The Rules of Matrin’s Magic

Magic in Matrin

The underpinning of the Matrin stories is magic—the deadly fight of smaller and weaker opponents against the enormous forces that wield evil magic in this world. THE SECRET TEXTS must tell the story of how Kait Galweigh, the inheritor of an old magical curse, becomes a champion standing against old magic revisited and new magic born.

The nature of magic

I guess the primary concern here is the nature of magic in the world. The world itself is like all worlds, varied and full of surprises, but the nature of magic, like the nature of physics, needs to be known and invariable. Obviously, curses work—and they work for a long time, and they work well. This indicates the availability of powerful magic. However, I don’t want powerful magic available to everyone, and I would prefer for most people to have no magic whatsoever. Therefore, magic needs to either be heavily regulated or else hard as hell to manage and control. Regulations can be broken. Physics can’t. So magic is regulated by physics.

The rules of magic

Magic is hard work
So let’s make our first assumption that magic requires major effort—that almost everything can be done more easily by mundane means. Let’s also assume that there’s a massive kickback effect for magic used, a sort of karmic boomerang that will slam the user with a force equal to that which the user applies. This won’t eliminate the use of magic—after all, if you know the punch is coming, you can brace for it, so magical spells will still hold some temptation as long as they hold the element of surprise. And magical defenses will be effective.

Effective magic requires group work
Next, let’s assume that magic works better when more people are involved—the concept of a magic Mafia comes to mind. With a bunch of people involved, the spells can be more powerful and last longer, and if the users are real assholes, they can focus the kickback effect on just one person among their number—a sort of human sacrifice that will be sacrificed only if the spell works (instead of to make it work, as in most magical systems).

Magic follows strict laws
Third, let’s say that magic must follow specific, unbending, and unforgiving rules. There will be no ‘winging it’ in this system. Working with magic will require the same precautions and the same effort as working with very old dynamite or a ticking bomb—and will have much the same mood. This doesn’t mean there are going to be long, complex formulae in mystic languages, or that only the Runes of Karthor will permit the magic-user to unlock the Seventh Seal, or bullshit of that sort.

It does mean that the magic user will have to be familiar with a series of rules like those in physics (the equivalent of the laws of the conservation of energy and motion and mass, celestial laws of the movement of planetary bodies, laws of gravitation and relativity and so on) and that he will ignore them at his own risk, and with guaranteed repercussions. (See the laws of magic, below)

Magic is universally available to qualified users
Fourth, let’s say that magic is not related to place or to planetary influence or to the gods; that it is simply a condition of the entire universe, that it is everywhere in equal amounts, and that it will be equally as accessible to a qualified group of users in Bangkok, at the bottom of the sea, or on the surface of the sun.

No powerful solo wizards
Fifth, let’s eliminate power users as solo artists. No matter how talented an individual, no matter how clever, he or she will not be able to deal with the consequences of big magic without a big group as a buffer and focus. This will not eliminate the village spellcaster who’s working for good, because if good goes out, good comes back. (It will eliminate the ignorant village spellcaster, because even casting happy-face spells is going to require an enormous amount of effort and knowledge and is going to be dangerous.)

It will eliminate solo village spellcasters who have any real power. It will eliminate a lot of nuisance malfeasance, because to do an evil spell, you have to find—and deal with—the sort of organization that’s willing to go into that sort of thing. I’m thinking these spellcasters aren’t the sorts of people the average joe is going to willingly seek out because his neighbor’s dog pissed on his camellia bush every day running for the last month. It will also, I think, focus the evil into a few well-protected locales, and entrench it, and cause it to recruit and train new talent, and to develop a bureaucratic hierarchy.

