NOTE: This question is about whether the idea of having guidelines is merited.
Not actually creating them...yet!

You decide you want some magical creature in your land. eg dragons with wings etc. You have also got a little/lot of magic in your world. This is not about worldbuilding with no 'magic'.

You want to be realistic to your world, so you do a little creature research and/or put your question through the Anatomically Correct Series and realise that it's just not feasible with IRL parameters. The Square-Cube Law is especially adept at bringing your creature crashing back down to Terra Firma.

...but you are really set on having that fire-breather or chimera or giants or whatever magical creature that is not technically feasible. You still want to be as logical as possible. You don't want to use your magic to create fire-breathing flying dragons when the rest of your magic can only be controlled by adept water-wizards. How is that logical?

Many a question ends up either closed as Too Broad, answered as "it's not possible with IRL parameters", or "you have magic, just use that".

Is it possible that we provide a General set of Pointers/Guidelines on how to use the magic in your world to help you create this creature? That is preferably not creature specific. If it is creature specific, then I think a Magical Creatures Series may be needed.

This is not about defining other peoples magic systems. That would be insane!

For instance Sanderson's Three Laws give some guidelines on how to create Logical Magic Systems. The 3 laws are pretty bared down to basics already. Could we expand these 3 laws into guiding questions with Logical Magical Creature Creation in mind.

Most magic questions seem to be wanting to limit the use of magic in explaining their creatures. They appear to be wanting HARD magic. They are wanting one or two things to be explained by 'magic' in a limited way and the rest to follow logical IRL parameters. Can we help them figure out some questions to ask themselves so that they can then go back to the drawing board and figure out their creatures a bit more before they attempt a second and third question (that inevitably seems to be closed as well)? Guidelines on when it would be ok to ignore the square-cube law and when they have to follow it?

So you have to define your magic to yourself. Where does the magic come from. How do your creatures access it. How are your creatures affected by it. Is the effect permanent or once off. Did it happen back in prehistory, or is it still affecting your creatures today.

  • Are your creatures fully magical themselves
    • your dragon can always fly...and could probably curse you in the old tongue
  • Are your creatures only magical because of constant contact with invisible magic source
    • your dragon can always fly while connected to the all-present magic
  • Are your creatures only magical because of intermittent contact with magic source
    • your dragon can only fly while the ingested magic-rock juice is working
  • Are your creatures only magical from a once off contact with the source
    • your dragon didn't have large enough wings to fly until magic magically enhanced one/two/three aspects of it's physiology. The dragon is now no more magic than you or me...but it can fly.
  • within your magic constraints (eg water-magic), is your creature's "magic" ability actually what you think
    • your dragon has the capability of floating on the water molecules in the air. The wings are non weight-bearing, just for balance and sexual attraction. The fire-breathing can be explained scientifically.
  • if your magic is only one "thing". How can you use this and it's side-effects to explain away the issues you are having with your creature design. Are there further unintended side-effects.
    • your world has magic water users. They can control and manipulate large and small amounts of water molecules. Your dragon utilises this by controlling the water molecules in the air around them. They then use this ability to appear to fly with giant wings acting as rudders and balancing stabilisers. The wings no longer have to be able to be able to bear the weight of the heavy dragon, as the water magic takes care of this. No longer need as much musculature to support the weight, no longer need super light but strong bird bones, no longer needs such a giant heart and all sorts of square-cube rule errors can fall away. Possibly.
    • Side effects: your dragons have the ability to create storms. They have an affinity for playing in large pools of water. They like to eat lettuce and roasted fish, not people. They may have accidently flooded an area or two when excited. They don't like living in deserts.

This is in no way comprehensive but I think it gets the idea across. You are wanting a magical creature that has been previously shot-down as not possible, probably due to the pesky Square-Cube Law. This set of guidelines could possible provide some ideas on "you have magic, just use that" without leaving your world too chaotic and unbelievable.

Should and could this set of rough guidelines be created? or is it up to each person to figure out how to figure out a solution for themselves?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ maybe some touch ups to how it's done, but maybe make it more a large suggestion rather than a flat out rule, to avoid driving people away from the website $\endgroup$
    – Amoeba
    May 4, 2018 at 1:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Amoeba, definitely. Just as there is hard and soft magic, there are also hard and soft word choices. Rule is hard. Suggestion is softer and more approachable. $\endgroup$ May 4, 2018 at 7:08
  • $\begingroup$ Am I understanding you correctly that you would like to start a meta reference post where everyone can say in an answer some general stuff about "Usual workarounds are as follows, see if you can adapt that:" or "I recently saw this argumentation in a creature-design question and would like to preserve it as a general tip" and then be able to point users who asked a creature-design question with the highest voted answer being "Nope, Square-Cube law" there? I think the exact solution depends on the specific case, but a general "workaround page" might give some ideas and help writing follow-ups $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    May 4, 2018 at 7:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Secespitus yes. Something along those lines of usual workarounds. Examples would obviously be helpful. My original title to this question was "creating logical magical creatures aka when can the square-cube law be ignored". It would definitely only be general suggestions, it won't help with an exact solution, as you say, but should help them start thinking around the problem. Like the "Creating a realistic world" series. $\endgroup$ May 4, 2018 at 8:14

