based on the soul. A person casts magic by cutting off pieces of their soul and forming them into a shape (a spell) that affects reality in some way.
Your soul regenerates, but not solely through rest – though resting (or rather, dreaming) is an effective way to do so. But anything that is “spiritually fulfilling” regenerates and even enlarges (see next paragraph) the soul. So good food, a wonderful view, good music, even a hug from a loved one, can help.
As a person makes new experiences, their soul grows, and thus they can cast bigger spells. As their skill grows, they can do more with less of their soul. Thus, the power-increase of magic users is rarely linear.
Thus, a young magic user can be more powerful than an older one, if they live a particularly diverse life – and a wizard who spends all his time with only theoretical research in a tower will not grow much (though will still grow).
The soul is not set in stone, though. It adapts both to experiences as you grow, and even more so to the kind of magic a magic user casts – which then becomes easier to cast. For example, someone who mainly casts healing spells will find that those become easier to cast over time, while harming spells become more difficult to cast with their soul over time.
Forms of Magic Casting
There are four sub-systems for casting magic – all rely on the soul, but they differ in which soul you tap and who forms the spells.
The second-oldest form of magic – and also the one whose origins are largely unknown – is that of Sorcery – it is inborn, rather than acquired, as the other three forms.
A Sorcerer uses their own soul to cast magic, but they do not form their own spells – instead, they have, in essence, preset cast forms which they can fill with their soul to cast the corresponding spell. These forms are inborn, and cannot be changed willingly (though they can be overcharged), but rather grow with the soul of the Sorcerer, and according to the way they use their power – for example, a Sorcerer who gains the ability to manipulate plants and uses this ability mostly for combat purposes – for hurting others – will find that their spell becomes more and more violent over time. And as their soul grows with their experience, they’ll get more cast forms that they can use, which will always correspond to their experiences.
Most magical beasts that are capable of spellcasting use Sorcery to do so – and all magical beasts that are not sentient do it by default, if they have the ability to cast spells at all. Sentient magical beasts can use other forms, too.
Sorcery is the least understood because people don’t usually know where these cast forms come from – though generally, growing up around strong magic seems to have an influence, as does being descendant from some magical being.
Sorcery appeared after Theurgy, but before Witchcraft and Wizardry.
The youngest form of magic is technically also the oldest. Wizardry is the most basic form of spellcasting, as the wizard both uses their own soul and forms their own spells.
As such, wizardry is theoretically the most versatile and powerful form, as anyone (with a soul) can learn it and cast any effect they can work out. There are, however, several limitations.
First, learning even the most basic of cantrips can take years of study. The first step is for someone to become aware of their own soul and learn to manipulate it. Those few who do must then be careful not to kill themselves by burning away too much of their soul before it can regenerate. Burning away your entire soul would be instantly and irreversibly lethal (barring extreme divine intervention).
Second, it is rarely fast. A wizard has no instinctive understanding of their spells, they must form them every time they cast them. While a spell, if used often enough, can become almost casual, it is never quite casual to cast, apart from the most basic spells.
Third, as a wizard uses a certain kind of magic, their soul adapts, becoming more affine to that kind of magic and less to others. While this effect does not prevent them from casting other kinds of spells, it means that they need to use more of their soul for those effects, and usually need more time for that kind of spell, too.
Wizardry is technically the oldest form of magic, as it is the art the Gods used to cast magic – but mortals first used magic in the form of Theurgy, and Wizardry as such was only (re)discovered by mortals recently.
This is the kind of magic granted by the Gods to the mortals – and it is the oldest form of magic used by the latter.
A Theurge neither fuels nor forms their own spells. Instead, they form a covenant with a God and gain a certain set of spells they can cast, as well as a certain amount of divine soul. This is replenished every day at dawn. If a Theurge burns through the soul given to them by their god, they can no longer cast magic until dawn.
The covenant with the God usually involves both the set of spells a Theurge can cast, how much divine soul they have every day and the payment they have to provide for such – usually, a God requires that they serve their philosophy/goals, essentially meaning that they become that God’s priests, crusaders or similar servants. Unlike the providers of Witchcraft, Gods almost never demand the soul of their Theurge as payment, as they will most likely get it anyway upon his death – after all, he will have lived by their tenants until his death.
