Star-Fired Beef

The (Meta?)Physics of Magic (Blaugust Day 13)


Have you ever sat back and wondered about how magic actually works, in your universe of choice?

There are some spells or types of magic that we accept, but never really think about the implications of the way they work. Some effects may work sensibly enough in certain applications, but raise questions about other uses or situations. Let’s just go through a few I can think of. Note, this post contains no answers, just questions.


The mechanics of the Cloak of Invisibility from Harry Potter is straightforward enough: anything covered by the material is invisible. But how do invisibility spells or potions work? Does it apply to your body alone? Anything in contact with it? Does that mean you can pick something up and it becomes invisible? Is it a field (kind of like an electromagnetic field) around you, that covers your clothes and personal items – but what if you have a 10′ pole? Does it actually divert light around you? In that case, can infrared sight still see you? Or does it work by affecting the mind of any observer, just kind of erasing you from their visual processing? If you took a photo, would it show the invisible person/thing?

Healing magic

It seems like healing magic suffers from a major inconsistency – often, there are grave wounds that take many healers a great deal of time to mend (think Archdruid Hamuul in WoW’s Cataclysm), yet we also often see combat healers throwing out instant-mending spells in the thick of battle. So how does it work? Does healing magic simply amplify and accelerate the body’s natural healing abilities? Does it repair the damage itself? Does it take time, or is the patient just instantly restored? Does it tax the body at all? Do different types of magic (natural, divine, etc) work in different ways?


How long does it take? Is it a long, drawn-out, painful process, or a flashbang-woah-now-I’m-a-wolf kind of process? Where do clothes go? Items? Do you retain consistent mass (assuming you are changing into something way different, e.g. human-owl)? If changing into an animal, can you understand that animal’s communications now? Can you still talk in (human) language, as much as your mouth parts allow? 

Creature summons

Do you teleport a creature to your location, or does the spell simply create a new creature, fully formed? Can you choose where you get the creature from? Do you have to know what it looks like? Where does it go when the spell ends? If you use the same spell often, do you get the same e.g. bear, or a different one each time? Does it remember you?


Much like invisibility, is it a thing that exists independently (like a hologram), or is it all in the mind of the sensor? Can it be recorded – photo, video, etc?


Are they like wormholes (I’ve watched too much Stargate, can you tell?)? Do they need anchors? Do you maintain velocity through a portal? Can you stick your head through to check out what’s on the other side before going all the way? Can two people on either end of the portal hold onto the same object? Can they close while someone or something is travelling through? Where does that send the person/object?

Any other aspects of magic you have wondered about?

Marcy Playground – Cloak of Elvenkind



5 thoughts on “The (Meta?)Physics of Magic (Blaugust Day 13)

  1. This is why most non-High Fantasy magic systems ultimately don’t work for me. At least in those settings, I can suspend an expectation of scientific inquiry, but in the more modern settings, that’s almost impossible to do.

    • But even in high fantasy worlds, there are physical rules. And there are magical rules, too.

      • Sure, but perception is nine-tenths of reality (or something). It’s one thing to acknowledge that there are magic rules and physical rules, but so much of how we perceive things in turn changes the thing itself in our minds. In a high fantasy setting, people are more willing to accept things at their face value rather than dig deeper. Scientific inquiry is shaped just as much by superstition as it is by the science itself, especially with such a limited toolset.

  2. We-ell… if you want to ask the question “does [an invisibility spell/potion/cloak/device} divert light?”, the way you phrased it with the follow-up question “in that case, can infrared sight still see you?” shows that the question you really mean to be asking is “does it only divert light in the range of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to human eyes, and if so, can creatures that see in different ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum still see you?” Infrared is just another form of light, after all — it’s just one our human eyes don’t detect. And then we start going down the kind of rabbit holes that exemplify why trying to analyze magic from a scientific inquiry perspective rapidly gets frustrating 😉

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