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10:12 am: Help needed — Magic Ideas

Okay Folks,

Magic spells…if you could do stuff with magic, what would you want to do?
What objects or items do you wish were magical?
What do you think the average pre-industrial person would want to do with magic?

Trying to populate the spell/magic item list for the world of my YA novel.

Originally posted to Welcome to Arhyalon. (link)

Comments

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From:mq_musings
Date:September 5th, 2012 02:43 pm (UTC)
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A lot of it depends on how common magic is, and who has access to it.

If the lower class has access to magic and can create spells, then there will be a lot of utility magic, either in spell form or in object form. A clothes cleaning/repairing spell, or a wardrobe where you hang the clothing and come back in an hour; spells/items that act as microwaves to fast-cook food; spells/items that polish silver, clean floors, warm or cool rooms. Also look at the sorts of work that was first picked up by machines in the Industrial Revolution -- knitting, for example, particularly fine work like stockings; the creation of items used for mass production, like nails or thread or even needles.

Another big area to look at is luxury items. If the rich have magic, they'll use it for indulgence. So... hairbrushes that clean hair, or make it shiny, or change the color. Magically-enhanced liquor or magically-enhanced food. Clothing enhancements, particularly if there are spells specific to certain designers. Musical applications as well - recording devices that offer playback. (Also any way to enhance books or learning.) Also, the upper class will want the kind of work-saving magics mentioned above, even if the lower class doesn't have them -- particular comfort-oriented magic like heating/cooling.

If magic is really prevelant, it will also be used in commerce, politics, and business, so think of applications like communication and transport. Teleporting exotic goods across a continent is a huge advantage over hauling them by non-magical means, particularly if the goods are perishable. A merchant could make a serious profit in something like the importation of edible delicacies from exotic lands, if he had teleportation ability. And a simple thing like putting a fax machine or cell phone-like device in the hands of a pre-industrial shiping magnate, that's a real game-changer. Someone who could create a spell like that if his competitors didn't have one... that would be a big deal.

Also, I know this is YA, but: sex. Humans traditionally use every new bit of technology for a sexual purpose, sooner or later. You might not want to be explicit about that, but you should factor it into how the magic usage will develop.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:September 5th, 2012 04:35 pm (UTC)
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Thanks, very helpful. Some of these things I have...but quiet a few weren't on my list yet.
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From:marycatelli
Date:September 6th, 2012 02:44 am (UTC)
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If the rich have it, they will use it for conspicious consumption, too.
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From:Robert Mitchell
Date:September 5th, 2012 03:46 pm (UTC)
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Well, off the top of my head, "gates". No cars, no planes, just step and go. Anti-theft spells, pillows that are always cool, spells that make you think vegetables are chocolate, Undine lifeguards, fireproofing spells, golems used as powersources, bags of holding, sylph air conditioning, persistent truth spells in public places, magic stripped from criminals, tooth and medical magic, treant farmers. Anti-weed spells, and spells that separate the wheat from the chaff. Clothes that are always clean, and shed water.

If your YA's can learn magic, then educational toys, to teach such concepts as line of sight, range of their voice, how to give commands and generally program what they want their spell or golem to do.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:September 5th, 2012 04:37 pm (UTC)
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Thanks!

My kids are at magic school, so I'm trying to get a list of things they can learn...but also cool things they could have at home.

very useful list. I love the sylph air conditioning. The Prosperos had that in my other novel. ;-)

(Gates, I've got!)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 5th, 2012 04:04 pm (UTC)
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I would set up a magical phone system that would read people's minds, find out the question or problem they have, and tell them the answer or fix their problem without making them wait on hold for the last 15 minutes... >:( (At least for simple problems that can be dealt with by a computer-like algorithm.... but an algorithm that covers a lot more bases than anyone would have the patience to sit through a phone tree to deal with.)

I would enchant my glasses so that they could "store" a book in them, and then project an image of that book at the right viewing distance, compensating for movement so that my eyes don't have to constantly re-focus, even if I'm jogging or something, presented in a vertical format that automatically scrolls down as I read. (If glasses are not available, some sort of head-band could do.)

I would enchant my file system so that it recognizes any paper that I put into it, and will levitate out the right paper when I ask, recognizing what I want no matter how I phrase it. I would pair this up with a future-reading spell that will tell me whether or not I will need any particular piece of paper again in the future, so that I can toss out those I will never use.

I would enchant every single object in my house to automatically return to its proper place every time I said some key word, like "shoes clean" (with the option to say "house clean" and have the whole house do that). There would also, of course, be simple command-word spells that would make the dishes wash themselves, spills clean up, crayon and pen marks remove themselves from the walls, and so on.