Initially, a God is unlikely to provide much divine soul or spells to a servant – but as their servants follow their laws and become more useful/more affin to the God’s domains, they can expand their covenant to gain both more divine soul and more spells. Also, a God may provide a temporary boost in critical situations (essentially performing a miracle unto their Theurge), but that rarely happens.
Theurgy and Witchcraft are mutually exclusive. Gods do not tolerate Witchcraft among their Theurges, under any circumstances.
Theurgy is the oldest form of magic mortals use, given to them by Gods in Ancient times. It is also the most common form of magic, as most priests are at least low-level theurges.
This is the second-most common form of magic and the most-hated one by the general populace. Because, at its heart, Witchcraft involves a deal with demons.
A witch (the term is gender-neutral) neither fuels nor forms their own spells – instead, they make a pact with a spiritual entity (not a God – those generally provide Theurgy), gaining a certain set of spells and access to a soul beyond their own (the Demon’s) to fuel them with. In exchange, however, they barter away their own soul. They keep it until they die, at which point the Demon gains it, but they also usually have to “pay” a daily amount of soul (usually at dawn, when their “partner” touches them to give them their demonic soul for the day) – and if they cannot do that, because they somehow burned it away (like by casting their spells with their own soul, or using Sorcery or Wizardry), then the demon can claim even the core of their soul (what anchors it to their body, and which must never be burned away), immediately killing them.
To grow their demonic soul and spells beyond their initial pact, witches need to expand said pact by providing the Demon with reasons to invest more in them – most evil witches do this by sacrificing others, giving their souls over to the demons for food and paying for more power for themselves. A Demon may also provide more power to their partner if they find them particularly sympathetic, or in exchange for services (usually long-term servitude).
The main difference between Theurgy and Witchcraft is the source – and thus the limitations. Depending on the power of the Demon, it may not be able to provide many mortals with portions of its soul, much less give many of them great power. However, they tend to grow with their mortal partners as they feed on their growing soul (and the souls of sacrifices). Experience by proxy, basically. Which is also the reason why a pact always involves a clause that allows the Demon 24/7 surveillance of their partner, usually by sharing their senses.
While the term Demon is used here, the source can also be any kind of sufficiently powerful nature spirit or other spiritual entity – but it’s most often Demons who are willing to provide pieces of their souls to mortals.
The largest difference between making a covenant with a God and a pact with a demon/spirit is that Gods are:
1. Far, far, FAR “bigger”, allowing them to provide far more soul to far more mortals
2. Gods can replenish their own power far faster (see further below “Gods”) and do not
need to rely on sacrifices or the souls of their mortal servants.
3. Gods can claim any soul that is sufficiently in tune with their domains upon death,
thus they do not require payment beyond service
Witchcraft is almost universally forbidden in most cultures, except for those which have Druids instead of Theurges as their main spiritual guides and protectors. A Druid is a mortal who makes a pact with a nature spirit, usually one bound to a certain location. Unfortunately, they are often lumped together with demonic witches.
This form of magic was introduced after Theurgy and Sorcery (the latter of which just… began to show up after a few millennia of Theurgy) as Demons and other spiritual beings sought to mimic the ways of the gods and increase both their own power as well as their influence upon the mortal realm.
Using more than one Form of Magic
possible, but the extensive need for study inherent in Wizardry would make it very difficult to provide the services gods require. The high use of ones own soul would make it that much more likely that a Demon would claim their soul and it also would make a burn-out very likely, especially if combined with Sorcery.
Impossible. No God would provide power to someone who has a pact with a demon. Forming a pact while holding a covenant immediately breaches said covenant (which Demons find very desirable, and they usually provide very good terms to Theurges), while the opposite, if a god would even accept it, immediately voids the pact.
Works. However, gods never provide their divine soul for the sake of fueling a sorcerer’s inborn cast forms – simply because that would be harmful to the sorcerer, as those forms are meant for their own soul only, and doing so would, at the very least, damage those forms temporarily, if not permanently.
Demons love this. Makes it that much more likely that they’ll get their prize early. Apart from that, though, there are no functional reasons for a Sorcerer not to make a pact.
