Skip to content

Why There’s No Magic

Okay, the weird writer mind has had too much caffeine. Or sugar. Bear with me.

Back in the Dark Ages, when I was playing D&D regularly, there was a problem with Wizards. Once they got up a few levels, they just blew everything away. On thinking about it, I realized this was why there was no real magic in the real world. You think we’re dangerous, with a few (tens of thousands) nuclear missiles? How about millions of magicians playing with the Laws of Physics?

Yep. That’s what happened to Atlantis.

A war fought with magic. With soldiers capable of razing cities with a wave of their wands or staffs. With leaders who felt themselves invulnerable behind their magic shields. They blasted their entire continent, chewed away at the very rock until the energy they released melted the great continental glaciers, and raised the sea level to above the highest point of their blasted land.

The survivors sailed away—and threw overboard anyone who showed the faintest sign of magical ability. The witch hunts and burning continued well past the time anyone remembered why. And a darn good thing.

Now, trying to be a more serious dispenser of writing advice . . .

It is important to not make your heroes too strong.

Unbeatable. Is. Boring.

It is occasionally usefule for the hero(ine) to do something stupid, wrong, shameful, or just get beaten. So, you know, the reader is worried about how this story’s going to end.

It is necessary for the Good Guys to try and fail. They need to get more determined, learn something, find or make the necessary weapons, recruit more help, whatever.

It is necessary for the outcome of the final battle to be in doubt. Or if not the outcome (because the readers trust you to defeat the Bad Guys) the survival of the Hero and all of his friends. Because to demonstrate that the Heroes are dedicated to winning no matter what means they are placing themselves at risk. Some of them may well die.

Now, there’s a corollary to that. The Bad Guys must also not be all powerful. Else you just have “Bambi vs Godzilla” and that’s only funny the first time.

So . . . what do you do when you’re writing a series with magic?

Well, the magic has to have limits. How you want to limit it is up to you, the writer.

For starters, the magic should probably have an energy cost. I have outside sourcing, but some metabolic cost as well, so the amount and duration of magic is limited.

I also require holding a complex spell in the mind, so it takes concentration. You got a dozen armed bandits after you? Teleporting while in a running battle, while also holding a magical shield isn’t going to happen.

I limit the range of effect. If it’s easier to just stick a sword in it, why use magic?

I limit the number of magical people and I have a range of magical strength with very few very powerful magicians. And I limit the breath of abilities any given magician is naturally good at.

And I have various substances that can really interfere with their magic.

And every once in awhile I throw hordes at them, walk them into traps, strand them without backup.

I hate to say that I try to be “Realistic” about magic, and often times my attempts to limit their magic get torpedoed by the Muse, but . . . you have to find a way to put a hero in jeopardy.

So? How do you limit your heroes? And do your fans give you grief about it?

 

So here’s a story where the main characters are limited by the rules of the college they’re attending:

 

 

If you like it in paper, well, the Omnibus is a bit of a goat gagger; it’ll keep you out of trouble for a bit:

 

 

73 Comments
  1. This reminds me of Sanderson’s three laws of magic for writers, which apply to a lot more than just magic systems. See https://brandonsanderson.com/sandersons-first-law/ and the links at the bottom of that page.

    In summary:
    1. An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.
    2. Limitations are more important than powers.
    3. Expand what you already have before you add something new

    August 17, 2018
    • Terry Sanders #

      More accurately, the laws for magic *systems.*

      There’s a reason the old stories made the magician a deus ex machina with a beard, while the hero did everything with a sword. As Chesterton put it: If Cinderella wants to know why she has to leave the ball at midnight, the proper response would be, “Why are you able to go at all?”*

      It made things simpler. And more magical.

      *In my proposed elaboration, Godmother adds, “If you knew enough about magic to understand an explanation, you could do this yourself…”

      August 17, 2018
      • Mary #

        Yes, but the elaboration makes it less, well, magical.

        In Dragonfire and Time, after a couple of drafts, I realized that the heroine needed to be aware, and somewhat dispirited about the way the magic has gone out of her practice of magic. She’s still earning a good living doing it, and doing good with her spells, but — the magic has gone out of being a wizard. (Also, her studies aren’t very useful for the story problem.)

        August 17, 2018
        • Terry Sanders #

          Only if Godmother offers her lessons.

