From the Ground up – The Nature of Magic Part I: Foundational Magic

The first two sections in the series covered the basic tenants of building the foundation of a world, the building blocks upon which you will place the adventures, the nations, the villains and the heroes. That isn’t the last part of the foundation, though. There is a portion that is unique to fantasy worlds and raises interesting questions, playing with the basic concepts of the world as we know it: Magic. Lets take a realistic, fantastic look at magic! 

Magic, as it exists in the many fantasy worlds, is something that permeates everything. Its the binding force of the universe, much like gravity, magnetism and other foundations of physics. What makes magic special, though, is that it is rarely talked about, or really even thought about, to the same degree that many sciences were in the same period. Sages and specialists and other forms of knowledge exist on real topics in the real world, but most creators are left to create their own fundamental rules of magic without having a guide. I want to, more or less, take the position of finding out what the best method of infusing magic into a system would be, and how a pretty standard system would look, giving it rules and form so that educated guesses can be made by players and creators. 

Foundational Magic

if I was to break apart the magic into distinct forces, I would refer to one as Foundational Magic. Foundational magic is the very basic building blocks of the worlds magic, the all permeating magic of the natural world. It would encomas the magical interactions of a world on a fundamental, biological, and elemental level. Here, we would find such examples as the digestive properties of a rust monster, the animating force of an elemental, and the ley lines and Druidic spaces in the forests. These foundational magics give the world the innate and significant status of a fantasy world. Without these magics, the world would be mundane, and the stories would simply be alternate histories. These are the starting points, in my view, of how one would begin to digest the worlds magic and break it into easy to understand chunks.

Ley Lines

Fundamental, foundational magic is the magic of the earth in its most primal state. There have been many ways to portray this suffusion of magic into the world, but I prefer to leave it in as primal state as possible. Much as weather is understood but still unpredictable, so would it be with magic. Foundational magic is what druids, rangers, barbarians and shamans tap into on some level. It is the natural state of a fantasy world without the interference of beings. Ley Lines are one of the most basic questions and assumptions that is made with this type of magic, but they are often ill defined.  I would define a worlds ley lines as such: 

Ley Lines: Ley Lines are streams, or lines, of magical power that weave within the earth of a world. They very in depth and strength, and can be tapped by those that know how to use them. They, like streams, flow in a single direction and towards a spot know as a Locus.

That definition of ley lines leads us to think about other places, like Locus. These Locus are strong, ancient and natural settings in the heart of a land mass or sea. Ley lines are not even, nor permanent, and tend to flow towards and converge on natural places of great beauty and power. Ancient trees, Giant Mountains, Frozen Calderas and powerful geysers are all likely locations for the convergence of ley lines. It is not that a convergence of ley lines becomes a spot of majestic power, but that places of majesty draw fundamental magic. 

This gives many creatures, especially the fey type creatures like elves, sprites, and faeries, and some classes common to many games, a place where they can pull magic from, while also empowering the land. Its a simple, primitive magic that has rules, can be tapped, and if the creator wants to put their own spin on it, they can with little worry. 

The Spirit Realm

In addition to ley lines, the other type of fundamental magic I would assume is in every world is that of Spirits. These are creatures, sometimes ghosts, sometimes other more sinister or even benevolent, that stick around the actual Prime world, and do not depart to the afterlife. As it is common in most world to have a conceived of an concrete afterlife, either because of the gods or in spite of them, the reasons that spirits would not pass on would have to be fairly specific. In the cases of people, it is generally an unresolved piece of work or some terrible and unforgivable tragedy. With creatures and beasts, this must be due to a different context. 

I think that the best assumption of the world of spirits is that everything exists in both realms, simultaneously, though they often exist discordantly. For example, a deer is eating, chewing the bark of a nearby tree. In the real world, nothing is endangering her. In the spirit realm, though, a long dead tiger, known to the land as Kayinkasa, Stalks, kills and devours the spirit version of a deer that stands in the exact same spot doing the exact same things. To compensate for the ever existing and formidable creatures within the spirit world, each creature only exists within the spirit realm of its own existence, and those who are immediately interacting with it. This allows that same spirit dear to feed an infinite amount of Spiritual lions, as long as they don’t interact with each other. 

This spirit world allows a great many creatures to exist, from all times, within a single space. A dinosaur Shaman can exist alongside a Trilobite Shaman, and a Equine Shaman. They all have their own powers and tap into the spirits of the beings that existed, and now inhabit the whole of the spirit realm. Finally, it is also the place that any haunting creatures are trapped. In this spirit world, where they only perceive who they are interacting with and their immediate surroundings, it is possible to forget all else exists and slowly go insane in a manner that few would expect, let alone experience. 


These two simple ideas form the fundamental, primal magic of a world, one in which even nature itself is infused with its touch. Without this basic network of magic, and the overlay of the spirit realm, there would be fewer ways to explain the basic permeation of magic, and its use by many of the more primal and feral beings of the world.

 Next week, we’ll look at the other forms of Fundamental Magic, before moving on to Interactive Magic with the next set of articles.