Want to explain how magic works for your characters? Do it here! Don't worry about continuity issues, no one cares! If we really need a handwave, we can just say "Magic is very complicated and works different for different people!" Feel free to talk in the first person.
How Magic WorksEdit
Magic is essentially a kind of energy that manipulates the environment in a limitless amount of ways, and use of magic by organisms is the use of energy stored in the soul to manipulate the universe. This is a difficult practice, and learning how to manipulate energy and matter a certain way takes time, let alone multiple ways. This is why there are "spells", preset ways of how to manipulate the universe that makes it much easier to learn magic. However, because everyone's soul is different, even with spells magic manifests uniquely in different people. Some people learn magic instinctively, with the spells hardwired somewhere in their mind. Some people have plain souls and must learn to fashion magic themselves, either by teaching themselves or relying on spells or a teacher.
When a consciousness isn't controlling it, Magic works like a flow of energy that can affect it's surroundings in unpredictable ways. It is worth noting that even though spells are designed with "rules", either a description of it's power or a restriction, these can always be circumvented by the inventive or powerful. Even if a spell grants you "immunity to dark attacks", someone with powerful enough dark magic or specific enough dark magic can get past that spell, and there's probably a spell to block THAT spell, too. Magic can be programmed through the use of magic circles, an art that is rarely seen. While enough energy to fulfill the programming is still needed, Magic Circles are a near foolproof way to guide magic exactly how and where you want to guide it.
The Soul Edit
The soul is a metaphysical collection of energy that exists on a separate plane of tangibility from physical objects. Though many different people, cultures, worlds and universes have many different names for it, this specific form of energy is often called Ectoplasm. Like ATP, electricity or caffeine, Ectoplasm is not pure energy (which would be a much more abstract substance than a lot of people think) but an energy source. Every soul is unique in specific design, giving each soul a "thumbprint", often referred to as a Magical Signature. Souls do not obey the physical laws of volume and mass; they don't lose consistency when stretched and power is not reliant on size of the soul. Souls are directly tied to the consciousness of the host body: the soul obeys it, and when the body and soul are separated the soul has a "copy" of the consciousness. Unless some specific environmental conditions are present (for example, the Afterlife), a soul will not survive long without being attached to a physical object and will degenerate into Free Magic.
Not all beings are born with a soul. The body and mind are perfectly capable of life without one. However, most beings are born with a soul, as having one is advantageous, like having claws or spines or teeth. Someone who never had a soul, or had one removed with a safe method, will be unaffected by soulmancy and soul attacks. However, if someone has a soul and it is removed forcefully from their body, it is fatal. While it is always possible for a specific being to be born without a soul, all species, plant, animal, fungus and bacteria, can be born with a soul. The chances of having a soul vary from species to species, and it is uncertain what exactly decides that.
Souls can be manipulated a huge amount. They can contain other souls, be transformed into shapes or split apart via Soulmancy, seal souls and bash through other souls. The potential is nearly limitless. Where souls originated from, how they accumulate energy without drawing organic energy from the host, how they can allow inanimate objects (golems and living armor, for example) to move infinitely with no energy imput, and how there can be creatures who exist as only a soul (ghosts and some demons) is also uncertain, and the Soul was one of the things John Esper was researching until his death.
Innate Magic VS. Learned Magic Edit
Innate magic includes magical powers people are born with as well as magic from magical items. Innate magic is very easy to use and comes naturally, but their powers are limited. A magical item (with the exception of Esper's items) can't increase in strength or evolve unless upgrades are made to it by people. Innate magic can transcend it's original powers, but not as easily as learned magic.
Learned magic is, as the name implies, learned. This magic is used by a living organism with no help from outside objects (except maybe a spellbook, though in the case of Esper's book that's Innate magic). It is easy to improve learned magic through practice and research, so learned magic is better for a wide variety of magic. However, because the powers stem completely from the person, don't come naturally and aren't programmed in, they are far more volatile and harder to use.
Essentially, the difference between the two classes of magic for me is the same as the difference between superpowers and actual magic in comic book worlds.
