Zen and The Art of Spellcraft Physical / Metaphysical Law in Dread Romantic | World Anvil

Zen and The Art of Spellcraft

"Explain these rules like I'm five…"
Early Birds
Paradigm Shift
Passive Magic
Practical Magic
Here's the gist: spellwork isn't an art or a science. Magic makes no sense and does whatever the hell it once. What it wants can change, and as such, the entire nature of spellwork can change with it. That being said, there do seem to be some ground rules.  
  • First, magic is heavily influenced by people. The more people there are who use magic, the more chaotic and ever changing it is. Not only that, but magic is influenced by belief, whether you can use magic or not.
  • Second, It's almost alive, or at least it seems to be. It doesn't want to be understood. The more you understand magic, the more complicated it is both to use and to further that understanding. This is a bit of a problem, as one needs to have at least some understanding of what magic is to use it in the first place.
  • Magic doesn't like spontaneity. Whatever image of witches and wizards with wands and fireballs you have in your head, get rid of them. What we call "active casting" is never a good idea, even as a last resort. It never ends well for the caster.
  1. Finally, magic cannot be used to cause direct harm. Magic can never be used to render a living thing less than whole. Do No Harm. This rule has had the most impact by far.
"Any questions? "
Magic is a toddler
  • Magic is a people pleaser. Lots of people means lots of noise and lots of rules to follow. It can't make everyone happy, but It tries. That means magic changes more when lots of people use it. Magic also cares about what others think. The more people that share the same belief or idea, the more real it becomes. We call it Typecasting.
  • Now, magic doesn't like following our rules, either. It wants to play, so It makes its own rules up as it goes and sometimes forgets rules it's already made. Magic is also super shy and doesn't like being studied or watched by those who want to understand it. If you try, it changes its own rules so what you learn about it is wrong or incomplete. It switches costumes every time someone gets a good look at it.
  • Magic is also a good little boy… girl? Oh, shit… uh. Them? Magic goes to bed on time and eats its vegetables. The last thing it wants is to hurt anyone. It certainly doesn't wanna be the reason someone gets hurt as well. We all make mistakes, though. Sometimes it forgets to pick up the legos and legos are good at finding feet.
  • And finally, since magic doesn't like following the rules, it has to be sneaky and tricky about breaking them. It doesn't want trouble. When someone forces magic to do what they want and do it right now, it gets upset. Magic has to rewrite the rules just to exist. When it has to do this instantly, it makes mistakes. It rewrites rules that shouldn't be changed. These mistakes will kill you…

"How does one learn magic?"

Ideally, you don't. Most magic is pure instinct half the time. The other half is simple math. Trust your gut and you'll be surprised how right you are.   With a little effort and some careful, and I do mean VERY CAREFUL study, you fill in the blanks. It doesn't take years to learn magic. It takes years to find the right balance of knowing and not knowing.   Like, don't misunderstand me. It isn't that magic is beyond our tiny human brains ability to comprehend. In fact, studying is usually stupid easy. That's what I mean by "careful study." You have to know what questions to ask, and what is best left unanswered. It's a hard line to walk and eventually, you could shut down your ability to use magic all together.
    The more you study the more you know. Some choose to focus on their strengths. They specialize, learning so much that all other avenues are closed off to them. Specializing in enchantment means you can never cast a hex again, but your enchantments are some of the best one could make if you're willing to go through all the complexity around it. It's a hard choice. Should I specialize or diversify? Do I want to know, or should I block it out?
"What did you choose?"
I didn't have to choose. If I had too, I would have chosen to diversify. I don't like limits. Among enchanters, I'm the best alchemist. Among alchemists, I'm the best enchanter. Every time you understand more, magic changes for you. New steps and ingredients are added or removed, new rules begin to apply, or old rules simply disappear altogether.
I'm not a fan.
"You didn't have to choose?"

