On Worldbuilding A Magical Setting

Want to worldbuild a magical setting, with dragons, elves, wizards, and whatnot? Need something to occupy yourself with now that you've decided to stop supporting and giving free publicity to a fantasy author who just won't stop spreading hate? Just want to build your own magical setting for the heck of it? Then this article will give you some pointers and things to consider on your journey, and perhaps even inspire you in some way.

First uploaded: December 26, 2021.

Table of Contents

First, we have to talk about real life history and culture.

Basically just about all fantasy magic is inspired by something that real people actually believed in and practiced, and very likely still believe in and practice to this day. All of these practices were based in certain fundamental beliefs about the way the world worked, and sometimes even how the world was created. While some writers hold to the viewpoint that magic should be mysterious and whimsical or else it's not really magic, such an opinion was not held by practitioners and mystics of the past. Magic wasn't thought of as incomprehensible or whimsical; rather, it was thought to work in accordance with what people believed to be the natural laws of the universe as they understood it.

For example, the idea that you have to make a sacrifice for your spell to work goes back to the belief that helpful gods and other spirits would lend you their power if you gave them a gift. The idea of having an innate power within oneself goes back to the concepts of the soul and vital force.

Crossroads appear in many folkloric contexts because they are a liminal space. Liminal spaces often have a sense of unreality or otherworldliness to them, and are thus the perfect places to bury things you never want troubling you again, or to encounter a being from another realm, or to work a change or transformation. Spells might also be operated at liminal times, such as sunrise or sunset, for similar reasons.

Those fancy magical seals and sigils you see everywhere derive from Solomonic magic, which developed from the tradition that King Solomon had built the first temple by binding demons and forcing them to do the work. Solomonic magic itself seems to have developed from late antiquity and onward, and entered Europe in the high middle ages. The main reason it's so well-known today is because of the Key of Solomon, a book dating to the 14th or 15th century Italy.

The concept of true names and magical language comes from Renaissance Europe, where the idea took off that God spoke the world into existence by means of a divine language. The idea went that the closer a langauge was to this divine language, the more powerful it would be.

A lot of talismanic magic is deeply linked to astrological magic, which assumes that the planets and Zodiac signs exert influence upon our world and give things their properties or essences. Take for example this talisman for subduing beasts, or this talisman for a good reputation, or this talisman for love. Astrology as most of us know it was originally developed in ancient Babylon (the two fish of Pisces, for example, actually represent the Tigris and Euphrates rivers), and astrological magic was developed in the Middle East. Europe's own understanding of astrology was heavily influenced by al-Kindi, a 9th century polymath from Iraq.

I've gone into more of the logic behind various magical practices over here. If you're not interested in reading it right now, then suffice it to say that magical practices have always had some kind of logic behind them. This notion that they don't largely comes from us modern people failing to understand how people in different times and places understood the world. It also seems to relate to the rather bigoted notion that before the invention of science, people simply didn't have complex or sophisticated ideas of how the world worked. They absolutely did. They were different from ours, and they were very often wrong, but they absolutely did. Once you understand the worldviews behind various magical practices, they lose their mystery and make perfect sense. Remember, people in times past didn't go around with a half-formed picture of the world in their heads. Rather, they filled in the blanks with things that made sense to them, and generally assumed that their comprehension of the cosmos was more or less complete.

I'd also like to point out is that the notion that so-called primitive people "mistook" natural forces for magic is both condescending and inaccurate. The notion that nature and magic are two different things is a modern perspective. Consider how people perceived magnets: They didn't really know how they worked, but they did know that they could attract iron, and attract or repel other magnets. Therefore, it made intuitive sense that there could be all kinds of invisible forces that could do all kinds of things. Magnets were not science mistaken for magic. Magnets were magic. It's us modern people who are being weird by trying to split hairs and invent reasons why magnets can't be magic.

At this point some folks might be wondering if they thought that magnets were demonic, because some modern Christians often claim that anything "magical" is actually demonic. In fact, no. If anything, Christians often understood the mysteries of the natural world to have something to do with God's divine power. If God was mysterious, then certainly the natural world could be full of God's divine mystery. It's worth noting that in the early modern period, natural magic (which included herbology, alchemy, and even astrology) were often considered perfectly fine.