I would sell an enchantment to churches and libraries and whatever other places that wanted it, to silence cell phones automatically.

I would also want my cell phone to be a magical item that I can leave anywhere, but which teleports itself automatically to my side whenever it rings or whenever I say "here phone". (If the world is a pre-industrial one, I would probably enchant paper and pen/ink to do this.)

Teleportation spells would be up there, although most stories don't include them, since difficulties getting to where you need to be is one of challenges most characters face.

I would enchant my garden to take care of itself, dead-heading the flowers, making its own mulch, and so on, automatically.

I would enchant garbage bins to teleport organic materials to the gardens for the mulching, and de-molecularizing non-organic materials into either a non-harmful dust that can be added to the mulch, or into a raw material that can be used to build something else.

In general, I think the average pre-industrial person would want magic to do any sort of routine chore ... cow-milking, finding-the-eggs, watering the farms, planting & reaping, cleaning the house, maybe cooking, laundry, and so on.
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From:arhyalon
Date:September 5th, 2012 04:40 pm (UTC)
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Thanks! Very helpful.

The last paragraph made me laugh because the heroine's boyfriend, a farm boy, does complain that his father doesn't care about magic unless it could help with milking the cows. ;-)
[User Picture]
From:annafirtree
Date:September 5th, 2012 08:57 pm (UTC)
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I take that to mean that magic *doesn't* help with milking the cows in this world. ;)

Here's a few more:
A 'silence' spell that will cover up, say, the sound of a baby crying (temporarily).

A 'suds' spell that will turn bathwater into foaming bathwater.

Did anyone mention healing spells, yet, that will take away the sniffles or a headache? (Presumably more serious ills must be dealt with according to what the plot allows.)



[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:September 5th, 2012 09:46 pm (UTC)
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I've got healing covered and self heating tea kettles. But I should add 'hush' spells!
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From:annafirtree
Date:September 5th, 2012 10:15 pm (UTC)
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Ooo, how about aromatic spells that eliminate any unpleasant odors (bathrooms! laundry rooms! anywhere with a dog!) and adds on a pleasant vanilla or cinnamon scent to the room?

And self-lighting candles (or appropriate-level technology) that light themselves when you enter a room, and blow out when you leave.

Mirrors that show you from any angle you want.

Windows that show you a view from any angle you want. (Or, possibly, show you any sort of picture you want at all.)

If people smoke pipes, they could be self-lighting and self-refilling pipes.

Perhaps a pitcher that always keeps itself full of water.

(Sigh. Now I've got myself longing for teleportation and cleaning spells.) ;)
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:September 5th, 2012 10:48 pm (UTC)
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I like self-lighting pipes!

I have will-o-wisps that form balls for light or hide as little sparks in their nighthoods at night. I had magic 'glasses' of various kinds: looking glasses, talking glasses, walking glasses.

I have smells that come with the magic and smells can be conjured...so aromatic spells are a good idea.

I like always full pitchers. It could work like the eternal plate of pizza one character had.

[User Picture]
From:houseboatonstyx
Date:September 5th, 2012 06:38 pm (UTC)
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I want something that can search my whole house for a missing item, just like the computer can search its whole hard drive for a text string.

Before cell phones, I wanted a spell to make any phone number an 800 number while I was calling it.
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From:marycatelli
Date:September 6th, 2012 12:04 am (UTC)
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Hmmm. . . .

At one extreme of power, I could like three wishes, and the first wish would be to be so wise I could make the best possible use of the other two.

In the middle I would want a magical house with a magical library and a replenishing pantry, and a rose wall for security (one I could manipulate), and perhaps a lion to escort me outside.

At the other extreme, I could like being able to form little rainclouds that rained on extroverts who think working alone means I'm just waiting to be interrupted. (Telling them to go away, since it's talking, just encourages them.)

Pre-industrial -- well, guessing by my latest reading, I would guess that he would want to find treasure and lost items, recover stolen goods, heal the sick, and work love magic. (That is the magic that people actually tried to perform, as opposed to the bewitchments they were accuse of performing.)
[User Picture]
From:houseboatonstyx
Date:September 6th, 2012 10:46 am (UTC)
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I always thought about the "first wish for wisdom" too. But since magic always works against you when it can, how could that go wrong? Maybe a 'too much effect' fumble, so the wisher becomes so wise that he gives up all interest in worldly things and spends his life meditating (till someone uses the other wish/s to get him back).
[User Picture]
From:marycatelli
Date:September 6th, 2012 12:28 pm (UTC)
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the meanie.

