Rule Magic, to borrow a term (and it's definition) from the TV Tropes Wiki, refers to magic where some underlaying magical rule system is applied, as in manipulation by True Name or sympathetic symbolism. Most "study spells and say words of power" magic seen in fantasy literature, films, TV shows, and RPGs are Rule Magic.
- Real-world examples would include Hermeticism, Kabbalah, and Onmyodo.
- Vancian Magic is a completely fictional example, and was the basis of oldschool D&D magic-users.
- Magic Music: Another form of rule magic where music is the key to activating it. Used in settings where bards or sirens have magical abilities. As one might guess, it is rarely used to be outright offensive and tends to focus more on healing friends and befuddling or beguiling enemies.
Rule Magic is defined by it's Magical Practices and Laws of Magic. If you do certain specific things, follow the formulas closely, you can get magical effects out of it. While some students may show more talent than others, the fact this form of magic has self-consistent and learn-able rules means technically anyone can learn magic. The rules of magic are by definition arcane, eldritch, and esoteric, so it's very much a form of technical knowledge, and may take years of study to do anything the least bit impressive.
However, it may also be possible for someone to learn just a handful of spells, and not really know the larger theories that underpin them. This is akin to how the average modern person in the real world might know how to change a flat, top off or change their fluids, and keep the car running under normal circumstances, but couldn't build a combustion engine from scratch. For the hard stuff, you go to a mechanic.
Common trappings of Rule Magic include the Wizard's Laboratory, and the Spell Book. It's likely a spell-caster in this vein will fit the Wizard archetype, though Mad Scientist or The Professor are possibilities, as well.
Game and Story Use
- One of the big benefits of this style of magic for an RPG is that anyone can pick up a few useful minor spells, but it takes years of study to wield the big guns. In other words, anyone can play, but there's still the character niche of being a specialist or "our main wizard".
- This "anyone can dabble" nature can be used to make the acquisition or discover of a spell into a plot device, like the various banishment spells in Call of Cthulhu.