Likewise, the sentiment that "magic is just science we don't understand yet" projects our modern binaristic view of nature and magic onto the past, and echoes the false narrative that history has been progressing toward the abandonment of myth and magic in favor of strict science and rationality. Furthermore, this sentiment ultimately only serves to despiritualize magic, rather than respiritualize nature.

Another thing I'd like to talk about is how magic has historically been practiced in all levels of society. The idea that it was the sole domain of some elite or special class, or that some people were magical while others simply weren't, does not reflect historical reality.

In some cases, certain techniques or mysteries might only be taught to initiates of certain religious orders, but that didn't mean that everyone else just had nothing. Sure, you might have to join the temple to learn whatever magic and lore the temple priests believe in, but that doesn't mean Grandma couldn't teach you to how to brew a few potions, or that your friends didn't know how to practice cleromancy, or that local farmers didn't know some charms to bring good harvests or keep away pests. And maybe the temple priests thought they knew the true origins of the universe, but that doesn't mean that the creation myth (or myths) they favored were any better or more "true" than the one your mom told you at bedtime.

Also, pagan gods did not just belong to some secretive or elite group of magic users. They belonged to everyone, just as Jesus, the saints, or the archangels belong to everyone. Some groups of people favored certain gods over others (EG, a farming community would favor earth deities more than, say, the cities scribes would). The idea that only "magical" people would interact with pagan gods also ties into the very incorrect assumption that all pagans habitually practiced magic, while Christians always soundly condemned it. In fact, Christians have often practiced what we would call magic today, and one can argue that even the most orthodox of Christian practices were still thought to operate on principles that we would consider magic today. Conversely, not every pagan was all that mystically inclined. Just as there are devout Christians and Christians who only show up for church on Easter or special services, there were pagans who were deeply mystical and pagans who just paid mandatory honors to their gods. Also, some pagans were even atheists.

Also, pagans knew who the gods and the spirits were. A lot of modern fantasy writers depict pseudo-pagan cultures talking about "the gods" and "the spirits" as if they're these vague, amorphous entities. This is as ridiculous as saying "the saints" without any specification of, say, Saint Peter, Saint Paul, or Saint Mary; or "the angels" without any specification of figures like Michael or Gabriel. Sure, it makes sense to refer to them as a collective in some cases, but that doesn't mean we don't understand them to be individuals.

So basically, our modern understanding of magic as something incomprensible is simply based in our own ignorance of how people in the past perceived the world around them. We think that because we don't know how it was supposed to work, means they had no idea, either. And that's quite narrow-minded of us.

I'd also like to mention that these various worldviews, as well as the wide variety of techniques and tools that emerged over the years, didn't just pop out of the aether. Rather, they arose out of specific cultural contexts. For example, a lot of people today think of tarot readin as a timeless magical staple, when the reality is that the cards tarot decks are based on came out of Islamic Egypt in the 14th century, and apparently weren't used for mystical purposes until the 18th century.

Of course, if you're building a fantasy world then you have a lot of wiggle room to date certain things to whenever you want, but even so it's probably still a good idea to ask yourself what kind of context it developed in. The idea that magic is primarily a thing you learn from books, for example, isn't going to be found in illiterate societies, and books aren't going to exist until they figure out something to make pages from. The practice of numerology first requires the belief that numbers have some kind of inherent special properties, which is the kind of belief one comes to after noticing that math is pretty good for describing and predicting the natural world, and for doing things like architecture. (After all, if you can design a building with math, maybe God used math to design the universe.) Or maybe in your fantasy world the gods really did use math to design the universe, and somehow humanity got hold of the manual. It's all up to you, so long as it makes sense in context.

