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Magic system/story idea.

Story is about a child with absurd levels of magical potential that is raised to lead her country to greatness and usher in a better life and so on. (i.e. the 8 glyphs game/story but with a different magic system this time.) What the child brings to the table is (1) the extremely rare ability to use all the glyphs, (2) real skill at programming (although there’s room here for the programmer to be a sidekick instead of the MC because:) and (3) real skill at selecting trustworthy, effective minions/staff. Possibly also (4) she realizes how to use the spirits to cover each other’s weaknesses (see below), but I’m kind of thinking that’s due to the Old Master that she meets that teaches her how to read the glyphs as programming.

This is very much a genius/hypercompetence story.

The key point about the magic system that the vast majority of magic users, let alone ordinary people, have no idea how the system works, they just cargo-cult.

For those few who do understand, magic is based on glyphs which encode concepts in a style very strongly reminiscent of programming, i.e. it requires intense concentration to understand, is easy to lose track of details, and a misplaced comma (or the moral equivalent thereof) will fuck shit up.

Most people can’t use or remember the glyphs; they are antimemetic. The higher the level of glyphs a person can remember and use, the higher their potential power. There are glyphs that are just straight-up “set the amount of power you’re using to 50%/2x/1000x higher than normal” instructions at various levels, so being able to use them all can open up absurd levels of power. Also, higher-level glyphs can encode more complex instructions.

The big difference between these glyphs and programming, however, is that the glyphs don’t do anything; they are instructions for spirits. Which is why you can have a glyph-set that boils down to “select as your target the person I’m pointing at”, and you don’t have to invent computer vision algorithms for that to work.

The spirits are broadly divided into categories. My current thoughts:

  • Good spirits/angels: interpret your instructions in a way beneficial to you (by what standard??), but low-power; maybe also can’t be used to hurt anybody? Possibly rather than “beneficial” it’s “anti-chaotic”.
  • Demons: interpret your instructions in a maximally destructive/chaotic way, but much higher power.
  • Nature spirits(?), in which each type are highly specialized in both what they can do and the weird ways in which they interpret your instructions. Example: Earth spirits can provide nearly arbitrary levels of defense, but will always interpret your instructions in the most “down” way possible. What does “down” mean if your instructions were ambiguous about distance of the effect? Who the fuck knows, but you’re about to find out!, aren’t you?
  • Hmm, maybe death/undeath spirits?
  • Spirits made from people? Like, having someone loyal enough to stay with you when they died could be very powerful maybe?

Possible nuance: How you treat the spirits has effects on their behaviour/power output/something (this might be particularly true of good spirits?), so that the MC ends up leaving angel-infused items in churches to make them happy and this pays off later (i.e. when big brother angel comes to free his enslaved brethren).

Glyphs have a various number of connections to other glyphs, in a visual programming language style.

Example glyph effects:

  • turn incoming energy into heat (i.e. the “fire element” glyph)
  • if connection 1 is true execute glyph set 2, else glyph set 3
  • project energy of the type specified by connection 1 towards the thing indicated by connection 2
  • select target as specified by connection 1

Example of how careful you have to be with demons: You make a glyph set that means “shoot a fireball at the last thing I pointed at with my left index finger while my pinky and index fingers were straight but the other fingers were curled”. The demon does this, but you never said when to stop. Everything seems fine, except that 2 weeks later it happens to be the case that your beloved is on a straight line between you and the dead body of the last thing you blasted with this power, and fwoosh, dead sweetheart. The demons are intelligent, cunning, malicious and patient.

One of the major innovations by the MC and/or her helpers is using the spirits together/against each other. Most mages use angels because it’s safe. Some use demons but they are considered evil or dangerous or both. The MC, instead, builds things like the “shoot a fireball at my target” above powered by a demon, which as you can see is absurdly dangerous, but then builds a second glyph set that means “cut off all power to this glyph set if you detect a high likelihood of an outcome I would find negative”, and powers that with an angel. Cutting off power to another glyph set is, obviously, a low power action, so this works beautifully and immediately ups her power by some absurd factor vs. her contemporaries (which of course means that absurdly powerful enemies have to come out of the woodwork to advance the story, which is just how I like it).

Story should include at least one serious debugging session fully described. :)