Evil Magic VS. Good Magic Edit
Magic itself cannot be evil, unless it has somehow gain sentience or something (ORIGINAL IDEA DO NOT STEAL. Well, actually, that's kinda ghosts but whatever.) it's the users that decide how it's used. A person can use demon powers or necromancy for good, or holy and light powers for evil. However, magic with purely destructive purposes tends to be used for evil, and magic that heals and does good stuff is usually used for evil. Psychic magic, due to the sheer wrongness of manipulating someone's thoughts and feelings, tends to be amoral. Demon magic is evil not just because of it's destructiveness, but due to the possessing of evil spirits and selling your soul that goes with it. Holy magic is good simply because it's super-effective against demon magic, and tends to be used by do-gooders. However, it can be just as easily be used by an evil person, just as a good person can use demon magic.
Essentially, while some magic is labeled as good or evil just by how it functions and what purposes it is usually used for, magic doesn't strictly have an alignment on good or evil, that's up to the person using it.
Soulmancy is the hardest to learn form of magic, but because of it's rarity is nearly unstoppable. It's powerful not only because hardly anyone has a defense against it, it can't by seen by people who can't see across planes of tangibility (basically, people who have never been in contact of magic), but also because it's ability to essentially destroy magic makes it similar to anti-magic. Instead of controlling outside (usually inanimate) objects, one controls their (or someone else's) soul. Soulmancy is knowledge based, to control a soul one has to know a soul. To control someone's own soul, they have to know their complete personality, limits, and history. If the user acts in a way that is contrary to what they thought they were like, this can make them lose control of their soulmancy, which is very dangerous as it can result in accidentally destroying their own soul. Basically, acting out of character or gaining character development wrecks soulmancy. Vidar is currently experiencing this.
Soulmancy can come in many forms, and is basically just the manipulation of souls. Vidar uses classic soulmancy, with typical moves such as Spirit Leech and Bodily Detachment. The main part of Vidar's soulmancy that is unique is that he can divide his soul. When Bodily Detachment is used, Vidar's consiousness is transferred to his soul, and it spreads to all parts of it regardless of whether it is the "soul of his brain", so to speak. However, soulmancy can be used to control other souls. Like controlling your own soul, this requires you to perfectly understand them (in most cases, some moves with soulmancy requires different knowledge or feelings, such as Soul Crush). Vidar's Soul Bind Chain uses the Esper Eye's mind reading to skip this rule and allow Vidar to control the target soul with his soulmancy techniques. Because the knowledge is stored within the Eye and not Vidar, it disappears when Soul Bind Chain is deactivated.
Simon uses a combination of necromancy and soulmancy. Because he learned while dead and he doesn't completely understand it, it counts as innate magic, and doesn't comply to all the rules of soulmancy above. Necromancy is used to summon the soul from the afterlife, while Soulmancy is used to keep the soul in open air, bind it to the summoning circle, give it visible form and is also used for Soul Crush. However, it is required that Simon at least know the person he's summoning. Egon uses soulmancy to manipulate his soul to match the last one he sends to the afterlife. This is apparently innate, as he can't control it.
Souls can also be manipulated through magical programming circles, like the one Yuuda can make, without adhering to above rules. While people can live without souls (such as Nathan) and there are safe ways to remove a soul, removing one via destroying it with soul attacks is like removing a kidney with a knife and some band-aids in a dark alley. Destruction of the soul is most always completely fatal.
Anti-Magic is a broad term used to describe magic that cancels out other magic. This can be in items, such as the Godslayer and the Bounty Hunter jail cells, or with a person, such as Katy (the second-in-command of the Bounty Hunters).
Many kinds of anti-magics exist that function in different ways. "Anti-Magic" as a noun often refers to a magic-like energy that cancels out regular magic, or magic in inverse wavelengths to present magic. However, anti-magic can also be created using dimensional schisms, splitting planes of tangibility and rendering people unable to access their souls for magic. Absorbing nearby magic is a more lethal variation, as that results in irreversible destruction of ectoplasm that makes up souls, ghosts, and powers magical items.