The other point is that taking something that was practiced and believed in by basically everyone and saying, "Well, maybe it only produced results for a secret group of special people" is inherently demeaning. You imply that people's beliefs and practices never really belonged to them, but were in fact stolen from the elite, superior beings they actually belonged to. This can be insulting enough when you're talking about pagan beliefs in Europe, but when you apply this to people whose spiritual beliefs have been suppressed by colonial forces, it's downright cruel and quite frankly violent.

You could potentially make your world's magic completely unrelated to anything in the real world, though that might arguably be more trouble than it's worth because real people have already invented so many interesting practices and compelling ideas. You can also look into non-marginalized cultures for inspiration; Greece and other European cultures are far richer and more complex than most people realize. I notice, for example, that a lot of people try to borrow animist ideas from Native American cultures and from Japanese culture under some impression that European cultures don't really do animism, but the fact is that it's always been there, and you can find it if you look. (And I really do wish more people would learn about European animism, because then we'd have fewer ridiculous galaxy brainings about what the myths and folklore were "really" about, though I'm digressing a bit.)

I also want to point out that the characteristics and behaviors associated with many folkloric creatures are based on people's observations of nature. For example, water spirits are often thought to be in the habit of eating humans simply because bodies of water can pull people under, and sometimes the corpse never turns up. From this perspective, it doesn't make sense that all water fairies would be equally dangerous, because not all bodies of water are equally dangerous. While it's true that many fairy creatures are thought to be hostile or antagonistic, the notion that all of them are always this way comes more from modern people who enjoy making other people feel small and disempowered than from actual folklore. So don't feel like you aren't being "authentic" if you don't want to make everything mean and bitey. And as always, what you should do depends on your personal goals, which are of course entirely up to you.

Figure out how your magic works and how it interacts with your setting.

Magic being an active part of your setting means that it should impact people's lives in various ways, and that people should react to it and have various opinions on it. Therefore, you should design your magic around how you want people in your setting to live and interact with magic, and how you want it to affect their lives.

You can potentially make up all the rules for magic as you go along, but this can result in your magic feeling more like a plot device than a natural, integral part of your setting, especially if the rules appear to be inconsistent or seem like they're all centered around creating problems. Nature has rules, or patterns that it consistently follows. EG, if you put your hand in water, it will get wet; if you pull it out of the water it will eventually dry, and it will dry faster if you move into a very warm and dry environment. Therefore, giving your magic rules that you follow consistently can make it feel more natural.

So think about how you want people to engage with magic, and how you want it to affect them. Don't just focus on your main characters here, but consider how it affects everyone. For example, who does it empower, and what does it empower them to do? Who does it disempower, and in what ways does it disempower them? How does magic affect people's basic lifestyles? What kind of accommodations do they have to make for magic, and what kind of accommodations can they make with magic?

Keep in mind, if magic can be used to fulfill desires or needs with relative ease, or even just bypass common inconveniences, then realistically people would be using it for that. If people could basically spam or farm magic for personal gain, then realistically a bunch of them would. If you ignore this, you basically present the vast majority of people as inhumanly passive and disinterested in ways to improve their own lives, and that means that your setting isn't as lively and dynamic as it could be.

I suggest taking a look at Phlebotinum-Development Questions and "Is This A Good Idea For My Story/Setting/Character?" - How To Answer This For Yourself! for questions to help you figure out how you ought to make your setting's magic work. There's no singular right or wrong way to do it; the best way is to make sure it matches your own intentions for your world.

It's also important to figure out your magic's limitations - I recommend checking out Setting Rules & Limitations In Your World: Why & How You Need To Do This. It can be tempting to make magic basically limitless, but when you do that then it's pretty hard to design a plot with any genuine suspense or wonder. Limitless magic can feel exciting at first because big effects do initially tend to evoke big reactions, but once the novelty wears off it's going to become pretty monotonous. If everything's as effortless as scratching your nose, then ultimately it's going to be about as exciting as scratching your nose.

