The term “magic system” in writing or RPGs isn’t exclusive to magic. Technology, superpowers, alchemy, and other forms of science that doesn’t quite match up to real world physics can be a different kind of magic. In fact some of our science today might be mistaken for magic for someone from days before Christ. This is one of the things that pushes the nonsense “ancient alien” theories.
There is however a science to the magic system if you don’t want your character to be considered overpowered, thus turning your hero into a Mary/Gary Stu or a villain so powerful that there should be no way for the hero to win. It’s the struggle where the drama comes from, and if you don’t do it right then the tension is gone. Some time ago The Closer Look posted a video I brought up here about the failings of a video game with a bad magic system versus, but now he goes into the poorly thought out magic system of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, specifically Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness. However, he goes over other failures of magic and technology being thought out in other MCU movies like Endgame as well as examples of the magic system done right and how powers out of nowhere should be handled, using the teachings of Brandon Sanderson as a guide. It’s a long video and I don’t have much to add, but its too long for a daily post as you really need to pay attention if you’re designing a magic or superscience system for your story.
Catch more from The Closer Look on YouTube
When Wanda was first introduced the name “Scarlet Witch” was more of a title than an actual description. Her power was the ability to alter probability. For example the odds that your car will break down or that your laser will miss. While she called it a “hex” it wasn’t true magic until later on. Granted I’m not sure when that happened but it was before she and Quicksilver were changed to no longer be mutants so Marvel Studios could use them as Avengers, since at the time Fox held the X-Men license so neither distributor Paramount or Marvel’s eventual owner Disney could use any mutant characters. So she went from being a mutant to a sorceress before licensing changed her backstory.
This has also become an issue in the comics as well, with the phrase often quoted by Linkara: “It’s magic. We don’t have to explain it”, a line actually spoken by J. Michael Straczynski to sum up the reasoning given by Joe Quesada behind the changes in Brand New Day when Mephisto altered Spider-Man’s timeline to retcon the spider-marriage out of continuity. It is a bad approach because magic has limitations. Even in real world practitioners of witchcraft or wiccan practices (wiccans are not necessarily witches and warlocks by the way) there are rules that need to be followed for the magic to allegedly work. Even in Christianity, where we serve an omnipotent God, there are rules to prayer, some of which is us not knowing His will or our own failings cutting us off from God. Limits in fiction, no matter how skilled or powerful your hero is, has roots in actual science and religion. It’s why Star Trek breaks out technobabble, why Superman is still vulnerable to magic and radiation native to his home planet (or perhaps a byproduct of its fate) and requires yellow sunlight. Plus there are characters who can stand up to Superman physically, most notably Doomsday, or is smart enough to get around his powers, forcing Superman to find new ways to use his powers to overcome these weaknesses. It’s why I don’t write Silver Age foe The Prankster the way some others do. I mean, he’s still lame, but mostly because Mxyzptlk does it better.
It’s like I said in one of the few Art Soundoffs I’ve able to put up this year, the rules make it fun. It’s those limits that challenge the writer or the players of the RPG, and it’s that challenge where the drama or the game becomes interesting. If you’re going to craft a good magic or science system, give it rules and stick to them. Otherwise your story isn’t going to make sense or be interesting.