          In the prospective story, the “if” is *purely* rhetorical, and both of them know it. And so does the reader.

          (Rhetorical as in “this is, of course, impossible”–not “and, of course, I would *never* deign to teach you)…)

          August 18, 2018
          • Mary #

            Even suggesting the lessons are feasible does something that way. Not much I grant you.

            August 18, 2018
          • Terry Sanders #

            Not even feasible. Teaching a human how to do Faerie glamour would be like teaching a fish to light a campfire. You might as well have Cindy try to teach Godmother cast-iron skillet cooking.

            And that would be, if not established, at least strongly implied earlier.

            August 19, 2018
      • Ah, but in Cinderella, the reader is given the key piece of understanding about the magic up front (You have to leave by midnight, or else this will happen). Consider how lousy the story would be if she (and the reader) wasn’t told that’s how the magic worked up front, then at the end she suffered the consequences at the ball and godmother showed up to say, “Sorry, that’s just how the magic works!”

        You don’t have to tell all the whys, but if you want to use it in resolving conflict, as a solution, you owe the reader at least the how up front before it gets used by a character as a resolution.

        August 18, 2018
        • Terry Sanders #

          Cinderella knew *what* would happen if she hung around. She didn’t know *why.* Or *why* dress, coach, etc., were possible at all.

          And Godmother didn’t waste time trying to teach her Relativistic Quantum Thaumaturgy, because she knew she couldn’t. Cindy knew the rules, and that was enough.

          And the reader knows the rules, and that is enough. For this kind of story. For Sanderson’s kind, you have to do more. Which you do depends on what kind of story you’re telling.

          August 18, 2018
          • Mary #

            Rhetoric! Rhetoric is important. It has to be convincing no matter how vague.

            August 18, 2018
  2. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

    While “Bambi vs Godzilla” is bad writing, what’s worse is when the “Bad Guy” is Godzilla but Godzilla loses because the idiot heroes (Bambi) obviously “have the script writer” on their side.

    August 17, 2018
    • Oh yeah. The win has to be believable. In doubt to the end, true, but it’s needs to be credible.

      August 17, 2018
  3. I’ve found that metabolic and concentration limits work very well for limiting magic workers’ abilities. And you have one less piece of handwavium to keep track of.

    In the Merchant books, the magic workers themselves have divided up into guilds, each of which only allows members to practice one very specific sort of magic, and also limits how many spells can be cast per magic worker per time period. By the time of the story, everyone just assumes that there is no such thing as a really strong magic user, other than the gods. Maybe there were strong mages way back when, once upon a time, but things are different now.

    They are about to find out why… [Yes, shameless tease for third book, which I have not yet started writing]

    August 17, 2018
    • TomR #

      Yes, yes. *Throws money*

      August 17, 2018
    • Ohhhhh, youuuuuuuuuu…..!!!!!!!

      August 17, 2018
    • mrsizer #

      start, start, start

      August 17, 2018
      • mrsizer #

        Oh. Wait. That doesn’t help ME. Finish, finish, finish!

        August 17, 2018
  4. As silly and juvenile as the Dragonlance books could be, I thought the magic system developed in the series was about the most reasonable I’ve seen, since once cast the spells were literally burnt out of your mind, and had to be relearned. The at times painful prose featuring silvery haired elf maids cavorting in silvery pools of water under a silvery moon shaking their silvery tresses notwithstanding.

    It is also why I seem to be the only person on the planet (or at any rate on Reddit’s /r/fantasy) less than crazy about Steve Erickson’s Malazan series. If Magic ex Machina ain’t a term, somebody needs to invent it. If everybody’s a wizard, Harry, ain’t nobody special using it. Not only over the top in power, but non-stop in occurrence.

    August 17, 2018
    • Kord #

      Yup. Made it real fun to steal or destroy the spell-books of the uppity D4-MUs.
      -Sorry but you used your fireball and magic missile yesterday. Only spell left is Tenser’s floating Disc.

      No such luck with Anomander.

      August 17, 2018
      • That is Vancian magic (from the Dying Earth series), albeit upped a notch. All D&D magic was supposed to work that way.

        August 17, 2018
        • Terry Sanders #

          Yep. I talked a DM into letting me run a mana-points MU in his otherwise Vancian campaign. I did it by putting big limits on his magic.

