Designing a Magic System: Magic in the Land of Ardalencor by Andrew Zimba

Designing a Magic System: Magic in the Land of Ardalencor by Andrew ZimbaToday we welcome a new guest writer to Writer’s Fun Zone, Andrew Zimba who is stopping by to chat with us about “Designing a Magic System: Magic in the Land of Ardalencor.” Enjoy!


Writers and Worldbuilders,

Looking for a guide on developing a magic system for your fantasy setting?

I’m Andrew Zimba — author of the medieval fantasy novel In Times of War: A Tale of Ardalencor. 

Often learning how someone else navigated the design process can be the best guide. I’ll take you through an overview of my decision-making journey and share some additional thoughts at the end.

I hope you find the article to be helpful and maybe an additional spark to your creative process.


I wanted magic in my story to be fantastical, inspiring awe and dread, but also muddled and imperfect. I didn’t like the idea of introducing hard rules or so-called magical laws.

Within a rigid structure, a magic system starts to resemble a scientific discipline and that can limit opportunities for the unexpected.

Cohesive logic and immersion are important for me in storytelling, so even though my magic system may be considered “soft,” I wouldn’t say it’s haphazard.

Behind the scenes, I am interested in maintaining a sense of proportionality of magic’s impact and how that would influence other aspects of worldbuilding or specific characters.

I wanted to maintain a bit of mystery and wonder for the reader. Readers learn about the magic system through the experiences and points of view of the characters.

I’ve sprinkled in some quotes and passages from In Times of War: A Tale of Ardalencor. 

A lot of worldbuilding is trial and error, considering and testing ideas, and refining or backtracking as needed.

I don’t think I came up with the list of key ideas all in one go, but this list stayed fairly constant throughout the worldbuilding process.


Magic is rare.

Making things rare makes them more special. It also makes it easier to write and keep track of things, fewer variables to manage when finding the equilibrium in your fantasy setting.

Magic is accessible to everyone (at least theoretically).

While accessing and controlling magic are very difficult, I wanted there to be a universal quality to it, not just restricted to particular bloodlines.

“Everyone can be a healer if the proper mind is put to it.”

Magic is unpredictable.

I didn’t want to use a foundation similar to TTRPG mechanics where each action yields a likely result.

Magic is dangerous.

Magic can be debilitating, even lethal, to the caster. This is one of the barriers to entry and also shapes society’s view of magic. To be competent in the arcane arts, let alone survive its trials, requires intense focus and commitment.

But that was the proposition; to achieve a semblance of ethereal mastery demanded total focus, total commitment. Having knowledge of magic and having a family were not mutually exclusive in the absolute, but when offered the chance to unlock the mystery and knowledge of the world, all else had to drop out of focus, or one was not serious about the endeavor.

Magic can be decisive, but those who wield magic must be vulnerable.

I didn’t want magic users to be invincible. For one, it would diminish the drama in the story.

I’ll illustrate this point further with two passages from my book. The first conveys the respect and planning needed to defeat an expert spellcaster. The second, the fears and worries of two particular magic users.

This first passage is from the perspective of what is required if regular soldiers attacked a wizard.

“A single wizard is a test. Many wizards are a tall challenge. The trick is to isolate them and press the attack. To subdue a true wizard, it may take twenty men, fifty, a hundred or more. Once committed, the attack must be pressed. Never relent.”

As a scene set to the second passage, two spellcasters are aids to a champion participating in a duel.

While neither of them is in the duel, they’re having their own “high noon” moment wondering if spell or arrow will be faster should the duel devolve into a larger fight between the factions.

Artos and Dalton were disciplined enough to resist the temptation of watching the Tigerclaw in single combat. Each independently contemplated whether he could fix a spell and disable a swift bowman or stand fast against an onrushing horse. It had been a long time since either had practiced such circumstances. Neither had ever experienced when blinks were the thin veil between victory and death. Dalton’s brow started to bead, and he hoped Artos would not notice.

Magic is protected.

Those who have the greatest mastery of magic will seek to protect (hide) that knowledge to prevent the emergence of rivals. 

This is more a storytelling element than about the magic system itself, but it played a large role in creating the Zaravandian Order.

The Order is the preeminent and only wizard’s guild in Ardalencor. They function as a blend of royal advisors, research and development organization, special forces group, and intelligence service.

The Order did not tolerate split loyalties; there was no room for defiant ideas or dissension. Rogue members had nearly split the Order at several points in its history. Severity and restriction created the bulwark against corrupted power, devouring narcissism, and the destruction of the world. Initiation and standing in the Order rested upon humility, obedience, sacrifice. Loyalty and devotion to the Order, total focus on arcane matters, and defense of the nation were the steadfast virtues. Within these principles, members studied from a common body of knowledge painstakingly assembled over the centuries but were allowed great measure to explore, experiment, and retain their individuality.

Without going into detail, members of the Order are not the only ones who understand or wield magic in Ardalencor or neighboring lands.

While not having a monopoly on the use of magic (see the universal quality from the key ideas list), the Order is the dominant group and will use overt or covert methods to maintain their position whether it be against magical outlaws or checking the growth of arcane power within a noble house.

This tension and intrigue add to the immersive feeling of the world.

“Keep eyes on him… What happened to the last advisor?”

“He was a man of some talent… It took some time to arrange plausible circumstances.”

If we were chatting about your magic system over a cup of coffee, I’d probably ask you the following questions. In worldbuilding, there can be an infinite number of questions, but let’s start here.


  1. What are your preferences or must haves for the overall structure of your magic system?
  2. How powerful is the magic? For example: interdimensional connections, summoning creatures, astral projection, manipulation of time.
  3. What is needed for one to gain access to magic? Any barriers or limitations?
  4. How many people (general numbers) have access to magic? Given the lack or prevalence of magic, how does this affect daily life and the overall equilibrium of the world?
  5. For someone who has no access to magic, what is that person’s view of the world? For someone who has mastery of arcane forces, what is that person’s view of the world?

Keep creating and happy writing.


About the Author

Andrew ZimbaAndrew Zimba is a lifelong storyteller. An avid historian, he grew up reading stories of kings and kingdoms as well as tales of myth and magic. A native Minnesotan, he holds degrees from the University of Minnesota and also studied in Poland. Andrew and his wife currently reside in Texas.

Fantasy Worldbuilding Tips:

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