Anti-Magic is an incredibly powerful form of magic, rivaling soulmancy, however only the Godslayer has perfect anti-magic. Anti-magic can be bested through sheer force and power (making Gods hard to restrain through it), it can also be cheated through incredibly complicated or specific magic (such as anti-anti-magic), and there are powers that aren't technically magic that most anti-magic doesn't work on (such as superpowers and psychic attacks).
Psychic Powers Edit
The manipulation of minds. All three of Esper's items have some psychic powers generated through magic, but psychic powers themselves aren't magic, and are more in the realm of superpowers (but they're still here JUST BECAUSE). Therefore, soulmancy and anti-magic have no effect on them.
One psychic is John Esper, but he's dead. However, psychic powers make him completely untouchable in combat, and the element of surprise or equally powerful psychic abilities are necessary to defeat him. Another psychic character is Lucid, and in combination with someone who can actually attack it can be deadly. For now, however, Lucid is a psychic-in-training.
Basics Of Magic: Aether and Mana Edit
Well let's see, how do I go about describing this shit?
Magic (in my worlds) is an energy derived from two things; aether (a yellow gas) and mana (a bright red liquid). Both are essentially magic, just in the form of a gas and a liquid. All throughout my worlds, there are wellsprings of mana which can be used to give things the gift of magic, as well as aether pockets which will do the same thing, provided the concentrations of aether aren't so great that'll it outright kill you. High levels of aether are toxic to pretty much all lifeforms, with just a few going unharmed. One can get magical power from mana by either using special spells ("Draw Magic" for example) or just drinking it (some love it, some hate it) or even just outright bathing in it. Magical power can be drawn from aether by using the same spells, and even inhaling it, provided you don't snort fatal amounts.
Aether is also an element, very much like fire or water. Aether-elemental spells tend to fuck up everything, though the damage they deal is usually incredibly random, going from all-destroying to nothing in moments. Another curious ability of aether is that it is also a mutagen; it can, if the conditions are right, cause drastic mutations in any form of life (hence the rise of the weird blue humanoids during the Destroyed Era of Groveca's history, as well as the rise of various anthromoprhic races).
Basics Of Magic: How it works Edit
So, how do you go from drinking some red liquid found in a well to chucking fireballs at people? Well, it all comes down to your will. Casting is all about forcing magic to take on a form with your willpower. Mages tend to do this without thinking when it comes to spells they can cast instantly, and when it comes to bigger spells that require charging, the charging is literally just them forcing the magic to take the form of the spell they want it to be. Spells are essentially a set of instructions for mages to use to get their desired results. Of course, there are a massive variety of spells out there, with ones that heal wounds and others that make them. Magic also works in other ways, too.
For example, take the legendary sword, the GodSlayer. It was forged from some glowing blue crystal that was projecting an anti-magic field. That field is essentially the crystal's magical excretion; the crystal maintained itself by producing aether and feeding on the energy given off in the reaction it used to turn aether into magic, and then expelling the magic as a field. Due to the crystal's chemical makeup and some other shit I'm too lazy to think about, it happened to expel it in the form of anti-magic, and this still occurs within the GodSlayer.
I'm probably not explaining this at all well, but fuck you, I'm writing this at four in the morning.
Anti-magic is just another form of magic that functions differently from the regular sort. Instead of being an energy that can be forced into any form through sheer willpower, anti-magic will always only have one real function; the complete eradication of regular magic from whatever space it occupies. Imagine a regular field with happy magical bunnies and the grass representing magic. In this field, the spots anti-magic occupies are spots completely devoid of grass and filled with weak, dying bunnies. That's essentially anti-magic. Anti-magic spells tend to be spells that just temporarily force magic out of a person or area, being pretty useful when fighting magic-users.
