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I am a fan of what I refer to as Hard Magic, similar to Magic A is Magic A in concept. Basically, magic systems where magic has very hard and set rules that must be followed. All the rules may not be known by all characters within the story, but the magic itself has rules and works based off those rules. The characters in the story may not know all the rules, or may be learning and discovering them as time goes on, but the rules always apply and set boundaries for the magic. This is obvious analogous to hard science, where science has exact rules and worlds must function within those rules.

I'm wondering if a tag for worlds that use Hard Magic is worth having, and if not rather we have some other way of expressing the concept with existing tags. I think it not only would address the ability to better describe your magic system and intent of question, but may also help address a previously mentioned problem by encouraging the very answer chosen for it to occur: How can we make magic-based questions as interesting to answer as the various levels of science-based questions?

To give an example of the sort of questions that may be tagged with a [hard magic] style tag:

  1. I want a world where magic is used in a specific way with specific limits, what set of rules would meet these needs while also fitting some theme
  2. In a magic system which works with these rules would it be possible for my protagonist to achieve effect X.
  3. My magic works with this set of rules, how would my world's mages safely explore and discover the rules.
  4. My magic system abides by thermodynamics and can be powered by converting energy in this way, what method of fueling large spells would make most sense for my community
  5. In a world with magic limited in this way what things would people find easier to do with magic and what would be best done with mundane method
  6. I have a magic system which I wanted to abide by these rules, but I want some effect that can't be achieved in such a system, how can I tweak my rules to allow such an affect while keeping with some desired principle for the world

many of the examples above could be tagged with just 'magic', but they all focus on the idea either that rules already exist and they want to see the result of the world given the exact rules, or that they need help defining the rules better. In both cases a very exact set of rules is required.

This is where I'm inclined to create a hard magic tag. My biggest problem being that I'm not sure others will know it exists. If the tag is known it could be useful, but if no one is aware of the tag it doesn't do much good (that's why I suggest hard magic, because someone thinking of the hard science tag may naturally go with the hard magic as the obvious analog tag's name).

I could see a hard magic tag only defining that a magic system abides by enter link description here sort of system, with questions focusing on creation or use of these rules. Or it could be a tag that focuses on a more general concept of realism in a world with known magical rules. Ie. the tag could include concepts such as

  • How would Hard Science interact with my magic rules in realistic way. For example example 4 above is clearly looking for a scientist view on thermodynamics and energy generation to help define how his magic could be used.
  • Realism of a magical system within a world. For instance examples 3 and 5 sort of touch on this. Given a magic system how do I create a realistic world that logically results from the rules implied by my magic. (though probably this would be covered by [reality-check]?)

So my question is, do we need a tag to cover these concepts, and if so what should the tag look like. I guess that could be broken into a few sub questions