          Basically it took ten times as long for him to cast a spell, and he couldn’t do evocations at all, without learning to make a wand or something. (For the non-player, most of the good fighting spells were evocations. No Magic Missile, no Fireball, no Lightning Bolt, the list goes on.) Throw him into a fight, and he pulled out a crossbow. But once the fight was over, he was *useful.*

          Think Sean o’Lochlain from the Lord Darcy stories. I hated walking-artillery-piece “magic users.” I wanted to play a *magician,* dammit!

          August 17, 2018
          • Mary #

            Slow magic is an excellent way to limit the wizards, though it will make the useless in battle without careful preparation.

            August 17, 2018
          • Terry Sanders #

            For the game in question, the DM let me have Thief hit points/to-hit rolls, and no armor or weapons limits. He could stay alive, though he would never be all that good on the front lines (thus the crossbow). He made up for it elsewhere, using all those spells no “real” MU ever bothered to memorize.

            That was the theory, anyway. In reality, he ended up fully half as Badass as a regular MU. Because he ended up with every magic item the the non-MU’s couldn’t use. (The party in question was a small one, and I ended up being the only mage of any kind.)

            Sigh.

            (This is a reply to “Mary” concerning “slow magic.) Due to the way WordPress talks to my phone, I can’t post a reply to her. And I’m not *sure* where *this* will end up.

            (Sigh again.)

            August 18, 2018
    • Hey now, when I was twelve, I thought that whole scene with the silvery elf maid and the elf man was the HEIGHT of romance.

      (Many years later, I go “WTF creepy stalker dude????”

      August 17, 2018
      • It’s been so long that I don’t remember that scene at all, but I have to wonder if they were trying to replicate the romance of Beren and Luthien.

        August 17, 2018
        • Maybe. It’s been a long time, but if I remember right she was actually a silver dragon and he was actually an elf (and didn’t know she was a dragon until AFTER they’d had sex, and so was understandably a bit upset about it all). And I don’t think it ended happily. So they might have been shooting for Beren and Luthien, and doing a crap job of it.

          I recently made an attempt to reread the original Dragonlance trilogy, for old times’ sake.

          I made it about two chapters in. The prose is godawful melodrama. I think if ever I actually start writing blog posts, I’ll do a series of ‘read the formerly-beloved books of childhood and see just how bad most of them are’…

          August 21, 2018
    • Zsuzsa #

      You’re not the only person less than crazy about the Mazalan series.

      I tried to like them. But like you, I had some problems with the magic system (it felt like he had both the “magic is an overpowering force capable of destroying continents” and “magic is a largely mundane task governed by easily understandable rules,” something I considered the worst of both worlds). Also, not only did I not like any of the characters, I didn’t even hate them enough to want to see them die horrible deaths; I was pretty indifferent to their fates.

      August 17, 2018
      • Kord #

        Yes. I liked the first two books and tried to enjoy the rest, but I got frustrated too. Really liked some protags, but he spent whole books adding rather useless people. And the ascendent stuff felt as old D&D immortal rules.

        August 18, 2018
  5. “The adventures of Ra’d, Paer, and Ebsa begins here . . . ”

    I looked at your blurb, and it left me confused. I suspect some commas, colons, or semi-colons have been lost in the upload.

    I’d want to paragraph it to remove the wall of text feel.

    August 17, 2018
    • Getting KDP’s description window to not clean up by removing paragraph breaks can be frustrating. Rewriting most of my blurbs in a form that remains readable is yet another task I keep putting off.

      August 17, 2018
    • It’s supposed to look more like this:

      The adventures of Ra’d, Paer, and Ebsa begins here . . .

      A collection of the first six stories in the series:

      Directorate School

      A Tale of Three Interns

      Trouble in Paradise

      First Posting

      Surveillance

      Fort Dinosaur

      Genetic engineering lifted psychic powers above the random background of coincidence. Backlash and prejudice against ‘Magic’ and ‘Satanism’ resulted in the exile of all genetically engineered people to dangerous worlds; not-quite-parallel earths they weren’t expected to survive.

      Fourteen centuries of turbulent Earth history later the exiled magicians have been forgotten, rediscovered, clashed with . . .