First Continuity Magic Edit
Magic in Groveca (my world in the first continuity) works pretty simply.Magic A is Magic A is essentially in effect, with a little bit of Vancian Magic thrown in for good measure. To put it bluntly; every spell only does one thing. For example, a fireball spell will always only throw fireballs, and the fireballs will always be the same strength and size (Point #1 of Vancian Magic). You can't make one big fireball with a basic fireball spell; you'll need another spell to do that. You essentially have unlimited uses of your spells, the only real limit on them being the charging time (Point #2 of Vancian Magic) as you work that magic into a fireball/lightning bolt/whatever. If you want stronger spells, you'll have to learn them. Granted, you'll probably be able to forge a magical power-boosting amulet or something to just boost the power of the spells you have, which is fair enough. That's possible.
To be honest, I didn't put much thought into Groveca's magic. I just essentially made it up as I went along.
Second Continuity Magic Edit
Magic in the second continuity (which so far consists entirely of Quest For The Godhand Take #2 and The Yuudai Republic) is full on Vancian Magic. Spells work more or less the same as they do in the first continuity, only this time all points of Vancian Magic are in full effect, plus some other shit. Aether and Mana still exist, and the casting process is still the same (all about the willpower), but the actual spells and the spellcasters work differently (to be honest I'm not enforcing this for Quest For The Godhand Take #2, as I'd just come off as a right bitch with my limits on magic and stuff. I want people to join, and I figure no-one will if they're restricted in that regard. At least, it seemed that way in the past...). Anywho, spellcasters now have a limited amount of casts they can use per day, and the actual spells themselves can only be cast so many times per day (the stronger the spell, the less casts per day it has). Novice spellcasters, those just starting at a magical academy or their mage training or whatever, will generally have 5 casts per day. Regular spellcasters who have passed their training and shit will usually have at least 20-30 casts per day. Powerful spellcasters will have way more than that, and so on. Obviously deities aren't limited in this manner, so don't expect ViperSkull to stop casting his death spells anytime soon. On top of this, spellcasters will need to charge spells before use, but once they're charged, they're usuable and will be until the end of the day, at which point you'll need to charge again. Bare in mind that when I say "day", I'm not referring to every 24 hours, I'm referring to each individual day. So at midnight, all your charged spells are no longer charged, as the day ends and the next one starts immediately.
Magic is further limited and stuff by the use of Grimoires for mages. Grimoires are essentially spellbooks that anyone can use, and every spellcaster that goes to a magical academy will usually be supplied with their own personal one that will keep track of all the spells they learn (as well as all sorts of other information that can be called upon). Warriors that cast magic usually don't have Grimoires, so they will only be able to use a few spells at best (unless they have pretty damn good memories
There's a whole lot more shit I have planned for the Second Continuity's magic system, but it'll have to wait until I write up the full article. I have more than one world planned for the second continuity, but the magic still works the same in both.
Demon Skills Edit
Demon Skills are an odd form of magic. Everyone knows that even the most retarded demon has at least a few sparks of magical power to his name, because demons are inherently magical creatures. The old society of Living Shadows discovered that they could, through a rather complex process involving lots of magic being transferred from one thing to another and a lot of accidental deaths through experimentation, extract a set of rather unqiue spells from demons. Some demons had their own unique ability, some had the same ability as a bunch of other demons, but they all had some bizarre spell/ability within them that could be copied and used by a person wielding special jewels forged for the very purpose of copying and containing the power of the Demon Skills. Eventually, they ended up with four of the jewels being stuck with set Demon Skills (pretty basic ones, too, such as being able to summon a weapon to you or turn invisible), deciding to leave the fifth one alone in case they fuck it up as well. Currently, the jewels are set into Lancer's armour, as he made off with them in order to get out of the Living Shadows' personal realm (it's a bit of a bleak, dreary place, you see).
Demon Skills can be copied/gained in other ways, usually by slaughtering the respective demon, enchanting and then drinking its blood. The jewels are one of the few ways to gain Demon Skills without killing something; usually one must have permission from the demon to extract its Skill. Why permission is needed isn't exactly known; it's theorised that the ancient Living Shadows were either really polite and respectful people or that there's some ancient magical law set in place by the Goddess that restricts the jewels from extracting the Skills forcefully.