If the wise character spends his life mediating, then that must be the wisest thing to do. After all, what proof do you have that worldly things are more important than he deems them?
[User Picture]
From:houseboatonstyx
Date:September 8th, 2012 09:11 pm (UTC)
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But then the story would be over! (And would probably be as short as The Nine Billions Names of God.
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From:marycatelli
Date:September 9th, 2012 02:59 pm (UTC)
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Wise men know there are things more important than finishing a story.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 6th, 2012 05:51 pm (UTC)
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Hm...

"Magic spells…if you could do stuff with magic, what would you want to do?"

First of all, time manipulation/travel. Time travel itself is so powerful and plot dominating that making it casual would be bad, but manipulation? Be able to stop time to sleep at any point without the slightest trouble. Finish a project you have no time for. Spend as long as you want on a date. This is powerful, but doesn't break anything, and fits deeply with wish fulfillment, especially for teens. Given the obvious military applications, I'd limit it to enchanted areas. Time stopping has always been a fantasy of mine.

In a very similar track, cloning. Making another version of you to help yourself, or being two places at once? Kiln People by David Brin explored this lovingly. There are plenty of options and limits here, such as making it time related, a construct with your mind, or making it an illusion all work.

Mind control, especially of myself. Being able to consciously decide what to do based purely on reason, and enchant myself to carry through with it? Make myself enjoy studying or working? Make myself not want to eat more than I need? Change my perception so water tastes like candy? Wipe my own memory of spoilers, reading a favorite novel or watching a favorite movie again for the first time? Perhaps make myself what someone else wants or needs me to be, at least for a little while? Fall in and out of love on a wish. Gain skills and languages the moment I desire them. All of this seems incredibly fun and useful, with a bit of tragedy in the air.

Scrying of various kinds is next. Being able to look anywhere in the world with all my senses? It seems fun to be anywhere without the slightest risk. Look back through time to see what really happened in historical events? Find out what I did with my keys? Track items I lost throughout my house? The options for circumventing all kinds of annoying things is considerable.

Extremely closely related is teleportation. Live anywhere. Live in a fortress no one without teleportation (depending on the specifics, no one else at all) could get to? It seems cozy to me, never having to worry at all. Go anywhere I can think of. Spend a day in every country in the world. Never be more than a spell away from anyone I love. This is another one with powerful combat applications, so limiting it is quite rational.

Shape shifting, of course. It is last, and least, but still quite impressive. Be anyone I want to. See what it is like to be a woman, or black, or old. Project exactly the kind of image I want to. Purge myself of every weakness and disability my body has.

"What do you think the average pre-industrial person would want to do with magic?"

How long have they had it?

First of all, expect a lot of building up what we did, or tried to do, with technology. Basic security of various kinds seems like the first priority. Teleportation and scrying are the two spells that I postulated that seem the most directly useful for this on a personal level. Health care is probably the second priority. A lot depends on the person in question, but in a society without a comfortable middle class it seems that becoming a royal or member of the nobility would be a high priority. Answering religious questions also seems like a good way to spend time with scrying. A lot probably depends on if there is any other magic involved. Mind control of others also seems extremely likely. Fathers with life or death power over family members would probably see it as their right and possibly as a mercy, while those at their mercy and no social role to escape to might consider mind controlling their social "owners" a viable tactic. The same could be extended into politics.
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From:arhyalon
Date:September 6th, 2012 06:45 pm (UTC)
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Some of these I have well covered.

I completely agree with you on the power I always called Time Dilation. It was my favorite power as a kid...the ability to speed up or slow down time around you. Not move forward and back in time, but make it last shorter or longer time periods.

The angels/demons have that power in this background. Alas, the humans do not.
[User Picture]
From:houseboatonstyx
Date:September 8th, 2012 09:14 pm (UTC)
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An idea I saw elsewhere. The story (or scene after a break?) begins with the Giver saying "So what is your third wish?"

"Huh? I don't remember doing any wishes."

"You have used your first and second wishes. The second wish was necessary to undo the first. You have one wish left. What do you wish for now?"
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:September 9th, 2012 03:58 pm (UTC)
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Ooh! That is really cool...and creepy!
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From:khilari
Date:September 27th, 2012 04:58 am (UTC)
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I hope a random visitor commenting is okay.

I think I've seen that story before, where the man wakes up not knowing who he is at all. His third wish is to know who he is. The genie laughs and says "Funny, that was your first wish too."

In terms of magic I'd like, I want a self-cleaning house. If brownies existed I'd be leaving out milk.
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From:arhyalon
Date:September 27th, 2012 10:29 am (UTC)
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Comments always welcome!

I've got brownie bowls in front of all the rooms. (One student put whiskey in his bowl. The brownies painted his room with puce and chartreuse polka dots.)
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