5 Ways Magic Can Shape the Environment of Your Fantasy World

By C. R. Rowenson

What’s up storytellers? Now that the Deck of Worlds Kickstarter campaign is all wrapped up, I’ve been thinking a lot about worldbuilding. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about how we design the settings and environment our stories take place in.

Lots of information and planning can go into the simplest details. Do you want your characters to have a desperate and exhausting desert adventure? Start by asking yourself a couple questions:

  • Is it at a specific latitude? 
  • Are there mountains in the distance creating a rainshadow? 
  • Is the soil simply incapable of retaining enough water to support life? 

You can come up with all kinds of good answers, but there’s one tool for addressing these environmental questions that is often forgotten. The tool I’m talking about is your magic system.

Everything we change in our fictional worlds has at least some impact on everything else. So of course the magic can have a direct impact on the environment around it. With this in mind, we’re going to take a look at five different ways we can use magic to shape or connect to the environment of our fictional worlds.

Note: All examples in this post were generated using The Story Engine

(Draw 1 Anchor card and 2 Aspect cards)

Photo by Yousef Espanioly

Magical Creatures

Adding extraordinary creatures into our worlds is the most obvious, and often the easiest, addition we can make. The moment such a plant or animal appears in the setting, everything starts to feel different and magical, but there’s more to it than that.

The types and density of the animal populations actually has a significant, measurable impact on the terrain around them. This ecological process is called a trophic cascade. A great example of this type of impact happened when wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995. There’s a terrific video that covers the concept, but I’ll try to sum it up here.

Once released, the wolves began hunting certain prey animals, thereby decreasing the prey population. In response, the prey animals changed how and where they fed, traveled, and ate to avoid predation. This in turn caused plant life to increase or decrease in density, which shaped the path of rivers and flow of rainwater. Simply put, the addition of wolves to the park changed the environment itself. The same kind of trophic cascades will happen when we introduce magical creatures into the setting. 

Examples generated using The Story Engine:

  • Predatory fish using magic to charm and lure unsuspecting animals into the water. 
  • Trees with poisonous fruit that turned all who ate them into undead guardians 
  • Magical sloths that cause rapid growth and unseasonal blooming in their wake.

Magical Locations

One of the more blatant changes we can make as worldbuilders is to control how material in the world behaves and if any of our natural laws still apply. Magic locations, whether they’re specific landmarks, constructed locations, or the general presence of magic can cause indirect changes and shifts in the world around them like the magical creatures before them.

Examples generated using The Story Engine:

  • Ocean waves in a specific region that restore the coast rather than eroding it 
  • A mountain that terrifies all living creatures on its slopes to prevent them from leaving
  • A cave that magically disappears during the night, allowing travelers and creatures to rest safely.

Magical Weather

Magical weather, similar to magical locations, can serve as major or minor events. Depending on the nature of the weather, such occurrences could easily reshape the land and alter what lives there. At the very least, it will impact any stories unfolding in the area and change what animals and people need to do to survive.

Examples generated using The Story Engine:

  • A hailstorm of burning embers
  • An enveloping fog that makes everything in it completely weightless
  • A lightning storm that imbues anything it strikes with powerful magical properties

Photo by Johannes Plenio

Magical Disasters

We have magical events varying in intensity, so what happens if we crank them all the way up to eleven? A magical disaster, naturally. We have magical events that can create massive and disruptive changes in the world around them. After drawing Anchor and Aspect cards, I came up with some crazy disasters.

Examples generated using The Story Engine:

  • A magical drought making it more difficult to perform magic with each passing day 
  • A magically enhanced rockslide where boulders float like feathers and pebbles fly like cannonballs
  • A gargantuan tidal wave that permanently transmutes all other solid matter into liquid and all liquids into solids 

This last one is my favorite. Imagine if this swept over a town. Buildings, roads, and vehicles are all gone. All you’d be left with is a crystalline labyrinth that was the water and sewage lines and intricate statues of human vascular systems frozen in place for eternity. So creepy and so good!

Magical Pollution

In this day and age, it’s become fairly clear the massive ramifications pollution can have on the world around it. Landforms are changed, floating islands of garbage are formed, species are mutated, habitats are destroyed, and creatures driven to extinction. Take all of that and add magic into the mix and you’ve got some interesting times ahead. Not necessarily good times, but they will be interesting.

It’s worth noting that pollution doesn’t just have to come from people. As animal populations boom, various forms of waste can pollute their surroundings as surely as any chemical plant.In a fictional setting, such pollution will come from an excess of magical materials or energy in an area leading to a cascade of environmental problems.

Examples generated using The Story Engine:

  • A cemetery stuffed with magically-embalmed bodies causing the wind and trees to whisper the secrets of the dead
  • Magic industrial runoff that temporarily allows plants and animals to move and grow through walls and other solid matter
  • Thick smog that causes spells, regardless of type, to randomly erupt into a violent explosion

That’s All for Now

Hopefully you’ve got some new ideas to think over, and all of this is only looking at the environment. Imagine what magic must do to culture, conflict, and even language. When we change one thing in our world, we change everything, and magic is one big thing to change. It’s important for us to consider the repercussions.

At the same time, don’t let it overwhelm you. Use this to spark your creativity not to drown yourself in options. To that end, I’ve got just the thing to help you.

It’s a magic-building tool I developed called The Magic System Blueprint. The Magic System Blueprint is designed to quickly give you a holistic understanding of any magic system imaginable. The book is scheduled to release in November of 2021 and my crowdfunding campaign for it started earlier this week.

There are a variety of backer tiers offering a wide spread of rewards. In fact, I’ve created a secret Story Engine Lovers tier, which contains everything from the Adept Arcanist tier with an additional 15% discount. 

I hope to see you during the campaign, but if you’re reading this after it has closed or if you just want to learn more about planning, crafting, and repairing magic systems, head over to my website or my youtube channel where I talk all about magic systems all the time.

Now keep writing, don’t panic, and stay awesome. Rowenson out.

C.R. Rowenson is an author, chemist, and engineer who helps authors design and build marvelous magic systems for their fiction. Find him at crrowenson.com or on Twitter.


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