In the first continuity, there's a massive amount of Demon Skills, somewhere in the region of 1000. In the second continuity, who knows how many there are (AKA I haven't really thought about that yet).
What Magic IsEdit
Very simply, magic does not use any form of energy that is accessible to the user. Magic, when you get right down to it, has no distinct laws other than the laws that govern the universe, and in any case those are more like guidelines than anything else. If you can think it, you can do it. Really, magic in practice is more like miracles and outright manipulation of reality itself performed on the mortal level. So you may now be asking yourself why not everyone is capable of using it.
Practitioners of MagicEdit
What allows one to use magic is Willpower. Sheer force of Will. True grit. Balls of polished chrome in your head. In a sense, everybody demonstrates magic on a personal level every once in a while. You have probably heard stories about mothers being able to lift and toss away cars in order to save their children from wreckages. Humans are built for endurance, not strength - such an occurence would be a miracle, an act of personal magic performed by the mother through their own desire to protect their child and their will to not be stopped by anything that might get between them and it. Similarly, you might keep hearing stories about lunatics and psychotics who are freakishly strong and immune to pain, not through chemical assisstance or drugs, but simply because they are freaks, or have immense mental discipline. That would be another instance of personal magic. So in a sense, every living human, and even a few animals at least, are capable of magic at a very basic level.
The Will to Power Edit
So, how come people can occasionally ignore pain and become immensely strong, but are incapable of conjuring fire or flying? Because, very simply, magic is a matter of Willpower. If you are not utterly and completely certain in yourself, your own abilities, your intent and motivations, any attempt at magic on your part will fail. Hence why humans never demonstrate magic except in extraordinary circumstances - in times of peace, humans are social beings with worries, doubts and fears that hold them back.
Beyond plain old doubt, one observes that the universe works in very specific, ordered ways. And merely by observing this, one subconsciously drafts rules in their own mind as to how the universe operates, and any deviation from these rules creates a sort of mental block, a pause in mental flow that disrupts understanding and certainty. So from the get-go, most if not all humans here in muggle-land are completely incapable of magic because they very simply cannot subconsciously let go of the impossibility of what they want. The only reason they can even use the occasional burst of magic on the personal level every other crisis is because they seemingly, for a brief moment, completely abandon all of reality to focus on a single thing. This is why lunatics seem to have such a strange air about them - their complete detachment from reality allows them more consistent access to magic. What prevents them from using magic then is that while they have the focus to use magic, they no longer have the framework necessary to shape it. In essence, to use magic you both have to acknowledge reality as well as disregard it. To use an analogy from a certain book series you might all be familiar with, the trick to flying is to fall, and miss the ground.
A Quest of Futility, ThenEdit
So yes, for all of us here in the real world, it ain't ever gonna happen. We humans, at our currently level of development, and barring very specific methods of training and discipline, cannot use magic. We may as well be incapable of it for all we demonstrate. All we know magic comes from legends and myth: In ye old days of Adam and Eve, man lived for nine hundred years. Jesus walked on water and had this nifty trick where he could turn it into wine, the Oracles of Delphi could glimpse the future, Achiles was (almost) indestructible, Julias Ceaser took over 37 knife-wounds and had time for a begrieved quip before dying, Rasputin was poisoned enough to kill six men, was clubbed by seven men, shot nine times and then tossed into the river, and he merely died by suffocation. The thing you may have noticed all these figures have in common: They came from unique walks of life with very peculiar circumstances. Adam and Eve were wrought from clay by God. Jesus was either God himself or his son, or both simultaneously. Achiles was dipped in the River Styx as a child. Ceaser had epilipsy and, well, was Ceaser. Rasputin was a member of a religion wherein one eradicated all vices and sins by commiting them, and he had a history of perscribing startling effective medicinal cures using igredients that should have killed the patient outright, and before his prolonged assassination he made a number of predications regarding the Russian Revolution that all came true.