The E-witch

We need a little backstory on this one. Back before, you know, the end of the world, the internet was a thing. Numerous places on the net had pockets of new agers offering to align your chakras or do a tarot reading for a small donation. These e-witches were the first to notice their spellwork getting more potent than usual, even those who were totally faking it started experiencing some weird shit.   Didn't matter how much you shuffled. It was always the same cards. Every spell cast would work a little too well. We started hearing things, seeing things. Hell the only reason the government and corporations managed to hold out as long as they did was because of early enchantments that could automate what the people just stopped showing up to do.   By the time the world officially ended, magic was no longer a religion. It was a fact of life. Those of us who are still around from those early days are arguably the most capable if not the strongest of the touched. E-witches are exempt from some of the rules others have to follow.

The Early Bird Effect

When magic first appeared, those of us already using it got a free pass. During this time, magic was still adjusting, unsure of how it intended to manifest and engage with reality. It shows up differently in each of us, but any among the touched from that time becomes a wildcard.   In my case, I can learn and teach magic with no consequences. Magic is static for me. It never changes so long as I'm involved. I can teach others, and others can teach me. If I'm receptive to it, I can do what they do.   I've heard of others like myself, and more. I heard a rumor from what used to be Canada, for example. People talk about touched who can actually kill with their magic.

Paradigm shift

Magic changed the face of the apocalypse. I grew up on mad max and zombie movies. That's what I was expecting, not a calm and peaceful place with plenty to go around. How did this happen? Magic.   Not counting the chromatic rain, the weird shit in the sky, or the hungry rainbows, magic is the main reason no one wants to start shit. "But wait," I hear you say, "I thought magic can't be used instantly. What can it do when faced with a gun?"   I did say that. I also said it cannot be the direct cause of harm. Remember the Legos? There are loopholes. The problem with having a gun is, once upon a time, everyone had a gun. It was the end of the world. It's something that can be predicted.

Passive magic

The first, largest, and most diverse type of magic is called passive or "preemptive magic." It's just like it says on the tin. It's magic you cast before you need it. Defensive wards, curses, enchantments, and more fall under this category. Preemptive magic is magic in its purest form.   The idea is as follows: there's a problem I might or most certainly will have to handle in the future, a single occurrence; a worst case scenario… Let's say, someone is shooting a gun at me. It's very specific. Not a bow at my brother, not a rock at my crows… a gun at me. Consider this problem. How can one prevent this from being an issue?   To handle that problem, I can use a wide variety of magical principles. I can set up wards that alter a bullet's velocity and trajectory, cast a curse that will target any firearm that comes anywhere near me and force them to misfire, or enchant my house to be bullet proof. Specific problems = specific solutions. It's all about solving the problem before it's a problem.

Practical magic

This form of magic is very down to earth. Preemptive magic is very defensive and more about protection and planning. Practical magic is any magic that focuses on constant needs. Instead of preemptively setting up responses to potential events, you're actively fulfilling a need through constant or repetitive systems and loops. This makes practical magic just that, solutions to more practical problems.   Example: We straight up ruined the earth. Summers are hot, dangerously so with no A/C in some places. We spell workers managed a few different ways of achieving the same effect of air conditioning. Imagine a dishwasher that actually washes your dishes perfectly every time. Need a fire? Make a fire rock. Need a mode of transportation? Make a walking island… thing.   We can create systems and patterns with magic so long as they account for whatever major laws of reality we break. If we don't, things get weird.


Magic doesn't really belong here. For magic to work, laws have to bend or break. We don't always get to choose what laws end up breaking. Imagine if all you want is to enchant a rock to eliminate heat, a cold stone. How does it do its job?   If you're not careful, you may end up with a rock that makes friction cease to exist in a one foot radius around it. Hilarious, yes but not exactly practical. Once you establish how, it's usually a simple matter of working out the kinks and building upon it. Learn from mistakes and fine tune your idea until it's exactly the way you want it. Know your limits though.   Energy is rarely a factor. For whatever reason, spells tend to power themselves once they're completed but the process of getting there can be exhausting. Not just physically either. It's mentally and emotionally exhausting. Dread Romantic took over a year to make. There were so many variables to consider, and even after that time, it still doesn't walk the way I want it to.

