Help me flesh out this idea

Hi everyone,

I generally have really cool concepts for magic systems/ worlds pop into my head every so often. These ideas usually get stuck at the concept stage because no plot ideas accompany them. I thought I'd post one up and see if anyone could help me flesh it out.

The concept is this:

In the world of Obeir, anyone can become a mage - all you have to do is sign away your free will.

In signing a Contract, you become unable to disobey your Master's Commands; if your Master Commands you to something physically impossible, you will use magic to get it done.

Historically, Masters have abused their Contractees for wealth, power, and immortality. Unsurprisingly, very few people are willing to sign Contracts, and Contracts are almost always made between siblings.

The conversion from regular human to ever-more-powerful mage is a gradual thing. Every time a Contractee is Commanded to do something outside their current abilities, those abilities extend - with excruciating pain to the Contractee. If the Command is too far outside the Contractee's abilities, the Contractee dies in agony.

On the very, very rare occasions that a Master dies, the Contractee is free and retains whatever powers they have, but cannot become more powerful.

Aaand... that's it. I have no idea what to do with this world I invented.

You need yourself some of that sweet conflict. Since contracts are often established between siblings, maybe you can establish different bloodlines where there are different rules on which siblings gain power which creates conflict between the siblings in that family.

Maybe one character could be a guy whose brother made a contract with him before he died so that he could survive without him.

Just food for thought

You'll have to figure out if your main character is going to be a Master or a Contractee, I think. Presumably, you'd want to use a Master (since the Mage literally does not have free will or personal agency), but that's just me spitballing.

Yeah I think the most interesting story would be about a Contractee whose Master has died, but I still don't know what the conflict would be.

A mage who retained the ability to give himself commands (identical twins, maybe?) Would be neat.

Two desperate people who have been wronged greviously by some tyrant make a deal to become Master and Contractee in order to gain enough power to defeat said tyrant (or some other objective). The one who is to become the Master is considerably older than the Contractee, and swears an oath that they will not try to extend their natural life by magic so the contractee will eventually gain his/her freedom back, and will always keep the Contractee's wellbeing in mind as much as possible as they build up their powers gradually and in secret. Maybe they have to keep their Master/Contractee status secret as well in order not to alert the Big Bad. Of course, as time goes on the Master will be tempted to go back on their oath and deviate from the original plan.

What barriers are there to prevent massive abuse of the system? Can anyone become a "master"? I mean, there's some pretty obvious class-based allegories asking to be used, as well as issues regarding slavery and servitude.

Why is it "very rare" that masters die? How do they achieve immortality just through having magical slaves? Do they drain their life force or something (another potential allegory)? And how many of these contracts can they have at any one time?

How did such a system even come about, and where is it going? Do you want a story that supports enforced servitude, or condemns it?

@Fiona: hehe when in doubt, put in a tyrant to overthrow. I suppose I could have a really evil and old Master and they have to figure out how to kill him by cleverly getting around whatever Commands he's given that preserve his immortality.


Absolutely nothing prevents abuse. Anyone can sign a Contract. Two people simply have to agree on who is going to be Master and who is going to be Contractee and then sign.

A Master gains immortality by telling their Contractee "stop me from aging" and "don't let me die". This is a not-inconsiderable expenditure of power, so can only be done after a certain period of power-building.

Theoretically, nothing stops a Master from having several Contractees, but they really only need one, as it's better to have a more powerful Contractee than two weak ones. People can't work together and pool magic.

This is simply how magic works in this world. I don't have a genesis story for it. Fantasy stories don't generally explain how magic comes about. It would be like explaining why there is strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force, electromagnetism, and gravity in our universe.

Honestly, I don't think this story would be about slavery at all. It's an exploration of trust and power. What would you do if you had unlimited power? Who would you trust to have absolute power over you?

So, what's to stop two people agreeing to, say, bring down the whole system by having one become a master and tell the other "kill all the other masters, so I am the only one with this power"?

More ominously for your story conceit:

Person A: Becomes Genie

Person B: I have an ounce of humanity, so here are some wishes:

1: No one suffers pain unless they feel like it.

2: Everyone gets a tiny bit smarter every year.

3: Etc.

