In the last year or so, I've really rekindled my love for the swords and sorcery (S&S) genre. I'm talking about Lankhmar, the Black Company, and, to a lesser extent, Conan. Specifically, I've been thinking about the role of magic in a S&S game.
For me, the Lankhmar books seem to nail it--protagonists don't use magic; magic uses them. Magic is a sinister force which happens to the characters, much the way nature happens to them. I find the magic systems I'm aware of lacking here. They either simply don't work this way, or attempts to model this approach are just tacked on an existing system.
I'd love to see a system designed around this type of magic.
In a game like this, the magic chapter would be found in the GM's section, right alongside the bestiary and foes chapters. It would be another tool in the GM's arsenal, used in storytelling. Players would encounter magic, and, should they wield it, they would wield it temporarily and at great peril. Those in the world who wield magic would be alien to the PCs, either changed by magic or never human to begin with. Were a PC to make use of magic too often or too long, they would be changed in some way. Indeed, every instance in which a PC encounters magic, they would be in danger of some sort of corruption or mutation, physical or otherwise.
This concept makes for an interesting design goal.