In essence, the only mutually exclusive forms of magic are Witchcraft and Theurgy. Generally, though, there are rarely crossovers for numerous reasons.
The beings known as “Gods” are (supposedly) the first sentient beings that ever existed. Unfortunately, the only accounts mortals have of the Primordial Age are… from the Gods themselves.
According to them, there was originally a singular entity known as the Maker, who formed the raw, primordial world. This infinitely powerful entity fashioned the Primordial Sea, an infinite expanse of chaotic soul. Then, it sparked the formation of the first distinct entities – the Gods – and departed to places unknown once the first God became sentient and saw the Maker.
The other Gods soon “awakened”, and were told this story by the First God. Then they… drifted. At first, there was nothing much to do, after all, they were immortal and existed in total, unformed chaos.
Then, the First God became curious, one would even say dangerously so, and tried to replicate what the Maker did when it sparked the creation of the first gods – impose order upon chaos. As such, it first learned how to manipulate its own existence, using pieces of itself to impose its will upon reality.
It is not known what exactly happened then, as the gods either do not know or choose not to speak of it, but somehow, it sparked the creation of the first matter.
The First God fashioned the first matter by sheer will, burning its own soul to reform the wild soul-stuff of the Primordial Sea. By burning but a mote of its own vast existence, it could manipulate colossal swathes of soulstuff, forming the raw mass of matter that was the material world’s beginning.
Then it shared this knowledge with its kind, and the first Schism came about, as most Gods had no interest in this and simply remained… passive, drifting in the infinite expanse of the Primordial Sea, while the other Gods quickly learned how to burn their own souls to manipulate the Primordial Sea. Together they toiled and researched, they learned and grew as the material world grew with them, becoming larger and larger – and, as it became more and more ordered, it also became more and more separate from the Primordial Sea.
Then, the Gods observed a curious effect. At the intersection of the material world – now devoid of all soulstuff – and the Primordial Sea, the two worlds clashed, mingled and gave birth to what is nowadays known as The Dreaming – a kind of existence between Chaos and Order, Imagination and Reality. At this intersection, there were suddenly things happening that the gods did not will to happen.
There came the Second Schism, as of these gods, again most decided not to pursue this new experience, but rather focused on their own, independent research in the infinite expanse of the Primordial Sea. The gods who remained curious dove into the novel experience of action beyond their own thought.
As the Dreaming seemed to be tied intrinsically to the intersection between the Material World and the Primordial Sea, they decided to expand it by expanding the Material World – which, in their minds, did not simply mean making it bigger, but also making it more diverse, as size alone had little meaning to these cosmic beings. As the Material World thus grew beyond simple raw matter, now including the most basic of molecular forms, so did the Dreaming, and the chaotic, yet still distinguishable events that took place in it became exponentially more diverse and interesting to the Gods.
As they worked to expand their creation in order to enjoy even more novel experiences, they created more and more complex creations, even fashioning processes that did not require their attention once they had been initiated – thus, the first stars were created. Soon, they realized that the more independent the world was, the less control they had over the Dreaming… and the more intriguing the chaotic events in it became to them. They could still warp any aspect of reality by simply focusing upon it, but what happened when they weren’t doing so became more chaotic, yet without ever dissolving into the Primordial Sea.
It was then that the First God – who had always been the first to dive into any new experiences – decided to take their experiments to the next level – by creating an independent, ordered agent to influence the world, and thus take the Dreaming to the next level, too.
At first, it tried to fashion lesser beings in the image of the gods – except composed entirely of matter, not soulstuff, as were the gods. After all, these new entities were supposed to make the Dreaming more interesting to the Gods by further diversifying the material world. Thus, the Starchildren – or rather, their precursors – were formed, beings of stellar gas.
Unfortunately, this first experiment was a failure – these first entities, while theoretically capable of independent action, had no will of their own. They simply drifted in the stellar winds of the material world, much like the gods who had remained inactive in the Primordial Sea.
The First God unravelled its creations and asked its kin how to proceed. Together, they decided to take a risk that might have unravelled their creation, and the Dreaming along with it. The First God fashioned the Starchildren once more – but this time, each of them was given a single mote of raw soulstuff from the Primordial Sea.