  1. should the tag exist at all in some format; and if not what tags serve to address the sort of questions asked
  2. Should this be one tag or multiple tags, for instance maybe instead what we need is a [rule creation] tag for creating rules for a system, be it magic or sci-fi rules for some new technology/device or rules of a society legal system.
  3. If this is one tag that should exist what exactly should it cover, ie what should the description look like
  4. What should it's name be. I'm not committed to Hard Magic, though I lean towards it since it's similarity to Hard Science and use elsewhere makes it seem the easiest for others to figure out.
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    $\begingroup$ The way I see it, either your question isn't about magic, or it is about magic and it's hard magic, or it's about soft magic and should be closed for being too broad and opinion based. If your magic can't be logically or scientifically defined, then there's no way people can answer things about it in a way that is in the scope of this site. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Dec 18 '15 at 18:14
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    $\begingroup$ What @DaaaahWhoosh said. If a question is about magic and you aren't sticking with a single, specific magic system that can be described, then any answer is equally valid and the entire premise of the Stack Exchange Q&A format breaks down. Such questions may be interesting, but they are probably a much better fit for Worldbuilding Chat than the main site. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Dec 18 '15 at 18:17
  • $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh I disagree. Someone linked a good blog post to on the subject by the author of the mist born series on one of my questions recently, but can't find it now. The short version is that he suggests magic should only be used to solve problems up to the amount of rules you have, but that magic need not always have rules. Imagine Lewis Carrol asking how Alice may respond to wonder land on the site. Wonderland does not have strict rules, but the question can still be valid. A question as to how to fight a demon need not explain how demons exist within the magical world itself.. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Dec 18 '15 at 18:24
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    $\begingroup$ A question about how to fight a demon will need to give details about the combatants (or more accurately in our case, their respective species). At that point, it doesn't really matter whether you call it "magic" or "science", because you are defining the system. (Calling it "hard-science" is only a convenient way to say "this has to be stuff that would work in our world".) If you aren't defining the system, then again, every answer is equally valid. Hence, to be meaningful, any magic system must provide a reasonable level of detail. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Dec 18 '15 at 18:27
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    $\begingroup$ We actually already cover this in what topics can I ask about here?: If your question involves magical elements, you must provide enough details about the magic system in question so that answers may be given that conform to the particular magic system. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Dec 18 '15 at 18:28
  • $\begingroup$ I'm thinking Hard Magic also would refer to not just rules, but the degree with which such rules define the magic. If my rules are "a mage can throw attack magic" or "someone can create whatever they imagine" that is a valid rule and discussions may exist that are valid within those rules, but these rules hardly limit your magic. Look at D&D. Each spell itself obviously has rules, but nothing says what limits or defines the magic, what spells could be created and what can't. Discussion of D&D and spells can exist without the magic system having exact rules. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Dec 18 '15 at 18:29
  • $\begingroup$ I think there should be a distinction here between the world and the story. Magic doesn't need to be defined in a story, because you can assume it exists as it does and move on. But if you're defining a world and how it works, you need to define your magic. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Dec 18 '15 at 18:31
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling I agree, I may not be experssing the idea as well. However, the point is not just that something exists, but how explicit it is. Some magic systems are intentionally vauge, that is how they work in the world the writer is creating and an accurate description of the magic system is still vauge. Lord of the Rings does not have exact rules on it's magic. We can still discuss it here. But some systems take the description of the world to a new level of vigour, their rules are far more exact and closely constrain the world. A tag to recognize the added constraints may exist. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Dec 18 '15 at 18:33
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, the Mistborn magic system for example very precisely defines what the effects of burning each metal is. The magic system is very structured in terms of what you can and can't do with it. Lord of the Rings on the other hand just has Gandolf doing "stuff". $\endgroup$ – Tim B Dec 23 '15 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ @TimB that is the distnction I was going for (though interesting it's author only cited mistborn as 80% hard because some of the rules weren't fully known to his characters yet, which I felt was a little unfair to his work). Any suggestion on a concise description which could distinguish the difference between LoTW and Mistborn's 'hardness' in a way that could be put in a hard magic tag? $\endgroup$ – dsollen Dec 23 '15 at 16:51
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Even silly and wild magical worlds such as Piers Anthony's Xanth have some rules. The first description of a magical world is usually based around what rules it has defined.

The problem with "Hard magic" is that most magic eventually becomes "hard" at some point, even though that point may never appear in the story.

You give an example of "Lord of the Rings" where magic remains pretty undefined. But it remains consistent as well - which suggests that there are rules, we just don't know what they are. You know what would have been a way bigger issue than the Eagles saving Frodo? If Gandalf teleported to him and Sam and then teleported them home.

Magic being undefined is okay - magic being inconsistent with the rest of the story or world is a problem. Or, if it's not a problem in the OP's mind, any question/answer regarding the magic is literally "anything goes", such as the following:

If the world were the same as "Alice in Wonderland", how would Alice [accomplish any new particular goal requiring magic]?

This is why posts about magic, by default, need an explanation of the rules to work within, to stay consistent. Otherwise, they are "too broad". So the real problem with having a Hard-Magic tag is that every answerable magic question would apply to it on this site.


I can see what we're aiming for, for instance - I can imagine asking a question for the magic used in my newest question - asking what some of the most useful spells might be, along with the "equations or sources" that would be required for a "Hard Science" question.

However, I think if that were my question, I would probably tag it as Hard Science as well, but try to make it clear where the question is coming from. (magic)

In response to the actual question: I don't think a "Hard-Magic" tag is necessary, so long as it remains that "magic" background questions can have the "Hard Science" or "Reality-Check" tags applied to them.