Basically, you want to determine what you want magic to enable your characters to do, what you don't want it to allow them to do, and what you want it to be able to prevent them from doing, and you want to think about how that's going to impact the broader narrative and setting. Placing too hard of a limit somewhere might prevent you from exploring avenues that might be fun or exciting, while allowing certain possibilities might effectively give your characters an "I Win" button. If somebody has, for example, an unlimited ability to teleport, what's to stop them from appearing right behind their worst enemies and slitting their throats? And if magic can easily revive the dead, then death loses dramatic impact; but allowing it with certain complications or caveats could make for some interesting and entertaining plotlines, like bartering with the underworld gods or collecting everything needed to perform a resurrection ritual.

It's also a good idea to work out why magic works the way it does. What are the means and mechanisms by which it works? And how do those means and mechanisms relate to and interact with the rest of the world in general? Figuring this out not only helps you keep your magic consistent, but it helps you infer and interpolate further rules and implications of your magic that fit what you've already established.

Another aspect of magical worldbuilding is figuring out how magic plays into culture, and into cultural trends. I've noticed that a lot of writers carry on with this notion that magic and ordinary life have to be two separate and divided things. Now historically, people did have a sense that strange and often dangerous magical beings existed out there, but they were also using many forms of folk magic every day. Maybe you have a particular reason for a strong division to exist, and that's fine. But if not, then consider that you just don't have to do things that way, and you can create some very interesting worldbuilding by exploring alternatives.

For example, how are people philosophizing over magic? What kind of speculations are they making about its sources, its causes, and its ultimate implications about life and what lies beyond?

What kind of things do people do with magic on a day-to-day basis? Do they use it to, say, prepare food? How does it impact medicine? Do they have magical games or sports?

If magic is a major part of people's lives, then do try and keep in mind that they would most probably see it as something very ordinary and mundane, just as you see electricity and electronic technology as ordinary and mundane. For example, if magic is completely normalized, then you shouldn't have, say, cookbooks highlighting the fact that their recipes will involve magic any more than our modern cookbooks highlight the fact that you'll probably be using things like an electric oven, an electric mixer, and so on. It would make sense to explicitly refer to something as magical if non-magical equivalents were also available - much as it makes sense to distinguish between a regular toothbrush and an electric toothbrush - but if the magical version is default, then its magicalness probably shouldn't be emphasized.

Worth noting, if your magical people do constantly emphasize how everything they do is magical, it actually kind of implies that they're insecure about themselves and have to constantly tell themselves that they're special and better than others. Realistically, this kind of thing would be a sign that these people discriminate against people who don't do magic, and those who aren't magical enough by their standards. And this basically means that they have a very ableist society, per the social model of disability.

So take awhile to think about how magic plays into your setting, and how interwoven it is with people's lives and just how they interact with it. Assume that if people can try to do something with magic, they will try to do something with magic, because that's just what people do. Assume that there's an immense diversity of opinions on magic. And if you're creating a magical society, then try to look at magic from the perspective of someone who takes it entirely for granted, not as an outsider who finds it a novelty.

Consider how magic intersects with the law.

If magic empowers people to do things, then that's going eventually to cause waves in a few ways. Whether it's people rightfully being upset over magic can be used to violate the mind or body (EG, as love spells and transformation magic can be used to do) or enact violence (EG, as elemental magic can be used for), or authoritarian leaders who feel insecure and threatened by the power it gives the marginalized, people will have reason to want to legislate it in some way.

At first glance, a world where everyone can freely do whatever magic they like might seem like a rollicking good time. But in reality, it would be pretty dystopian because many forms of abuse and exploitation would be permissible. One might argue that people are free to fight back with whatever means they have at their disposal, but that's just social Darwinism; IE, "might makes right." You can't effectively protect the vulnerable members of society without imposing restrictions and consequences upon certain uses of magic. And this is something I've noticed that a lot of people don't really think about.

I've also noticed that many people often think that rules should be different for magic because it's, well, magic. And I think a lot of this comes from a place of not understanding why our society has many of the rules and norms it does. Sadly, we often just don't explain to people that certain actions are liable to cause lasting trauma, nor do we really explain that such trauma isn't something you can just "get over." We often believe that because we'd be fine (or at least, because we think we would be fine) with certain things, then other people ought to be fine with them as well, because we often just don't acknowledge or talk about how people can have wildly different preferences and comfort zones, and what's fun for one person might be torture for another. Now, if you enjoy hot 'n spicy fiction involving things that would be morally dubious in the real world, then by all means write it and give yourself the good time you deserve. But if that's not your intention, then it's probably a good idea to put a little more thought into your worldbuilding.

