20 Interesting and Underused Subjects
for Your Magic System
Welcome back! I’m glad you came willingly and any protests to the contrary will be ignored.
If you’ve been following this mini-series on subject-matter expertise, then you’re probably in a pretty good place. You know what subject-matter expertise is and the biggest pros and cons of using it. You even know how to identify, track, and
extort obtain help from the subject-matter expert you need.
Unless you don’t know what subject-matter to use… bummer, dude.
Don’t worry, it’s not as difficult as you might think. All you need is a selection of ideas to choose from. Which is exactly what we’re looking at today.
Remember, these are not the only options you have to choose from. In fact, I intentionally avoid the more common subjects such as the four elements, the power of names, and the scions of gods. Be warned, this post contains copious links to Wikipedia and I am not responsible for any time lost as you fall down that gravity well of knowledge.
Now, let’s look at these 20 subjects
Epistemology: The Study and Theory of Knowledge.
Use the principles of this field to build a “truth” based system that is influenced by the user’s perception of what is true. Were it me, I’d make worldly truths carry more magic than personal truths and opinions without any truth carry none.
Psychotropic Drugs and Other Substances.
While many authors treat magic as addictive and similar to a drug, I have yet to see a magic built around what the drugs themselves do and how they interfere with the body.
Eschatology: theology of the end days.
Mythology is often used as the basis for settings and magic, but it would fascinate me to see a system connected specifically to Ragnarok or something similar. Maybe use of magic brings the world one step closer to ending, and that is the price of the power.
Astronomical Chronology: the study of dating artifacts associated with astronomical events.
Astronomical events are a classic part of magic systems. Take that a step further and make the magic changes drastically given different astronomical events. That would be so cool!
Numismatics: the study of currency and related objects
Ooh, you could make is so magic is the currency. Or maybe the currency only has value because of latent, long unused magical energies like in Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives.
Heraldry: the system by which coats of arms and such are devised and regulated
This subject is deeply connected to world-building. Find a bunch of interesting family crests and such online and then make each families magic connected to their heraldry. A Spade and Rose could signify a family with deep nature magic or something even cooler.
Cartography: the science or practice of drawing maps
Maybe maps track points of power and energy flux through a region to design magical rituals on a grand scale rather than just geography. Kind of abstract, but there are so many cool ways this could affect war, communication, and even agriculture.
Geomorphology: the study of why landscapes look the way they do
Perhaps truths hidden in the field reveal connections to powerful beings and/or energy sources. This is a big part of the magic in D.C. Marino’s book, Kingdom of Ruin, and it’s awesome. In my defense, I drafted this post before I ever touched her book. I swear.
Human Ecology: the study of the relationship between humans and their natural, social, and built environments
Consider a magic that can make small changes in the environment to induce magically exaggerated changes in the people. For example, what if generating a hostile environment with the threat of violence created an immediate, uncontrollable, and drastic shifts in a person’s form to prepare them for conflict? In this world, he who controls his surroundings controls his magic.
Similar to what we did with the heraldry, find some interesting customs in our history, alter them slightly, and develop magical justification for their existence. What if Sin-Eaters were real, but in addition to consuming on the sins of the dead, they also took on their latent magic abilities? That’d be pretty sweet.
Music is so cool. Harmonics, resonance, pitch, and a whole bunch of other things I know nothing about could make for some really cool magic. Some authors like Tolkien and William C Tracy have done this and done it well, but there is still so much room to explore.
Maybe I’m just a nerd (no comment!), but plastics are just freaking cool. I spent a lot of time studying thermoplastics for my work with 3D printers. It would be fun to take the principles of co-block polymers, polymer entanglement, and reversible cures and apply them to some kind of enchanting magic. This would require some deeper learning, but the result could be incredible.
Learn the strengths, weaknesses, and problems of different sculpting materials and styles. Use that as a skeleton for a magic system
Different types of glass, glass blowing, stained glass… there are so many cool things you could build a magic system from. In fact, I’m working with Chautona Havig to build a glass-based magic. Can’t tell you much, but it’ll be sweet.
Crystallography: the study of the arrangement of atoms in crystalline solids
Crystals are commonly used as a fuel in magic systems. Try digging deeper and tie the mechanics of the magic to principles of crystallography. Make the type of crystal and the crystal’s structure tied to the magic effect and you’ll have a distinct magic system.
Cellular Biology: the study of the structure and function of the cell
Develop your own special cellular components that are the source of individual magical abilities. Just try to do it better than in The Phantom Menace.
Spores: plants that reproduce without flowers or seeds
Spores are just awesome. Seriously, go research and let the ideas spread.
Immunology: the study of the immune system and all related organisms
Come on, infectious magic! How awesome/scary would that be?
Textiles: the creation and processing of materials (bleaching, dyeing, printing, etc.).
Enchantments and the metaphor of weaving magic is common. Dig into one of the sub-topics and see what you can learn. Maybe the magic is in the dye and not in the materials at all. So many options!
Geodesy: the study of earth’s shape, orientation, and gravitational field
What if you built your own world and tied the magic to such planetary characteristics? The magic could change between each planet in predictable ways. That would be some awesome science fiction right there.
See How Easy It Is?
There are literally hundreds of topics to choose from and any of them could easily provide brain-fodder for a dozen different systems.
If you found this post useful, sign up for the Marvelous Magic Builder’s Mailing List. In the future, I plan to take a couple of these subjects, build a magic system, and show you the entire process. By joining the list you will always know when a new post goes live and you will be the first to receive any bonus content or giveaways I create. The mailing list is also how I form a deeper connection with my readers on a personal level… so there’s that to look forward to / fear.
Next time we talk about subject matter expertise we’ll cover some other pros and cons of using subject-matter expertise I didn’t get to cover before.
Until then, Rowenson, out.