I think I’ve discussed this idea before, but it just won’t get out of my head. (And it’s something I can’t really do in Schooled In Magic.)
There’s a large continent, dominated by an empire – of sorts. After a series of critical misjudgements and civil wars, the emperor is emperor in name only. Real power largely rests in the hands of his subject monarchs, sorcerers and the very rich wealthy merchants. For various reasons, the continent is largely isolated from the rest of the world.
Despite the best efforts of the nobility, things are changing.
First, there’s a slow shift from autocratic states to more democratic political units, with increased social mobility. In some places, a man can be born a slave and climb up to high office through sheer talent. This has started a series of actions and reactions as the serf population in autocratic kingdoms starts either running off to free states (which are more cities and smaller kingdoms) or plotting revolution.
Second, there’s a change in magic too. The original magicians – I’m calling them Sorcerers for the moment – were extremely talented and powerful, but they had to spend years honing their skills (partly in a master-apprentice relationship) before winning the title and taking their own apprentices. Some of the more powerful or older sorcerers are actually on the brink of near-insanity. They can work wonders – such as producing artefacts of power and suchlike – but they’re basically a cottage industry. There’s a very limited supply of anything they choose to make. Most sorcerers keep their secrets close, ensuring that some secrets are lost, rediscovered and then lost again.
Later (recently), a new group of magic-users – I’m calling them wizards, though again this will probably need to be changed – have been challenging the status quo. The wizards aren’t as powerful as the sorcerers, but they’ve been picking apart the secrets of magic and slowly learning how to do things differently. (Basically, instead of one simple spell, they’ve learnt how to use smaller spells to get the same effect.) Wizards are saner than sorcerers and they know how to work in groups – their artefacts of power are less powerful than those produced by a sorcerer, but they can produce them far faster (partly because they have non-magicians to do some of the work.) Wizards share secrets, allowing them to build on each other’s success.
This is an obvious recipe for trouble. The free kingdoms and the wizards are a direct threat to the autocrats and the sorcerers. Sooner or later, the two sides are going to come to blows …
… And the story would be about the war.
How does that sound?