The kind of laws and regulation your setting should have depend on what kind of society you're trying to design. If magic is a fairly new discovery, then it might be fairly unregulated. But it would make sense that as time goes on, and unethical people use magic for cruel and exploitative ends, then rules would be set in place. For example, they might criminalize scrying or mind-reading to access private information, if they don't just ban the practices outright. Spells or potions to make people fall in love would almost certainly be outlawed; if not for the fact that they're outright unethical, then at least for the fact that patriarchal types would be terrified of other men using them on their wives. Spells to cause harm and torment in general (basically, curses) would almost certainly not be allowed.

In particular, it's a good idea to think about how magic might impact those who hold the most power in society and what steps they might try to take to prevent it from being used against them. (Mind you, these steps needn't necessarily be effective, let alone even target the right people.)

Something else I'd like to bring up on the topic of law in magical societies, is that completely barring someone from learning or practicing magic in a culture where magic is part of everyday life would actually be quite cruel and inhumane. Sure, it makes sense to bar someone from practicing a specific type of magic that they willfully used in a harmful way against others, or prevent them from using kinds of magic that would allow them to commit the same kind of harm in the future, just as it makes sense to disallow violent offenders from owning guns, or to suspend someone's driver's license for engaging in reckless driving. But pulling the magical equivalent of banning them from using most household appliances, banning them from using a phone or computer, and banning them from even using most industrial equipment is basically revoking their right to any kind of meaningful autonomy within society. Furthermore, it also shows that their society thinks of living a non-magical life as punishment, which indicates disdain and hatred of non-magical people.

Banning people from using magic in a magical society also alienates them from other people, because they can no longer participate in many of their society's activities. This is also cruel and inhumane, because people are social creatures. Now sure, if you have somebody who insists on violating other people's boundaries then the only thing you can really do is make sure they don't get the opportunity to do it again. But barring people from participation over things that don't involve violence or harassment is just plain cruel.

In any case, spend awhile thinking about how you want your setting to deal with magic from a legal perspective, and how fair and effective you want it to be. I highly recommend researching retributive justive vs. restorative justice vs. transformative justice to gain some insight that might help you flesh this out. In any case, do keep in mind that the more punitive a system is - IE, punishment-oriented - the more unfair and ineffective it tends to be. Not only does it fail to do anything to help victims heal and move on, it also doesn't do anything to help perpetrators grow as people and therefore lower the risk of recidivism, so yeah.

On magic being suppressed, oppressed, or obscure.

Many of us (though perhaps fewer of us these days) think of magic as something that was extensively forbidden and ubiquitously punished by Christian authorities, but the reality is far more complex. For one thing, the medieval Catholic Church didn't spend a lot of time or effort punishing people for their folk magic, even if they technically frowned on some of it. Witchcraft, or malefic magic, was not considered to be a serious threat because the Church generally held to the position that Satan's power was illusory at best.

Furthermore, much of folk magic was Christian folk magic, and it wouldn't have occurred to most people that there was anything unholy or sinful about it. There wasn't exactly some massive ideological difference between an official Catholic exorcism, and invoking Jesus and the Virgin Mary when giving somebody a brew to cure their fever. And as mentioned before, natural magic (IE, magic that involved natural forces, rather than demonic ones) was fairly accepted in the early modern period. After all, when you understand that God is ultimately the reason certain herbs have the power to heal, there's nothing ungodly about using herbs to heal.