The result was beyond anything they had expected of it – somehow, in the union of soul and matter, a whole new consciousness was born. The Starchildren had now truly been born and they explored the world they had been put into, very much the image of their creators, drifting among between stars on stellar winds of matter, much like the Gods drifted in the Primordial Sea. They explored, interacted… and sometimes, they dreamed.
The Gods had no idea how that came about, or what, if any, function it served for these beings, but sometimes, when their actions grew slower and less diverse, the First God’s creations somehow connected directly to the Dreaming, and explosions of unprecedented events took place. A single Starchild could thus provide experience unimaginable to the Gods, and they could make more of them.
Thus, the other gods began fashioning their own Starchildren, using the same template as the First God did – but as each god had become an individual over time, evolving in different ways, so did their creations, each subtly different both in form and in soul, as the latter always grew by itself, adapting to form and circumstance. This diversity led to even more entertaining events in the Dreaming.
And for a while, the gods were content – except for the First God, who had become all but unable to stop and simply enjoy… it needed more, more knowledge, more experience, more events.
So it kept experimenting, while also learning from the Starchildren – for they often came up with random thoughts and ideas it did not think of by itself, and it was eager for all that was new. It made more Starchildren, and make them more and more different from each other, unraveling all but one child of each type, so as not to clutter reality with too many variables – this was still supposed to be an ordered experiment. The other gods did not protest, for they were more interested in enjoying the Dreaming, and the First God’s work only made it more interesting, despite the reduction in numbers. Thus they stopped making their own Starchildren and simply enjoyed the Dreaming.
The First God kept diversifying the Starchildren – no two were ever the same – until there was an accident. It made one miniscule mistake, and slew one of its creations without dissolving its soul to use for a new Starchild.
It’s soul drifted, without form, through material reality and, for whatever reason, the First God simply observed it while continuing to fashion new Starchildren, trying to find the most interesting forms.
After eons, the soul reached the end of material reality, entering the distortion that was, and is, the Dreaming. And once more, the Gods were sent into uproar, as this soul affixed itself to the Dreaming, providing a near-infinite amount of unpredictable events for the Gods to experience.
They immediately decided that they wanted more, and slew all the Starchildren, reaping their souls to fuel the Dreaming. In a moment shorter than than the time it takes light to cross a sandcorn, all life in the Material World had been reaped, all the souls dumped into the Dreaming. And once more, the Gods were content for a while.
All except the First God, who sought to expand its creation even more. So it decided to fashion something new – working on the observation that interaction between sentient entities seemed to exponentially increase the chance of unpredictable events, it created the third generation of Starchildren – these ones unable to survive without interacting with each other.
And it worked! They acted both in concert and independently, always working towards their collective survival, and their impact on the Dreaming when they interacted with it became greater even than that of the souls that had been permanently affixed to it. And when they were reaped, their souls provided exponentially more fuel to the Dreaming.
So to further build on this, the First God separated the Starchildren into two groups, throwing up barriers of empty space they could not cross to keep them apart. Then, for the first time, it contacted its creations, informing one group that it would be reaped a set amount of time afterwards.
Thus, the Knowledge of Death entered the World.
To the joy of all Gods interested in the Dreaming, the group that knew of, and saw their end coming eclipsed even the previous generation of Starchildren now permanently affixed to the Dreaming in their impact upon it, while the other group, unaware of death, was no more or less useful to them than before.
Thus, both groups were reaped, and another generation of Starchildren was born, once more split into two. One group, as before, was informed of their certain death at a set time, while the other was merely told that the Gods would reap them… sometime. This second group, the fourth generation of Starchildren, were not told that they would die… instead, the First God simply reaped a quarter of them after some time, with no explanation, without even revealing itself to them. Once more, its experiment proved most successful, as repeated reapings led to the Starchildren making up their own explanations. Which only further enhanced their impact on the Dreaming. Unfortunately, it could only reap them so many times until there weren’t any left, and thus it reaped all of this generation, sending its souls off to the Dreaming for its kin to enjoy.
It was then that several other gods finally took interest in the experiments within the Material World. This was the fourth Schism, as most gods were content with just reaping the benefits and enjoying the Dreaming, but a select few joined the First God in its experiments.