"You mentioned Typecasting"

Ah… the elephant in the room. Typecasting is complicated. You know how every single movie with a single native american character depicts them as wise, folksy teachers or the holders of old mystical truths? Yeah. The reason you know what I'm talking about is the same reason magic makes it true.   If enough people have a collective image in their heads about what something is, was, could be, or should be, magic tends to make it true. It's why, whether it was real before or not, e-witches ended up getting the first dose of magic. That's what "real magic" was supposed to be.   It's not just natives and e-witches, either. All the touched suffer from typecasting in some form. My potions require me to use the blood of my enemies simply because I'm Scandinavian…ish.  
Mavis holds out a hand. "Wait... you use your own blood…"
Exactly! Well done.

Principles of magic



A ward is a symbol used in preemptive magic that usually affects an area. It's meant to prevent undesired outcomes. The classic example is a ward stone, a rock with a symbol on it.   You can use this on your person to walk through fire or breathe underwater. You can use it as a shield, like I did for Dread Romantic to help with the rainbows. It's one of the simplest things to do, but it's a one trick pony. The moment a way around it is discovered, it's back to the drawing board. The symbols used are subjective, with everyone having their own reasons for the symbols they use.   How you place them is irrelevant. A stone is just portable. You can carve it in wood, paint it on the ground, or whatever. It's permanent too. Even if you wash off the paint or burn the wood, the ward still functions. Wards create pockets in reality where magic can slip through. The symbol just creates it and, after that, makes it easy to spot.

Side note

One of the reasons people don't carry weapons anymore is due to the early touched traveling across the U.S. for protection, they often placed wards to protect against weapons, then erased them without knowing how permanent they were.   This led to invisible wards that no one knows about unless they happen to be able to see auras. They're everywhere. If you have a gun, there's pretty much a 50/50 chance the bullet you fire will hit you instead of your target or your big knife just disintegrates before your eyes. It makes raiding a lot more hazardous.   The best part is most of us never really stopped doing this. I place wards religiously everywhere I go. Because of this, no one bothers with weapons and wouldn't even if there wasn't plenty to go around. And before you ask, yes… we did it on purpose.


A hex is less of a reaction and more of a sneaky trap. Hexes are prepped, cast on oneself and then linger for a time, waiting for someone to trigger them. It could be a phrase, a hand gesture, anything, but it's the caster who triggers it. It's not safe otherwise. Hexes are best explained with words I've come to live by: Do no harm and take no shit.   You can't cause direct harm so no maiming or killing, but you don't have to hurt to cause some chaos. The Roundabout is a classic hex I'm fond of and it makes for some wholesome fun. Once cast, if I say, "you're welcome has been revoked" anywhere within about 50 yards of Dread Romantic, the curse triggers. If someone attempts to enter that 50 yard radius, they immediately find themselves on the exact opposite end of that radius.   Hexes are triggered events, punishments. Set your boundaries and if given shit, trigger the hex. They're one time use for every time you cast them and semi-permanent, lasting until you trigger a dispel… you did set up a way to reverse it, right?


Curses are more permanent forms of Hexes that are never a reaction but rather create an effect when conditions are met A good curse will last forever if the conditions are continually being met. It has more wiggle room but you won't be casting these on the fly. You still can't directly harm but some indirect harm can be easily achieved. They're awfully specific though.     Example: I dated a guy after the fall. It was a few short months but he cheated. Like I said… take no shit. I made it where he couldn't get it up in his room unless he wore socks during the big event. It works because any other time in any other place he was fine. I did not take away from the whole, I created a condition. Wear socks, get laid in your bed.   You can get away with a lot, but curses are hard to get rid of, even if you're the one who casts it. There's no trigger or dispel. It takes something more real to get rid of and it's never clear what that may be. In the example above, a viagra pill could do the trick for all I know. Just be careful with these.