Next, I think a lot of writers overestimate people's ability to actually enforce anti-magic laws. Many people seem to think that it's as simple as the king or the pope siccing the knights or the witch hunters on the magical folks, but there are problems with this. For one thing, most folk magic practices were small, simple, and easily done in the privacy of one's home, so actually catching someone in the act would be very difficult. They also tended to involve commonplace items, and items that were relatively small, so even a hypothetical home inspection might not turn up anything. In fact, early modern witch hunters basically had to claim all kinds of non-evidence as evidence (EG, witches' marks, spectral evidence, and confessions under torture) because real evidence simply did not exist. Fantasy fiction often wants us to believe that magic has been effectively suppressed even though this very problem exists in their worlds, too.

Fantasy fiction frequently another problem with enforceability, which is presenting magic as highly powerful and effective while giving people without magic little to nothing that would actually give them tactical superiority over magic users. The way the odds are actually stacked, the magic users should usually win easily, or at least be able to fend off their enemies well enough. But the stories often want us to believe that people armed with simple weapons are somehow able to overcome people with practically godlike abilities.

What often seems to be happening here is that the authors are simply repeating witch hunt rhetoric, which claimed that Satanic witches had these extraordinary powers in order to make witch hunting seem necessary. There's little recognition of the fact that so-called "witches" were so easily overpowered because they didn't have all this powerful magic; and if they did, things probably would have gone very differently. Thing is, accusing marginalized groups of having power and influence that they don't actually have is actually a common tactic of oppressive governments. This is the kind of thing that Umberto Eco was talking about when he said that fascist governments portray their enemies as simultaneously all-powerful and yet also weak and easy to overcome.

If non-magical governments and authorities are supposed to actually be good at suppressing magic, then it needs to make sense. They need to actually have the ability to overpower people with magic. Otherwise, it's ridiculous to try and act like your magic users are in any real kind of danger.

Many writers who set their works in a modern timeframe claim that magic users are quite rare and that non-magical people would easily be able to outnumber them and defeat them with guns and other modern weapons. The problem with this is that it just doesn't work when magic has apparently been around forever, while these modern weapons are, well, modern. For most of history, magic users should have been able to overpower the non-magical and set up their own systems and institutions over them. After all, Neolithic spears and handaxes aren't going to be very useful against someone who can just spam lightning and fireballs.

I've seen some people try to claim that magic users just graciously stood aside for non-magical people for some reason. Often, the "reason" given is often that the magic users decided that history was "supposed" to play out in the way that's familiar to us. Now, this is essentially based on the fallacious thinking that whatever happened in the past was somehow "meant" to be, and that somehow (at least on some level) people in the past knew it. But if you go and read what actually people wrote in the past, it's very obvious that they didn't see themselves and their lives in this way. If anything, it was no different than how we see ourselves and our lives today. None of Rome's upper class, for example, gracefully resigned themselves to the fall of their empire in the knowledge that America would rise someday in the future, any more than we're gracefully resigning ourselves to everything that's going on right now in the knowledge that something else will rise a thousand years hence.

One other explanation I've seen is that the magical people decided that the non-magical people deserved to live a "normal" life. But the problem with this is that "normal" is highly subjective, and people usually tend to consider their own experiences "normal." So to a wizard, giving everyone else a "normal" life would probably mean exposing them to a lot of magic, not isolating them from it.

In any case, explanations like the ones I've mentioned don't really make a lot of sense because they're simply based on the author's parochial assumptions that their own experiences are normal, and that the status quo they are familiar with is just how things are meant to be. This extremely short-sighted way of looking at things not only creates nonsense worldbuilding, but it also glosses over the fact that the world's status quo right now is really messed up in a lot of ways that would be inhumane to let persist. One example that comes to mind right now, is that our "normal" is leading to catastrophic climate change that is already severely impacting people's lives.

There's lots of ways to make magic being suppressed or obscure make sense, and the best one for you depends on your particular worldbuilding needs. Maybe magic is actually new or recently discovered, or maybe the gods that grant magic just recently got done having a divine sulk. Maybe everyone is actually using magic, but those in power think it should only be used by certain people or for certain purposes, and punish those who don't comply. In any case, the best way to make this work is probably off the beaten path, so don't be afraid to get creative.

Consider the potential ecological aspects of magic.