Effects of the rules of magic

These magical rules will have the following effects:

  • Magic will be expensive.
  • It will work its way into the lifestyles of the wealthy, because they will be able to hire the teams who can give them what they want.
  • Because it is so difficult and so dangerous, its practitioners will aim big—the main goal of evil magic will be the acquisition of power.
  • Because money and power go together, and because magic will be the sure-fire way to get and hold power (and through power, more money), the upper structures of most governments and all big governments will be corrupt, will lean toward evil, and will be invasive in various ways.
  • Magic will be a tool of war. It will be a tool of perversity.
  • It will be some scary shit.

The laws of magic

1. The First Law (or Law of Magical Reaction): Every action has an equal and opposite, but aligned, reaction.

2. The Second Law (or Law of Magical Inertia): Inertia holds; spells in force tend to remain in force unless acted on by an opposite force. Spells in latency tend to remain in latency unless acted on by an opposite force.

3. The Third Law (or Law of Magical Conservation): Magic, mass and energy all conserve.

4. The Fourth Law, First Iteration (The Law of Magical Attraction): Aligned spells attract.

5. The Fourth Law, Second Iteration (The Law of Magical Repulsion): Unaligned spells repel.

6. The Fifth Law, First Iteration (or Law of Spellcasting): The force of the spell cast will be equal to the energy used multiplied by the number of casting magicians, minus conversion energy.

7. The Fifth Law, Second Iteration (or Law of Spellshielding): The damage done to a tribe by a spell or spell recoil will equal the energy sent minus the capacity of the buffer (or sacrifice), divided by the number of casting Wolves.

8. The Sixth Law (or Law of Alignment): Negative magic begets negative reactions. Positive magic begets positive reactions.

9. The Seventh Law (or Law of Compulsion): Every spell used to compel the behavior of any living creature against its will carries a negative alignment.

10. The Eighth Law (or Law of Harm): Every spell used to inflict harm, damage, pain, or death, no matter the nature of the target, carries a negative charge.

11. The Ninth Law (or Law of Souls) : The mortal representative of an immortal soul carries the charge of the soul, whether positive, negative, or neutral.

12. The Tenth Law (or Law of Neutrality): Anything that carries a neutral charge can be affected by and drawn to either positive or negative charges. Neutrality is a position of weakness, not strength.

The nature of the magicians

The Wolves

The wizards of the Sabir and Galweigh Families call themselves Wolves because they must work in packs. They are the most powerful wizards in Ibera, and they consider those who are not in their wizardly tribes to be sheep. Some of the sheep they consider their own, (those numbered among their Families and Family allies) and these they protect. Some of the sheep they consider prey, and destroy. But they respect only themselves and other Wolves, and consider only their rules to have any bearing on their lives. The rules of sheep they hold in contempt—they hold themselves utterly above all law but their own.

The rules of the Wolves

  • The knowledge of the Wolves is for the Wolves alone, and never for the sheep.
  • The good of the Wolves is first, the good of the Family, second—and the good of any beyond the Family is a matter of no importance.
  • No Wolf, and no Family member, must ever side with anyone against Wolves or Family.
  • Wolves try to stay near their tribe; a lone Wolf is vulnerable.
  • Wolves will rescue their own, or if they cannot rescue, they will exact revenge.
  • A traitor Wolf will die at the hands of his tribe.

The Society of Wolves

The Wolves suffer for their power. Because of the working of magic, especially the First and Fifth Laws, they take some damage with every negative spell they cast. Old Wolves bear as many scars, both to the body and the soul, as the most damaged of the Scarred People. For all their scars, however, they receive some benefits. Some of the negative spells they cast, (which, even buffered by the funneling of the rebound energy into the sacrifice, do them damage) also confer additional power, or talents, skills, and changes that let them do more, see more, or understand more than they did before.

NOTE: While I have frequently been the Goddess of Massive Worldbuilding Overkill (and have sold a bunch of fiction that way), I also know how to build a world that will support a story in just five minutes (and have sold a bunch of fiction that way, too). If you struggle with writing stories in places that feel real and that fuel your conflicts and drive your plots, let me show you what I’ve learned.


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