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Let's Talk About Magic

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Let's Talk About Magic

I'm working on a magic system, and I'm focusing on concept rather than mechanics right now, so it leaves me free to look in various directions for mechanics. I want to do something with a lot of narrative/descriptive play in it, where the effects of spells aren't prescribed but rather "interpreted" or quasi-improvised within the context of the fiction.

What are some of your favorite approaches to magic in games? Why?

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Why does the world need another magic system?

The current title of my work in progress is "Organic Magic." Here are my reasons for taking on this project, the things I wish this system to address, things that I don't really see in other magic systems...

- The Study of Magic is Transformative
Magic is a practice that changes the practitioner from the inside out. This can be seen in the youthful ignorance and graduated enlightenment of Ged in "A Wizard of EarthSea," in the rigorous psychological trials and transformation of Carlos Casteneda over the course of his training by Don Juan, even in the names used by Aleister Crowley throughout his career - each representing a new level of understanding and a new magical goal. The path to attainment, the struggle to master both inner and outer worlds, is a deep and dangerous journey in and of itself. This aspect of the Mage's story is rarely if ever touched on in roleplaying games. But in the real world and throughout history, the training and development of the Mage comprises a "narrative of the soul" that deserves to be treated with emotional richness and depth.

- Spellcrafting is Creative
Spells aren't simply portable Effects. That's what Talismans and Enchanted Objects are for. Spells are like *Recipes*, and they need to be used properly or they can lead to disastrous results. But only hedge mages use the recipes as written. Professionals take those recipes, break them down, learn to understand their constituent Components - their "active ingredients" as it were - and craft new Spells to suit their own needs and purposes. In real life and in historical fiction, crafting a Spell takes a considerable amount of time, intelligence, care and imagination. It is a fully-integrational creative human activity, just as complex and meaningful as creating an RPG character or writing a poem.

- Magic Effects are Contextual
Unlike software programs, tools or machines, Spells don't create the exact same effect every time you cast them. That's because they're complex, contextual, and psychologically aware. No matter how similar two rituals may be, every magical act is different, as its effects depend not only on the actions, state and character of the caster and the quality of the Components used, but also on the nature of the target, their defenses both conscious and unconscious, mental and material, their actions, accoutrements, locations and company, the nature and strength of the magical links between all these parties, and additional influences including celestial bodies, ancillary magic, karma, emotion, and spiritual entities with an interest in the outcome.

- Magic Differs from Culture to Culture
The treatment of magic in most roleplaying games - as a unified set of rules applying equally to all cultures and gameworld races - is based on the understandable need to simplify a vast amount of information, streamlining it into a single system that GMs and Players can easily learn. This is of course, an important goal. But even a small amount of research into the history of magic yields such tremendous variety of experience from culture to culture and throughout history, it seems like a tremendous waste of beautiful imagery - not to mention a postmodern faux pax - not to pay attention to such details. Every Magical School is tied to a worldview, and makes absolute sense only when understood within the context of that worldview. Which is as it should be. A magic system should have universal applicability and flexibility, sure, but it should also support the GM's need to validate and individuate cultures within the gameworld - in more ways than merely renaming things.

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This is what I want. Magic is

This is what I want. Magic is not given its due in any role-playing games. To live the life of dedication is to change as you grow and you gain understanding. This is a serios topic and can make a very interesting game! "Magic is not a practice. It is a living, breathing web of energy that, with our permission, can encase our every action." - Dorothy Morrison

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Classes and Types

My research has led me to divide magic into five "classes," and orthogonal to those classes are twelve "types." By choosing a Class and a Type you effectively create a "School" (a term I use loosely; ie, whether or not there is a physical location in which these things are taught is another question).

The five Classes correspond to the classical elements (including the fifth element of "Spirit"), as shown in the diagram below.

The twelve Types refer to general categories of magical force. The types also correspond to the earthly zodiacal signs, but it's not mechanically necessary to call attention to this; it's more of a mnemonic device for those familiar with earthly astrology. The twelve types are:

ALTERATION - mutable earth (virgo)
The magic of changing things

ANIMATION - fixed earth (taurus)
The magic of making things move

CHANNELING - mutable air (gemini)
The magic of directing or molding magical energy

CONJURATION - cardinal earth (capricorn)
The magic of creating/destroying matter

DIVINATION - cardinal air (libra)
The magic of knowing the unknown

EVOCATION - cardinal fire (aries)
The magic of calling forth creatures and entities

FASCINATION - cardinal water (cancer)
The magic of attention and affect

ILLUSION - mutable water (pisces)
The magic of deceiving the senses

INVOCATION - mutable fire (sagittarius)
The magic of acting as a conduit for a force or entity

MEDICINA - fixed water (scorpio)
The magic of life and death

MENTATION - fixed air (aquarius)
The magic of communing with other minds

PROJECTION - fixed fire (leo)
The magic of leaving the body

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I'd like magic to be more

I'd like magic to be more like sausage-making and politics.
I could care less about pseudoscientific schools, unless that's important to the story? If it's something that you couldn't follow or explain while in a dream, maybe it shouldn't be a part of a shared kind of story thing?
I like magic to be scary, regrettable, and have repercussions(either as a setup or a callback).

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