If you're populating your world with magical plants, animals, or fungi, then this stuff is basically part of your world's ecosystem. If you have, for example, giant dragons feeding on large prey animals such as deer or elk, there might not be much left over for other predators such as wolves. If unicorns and wild horses feed on the same plants, then it's possible that they could end up competing with each other for resources, and it might not go so well for the horses if the unicorns decide to get fighty. You could of course sidestep this problem by making sure magical things only fed on other magical things, or fed upon some other fantastical substance. But either way it's a good idea to put some thought into what they're eating, and what that means for your world as a whole.

If human habitations turned out to be really hospitable to certain magical creatures, they would absolutely move in. For example, pigeons live in human cities because our buildings are close enough to the cliffsides their ancestors nested in. We generate enough organic garbage to sustain populations of rodents and insects, and they in turn can sustain populations of creatures that eat rodents and insects. Cities really do have their own kinds of ecosystems just because they are very inviting to certain kinds of animals. Likewise, magical creatures would absolutely move into any city environment that would provide them a livable habitat.

There are similar concerns for plants. Plants likewise fill specific ecological niches and sometimes compete with each other, and human habitations are sometimes very hospitable for certain species of plants - dandelions, shepherd's purses, and bindweed all come to mind. Therefore, it would stand to reason that some magical plant or other would be able to thrive in cities. And of course, the same goes for fungus, and one can only imagine what a magical fungal network might do!

Magical sapients might alter the environment quite a bit, much as hominins have been altering the environment for hundreds of thousands of years. Even if they aren't building grand cities, that doesn't mean they aren't preying on certain other creatures or eating certain plants, or doing things to ensure that more of the plants and creatures they like to eat are available.

Worth noting, if you add a bunch of magical plants, herbs, and fungi that behave more or less like real plants, herbs, and fungi, there's basically no way to keep the non-magical people from running into them. What's more, if your magical people try to stop non-magical humans and magical non-humans from interacting, they're basically violating their freedom of association, which basically makes them the bad guys.

In closing

Worldbuilding a magical setting works out a lot better if you put careful thought into how magic intersects with all of its various dimensions, from people's personal lives to laws to ecology. It's not really reasonable to slap magic onto a setting and think that it would have no substantial impact on the world, because magic is an inherent game-changer in many, many ways. Think about how you want magic to affect your world, and how you want people to respond to it. Consider this from the angle of what your plot requires or what you'd like to explore, as well as what kind of hard limitations you want in place in order to create challenge or drama.

It also helps to try and place magical beliefs and practices within sensible contexts in your setting; EG, "the goddess wove the universe into existence" is the kind of thing that would come out of an agrarian culture that practiced weaving, if that isn't literally what happened.

I'll be including links to information on real magical beliefs and practices below, as well as a number of books containing old folklore. I highly suggest you check them out if for no other reason than they are incredibly fascinating. Though, I also do think that the more you know about genuine beliefs and practices, the easier it is to create a more robust fantasy world in general, because you'll have a grasp on the contexts these things came from. In my opinion, it's much easier to make a functioning fantasy world inspired by the logic that produces these beliefs, than it is to try and backwards-engineer explanations from our own perspectives. Personally, I find that the end result of backwards-engineering mythological and folkloric beings ends up feeling a little hollow, because the magic just isn't there.

Also, I can promise you that if you see something from a marginalized culture you don't belong to, there is something close enough to it that comes from a non-marginalized culture. All you have to do is just look. Seriously, you don't need to use that one Algonquin creature when the draugr is right there.

I really hope you enjoyed this article. If you liked it, please share it with your friends and on your social media, and please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a great day!

