Under the Fifth Sun
As noted in Character Archetypes, the sheer variation in different approaches to magic, and its use, varies a lot. There are a few common denominators, however:
- Magic is not 100% reliable. Even the simplest spell or effect, known by a practitioner as well as it can be known, is still subject to failure.
- Magic can be dangerous. Not all magicians encounter side-effects if they use (or fail to cast) a spell or effect, but it is not at all unusual for such to happen either.
- Magicians can all sense magical energies. It is about the only thing that is guaranteed to be common to all spell-casters
- Side note: even non-magicians who have the ability to use what might be magic, such as priests who can successfully petition for “divine intervention” in a magic-like fashion, can percieve the effect that they or others are setting in motion. This causes considerable discussion (if not argument) between different practitioners, since they cannot agree whether some divine favor or some magical ritual is ultimately what’s going on.
- Even some of the more outlandish steampunk-type gadgets may tap into magical (or divine, depending on one’s point of view) energies. None of the “normal” magicians or priests can quite fully understand how that is happening, though, and the creators of those perhaps-magical devices are not always aware of the energies they are using, which muddies the entire question all the more.
- Magicians all believe that they can generate magical effects. Whether their particular faith is in a diety, a set of forumlas or rituals, or some psuedo-scientific principle(s) is immaterial – they all have faith in the existence of magic (whatever they might call it).
- Magical effects are very rarely permanent, though the secondary effects of them may very well be. By way of example, no-one has yet demonstrated an ability to permanently call forth lightning to strike a specific spot, though it’s not unheard of for a practitioner to be able to call lightning from cloudless skies, etc. Anyone killed by one of those lightning bolts, however, is dead. Permanently (barring magic or advanced science sufficient to resurrect the dead).
Beyond those, however, there are few consistencies from effect to effect, caster to caster. Some magicians need only concentrate and expend energy. Others may require materials of some sort and “magic words” to achieve the exact same effect. Or perhaps the only requirements are belief in one’s own worthiness in the eyes of one or more gods or spirits, or whatever else.
To call magic “chaotic” is apropos, perhaps to the point of being cliché.