You’re a human, humanoid, dwarf, elf, demigod, semidemigod, talking non-human animal, sentient mobile plant, or object imbued with consciousness via magical spell, and your fantasy realm appears to be about to come to an end.
First: Breathe gently in and out. (If you don’t breathe because you’re the living dead or a golem: Clench and unclench.)
The source of magic ceasing, the center of your world collapsing, a special word being forgotten, a resonance stone crumbling, the belief system changing of ordinary beings in the non-magical world, a terrible wizard trying to defeat death, or a host of other changing conditions may make it seem that the game is over.
Your world will end—or at least all magic will disappear, and you’ll just be plain old Elvärró de H’e’m’pmaker who has to fetch water with his, her, or their hands (two or, more likely, four of them) like an animal. If you’re an animal, you’ll have to fetch water like a human. If you’re sentient water, you’ll have to, I don’t know, participate in the water cycle like a damned raincloud.
Don’t panic. Everything will probably, almost certainly, be ok—most of the time. Maybe not for you, because you will be dead or have forgotten everything or be erased from history or be rewritten into a different form or no longer be immortal, but for your realm. Probably. At least an alternative universe will contain a happy version of you. (Disclaimer: All universes may be about to end, forever.)
Let’s just say, the heroes will be ok, except for one or two who had to die to show that the whole crisis was legitimate. Some of them will come back to life later, so that’s ok, too.
(Orcs, goblins, trolls, demons, dæmons, and other creatures in realms in which you are born with an evil alignment: Let me be the first to tell you how sorry I am for your coming personal and community losses. You might also consider transforming to chaotic neutral. I’ll send you a pamphlet.)
If history is any lesson—and it is, except in realms in which history has been remade—everything will turn out all right. You’re part of a story, and the story has to go on. One might call it a never-ending story. One might, but I would not.
Here’s a guide to the kinds of realm- and epoch-ending events you may be undergoing and what the outcome will be. Your survival may depend on studying this guide!
Or on vast forces entirely outside your control.
A note on science-fictional realms
For those who think you live in a science-fictional realm, because there are spaceships, laser blasters, and talk of planets and warp gateways: Look around you.
When anyone explains the so-called technology, is the explanation credible and self-consistent? Do the knights of space wield weapons that obviously defy the laws of physics and also come back as ghosts? Do the lords of time rely on mystic prognostications and read minds? Is there a tree of life or invisible life force that transcends matter, time, and space, but is crucial to existence? Is there a lot of handwaving about causality, forking timelines, and the inability to change the past—except this one time?
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you’re in a fantasy realm, too, just one with a lot more gleaming steel and sharp edges.
The immortal being at the center of your world has left or someone inconveniently has killed them
Yes, we all mouth fealty to the immortal being at the center of our world, whose existence allows us to carry on our drab day-to-day lives. But when have we really given much actual thought to them, except when they demand blood sacrifice, open great gaping pits that swallow people, or torture an avatar into performing retributive acts against genocidal criminals? Yet that being is all that stands between us and the boring ordinariness of life without magic.
Then some dope on a hero’s journey is always asking, “Where does all the magic come from, anyway?” (That blighter Harry Potter excepted.) If at all possible, kill or imprison that hero forever or use a memory charm to erase their memory of that question.
Regardless, in your realm that hero will always be reborn in a new body, resurrected, or recovery their memory, so honestly it might not be worthwhile to forestall the inevitable.
The hero ultimately reaches a deep cave, and wakes, releases, or offends the primary mover, and suddenly the sunlight lacks that golden tint, and the glamour charm that has kept your abs in a six-pack formation disappears and your gut slumps.
Never fear! The creature of near omnipotent power craves status quo ante, and returns for their own purposes or can be cajoled through simple-minded logic to resume their place.
A new era dawns! Not for you, but for the important people.
The liquid source of magic is gone
Now they’ve gone and done it! A nominally good cohort or decidedly evil cohort decided to drain an ancient amphora containing all the magic in the world or dam the eternal spring from which magic flows or offend the gods, who in studied indifference shut down the whole popsicle stand.
Now a wizard is just some schmuck with a willow stick and a pointy hat, and you’re standing there staring at your crops, which have withered; your house, which has reverted to a gourd; and your children, who are now inconveniently mice.
A quest is required. Often, you can help, by explaining to the thickheaded blunderers who dried up magic’s source exactly where they went wrong. (You are surprisingly well informed on this for someone who has never ventured more than 2,000 feet from your house.) If they are evil, you will likely be on the receiving end of a knife after you vent, but you may be restored later! Maybe!
Once the “heroes” have succeeded in their quest, which is inevitable, everything will go back to normal, but even better somehow. For the magical folk. There will be some trickle down to everyone else, sometimes literally.
You’ll be expected to show gratitude.
A creature that sustains magic for your specific race is dead, even if magic remains generally available
Maybe cutting the head off the mother vampire that provides the sustained immortal life of every other vampire isn’t such a good idea if you are also a vampire? (Unless you are one of those self-hating full- or half-vampires.)
Your world may seem like it’s about to end. Every vampire holds their breath. But as long as a backup mother of all vampires is standing by to eat the brain and heart of the previous power source, you’re cool.
(Note: Vampires are rarely the heroes of the story, so they won’t get much help on this quest.)
An evil wizard has defeated death, but at a cost
C’mon, it seems like such a great idea. Death, the distant land from whence no traveler returns, is suddenly is full of vacancies, and everyone will live forever. This is a win-win, right?
Unfortunately, an eternity on the material plane doesn’t counter the decay that comes with life. People who are suffering never die. Folks who fall off a cliff remain alive in a painful lump. Those with some mystical tendencies typically go mad. Often, everyone gets incredibly old and just forgets every damned thing, and has to toothelessly gaze at the heat death of the universe.
A great mage—or sometimes a teenager at a high school in England or California—has to slay someone seemingly all powerful and die in the process. Their successful destruction of that individual brings death roaring back. It seems like the slayer will be remain dead as a consequence, but their sacrifice is rewarded with more life. With life like that, is it a reward?
For the average person, the absence of death was annoying, but not an impediment, unless it lasts a while.
A great nothingness is sweeping across the realm
Your life may already feel like you live in a great nothingness, but that’s most people’s lives in magical realms. (Hey, I’ve visited Asgard and Gallifrey, and while the gods and goddesses, ladies and lords live in high gleaming towers, everybody else is dressed in delightful linen rags while grubbing in expensively produced dirt.)
Yet, the nothingness that sweeps across the land you were born in is a real nothingness. Let me rephrase that. It’s an actual absence of anything, instead of just feeling this way. The question must be raised how you know this, since you have been erased, but nonetheless you do.
However, those people with extremely odd helmets and mantillas have a purpose here. They probably caused the end of everything with their meddling. Maybe they poked something from the beginning of time that finally took revenge, or somebody grabbed “chronotrons” that they shouldn’t have or a bunch of people in a war who think they are “good” got so angry that they just decided to get rid of everything like in a giant spring cleaning gone wrong.
So they fix it. This usually involves an innocent child, an otherwise incompetent person, or someone willing to sacrifice themself (who doesn’t have to) taking a stand against nothingness, which then yields and becomes something.
And you can get back to your poor wheat harvest, unless you never existed at all anymore.
Non-magical people stop believing in magic
Frankly, this one is a blessing.