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A contrary perspective. Please note in advance that I don't intend to try to insist about this, but I think the question raises interesting and important points.

"Hard-magic," as described in the question, is a magic that is intrinsically systematic, which is to say, subjectivity does not enter strongly into its internal logic, which can be analyzed in strictly local terms. This is by no means the only sort of magic about which answerable questions can be posed.

There have been several, rather inconclusive questions about magic "systems" (using that term loosely) that are in some way or other intrinsically evaded or impossible to correlate effectively with scientific experimentation. As several posters have noted (myself included), this is perfectly plausible. It is significant, however, that most of the respondents chose to ignore the question: they replied, "no, your question is impossible, if it exists then science can figure it out." Which is not a valid answer to the question.

But does this make the question itself invalid for the site? Nobody has seriously suggested so, nor would I. So it seems, just from this single example (two or three, really), that it is possible to answer and address questions about magical conceptions that are impossible to systematize in the "hard" sense proposed here.

On the other hand, certainly many posters do indeed want help fleshing out the implications or structures of "hard" magic systems. I think of the question about how much energy would be required to produce a D&D-style fireball, for instance.

As I see it, "hard-magic" would tag a subset of the latter questions. Here the point is not simply to ask for science-based translations and what amount to reality checks, but assistance developing and fleshing out a rigorously and rigidly structured magical system.

For example, a poster suggests building a magic system based on a precise balancing of the classical five phases of Chinese philosophical cosmology. S/he is having trouble how to ensure that their interrelations, in both creation and destruction cycles, mesh smoothly with the yin/yang balance. Now obviously, such a question in this particular case would be better answered by a historian of sorts, but the example will serve. This is certainly "hard-magic," in that it is rigorous, systematic, and magical. But it is not "hard" simply because it can be discussed rationally or logically.