Which is to say, particularly unique people with peculiar upbringings and experiences seem to be more in-touch with the mythical side of the universe. While us normal plebians cannot hope to match their exploits and experiences, in the land of fiction our characters may have some hope. X gives some character the drive and will needed to wrap reality itself around their finger. Nonhumans in particular, or engineered humans, may have inherent pools of willpower that utterly eclipse ours, and so be particularly inclined to magical talent, although the reverse is also true. In the end, once the whole issue of apparent impossibility is resolved on the personal level, magic is simple - assuming you have what it takes beyond that.
So now you might be asking what the deal is with all the stories about chanting, wands, rituals and ingredients. The answer goes straight back to the problem of apparent impossibility. We all organize the universe on the subconscious level. Thusly, any observed system of organization that we can understand and utilize makes the topic it references easier to understand and process mentally. That which is apparently impossible might suddenly sound somewhat feasible if an arbitrary set of instructions is tacked on. And so long as you are making a set of instructions for more than one feat, you may as well make a standardized set of instructions and methods for the whole lot so as to make all of them together easier as a whole. Hence why individual magical feats in legends are so complicated, and why entire schools of magic are nearly impenetrable in their complexity: It actually makes the act of bending reality easier, rather than harder. Now, just because a set of instructions or even an entire school might be based around something does not mean it is by any means simple to demonstrate. Such systems only eliminate the problem of apparent possibility (if such systems are accepted, which is another story), not the issue of person conviction and drive. Most people, subconsciously drawn rules aside, simply do not have the cajones to reshape reality in their own image. Of the few who do, a number of them will be lunatics and too detached from reality to make much use of their power. Another handful will have the drive, but even when using a system that allows for apparent impossibility, will reject it. Very few people ever used arranged rules to use magic, and those few people probably could have used magic without said rules in any case if their circumstances had been peculiar enough to allow them to bypass the apparent impossibility of what they wanted.
So yeah, that's right. All forms of wacky magical theory out there are actually 100% legit, including the stuff that was deliberately made up. You just aren't special enough.
So, how special do you need to be?
You have seen me reference the phenomena of personal crisis and personal magic several times now. You may be wondering why those who cannot actively use magic, merely tapping into it in extraordinary circumstances, typically only use it to affect their own body - pain tolerance, immense strength, manifestations along that particular line. The answer being that, once one has the will and the focus, what determines the difficulty of magic is how implausible it is. One can subconsciously brush aside the impossibility of what they are doing, but not the implausibility. Personal magic along the lines of immense strength or pain tolerance can be reasoned to be a function of chemical processes of the body in times of duress, and so is reasonably plausible and can be stretched rather extensively. Once you brush aside the universe's objections, you sustain your own position with the entirety of your available will. It isn't expended, it just is or is not enough to do this or that. So if you have enough willpower to conjure flame in a vacuum, you can keep the flame burning indefinitely. But if you don't, you simply can't, period. In the case of normal humans, since we have comparatively little willpower, it also varies depending on how your personality and mood shift, hence why people are generally incapable of staying Hulked Out for extended periods of time. Fictional characters, special circumstances, training, artifacts or aliens - whatever - can all typically be expected to have a much larger pool of willpower than your average human, allowing them to wield a vast array of powers and abilities, with their own moods and personalities having negligable impact upon their magical talent.
So yes, humans suck.