      The Empire of the One grew from the accidental stranding of an early cross dimensional exploration party of the genetically engineered, two years before the Exile. They arrived in the middle of a war, where the three great powers, China, the Islamic Union, and Greater Argentina vied for possession of the no-longer-radioactive ruins of Europe and North America. The marooned explorers used their special talents, and a lot of flimflam and fast talk to place themselves on the top of the Islamic Union as the New Prophets of the One True God.

      Fourteen hundred years later, their descendants are still the elite of a united world with twelve cross-dimensional colonies.

      After several deadly clashes between Dimension Age civilizations, the newly fledged Department of Interdimensional Security and Cooperation is attempting, with fair success, to keep the peace among the growing number of worlds exploring the Multiverse.

      So a group of youngsters in the Empire of the One can concentrate on college, and training for the teams who explore new worlds. A bright future . . . if they survive the politics swirling around them.

      August 17, 2018
    • Dorothy Grant #

      Minor note on blurbs: You’re selling the story to people who haven’t read it before. Therefore, you want people who haven’t read any of the books before to be grabbed by the blurb, yes?

      So instead of putting the list of books above the fold, you want it at the end, after they’re already hooked. For example:

      Ebsa “Kitchen” Clostuone invades the sacred precincts of the High Oners! The School of Directorate Studies has a wide variety of students, including the president’s daughter Paer, this strange Ra’d fellow, and Nighthawk, the first foreign student from Comet Fall. Ebsa wants to explore strange new worlds across the dimensions of the multiverse. And all he has to do is keep his grades up, learn how to shoot every kind of gun imaginable, and not get pounded by the Action Team trainees..

      And then things get really complicated!

      This omnibus is the first six stories in the Directorate series:

      Directorate School
      A Tale of Three Interns
      Trouble in Paradise
      First Posting
      Surveillance
      Fort Dinosaur

      August 17, 2018
    • mrsizer #

      Having read them, Pam’s blurb is more accurate. However, I do think Dorothy’s is a better tease for new readers. Maybe something a bit in between that mentions magic at least once?

      Unrelated, I think I missed a book. Ra’d was just there, all of a sudden. After all the others, I know his backstory, now. In what book/story is he discovered in/escaped from the bag of the prophets?

      August 17, 2018
      • TomR #

        Ra’d’s story is in Warriors of the One, Wine of the Gods book 16.

        August 17, 2018
        • He’s also a secondary character in Olympian, having a difficult transition to modern times.

          August 17, 2018
  6. John R. Ellis #

    Orson Scott Card’s book on how to write science fiction and fantasy from back in the day had some great advice on how to brainstorm and the costs and limitations of magic in a setting. It also included some great examples, two of which eventually ended in actual stories. (HART’S HOPE and “SandMagic”, IIRC)

    August 17, 2018
    • John R. Ellis #

      …one of the more unsettling examples a class came up with was “To perform actual magic, one has to shed blood.” which lead to several dozen potential story ideas just by its nature.

      August 17, 2018
      • _The Hallowed Hunt_ by Lois McMaster Bujold does that very well.

        August 17, 2018
      • _Hart’s Hope_ is one of Card’s two least popular books for a very good reason. It’s great, but ugh, the basic premise…

        August 17, 2018
        • John R. Ellis #

          I love Hart’s Hope, but yeah, it’s difficult to read unless I’m feeling strong.

          August 18, 2018
      • The S&S I have (vaguely) in mind starts with the premise that magic can only be performed with the blood of the nobility. Higher the noble, the more powerful the blood magic is. Kicks off when a magician is sure he’s using the blood of a minor Duke’s son, but the kid is actually the hidden away Prince of the previous royal dynasty.

        (Whadda you mean, saying that isn’t the shiniest and most original plot device you’ve ever heard? Envision me walking away in a huff here. Need to get back to tracking down a cheaper source of serial number files…)

        August 17, 2018
        • Eh, it’s not an original plot device, but it’s definitely an original use of the thing.

          August 18, 2018
  7. Synova #

    I noticed the same sort of thing playing D&D with wizards, and also clerics (I never played magic users). Every level or few levels the caster character added three more spells and it very quickly was completely ridiculous. In my opinion it also limited anyone being creative with the ones they already had. Take, oh, the ability to cast tangling vines or spider webs…. you can trap the monster. Yay. Why not use either to make bridges and climb walls or rescue people out of holes?