2 Answers 2


Yes, a meta post with generic "Workarounds" for magic and creature-design would be a great resource

The advantage I see is that we can easily point people to it in different situations:

  • the OP posted a question that seems to be answered (or is commented) with "You have tagged this with magic - go and use magic"
    -> we can write a comment like "You might want to look at this list of common workarounds to get ideas for what you can do with different shades of 'use magic'"
  • the OP posted a question and received unsatisfactory answers like "Square-Cube Law bites you"; these answers are valid and useful, but the OP wants to get as close as possible to realistic
    -> we can write a comment like "You might want to use this list of common workarounds to get some ideas; maybe you could make a second question with more details and use those points there as inspiration?"
  • the OP posted a draft in the Sandbox and we need to make him aware of common problems and workarounds
    -> instead of starting on field number one and going through each individual's personal list of workarounds we can point there are tell the OP where he stands to make it easier/faster to get a question ready for Main
  • it's a very nice basis for open-ended discussions that we love in the chat
    -> we can use it as a starting point for creature-design discussions or as a little checklist in the middle of a process to see what others would do
  • it's a nice collection of knowledge, which is all StackExchange is really about, while not really a good thing for the Main site (What workaround do you personally know? would be closed faster than you can say Primarily Opinion-Based)
  • we have a lot of questions that fall into that category
    -> it's likely that many people will profit from such a resource

What I think is important for the resource

  • every workaround should have examples
    -> just because we are on Meta and the rules are less strict doesn't mean we should discard them completely, they are there to increase the quality
    -> by mentioning an example the user reading the workaround later can check exactly how others have done this thing -> an example may be a question on Main, a discussion on Meta or a book/movie/..., each case with a short summary of the relevant part
  • we should group and number workaround suggestions so that it's easier to point to them
    -> "Here is a list with workarounds, your solution is there." - "Great, but which of the two dozen workarounds do you mean exactly...?"
    -> if someone needs to be pointed to the resource they are probably not seeing things the way you see, so you should mention what exactly your problem is
    -> the resource should help and be a shorthand, especially for people who want to help those users by mentioning a general workaround and adapting it to the specific case, so we should give them an easy way to mention what exactly is important in the specific case
  • the posts should be community wikis
    -> you can only edit posts on Meta if you have more than 2k rep, which is pretty high, but with community wikis it's lowered to 100, making it easier for others to edit their own workarounds into the list
  • Sanderson's Three Laws, Square-Cube Law and a link to the chat and Sandbox should be mentioned in the "question" post
    -> Sanderson and the SCL are extremely prominent when creating fictional creatures, they deserve a special mentioning and a short description for newer users who are unfamiliar with these terms
    -> the link to chat allows an easy way to start open-ended discussions or to start brainstorming how the current question/system could be refined to make the question easier to answer
    -> the link to the Sandbox allows to easily start a new draft and get feedback on that, which makes it an important resource that should be mentioned for something that is concerned with helping users to help themselves
  • $\begingroup$ I think magic should also be defined in the meta question as "anything unexplainable by modern known science". This could allow alien creatures with some unobtanium element to use the guidelines as well (while still maintaining "no magic", ie very hard magic, parameters). $\endgroup$ May 4, 2018 at 10:05

Please don't

People who like sci-fi are very familiar with Clarke's Third Law:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

There is a less well known counterpart, but which I've seen (and used) quite often here at worldbuilding:

Any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from technology.

And that's what you are going to get if you try to enforce tight rules on magic.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ That is a valid point. I just want to reiterate that this wouldn't be for enforcing purposes. we hardly use the "creating a realistic world" series as enforcement rules but rather as something to point members to who need, and more importantly want, help. Help that would otherwise not be provided as it would be too broad under the general rules of the site. $\endgroup$ May 4, 2018 at 18:44
  • $\begingroup$ @EveryBitHelps - Yeah, but Wikipedia's First Law seems to find fairly wide application on StackExchange: any blandly written list of helpful hints will be used by fanatic enforcers to ban naive contributors achieve political dominance over the conversation. Also Wikipedia's Second Law: those bringing a complaint under a policy do not know anything but the title of the policy, and take it to mean what they want; for the accused to cite its text to the contrary only implicates them more deeply. $\endgroup$ Jun 4, 2022 at 16:04

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