Magic for Dummy HumansEdit
For us puny humans, specific modes of thought and conditions lend themselves to magical abilities since they impact mental processes, particularly reasoning and perception, rather hard. Certain forms of autism would allow for it, although that would bring along with it new complications. Very strong emotional responses could allow for it if they hit an individual sharply enough - hence why personal magic mostly seems to occur during moments of crisis - Hate, Fear, Loyalty, Devotion and Desperation being popular choices. All of them are excellent motivators when it comes to staring levelly at reality and deciding that you are going to fuck it over and that there is nothing anything can do to stop you, and they also serve to help temporarily boost your personal reserves should they be somewhat lacking. However, one cannot simply pledge themselves to a life of unending loyalty or hate. This is because both the intensity and the casual nature of any particular emotion tends to flag, wax and wane during life, unpredictable mystery that it is. Optimally you want your casual emotional exposure to be identical in intensity to the apex of what you can experience, and even better yet you may want to be able to switch experiencing this emotional rush on and off at a whim. If you experience it all the time, after all, it becomes routine and suddenly it stops affecting the way you think as strongly. This does apply somewhat to others - the uplifted, those with artifacts or training, aliens, inhuman creatures etcetera - but as stated before, if it is assumed that they simply have a larger available pool of willpower available from the get-go, their own emotional and mental deviations have a negligable impact on their abilities since they aren't merely on the cusp between being able or unable to use magic.
Anti-Magic, Magical Combat and Magical PowerEdit
Reality itself can be viewed as a vast anti-magic field. In the case of humans, psychological warfare doubles as anti-magic warfare (less so in the case of entities with more innate willpower). Self doubt, self depreciation, despair, lack of self esteem or confidence all impede one's pool of available willpower. Rules that are oppressive (complex does not equate to oppressive - this is an important distinction) and limit overall possibilites narrow the field of what is actually possible. Those of you who have read 1984 or Anthem will probably get a little of what I'm saying here. In the case of entities with immense wills who are capable of magically dominating the mind of another person, they could feasibly simply negate the willpower or drive of their opposite. A fight between two powerful magic users would probably resemble a mostly invisible and motionless struggle of both combatants erecting varying defenses to ward off an innumerable number of assaults directed against their will. Mental defenses alone are not enough to protect oneself, and attacking the opponent's mind is not necessarily enough either. The goal is simply to eliminate the will and drive of the other person. Remember that magic is not what we traditionally postulate is magic so much as it is overt reality control through sheer force of will. Most likely both magic users would start the duel by attempting to simply alter reality so that their opponent has no will, while simultaneously altering reality so that such an alteration will not work on themselves. As such, a magical fight is over the instant one magic user fails to be as quick-witted or as creative as the other. When not facing another magic user, one powerful enough could probably very simply make their opponent vanish as though they never existed, or turn them inside out, or make the spontaneously combust, or turn their blood to acid or any other number of instantly fatal afflictions. In the midling range of willpower, you have magic users that one might reasonable compare to Merlin - shapeshifters, workers of both grand and sutbtle magic, and nothing ever so crude as throwing fireballs around nilly willy. And then, towards the lower end of the power spectrum, you basically have a wizard from dungeons and dragons. Then, borrowing a term from Harry Potter, you have Squibs - those who might possibly be able to use magic, but probably can't or don't. That would be homo sapiens default. Finally, you have the lowest of the low, those completely incapable of using magic - and that would be any entity that is not sentient.
Magically Competent HumansEdit
So, you want a human who is a really powerful magic user and doesn't afraid of anyone, and you're kind of bummed out by the whole humans sucking at magic deal. Not a problem. A number of entities can simply alter reality so that a particular human or a random human or a large number of humans or a select lineage of humans (really, the possibilities here are only limited by the available willpower of our aforementioned benevolent entity) have larger pools of willpower than normal. Or they can make artifacts that completely bypass willpower entirely, acting as willpower batteries or capacitors, allowing humans to manipulate reality without needing to have a ton of willpower (even bypassing that annoying illusion of what is apparently impossible). If you want humans who are magically competent by their own means without having a wizard do it, perhaps they have partaken in some unique form of mental training to increase their willpower? Perhaps they an engineered childhood? Maybe they subscribe to a particularly ludicrous philosophy? (Keep the details here vague if decide to go any of these routes.) Once you get a single human who is naturally capable of using magic unassisted, they make things easier by streamlining the process. Or perhaps their kickass determination gets inhereted by their children, repeat that for a few generations using carefully selected pairings until you have humans with inhuman levels of willpower? In the end, while it is true that humans start a long ways behind the rest of the magical crowd, ultimately they can be just as powerful as everyone else.