How The World Building Experts Create Balanced Magic Systems

What are the most important elements?

Reading time
3 min
Published on

December 21, 2023

Blauw Films

Saint George and The Dragon (1470) by Paolo Uccello

The Secret of Creating Great Magic Systems in World Building

You’re building a world. Obviously, you know everything there is to know about Hard Magic and Soft Magic because you have already read our post on it (cough, cough)... I’ll wait...

Okay, welcome back! Creating brand new systems of magic for your brand new world can be a daunting task. Fortunately for both you and me, Brandon Sanderson came up with a handy set of laws that can help guide and govern your magic systems. So without further ado, let’s get into a bit more detail and take a look at Sanderson’s Laws of Magic.

The key question we are going to answer in this post is:

• How can I make my magic systems feel grounded and maintain a sense of wonder?

Sanderson’s Laws of Magic

Sanderson breaks magic systems down into three distinct laws (well, actually four laws, but we’ll get to that later!)

Sanderson's First Law

“An author's (writer’s) ability to solve conflict with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader (audience) understands said magic.”

Magic isn't just a shortcut to solving plot problems! Establishing a magic system with transparent and steadfast rules is crucial. You've got to earn the privilege to whip out your wand and sprinkle the magic! This means meticulous foreshadowing, ensuring there's a clear setup, buildup and a satisfying resolution.
Your magic must exist within a controlled set of parameters where the rules are clear, enabling your audience to understand its mechanics.
This approach will help you avoid any unsatisfactory moments of deus ex machina and will help you maintain the integrity of your story.

A Visit to the Witch (1882) by Edward F. Brewtnall

Sanderson's Second Law

“Limitations > Powers.”

Imagine two wizards in a duel. The tension and drama do not come from how powerful their spells are, but from the finite energy they have the ability to use. This limitation in their magical powers creates tension and raises the stakes, making each spell cast of critical importance rather than just a barrage of light and sounds. The magic in your magic isn't just in its abilities but in its constraints. It lies in what your magic cannot do. It's in these limitations that you will find the challenges your characters must overcome, and in doing so bring your audience on the journey and fully immerse them in your world.

Sanderson's Third Law

“Expand what you already have before you add something new.”

Remember, more is not always better. Think of a small but richly woven tapestry versus a vast plain cloth. The tapestry, with its intricate details, is a piece of art, it tells a story, it is a thing to behold! The massive undetailed cloth, on the other hand, is just a massive undetailed cloth!
By focusing on deepening and enriching the elements you already have in your magic system, you create a narrative fabric that’s interesting and immersive, rather than stretching it thin over a wide, unremarkable expanse of nothingness! This focus when it comes to your magic system doesn’t only make it easier to maintain consistency but gives the audience a better more in-depth view of the overall picture.

And that’s it… that’s Sanderson’s Laws of…Oh wait! There is one more…

Sanderson’s Zeroth Law

This one’s quite simple… just be awesome! You’ve got all the infinite possibilities of everything, everywhere, all at once at your fingertips! So just be awesome! You can imbue your characters with whatever powers you like, put them in any world you like, and have them do whatever you like! So you may as well make it awesome!

Takiyashi the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre (1844) by Utagawa Kuniyoshi
Takiyashi the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre (1844) by Utagawa Kuniyoshi


So… earn the right to use your magic by allowing your audience to understand it. Make sure there are limitations to your magic so things aren’t tediously simple for your characters. Remember that less is more, and don’t forget to be awesome!

Think about these rules, and you will create magic systems that are engaging and help tell your story in an interesting, consistent, and grounded way. But having said that… it’s your world… do what you like!

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