    (Though I imagine a lot of *that* just depends if you’ve got a DM let lets you.)

    August 17, 2018
    • Luke #

      Every edition of D&D since 2nd has gone out of its way to make non-combat spells unworkable.
      Especially with respect to illusions and spells that affect the target’s mind.
      By their nature, they should mostly be used outside of combat, but the rules have been changed so that it’s immediately obvious to everyone around that you’re casting a spell.

      August 17, 2018
      • I had a DM who let players use bluff and Slight of hand (opposed by the relevant skills) to cast spells surreptitiously.

        August 17, 2018
        • Kord #

          I found that plenty illusion spells broke the suspension of disbelief of the game itself. It could be fun but got the party off-track. The illusion of a small boat that carried the players for as long as the illusionist was awake became confusing while a spell that froze water into a small boat worked just fine mentally. Equally fantastic, but way harder for many players to get into the illusion.

          August 18, 2018
    • Originally, magic-users had to find all their spells, either through trade or raid. Later editions made spell-acquisition automatic and effectively turned spells into superpowers.

      The ‘what do we do out-of-combat’ problem isn’t one of magic, specifically, it’s that the designers of most RPGs have no friggin’ clue how to implement out-of-combat content/challenges. Early D&D did it by having non-combat problems be freeform physics puzzles, but thinking is _hard_ (we can’t expect modern gamers to do anything _hard_!) and modern designers have opted for boring, abstract, and badly designed skill checks instead.

      I’m hoping I have solutions for that, but they’re untested at the moment.

      -Albert

      August 17, 2018
      • Luke #

        The combat rules were lethal, and nearly everything else (except loot and XP awards) were ad hoc.

        So…
        Scooby Do traps, desperate improvisation with utility spells, and occasionally stuffing the elf into a bikini resulted.

        I mean, your character hadn’t really lived if they hadn’t survived long enough to throw an uncapped potion of dimunition down the throat of an ancient dragon. Or any number of other things that made your GM sit there with his mouth hanging open. (There might have been an official group rule preventing me from ever gaining access to sovereign glue again. If so, it was a full-on spaghetti incident in which the “let us never speak of this again” actually stuck, much to the disappointment of new players.)

        August 17, 2018
        • Combat rules were _supposed_ to be lethal. Wargames bog down if regular troops can’t be dispatched quickly, and D&D’s ultimate ancestor was Tony Bath’s Ancient Wargaming ruleset. D&D itself started out as houserules for individually playing as hero units from the Chainmail wargame (also made by Gygax), and in wargaming if you wanted to try something tricky you told the referee what you wanted to do and he made a ruling on the chance for and degree of success or failure and the consequences thereof. This was incidental training for free-form physics puzzles, which served the Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association members fairly well, but outsiders with no wargaming background tended to lack that experience and perspective.

          When adventuring, getting into combat meant you hadn’t been cunning enough to get ahold of the loot without getting into a fight, and letting the enemy get as many attacks as the party meant you hadn’t been clever enough to avoid a fair fight.

          Gygax didn’t realize that non-wargamers wouldn’t get this, which is why in his first D&D tournament just about every group that signed up died to the first trap (which would only have worked against his regular players if they were having a particularly off day). IIRC, his little brother came up with a routine to solo dungeons meant for 4-8 players, which went something like this:

          -Ring of Levitation
          -Helm of Invisibility
          -Magic weapon
          -Crystal Ball

          Go invisible, float to the ceiling, pull oneself along the ceiling to move, use crystal ball to scry room before entering, set up undetectable attack on strongest monster in new room.

          His most killer dungeons were attempts to challenge close friends and family who had effectively solved the game.

          . . .

          I suspect that for a good game of perilous exploration, the DMG will need a substantial section on physics interactions and their applied use in a shared imaginary environment.

          -Albert

          August 18, 2018
        • Terry Sanders #

          Something like sovreign glue made my half-elf fighter thief the life of the party [/badpun] for a while. I hadn’t come up with a name for him yet, but after the fourth trap he disarmed by gluing tripwires to their supports, etc., everyone started calling him “Mr. Fixit.” Eventually I named him Baran-ei, and carefully refrained from humming flute solos from a certain TV show as I worked…

          August 19, 2018
    • snelson134 #

      In the case of the webs, it was because they were specifically described as sticky, and unless you used another spell to provide each player with spider feet that wouldn’t stick (spider climb), they couldn’t do it.