My main objection, insofar as I have one, is that I think the tag would rarely be used accurately, since I rather doubt we could explain its meaning effectively enough without an enormous post. Still, I think the idea has great merit.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not into RPGs, but surely D&D has a system for its magic (the effects on both the caster, the environment and others, and how and when it can be used). In that sense, its magic is "hard-magic". $\endgroup$ – a CVn Dec 20 '15 at 14:57
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling D&D Magic isn't systematic, though, just a very long list of categorized options. $\endgroup$ – CAgrippa Dec 20 '15 at 23:56
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling what CAgrippa says. D&D defines magic only in terms of power level that should exist for level of character (and doesn't always do that well), but with no throught for consistency of system, limits on what magic can do, or long term effects. In reality many of the lowest level spells applied to industry could really break the economy by automating processes. The magical creatures are similar, they come up with what makes for fun campaign of monster bashing and don't really try to justify anything beyond that. After all the specific 'worlds' the system is used in vary. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Dec 21 '15 at 14:28
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    $\begingroup$ this is more the sortof thing I was thinking of. I agree with difficulty of getting the tag used right. That's why I was thinking that someone else would have to help describe and structure the tag if it were to exist at all. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Dec 21 '15 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ Imo, the problem isn't showing a question that can correctly fit the tag, it's showing a question which can't fit the tag. I see all magic that makes any kind of sense as "intrinsically systematic". But maybe I'm just being nit-picky about the word "system". One system might be to wave a stick while shouting Latin to impose your will on the world, and I struggle to see how that doesn't fit the definition compared to a system about Chinese philosophical cosmology such as you have described. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Dec 21 '15 at 17:47
  • $\begingroup$ @DoubleDouble I think "system" here would have to be analyzable externally, such that one could legitimately construct and debate correct, incorrect, and more or less efficient solutions to problems. $\endgroup$ – CAgrippa Dec 22 '15 at 6:03
  • $\begingroup$ from the response on my original post and this answer I'm thinking hard-magic may (not saying it is) be an option for a tag if I redefine it to better express what you said, a system where rules are apparent and knowable to users and..well everything above. I sort of feel I imporperly explained the concept in my question, or perhaps hadn't fully understood what I wanted to explain ahead of time. But now that this question has that improper description I'm not sure how to turn around the question to focus on something closer to a description you had and your complaints... $\endgroup$ – dsollen Dec 23 '15 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ @DoubleDouble Even a number of professional fiction writers I've heard speak of hard and soft magic. It's the difference between space opera and hard science stories in Sci-Fi. Both stories are valid stories that can be discussed here, but they have different feels. I don't like space opera and prefer hard magic worlds, others feel 'soft magic' worlds feel more grandiose and fascinating; that's fine. The point is one may wish to write either and can ask valid questions for either type of world; but wish to clarify which 'feel' of a world their looking for in the question. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Dec 23 '15 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ @DoubleDouble could you suggest even a limited definition that could be used in a tag. You stated yourself it would be hard to do so perhaps you can't, but maybe with something closer to a proper definition to start the discussion a better debate on merits could exist; once we all can better agree what were thinking of. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Dec 23 '15 at 16:50
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    $\begingroup$ @dsollen I looked over your example questions again, and read this post again. I think we could be aiming at the wrong tag for what we are trying to describe. Would a magic-system or magical-system or similar tag better illustrate what it is meant to convey? Such a tag would be usable in questions about the "rules" of a given system of magic, whether that is help defining them, or figuring out how the rules would work or how they would impact other parts of their world. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Dec 23 '15 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ The tag wouldn't necessarily mean "completely realistic", but a complete system of rules is naturally going to lean towards seeming realistic - with any kind of "unrealistic" parts either not be fleshed out or "Handwave Here" $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Dec 23 '15 at 17:17
  • $\begingroup$ @DoubleDouble I think your getting at the issue with my poor description. I think my question really covered two ideas in a sense, one about defining the rules of a magic system, and one about worlds with 'hard magic' where the magic systems are explicit, hard written, and knowable to the audience. These aren't the same, as a more 'soft' magic may have some rules still needing designed. I think magic-system is likely too generic, leading to complains like the comments to my questions, .Perhaps a tag that more explicitly says creating-new-rules-for-this-system could exist? however... $\endgroup$ – dsollen Dec 23 '15 at 18:40
  • $\begingroup$ I think what I was really thinking of, even as I confused myself and got a little side tracked in the explanation, was more about defining the feel of the magic system. The distinction between a world where the rules are all known, clearly delineated, knowable to the audience, and basically the way magic works is 'set in stone'. Questions about building rules could still exist for a soft magic world, like "how strong can my grandalf wizard be without invalidating heroes. Basically the tag is more describing feel and intent of type of magic in the world then the type of question? $\endgroup$ – dsollen Dec 23 '15 at 18:46
  • $\begingroup$ ..perhaps a hard magic tag might also imply more thought put on impact of world given the existance of magic as well? if rules are set and knowable how would people interact with them? or perhaps that's loosing focus on the main goal of a tag...though I kind of want a way to say "given these rules how would people exploit them" in a tag... See my problem is I have 3-4 different things I want to express and am trying to overload one tag lol. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Dec 23 '15 at 18:47
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I actually write on our Blog about how to meld hard and soft magic together. They're not as separated as people sometimes treat them. I actually rely quite a bit on the flexibility of the magic tag to recommend people soften their magic systems. In this day and age, it seems really popular to try to make an entirely rule based magic system. Maybe it's the video games. However, people often want a softer system and are unaware they want it. If they tag it as hard-magic, it will be harder to do this.

One thing I worry about is how treacherous hard magic systems can be. Because there's nothing standing in the way of rules, many such systems have glaring weaknesses that can be exploited. I think, if there were a hard-magic tag, I would want to see the following guidelines:

  • You must post your entire magic system, unless you know how to prove that you only need to provide a part. Inconsistencies easily creep in if you play with one part at a time.
  • You must be ready for the question to be closed with a new reason for closure: "Your hard-magic system is already broken. We can't answer your question until you fix the system." It is terribly frustrating to watch somebody patch their system over and over because you keep finding holes.

I think these are reasonably similar to hard-science. The first bullet is easy in hard-science, because it is understood that real world science is in effect. However, hard-science with things that break physics have already been closed for simply being wrong.

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