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Generating Deadly Ideas for Our Viral Magic System

Part 1 of Building a Viral Magic System

Bacteria Targeting Viruses

I’m so excited! This system has been kicking around in my head for over a year; I can’t believe I’m finally building it. This will be an awesome series, and I can already tell.

Whenever I work with someone starting a new magic system, I always recommend beginning with Stage 0 to pinpoint where to start the building process. Identifying what gets you excited and starts the ideas flowing is a vital first step to building creative and powerful magic… But we’re skipping that today.

Yes, I’m breaking my own rule but for a good reason.

For me, the magic is my Stage 0. That’s fairly normal because the magic is what got me so excited in the first place. And since this system has been stewing in my brain-juices for some time now, we’re jumping straight into Stage 1: Idea Generation.

If you don’t remember how Stage 1 works, don’t worry. We’ll start with a basic overview before moving on to my first attempt at idea generation. I’ll do my best to explain the results one step at a time, discussing my process and sharing my thoughts I had along the way.

Assuming the threat of exploring the depths of my mind hasn’t sent you running, we’re ready to get started.

The Basics of Stage 1

If you’ve read any of my other posts on The 4 Stages of Building Marvelous Magic, you know what I’m about to say.

This stage is all about generating ideas… lots of ideas.

There’s a trick to it, however. It is essential you have enough ideas to move forward and explore. At the same time, get too many ideas, and you may wind up paralyzed from the abundance of choice or stuck in an infinite loop of trying to generate more.

As with so much in life, it’s about maintaining balance. While brainstorming, I focus all my attention on three pillars: Effects, Themes/Mediums, and Really Cool Hats. If you want more information about the three pillars of brainstorming with a few other tricks, you’ll want to read this post here. For now, it’s enough just knowing what they are.

Even with the three pillars, coming up with enough ideas can be tough. Fortunately, we’re in the early stages, and that changes our goals. For one, they don’t have to be good ideas and they certainly don’t have to be original ideas. As you will soon see, none of ideas were original at the start either. Also, you aren’t likely to get all the ideas you need in the first pass, and that’s okay.

A lot of this will make more sense as we walk through my experience. And if your attempts at Stage 1 don’t look as detailed as mine, don’t sweat it. Most of this happens in my head, and I had to push myself to write it down so I could share it with you.

So, you know… You’re welcome!

Developing Themes & Mediums

This was the easiest place for me to start because I already knew my theme.

Viral Magic Symbol


Specifically, I was interested in exploring a magic system based on biological viruses that produced magical effects in and around their human hosts. Something tempted me to skip this pillar at first, but I realized there might be other, non-obvious themes to discover. So I wanted to explore the idea deeper.

*Note: If you’re building your own system and want some cool themes to try, I’ve got an awesome list of potential subjects right here*

First, I asked myself how the viruses might initially spread to humans. Maybe they came from an unknown part of nature. Alternatively, they could have evolved from common human viruses or they could have started in animals. If that were the case, there would be magical, infected animals out in the world, right?

These aren’t bad ideas; they both generate interesting options for the Really Cool Hats pillar.

I also wanted to think on how people might infect themselves and what it might look like.

Instinct was to have them brew special concoctions, but that just didn’t feel right. Could be they ate meat from infected animals or remained in a contaminated environment for too long. But those didn’t feel right either. The most straightforward method would be standard human to human contamination. Which, while realistic, wouldn’t be easy for an aspiring mage to use. And then I remembered the cool syringes from the Resident Evil movie and the associated imagery snagged my imagination.

So I had my original idea and developed a few others. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to move forward to the next pillar.

T-Virus is Viral Magic

Thinking Up Magical Effects

This was rather difficult at first. I knew the basics of how the magic would work — viruses — but I had no idea what any of the effects would be or what they might look like. The only thing I knew was that I wanted powerful visual effects for the system.

After a couple of minutes struggling to find any ideas I liked, I instead tried thinking of different categories of effects that might match the theme. When I’m stuck, I often find breaking things into groups or patterns helps me think.

In the end, I came up with several possible types of effects.

Physical Alterations: The virus could change the body itself in wondrous ways. Could be through mutations of the body as a whole or maybe the changes would be limited to certain portions of the body. Beyond that, maybe the viruses could target specific organs or systems.

Physical Resistances: These effects are fairly similar to the Physical Alteration class of effect but more focused on mystical resistances designed to keep the host alive. Supernatural resistance to heat, cold, acid, or poisons, for example. Not great, but it was something.