      The system was reasonably consistent, but I also never saw a DM, including me, who didn’t have “house rules” for problematic areas.

      August 19, 2018
  8. Christopher M. Chupik #

    “So, how come in Book 1, they could open the Door of Dreams whenever they wanted, but in Book 3, they needed a unicorn’s nose hair?”

    “The answer is wizards.”

    “And the reason Benedict couldn’t see the manticore with his scrying glass was . . . ”

    “Wizards.”

    “And the thing about the forest gnomes . . . ”

    “Wizards. It’s wizards, all the way down.”

    August 17, 2018
  9. Dan Z #

    The system of magic I’ve developed for my stories has a complex network of rules, strengths and weaknesses, checks and balances, although most of that is behind the scenes stuff. What the readers see (read?) In the stories is human magic users are limited by endurance, concentration, and region (the magic users in one nation are all about psionics while in another nation magic involves heat and fire).

    The magic-using sinister beings from elsewhere, on the other hand, are generally more powerful and have a better understanding of how magic works than the human mages, but they have cultural limitations. They are an obsessively rules-based society and there are far fewer of them than there are humans.

    August 17, 2018
  10. Heck, even Tolkien’s method of avoiding the “Why didn’t Gandalf/the other wizards who weren’t Saruman not just blow it all up” worked, more or less. Granted, for the detailed explanation, one had to wade through the Silmarillion, but in the Trilogy it basically just boiled down to just saying “Because they can’t, and I don’t have to tell you why.”

    August 17, 2018
    • Zsuzsa #

      To put it in RPG terms, Gandalf was pretty clearly an NPC (particularly if you’ve read “The Hobbit” first) who does his own stuff for his own reasons. He might help the party, but you can’t COUNT on him doing any particular thing in any given situation.

      August 17, 2018
    • John R. Ellis #

      The appendix to RotK had some pretty decent hints to vague clues only alluded to in the story proper.

      August 18, 2018
      • Yeah. Though it wasn’t until I finally slogged through (audio) the Silmarillion many, many years after reading the trilogy a few dozen times that I finally twigged to the fact that Gandalf (and the other wizards) are basically angels. Flawed, and most of them screw up (someone pointed out recently that Gandalf is probably so damn grumpy because he is doing the work of FIVE angels, since one went native, one went evil, and the other two just kind of wandered off).

        And so was Sauron. And so were the balrogs. Basically, ‘being an angel’ was liable to get you either a super-crap job or get you turned into a supervillain in Middle-Earth…

        August 21, 2018
  11. mrsizer #

    I’ve noticed that Xen has been busy elsewhere for the last few books. That works for me.

    “Hello. You have reached Mr. World Saver. I’m currently out saving a world. Please leave a message including the nature of your apocalyptic emergency and a way to contact you. Worlds will be saved in the order messages are received. Thank you for calling. Beeeep!”

    August 17, 2018
    • Oh yeah, I forgot about the “Can’t be everywhere at once” issue. So when you’ve got your major hero so well trained on top of powerful natural talents. . . maybe it’s time for some younger magicians to start having adventures elsewhere. I’ve gone through shifting casts of both related and unrelated characters, to the point where I’m not sure “fourth generation” is a useful indicator or not.

      August 17, 2018
      • snelson134 #

        Applies to SF too. Why do you think David Weber started all those side character story lines in the Honorverse?

        August 18, 2018
        • Because once Honor fought free and came back to the Star Kingdom, she got showered with so much love that she couldn’t ever really be considered an underdog ever again, and no one would permit her to run off and pull a Captain Gars to get back to the battlefront.

          Now that I’ve co-located Honor and Captain Gars, I’m of the opinion that it would have made for a better series if she’d decided after Honor Among Enemies that she was going to abuse being a Steadholder to fly around in the most tricked out and kickass warship that the Protector would let her have as Captain Sheath (or similar), backed up by a squadron crewed by her cult of personality, bringing pain and anguish to the enemy. Bonus points this happens in part because Hamish blocks the podnaughts and carrier designs so that Grayson is the only one fielding them. He’d then become an antagonist obsessing about getting her to see reason, stop playing with silly neobarb toys (the results of Hemphill’s flights of fancy, no doubt!), and return to the Traditionalist fold.

