Magic is considered to be one of the defining traits of a fantasy setting. In fact, certain forms of fantasy literature are defined by the absence of magic. Magic is powerful, it is a means of altering reality in strange and wondrous ways. It is wish-fulfillment and empowerment, a force to be reckoned with when brought to bear against those who oppose the spellcaster.
As such, I’d like magic to feel every bit as awe-inspiring as it must be in real life. Maybe this is a lesson that I’ve had drilled into my head back in the days when I ran Mage: the Ascension. Magic should have flavor. It isn’t just sparkly lights and idle wishes made manifest, it is, in many ways, a supreme act of will. As such, it should always feel like that you’re mangling reality and bending it to do what you want it to out of sheer ego and willpower.
The words, the ingredients, the gestures, these are all part of the formulae, but ultimately they’re all a form of honing that prepares your will to force reality to do something just the way you want it to. I want magic to feel alive, roiling and rebellious, it doesn’t want to do things that it obviously isn’t supposed to be doing, and it will fight you every step of the way.
Take note that I’ve not once said that this is what I want to mechanics to be like. Magic is an awesome force, and I just want to make sure that when I’m running fantasy, it has the same kind of impact that magic ought to have to those with no exposure to true magic. It should be formidable, and scary. If a mage can casually flick off a spell, then you’ll be certain that that mage has had a lot of practice and is extremely powerful.
Take note that I don’t want all my spellcasters to look like they’re having the greatest battle against constipation of all time when they cast spells, but I do want players who utilize magic to understand that their characters are doing something incredible. No spell, even the humble magic missile or light spell is a party trick. Magic is the domain of the gods, and the fact that mankind has achieved that sort of power is nothing less than epic.