Field Effects: The virus could be exhaled, coughed, or otherwise spread through the surroundings to generate magical effects like poisonous clouds, human pheromones, or some kind of electronic interference.

Combined Effects: These effects are reliant upon using two viruses together to create potent combos. For example, gaining fire resistance and fire breath simultaneously would make one heck of a combo. Or maybe combining an immunity to poisons with another virus that developed special glands to spit any ingested toxins at a later time.

I liked some of these ideas all right, but I was fairly disappointed in the results. All the ideas felt superficial and generic. And the few effects I did like, weren’t nearly interesting enough.

Who knows, I might toss most of these out by the end, but they will serve their purpose for now. Even if they never see use, I got them written down and they are enough to play with and develop new ideas from.

So, as disappointing as this pillar was, it was time to move on to the next.

Finding Really Cool Hats

This is where I really had fun. Because of the massive latency between the original idea and building the system, I already had several ideas I liked and knew I would use. Most of them related to the interaction between the viruses and our bodies.

For one, the magical effect would be directly related to the “population” of the virus particles present in the user’s system. The sicker they became, the more particles would exist, and therefore the more powerful the magic. Along those same lines, the magical powers would disappear as the body managed to fight off the viral infection.

I was also enamored with the idea that a user with a compromised immune system might be better at magic than others. This is still my favorite idea so far.

From there, I tried thinking of different ways the nature of viruses might affect the magic. If you only had the magic while infected, then gaining an immunity would be a possibility. It also might mean that the user might have to wait through the viral incubation period before reaching full power. That would force in a level of premeditation I haven’t really seen in a magic system before.

On top of all that, it was obvious this kind of magic would end up with some serious drawbacks. For one, when the magic is at its most potent, you would feel like crap. Even with medication, there’s only so much you can do to combat symptoms. These negative effects could provide a unique balance to the gift of magic. To up the stakes even further, the infection might prove lethal, which opened up further options of people intentionally infecting themselves with an extremely deadly virus for a single, powerful effect.

After spending time running down those lines of thought, I pulled ideas from the other pillars, like the notion of infected animals. Even if they didn’t turn up in nature, humans might infect other animals intentionally. In such cases, people might not care what happened to the animals afterward, giving them one of the suicidally powerful viruses we just talked about.

Not to mention how a person might take advantage of combining the effects and symptoms of different viral strains. This could be used to augment positive effects or neutralize negative effects. In a way, this reminded me of the way they handled potions in The Witcher 3, where they complement each other but too many potions at once would be deadly.

Of the three, this was my favorite pillar to explore in this iteration of Stage 1. Different systems generate more ideas in different pillars. For example, there’s an Organ-Magic System I really want to build that, while currently all in my had, has a lot more ideas in the effect pillar than any of the others.

From beginning to end, this stage took about four hours of work. The first attempt at idea generation usually takes me longer than that, but the ideas have been in my head so long everything flowed smoothly from brain to paper. I’m not satisfied with most of the ideas here, but now I have room to explore. More importantly, I’m excited and ready to move on to the next stage.

I already have some awesome story ideas forming to align this system with. But we’ll get to that next time. And if you’re looking for information on how you can generate ideas for your own magic system, be sure to check out the post on Stage 1 of Building Marvelous Magic and my 9 Brainstorming Tips and Tricks.\

Between the research, the planning, and the profuse amounts of swearing, this stage took me roughly 3.5 hours to complete. This obviously doesn’t include the year plus the system has been rattling around in my skull. The time you need will differ from system to system, but I wanted to give you an idea the time commitment you’re looking at for a system of your own

That’s All for Now

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, then you probably know what I’m going to say. Join the Marvelous Magic Builder’s Mailing List to never miss a post and get insider knowledge into upcoming events and deals. Blah blah blah. Send me questions and comments; this series will be better if you jump in. Beware the coming apocalypse. Blah blah blah.

C. R. Rowenson: Author, Literary Sadist, and Power Junkie

Well, smartypants, if you already knew what I would say, then you know it’s all true and I really do want your input on this series. But there is something you might not know: back in the intro post to this series on building a viral magic system, there is a continually updated list of all published posts in the series. Even if you don’t want to join the Marvelous Magic Builder’s Mailing List — *sniff* no, I’m not crying. You’re crying! *sniff* — you can still keep tabs on the progression of the series.

I’ve got more work to do on this system before the next post can go up, so I’ll talk to you again soon.

Rowenson, out.

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