          (Eventually they’d tsundere at each other so hard it would rupture the space-time continuum.)

          August 18, 2018
  12. Luke #

    There’s all sorts of fun you can have with a character that’s unbeatable within their specialty, just so long as they’re not omnicompetent.

    Just because a guy can do orbital trajectories in his head, doesn’t imply that he understands girls.

    The world’s foremost martial arts expert will quickly understand that very few problems can be solved by punching someone in the face. (No matter how tempting it seems.)

    August 17, 2018
    • This is a thing in my books. The Hero really -is- omni-competent, because of nano-handwavium he can do essentially anything.

      When you can do -anything-, what should you be doing? You should be doing nothing. Because “very few problems can be solved by punching someone in the face.” You should be doing nothing as hard as you can.

      Poor guy hasn’t been doing enough nothing. Five books later there’s another unexpected pile of sh1t landing on his lap.

      And although he’s an omnipotent, omniscient post-human, he still doesn’t understand girls. ~:D Because girls are weird.

      August 17, 2018
      • I do believe that is the philosophy of both the wizards AND the witches in Pratchett’s Discworld. If you get to the point of actually having to use magic, you’ve done something badly wrong.

        August 21, 2018
  13. I have a necromancer who can raise demons of immense power by killing a human. There’s a magic ritual involved, and an unobtainable grimoir. He’s taken over a sizeable kingdom (France, basically) and ruled it as absolute monarch for 300 years.

    His big problem is he has to be present, or the demons misbehave. IE they kill everything and burn the buildings down. If he takes them all with him on a campaign, there’s nobody left at home to put down a human revolt so his conquering is limited to about two week’s ride in all directions.

    He needs more peasants so he can get a really -big- demon that can conquer a whole nation on its own, in an afternoon. A Dark One. He’s getting really close, too.

    Opposing armies, even demi-gods can’t prevail against him. (They’re not allowed to meddle.) He’s all seeing, all powerful. If he dies, all the demons will be let loose at once. Which would be bad.

    Given all that, who is the Champion of the Light? What the hell is that Champion going to do?

    Not telling! You have to read the book! Haw! ~:D

    August 17, 2018
  14. Luke #

    At a celebration of his 301st birthday, Medusa jumps out a very special cake.

    August 17, 2018
  15. Mary #

    Let’s see. I use:

    1. magic knocks the stuffing out of you (A Diabolical Bargain)
    2. no easy access to new spells (The Witch-Child and the Scarlet Fleet)
    3. 2, plus has dangers (Winter’s Curse
    4. problem is not easily solved by the spells the wizard knows — or at all. Thinking is needed (Where There Is Smoke, Eyes of the Sorceress, Dragonfire and Time)

    August 17, 2018
    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

      5) The opponent is equally gifted as the hero so the battle is a matter of wits, strength and endurance. (No stories yet)

      August 17, 2018
      • Mary #

        That’s tricky. You have to make the rules of magic clear enough that you can convey that they are equal in strength.

        August 17, 2018
        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

          Yep.

          August 18, 2018
      • Luke #

        I think Edding’s The Belgariad largely fits. The villainous wizards were every bit as powerful, and the ultimate enemy was an actual God.

        Except that the battle didn’t hinge on skill, strength, or endurance, but on the powers of the universe deciding which Fate to enshrine.

        August 18, 2018
        • The problem with equally-powered wizards at high power is that once they get to superhero+ power levels they make everyone else unimportant (except to the degree that they matter to the superhero wizards).

          -Albert

          August 18, 2018
        • Except that the battle didn’t hinge on skill, strength, or endurance, but on the powers of the universe deciding which Fate to enshrine.

          And this would be what ultimately turned me off Eddings’ style. I still like the Belgariad/Mallorean and the Elenium/Tamuli quite a lot, but I deeply dislike the overall “Welp, it’s just Fate and so you get to live through the same plotline, like, four times, and you have no real say in the matter.” (Because let’s face it, the plotlines of the Elenium/Tamuli are the same as the Belgariad/Mallorean, just with older and more cynical characters. And he only got worse after that, which would be why I gave up on everything that came after.)

          August 21, 2018

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: