Magic Rules in Your Fantasy World

I’m not one for strict rules so while watching fantasy author Brandon Sanderson’s YouTube lecture “Magic System”, I kept thinking, The magic in my novels doesn’t have rules.

However, afterwards I considered the ideas he presented and once I broke through the dam, the rules flowed swiftly. The magic within the realm of Ath-o’Lea does have rules. Some are soft, others firm.

Sanderson imparts this sage advice: Flaws are more interesting than powers. Things your characters can’t do are more interesting than what they can do. Flaws and limitations of magic are interesting.

With that in mind, I considered the powers and the limitations used in my novels.

Basic Magic

There is a basic magic that runs through all characters within Ath-o’Lea. However, not everyone has the same strengths, and it must be nurtured.

For Example: While Johnny has more power than Jeannie, if Jeannie has been trained to properly use what she has, she is more powerful than Johnny if he has never been trained.

While a few characters have claimed humans possess little or no magic, that’s just a claim. It’s never been proven or unproven. This leaves the door open for possibilities.

Besides the basic power every being in Ath-o’Lea is granted at birth, there are other types of magic that differ between individuals and races. I won’t speak of magical weapons, healing abilities of herbs or dragon magic at this time. My focus in this article is on the power possessed by the four main races: human, elf, dwarf, hauflin. I’ll use Isla of Maura as an example.

The Magic of Isla of Maura

We learn in Shadows in the Stone, Isla possesses the ability to heal others with her hands. She’s practised this most of her life. By the time she’s 12, she has an understanding of how it works, but she still has a lot to learn about its limitations and cost. Readers learn that when she’s nervous or scared, she is unable to heal efficiently. At this age, she doesn’t know spells, but she is educated on healing herbs and uses these to her advantage.

In Scattered Stones, we learn Isla cannot save someone who is too weak to survive the injury. She can’t bring people back to life once they’ve passed over.

In Revelation Stones, we see the first signs of the price Isla pays for using her healing ability. We also learn of limitations when she’s unable to heal Kiefer from the severe wounds he suffered when struck by a lethal force.

Her ability doesn’t heal completely as if the injured had never been wounded. Depending on the severity of the damage, the patient may still need weeks of recovery time. This is revealed when she saves Arthur’s life. Afterwards, he is unable to get out of bed and is weak from loss of blood. Without further care, he would die. While she can mend tissues to seal wounds, she cannot replace blood.

Isla is introduced to her first spell in this book: the Light Spell. Lady Alys, an aged dwarf, shows her the basics and like most apprentices, Isla fails in her initial attempts. But she’s determined, and over time learns to create a small floating light that follows her. Another teacher shows her how to gather energy more efficiently, and this strengthens her light. In this book, she’s introduced to the Bubble Spell and practises many times before she gets it right.

After Isla learns how to create the Light Spell sufficiently, she tries to teach McGuigan, a dwarf. Let’s say, it turns out very messy because she’s still an apprentice and he’s never used magic before.

Near the end of the book, Isla is taught the Levitation Spell but after many attempts, she can barely lift a feather. According to Elspeth, the limitation to this spell is: you cannot lift anything that weighs more than you do.

Healing Stones reveals more of the cost Isla pays for healing others. We also learn she can’t heal herself. Her skills have improved since the first novel, and she can detect internal injuries better.

Future novels will expose more limitations and the cost to Isla.


Given this review of Isla’s magic, I admit, I have rules.

If you use magic in your stories, check out Sanderson’s lecture. He has several others, which I’ll watch in the coming days.

2 thoughts on “Magic Rules in Your Fantasy World

  1. Your worlds sound fascinating. I love working with magic and gem stones. My series has the word “Stones” in it for a reason. The power of stones is an old magic, long forgotten about and believed useless. However, it will shine again as the series evolves. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


  2. Magic absolutely must have limits, otherwise, no story. If your wizard has no limits, he can zap the antagonist in one fell swoop, solve all the world’s problems and make himself the absolute ruler. No story!
    In my 2 worlds, on the first, a magician has to grow and learn to build up her strength to be able to hold more of the mana, the magical stuff flowing around the world. Casting is debilitating, and she is exhausted afterwards.
    In the second, magic works through gem stones. Only a magician can imbue a gem with magic. Not everyone has the ability, and the magic in the gem slowly wears out so it has to be recharged.


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