Like, a world that has genies in it is either doomed in a few days ("I wish for you to change the air to anti-matter!) or rapidly gets to look nothing like our world, as it is inhabited exclusively by Masters who are enhanced by the physics defying magic.

If I were you I'd nail down exactly what the limits on a servant's power are, what happens when they come into conflict, etc. Basically fill in the edges on the Power part of the Power For Free Will bargain.

master or contractor is too obvious.

you need characters you care about. two best friends and a lover of one friend. the friend who does not have a lover has a birthright, should be king, defeat an evil, something classic. The best friend is determined to help any way possible, and the lover, who also is fond of the birthright friend, aggrees to help.

The friend and lover decide to enter a contract (and you've GOT to put some kind of difficulty on that. tricking people is too easy. ) with the friend as master and lover as contractor.

Only hte friend cant stand the idea, and screws with the contract before signing, so that the lover is actually the master. the lover now finds themselves with power, and has a struggle between doing what was agreed upon to help the birthright friend, and protecting the person they love.

ohh, and the birthright friend should be the POV character, so we see both master and contractor from the outside.

I was thinking something along the lines of a landed gentry who force people into these contracts and abuse the privilege to keep themselves in power. Have one of these lords take a fancy to a young boy/girl and force them into a contract against their will. Then have a friend/lover/sibling determined to get them back, despite the odds. Later, throw in a twist when it turns out these masters are themselves slaves to another, or have the heroic overthrowing of power go horribly wrong because the public prefer being told what to do over personal freedom, leading to the question of whether a classless society can ever truly exist.

I know you said you're not going for a slavery angle, but you can't really avoid it when the plot hinges on people surrendering their free will to a "master".

If you really want to go with having master/servant protagonists, though, you'll need to limit those powers - and explain how and why people become masters.

What if there can only be a certain number of them at a time? If the privilege is some kind of gift that they can pass on when they die? Or, indeed, passes on to the person nearest them when they die. This means you can have a protagonist who inherits the power against their will - they were in the wrong place at the wrong time - and now has to deal with those who want it for themselves trying to off them. This would also give a purpose to the servant: their job being to protect their master, to ensure the privilege doesn't fall into the wrong hands. Extra conflict ensues because the master doesn't even want the responsibility in the first place - and add some irony by making their servant the assertive one.

@Dary: Like I said before, if a Command is outside of a Contractee's powers, he/she will die. If you Command "kill all the other Masters", the Contractee's power goes up against all of the other Contractees who have been Commanded to keep their Masters alive. They will almost certainly lose unless they are by far the oldest and strongest, but of course, way before someone gets to that point, all of the others will plot to get rid of them.

Also, I think this magic system comes with the obvious consequence of eliminating noble bloodlines. If people are more oppressed, they are more willing to risk everything and enter Contracts. In a world where anybody can gain enough power to matter, money and power will speak way more than inheritance.

@Walter: same thing. There's not enough power in the entire world to erase pain and suffering.

@Alexander: Hell no with the birthright. That crap is outdated, not classic. Meritocracy ftw.

For a given definition of "erase pain and suffering," sure. There's really nothing stopping a serial killing Master from executing sick people en masse via something technically within his Contractee's skillset. "Create a flu." "Create a flu stronger than the last one you made." And so on.


Well, that's an idea. It might be fun to do a war between Masters and see who's most clever at giving Commands that are effective but don't require too much magic. I should probably come up with a way to rate the difficulty of Commands. Something about energy requirements and fighting entropy probably.

Yeah, probably. The system as written is incredibly easy to game.

I was thinking about this the other day, actually. You could give a Contractee some seemingly impossible command, which he expects to cause immediate and painful death, only for him to find out that it's technically possible. And then have him use his limited magic in increasingly creative ways to accomplish his goal.

The thing is, I don't see any Master being willing to kill his/her Contractee by issuing a command that seems impossible. Hmm, maybe a scientist Master that loves doing experiments and figures out the most efficient Commands.

I'm just reminded of a Twilight Zone episode. Not original Twilight Zone, though. "I, of Newton," from the 80s Twilight Zone. I'd rather not spoil it, and it's relatively short, so I recommend watching it. That, or you can choose to read how it goes.