I’m not really sure what the system below is for, but it more or less came together all at once in my head while thinking about how comics tend to have very plot-devicey magic and how it would be cool to do something more consistent. So the frameworks include magic, psychic abilities, and superpowers. The major goal is to make the three types of effect have limited overlap. It also makes mind control really hard, because that’s generally more trouble than it’s worth in a supers game.
- Magic is an act of will: Creating a mystical effect requires the mage to imagine it completely and use this mental template to create a change in the world. This is often done by using ritual objects and chanted spells to more easily force the mind into quickly envisioning common effects. Many mages study languages invented for magic, where spell vocabulary that would be complex in conversational languages are much more efficiently spoken. A spell in a language the mage doesn’t understand is almost always useless. Envisioning new effects is mentally draining, but a mage can use well-remembered spells indefinitely.
- Magic requires sympathy: The more things are connected, the easier it is for a mage to channel magic through them. A mage has a much harder time throwing fire at a stranger across a room than igniting a nemesis via blood and a true name across the world. Forging symbolic links between the target and intention is essential to all magic.
- Magic moves energy: Mages cannot create or destroy energy. To throw lightning, a mage must have access to a significant source of electricity. However, due to sympathy, this energy doesn’t have to be on hand, just connected to the mage by a sympathetic link. Naturally occurring sympathetic “channels” link vast untapped wells of various forms of energy within the earth, and a mage with access to these ley lines can evoke significant power. Even a master mage cannot evoke significant effects without access to power (but such mages often know many different ways to find and channel power).
- Magic cannot invade another’s mind: Magic may not alter or divine the thoughts of another sapient being. However, mages can teach most such individuals to willingly project parts of their thoughts in a way that the mage can access (essentially visiting their dreams). Some mages develop ways to trick individuals into doing this to read their minds without them knowing, but even then nothing beyond surface thoughts can be accessed or adjusted.
- Magic cannot deliberately alter the wielder’s body: Despite the dreams of many a mage, it’s not possible to change the body of the mage. This is likely due to even the most minor of changes being invasive enough to break concentration or throw off the sympathy of the mage to him or herself. Magic can create the illusion of personal change. Sometimes magical backlash will alter the mage. The inherent use of magic often seems to extend the life and health of the mage within the human norm. Magic can alter the forms of others, but doing so requires very complicated rituals (as altering biology is an extremely complicated thing to envision).
- Magic cannot create or destroy mass: Magic can teleport matter in discrete chunks (beings or objects that are part of a sympathetic whole), but cannot create it from nothing nor eliminate it. Thus, magic cannot cause things to grow or shrink, and cannot remove part of a coherent being or object. Magic is very good at removing foreign objects that don’t share a sympathetic unity with their hosts. Magic can cause a target to slowly increase or decrease in mass by exchanging matter with the environment (e.g., eating or excreting for living beings).
- Magic is impermanent: Reality seeks to undo magic, leaving behind only what would make sense in a purely rational world. Damage dealt by flung energy remains, and objects or beings altered slowly and within the bounds of chemistry or biology may retain their changes. But pure magical constructs or significant physical changes revert quite quickly. A mage can weave a more complex spell (creating a more complete and robust visualization of the change) to make the effect last longer, but it will eventually expire. Through great effort, a mage can sometimes set up a persistent sympathetic bond to a source of power that will renew the magical effect, but breaking the bonds or exhausting the power source returns the magic to temporary status.
- Magic is learned: Magic is knowledge and training, won like any skill through dedication and practice. Some individuals seem to have more of a knack for it, just as some individuals have a knack for any other educational focus, but there are no humans “gifted” with a shortcut to power and none that cannot evoke magic if they successfully learn the discipline. If one puts in the time and effort, magic is available to all sapient beings, and is a learned skill like any other.
- Psionics are exhausting: Unlike magic and superpowers, psionic abilities seem to violate known physics: they can exert energy on the environment with no clear source. However, using them exhausts the wielder proportionate to the strength of the effect. Only time and relaxation can restore a psion’s ability to exert power.
- Psionics enhance perception: Many psionic abilities provide sensory information to the wielder without a clear chain. A psion can learn to read minds, interpret energy signals outside the normal spectrum obvious to humans, view remote locations, and even glimpse aspects of the past and future. In most cases, the psion can only detect, not influence: minds cannot be controlled, signals cannot be generated, locations cannot be teleported to, and time cannot be traveled.
- Psionics extend touch: Psions can move things with only the mind and a force beyond what their muscles can create using telekinesis. Many learn all kinds of interesting variations beyond simply lifting objects, such as defensive “force fields” and generating or halting sufficient friction to alter fire, heat, and even electricity (pyro, cryo, and electrokinesis). The range on these effects is always based on the wielder’s perception, but that is often greatly expanded by other psionic abilities. Creative psions can seem to violate the limits of their powers by applying telekinesis in precise ways.
- Psionics are part of sapience: Only sapient beings can gain psionic powers, and only a subset seem to have the gift. Rather than some kind of inherent limitation, these powers seem to be accessed by reaching a state of mind that is unique to the wielder. It remains uncertain whether all humans could gain these powers, but they appear in only a small fraction of the population. There are no individuals limited to only a minor talent, though some psions may not realize their starting insight can be further developed by training. If the psion’s mind was to change bodies, psionics would be retained.
- Psionics are all connected: Psions often cannot devote the time to become skilled in more than one aspect of psionic power, but no psion is limited in the choice of disciplines. A psion skilled in telekinesis could choose to develop his or her telepathy at any time, and vice versa.
- Superpowers store energy: Each individual with superpowers has a type of energy that his or her body will absorb and store within an internal “battery.” Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but can often be stored drastically more efficiently than chemical batteries. Some powered individuals can project energy commensurate with a small power station, but only if they’ve previously absorbed all that power from their preferred source. When the internal battery runs out, the powers stop working. Common sources of power are light, electricity, chemical (i.e., eating food), or kinetic. The powered individual takes reduced harm from the energy type, but the conversion is rarely completely efficient and those that can absorb more dangerous sources tend to find them a less robust source of energy (e.g., a kinetic absorber is hard to hurt but not completely invulnerable to impacts, and requires more effort to fill up than an individual powered by sunlight).
- Superpowers alter the body: All superpowers in some way alter the wielder’s body. This may mean an actual physical change or the ability to project energy or matter. No powers allow the wielder to alter the world without a direct link to the physical form: telekinesis, teleportation, telepathy, and anything else that could reasonably have “tele” in the name are the province of magic and psionics.
- Superpowers can seem to alter mass: Individuals with superpowers can shrink, grow, or add physical augmentations that seem to create mass from nowhere or make it disappear. In all of these cases, the individual is coupling dimensional warping with shapeshifting. An individual that grows retains the same mass, but is slightly shifted outside the normal dimension to seem heavier and larger, and one that shrinks is shifting in the other direction. The cube-square law doesn’t come into effect, but neither does strength scale directly: a “giant” is stronger, but not in a completely proportionate manner. Characters that alter mass are not completely in phase with this reality, and that can become a vulnerability that magic or psionics can sometimes exploit.
- Superpowers cannot directly alter another: All superpowers affect the wielder, not anyone else. However, projected energy, chemicals, or biological agents can have minor or major effects on a target. In all cases, these must be transmitted to the target through a logical vector for the type of emission.
- Superpowers are part of biology: All superpowers come from mutation, accidental or deliberate genetic manipulation, or entirely alien biology. Someone who knows what to look for can identify a powered individual via DNA (though uncommon powers may appear at unexpected places in the genetic sequence). If an individual were to transfer his or her mind to another body, all powers would remain with the original one.