Onsite pages you might like:

Tips & Ideas To Write More Believable Masquerades
A Brief Primer on the Four Elements
Writing Historically Accurate European Magic & Witchcraft: A Starting Guide
A Few Things Writers Should Know About The Occult
Magical & Supernatural Tropes To Reconsider (And Tips To Build Up Your Magical/Supernatural Settings!)
Magical School Development Questions

European Dragons: What You Might Not Know About Them
Tips to Create Better & More Believable Fantasy & Science Fiction Species
Writing Fantastic People & Creatures Without Unfortunate Implications

Tips To Create Richer & More Realistic Fantasy & Science Fiction Cultures & Civilizations
Tips & Ideas To Create More Believable Sword 'n Sorcery Worlds
Things Your Fantasy Or Science Fiction Story Needs
Things You Need To Do In Your Science Fiction Or Fantasy Story

External Resources

Egyptian Alchemy : Decoding the Greek - Egyptian Alchemy - The Formula of the Crab / Scorpion
The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus - Origins History and Meaning of the Famed Text of Alchemy
What Is Hermeticism?
Magic in Theory - The Stellar Ray Theory of Al-Kindi
What is the History of Magic Wands?

Ancient Christian Magic - Protection, Exorcism, and Love Magic from Ancient Coptic Texts
Medieval Magic - Scholastic Analysis of Magic and Necromancy in the Middle Ages
Necromancy - How to Read a Historical Book of Magic / Necromancy - Reading a Real Necronomicon

What Is Animism?
Animism: From "Primitivism" to Awareness
Talismans In Animism
Animistic Model Applied to Magic
Animism: Vital Force, Witchcraft, Soul & Spirit
Animism: The Ancestors & The Others

Folklore Thursday
Wikisource Portal:Folklore
Wikisource Portal:Folk Literature

English Fairy Tales by Flora Annie Webster Steel
English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs
More English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs and John Dickson Batten
Legends & Romances of Brittany by Lewis Spence
North Cornwall Fairies and Legends by Enys Tregarthen
British Goblins: Welsh Folk-lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions by Sikes
Folk-Lore of West and Mid-Wales by Jonathan Ceredig Davies Welsh Fairy Tales by William Elliot Griffis
Tales of King Arthur and the Round Table, Adapted from the Book of Romance by Lang et al.
The Scottish Fairy Book by Elizabeth W. Grierson
Irish Fairy Tales by James Stephens
Irish Fairy Tales by W. B. Yeats and Jack B. Yeats
Irish Wonders by D. R. McAnally
Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland, First Series by Yeats and Gregory
Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland, Second Series by Yeats and Gregory
West Irish Folk-Tales and Romances by William Larminie
Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry by W. B. Yeats
Legendary Heroes of Ireland by Harold F. Hughes
Beside the Fire: A collection of Irish Gaelic folk stories by Nutt and Hyde
Fairies and Folk of Ireland by William Henry Frost
Folk Tales of Breffny by Bampton Hunt
Celtic Folk and Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs and John Dickson Batten
Celtic Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs
More Celtic Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs and John Dickson Batten
Celtic Folklore: Welsh and Manx (Volume 1 of 2) by Sir John Rhys
Celtic Folklore: Welsh and Manx (Volume 2 of 2) by Sir John Rhys
Celtic Tales, Told to the Children by Louey Chisholm
Manx Fairy Tales by Sophia Morrison
East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales from the North by Asbjørnsen et al.
Dutch Fairy Tales for Young Folks by William Elliot Griffis
Legends of the Rhine by Wilhelm Ruland
Serbian Folk-lore by W. Denton and Elodie Lawton Mijatovich
The Golden Maiden, and other folk tales and fairy stories told in Armenia
Armenian Legends and Festivals by Louis A. Boettiger
Fairy Tales of the Slav Peasants and Herdsmen by Alexander Chodzko
Sixty Folk-Tales from Exclusively Slavonic Sources by Albert Henry Wratislaw
Cossack Fairy Tales and Folk Tales by Noel L. Nisbet and R. Nisbet Bain
The Russian Grandmother's Wonder Tales by Houghton and Krauss
Myths and Folk-tales of the Russians, Western Slavs, and Magyars by Jeremiah Curtin
Polish Fairy Tales by A. J. Gliński
Mighty Mikko: A Book of Finnish Fairy Tales and Folk Tales by Parker Fillmore
The Fairy Mythology by Thomas Keightley
Roman Legends: A collection of the fables and folk-lore of Rome by Busk

Back to Worldbuilding
Go to a random page!