An enchantment is a specific effect that one wishes to achieve at all given points in time. They're like math problems and take the most amount of time to cast but are also permanent so long as the enchantment exists.   Dread Romantic is an enchanted land mass. To make it happen, I and to actively consider the way such a thing would behave under the pressure of physics. I had to get an idea of its weight, speed, manner of movement, etc before I could even begin actually making it happen. Now that all the math is done, fine tuning it is easy, but I wasn't lying about how long it took.   It's a blend of science and magic in many ways, where anything is possible if you can figure out how to get magic and science to work together. You have to know a little about what you're dealing with though.


Potions are the most powerful form of magic we have. A potion can do anything and do it quickly. This is because its magical nature is contained in a more physical medium.   A potion can only do one thing, but they can do it really well. They can cure a specific disease, heal a specific kind of wound, etc.   A good potion only needs to be made but it does have a shelf life. The more potent the potion, the less shelf life it has. Potions tend to smell rotten when they spoil, but at least they make it obvious.

Contracts and oaths

My favorite. Magical oaths are sneaky, require no prep time, and last as long as the contract is in place. They are great, but hard to pull off, usually because someone involved is probably getting less than the other.   Be careful talking to the touched. A promise is binding to us. If we make a deal, you will be physically unable to break it. This is particularly good if you can trick someone into it, and all you need is intent.   A normal person has no say in what the conditions are or what is actually meant in the terms of the contract. Even other touched can falter when it comes to making your intentions known. Best avoid words such as deal, agreed, or anything that implies an exchange…
"What does this have to do with Miss Wyatt?" Nancy asks.   Olive's words catch in her throat but she does manage to force them out, "I have no idea. I'd need time to study it and see it in action. That's time we don't have. Can't kill with magic, though."   "Is it possible she can kill, like the rumors you mentioned." When Olive shrugs the judge groans. "Would you have a better answer if you had the time?"   Olive nods. "Naturally." She nesltes down into the seat next to Toby.   Nancy studies the group for a moment before speaking. "The murder is one thing, but other laws were allegedly broken. I'll give you three days. All developments and evidence must be made available to all parties. Miss Wyatt is to be in her cell every night by sundown."   "How about in our care?" Mavis asks. "It could be possible some of her gifts only manifest at night."   "Agreed."   Olive's draw drops, a display that went unnoticed. She whispers in Toby's direction, "Someone wasn't listening..."  


Huge shout out to Stormbril for his forbidden CSS wisdom! Would not have been able to do this without his advice. Backgrounds by Rawpixel and coolvector on Freepik

If you want block links, send me a message. If you can't see the like and follow button's and still want to like and follow, look yonder. Thanks for reading!
Like / Follow   Next Article: Strays

Zen and the art of Spellcraft

Jam Another Dragon Down A Hole...


Please Login in order to comment!
Jul 14, 2023 14:13

This is brilliant. I absolutely love this magic system, and I'm so impressed at how much you have thought it through. I'm very curious about who wasn't listening, though!!!

Jul 14, 2023 15:07 by R. Dylon Elder

Ohhh thanks so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it. Tried to make it at least somewhat unique and not just wacky.   As to the not listening part. That be Nancy. Normies gotta avoid that affirmation language. It gets you into trouble. Lol

Jul 14, 2023 17:23

Oh, my, I totally fell for it! Dang. Welp, guess Nancy just made a deal :-)

Jul 15, 2023 01:11 by Dr Emily Vair-Turnbull

Silly silly judge.   I love the bit about how Olive cursed her ex.   You've put so much thought into this magic system, I love it <3

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
Jul 17, 2023 10:28 by Catoblepon

This is such an amazing and interesting way of dropping a magic system on your readers. I love it

Visit Daeliha, Iphars, Khulgran & Shattered
Love to code, but this one is driving me crazy!
My world Shattered won as the "Most ground-breaking premise new world"!
Powered by World Anvil