Because Magic


  • Pitcrew

    This was spawned by something @surreality was saying in another thread. The 'Because magic' excuse is a common one and we see it used positively and negatively. The latter happens seemingly most often (in regards to it being negative / noticeable) when Staff outright has no answer and just doesn't want to deal. This is, in my opinion, the biggest weakness of an original theme game (that involves magic). We've discussed it before: original themes take work and a lot of it. Players will come up and approach things you hadn't yet considered. You can spend a year fleshing out a theme, building a game, and two days after the gates open... you have twenty jerbs to answer with things you never considered.

    Look at all the 'fan theories' that abound for well-established properties, like Harry Potter. Almost always about things that don't come up nor have reason to in the main series.

    The 'because magic' excuse is used often - notably when it comes to technology - and to varying degrees of success.

    • Harry Potter: It's never fully explained. The best explanation we have from the books and JK is that the wizarding world doesn't use technology because magic fulfills all they need. Where this falls flat is with the Muggle-borns. There's been vague assumptions that technology and magic don't mesh, but we've never seen a truly, totally concrete answer on it (unless it's in some JK tweet I haven't seen yet).

    • Dresden Files: This is where the assumption above comes from, likely. Dresden, for example, drives an old VW bug because his magic interferes with computers, so he has to drive a car without one. There's no real 'science' behind it, but it's at least made clear: he doesn't use tech because it doesn't play nice with magic.

    • Peter Grant: If you haven't read these yet (Rivers of London is the first) and like the above, you should. They're like this lovely melding of the above two with one of the most enjoyable protags I've read. Anyway... Peter Grant, new wizard, finds that his cellphone gets fried when he uses magic. The chips in it literally disintegrate. So what does he do? He experiments. He tests range, intensity, etc.. I loved this and it really helped enrich the 'because magic' concept of anti-tech (Peter, for example, has to setup a 'tech cave' outside the main building he and Nightingale live in, so he can still do his police work or catch a football game).

    It's one of the things I've studied. The 'because magic' excuse. You can't just handwave it because readers (players) will notice. Because it will vex them. Because it will ruin their immersion.

    In HP, the balance of 'they don't use tech because magic does whatever they need' is there, so it's not as big a deal. In Peter Grant, the explanation is given that magic draws energy and the chips and resistors in devices like phones and computers are the first to go. The reasons are given (even if not in nitty-gritty detail) and it makes the world all that much richer.

    Does every third born in a city grow an extra nipple in your setting? Why? 'Because magic' is vague and underwhelming, but 'Because a wizard cursed the family that founded the original settlement' gives something concrete and it adds just that more flavor to the world.

    I think this goes for a lot of things and it's part of why original theme games are so few and far between now. I've got a world building worksheet that I used on one of my more established personal settings and even it left me just sitting there at times thinking 'I never once considered this,' even though I acknowledge that while a particular society's historical methods of entertainment may not be important to me right now, it could be later and it would definitely be important to someone playing someone in that world.



  • When it comes to magic, or the Force, or whatever <insert energy> is, I think that when writing it up, the most proper baseline is to try to cover some of the WHY factor.

    Why does it exist?
    Why can people touch it?
    Why does it behave the way that it does?
    Why does any of this matter to the setting at all?

    All too often in homebrewed settings, the WHY is placed after the creation of some kind of PC or NPC that's important to the story. The character the writer has in mind is created and the WHY is tailored to make the ends meet to explain what the character is capable of, and not the other way around. This is an important distinction.

    If you create the magic first and answer the WHY first, then you can create characters that fit into the setting based on the understood rules of your magic.

    If you create the setting around a character or a pair of characters (and the powers/things you want them to be able to do), then you're doctoring the entire world to wrap around ways to explain the character.

    The world itself should take precedence in front of the characters. Always. After all, characters are many and tiny in comparison to the universe they inhabit.



  • One of the greatest teachers I ever had was my 8th grade English teacher. One of our segments at the time was sci-fi, and our project for that semester was to build the very basics of 'a planet with life'. We didn't need to get into the details of why such a world was in its Goldilocks zone and such, or why it didn't need to be on the technical angles (we were 12-13 year olds, after all, and this was the 80s when it was less common for 12-13 year olds to know that stuff), and our actual focus was more about building an alien culture.•

    "What conflicts exist here?"
    "What do people understand about the world, and what are its mysteries?"
    "What do people think they understand, but get completely wrong?"
    "Do they know about other worlds and cultures? If so, how do they get along? What do they think about others? Why?"
    ...and so on. It was a good list of questions to consider, and it was over 5 pages long. I sincerely wish I still had it.

    One of the worst exes I ever had gave me some of the best world-building advice ever, which is also mentioned here: "It doesn't matter if it's not going to come up. You need to know the answer in order to properly determine cause and effect for the world."

    It becomes amazingly easy to come up with cool stuff when you start from the beginning -- the real beginning beginning, like 'how did this world come into being' -- and follow cause and effect chains from there. Options will suddenly explode in all directions, and that is a good thing.

    • (I am that asshole who wrote thirty-odd pages for a 2-page project and oh, did I ever get something of a squint when I picked that paper up after it was graded -- but with a giddy sort of eye-twinkle, like that crotchety old coot just knew what I'd be doing with the rest of my dang life right then and there. He wasn't wrong, I suppose.)


  • Admin

    Magic works the same way as any other element - you need to know why and how it adds to the experience of playing the game.

    The key concept when it comes to staff using it as a way to settle disputes or write themselves out of dead ends is pretty well known to fiction; it's all about suspending disbelief. Did magic up to today involve subtle effects and suddenly a grey-bearded wizard started throwing fireballs around? It could be a problem. Did PCs capture and imprison a key NPC at considerable cost and he just teleported out of his meticulously guarded cell because magic even though no one had ever displayed that level of effect before and no one has since? Again, it can be a problem.

    It can also render archetypes useless. Playing a kickass warrior if every fledgling spellcaster can make themselves invulnerable to sharp things might be less attractive. Being a smart investigative character with a perfect memory isn't as great as gazing back in time to see whodunnit. This sort of happened really prominently in every mixed-sphere Mage MU* ever - sure, you could play anything, but being a Mage meant you were better at it, plus you had other tricks at your disposal.

    In other words magic is great... as long as you, as staff, are aware what its place is, and have a plan for it. It shouldn't just be added because lol, it's cool, and there should be reasonable limitations that make other things playable as well - unless of course your plan is for all the PCs to use it.


  • TV & Movies

    @Arkandel This is not only the bane of multi-sphere MUs (and why I basically gave up on the genre due to Mage being everywhere), but also the bane of logic fundamental logic in most fantasy settings, too. Massed warfare makes no sense when fireball is a thing, castles are dubious around fly and dimension door, etc. Or let alone economics or fundamental population demographics. There was actually a project some people undertook to make a D&D setting that tried to render society in a realistic way taking the magic into account (I don't mean Eberron, though it did it at a much smaller level and at least tried to acknowledge some magic-tech stuff), and it's amazing just how unrecognizably different it is from what the tropes usually give us.


  • Politics

    @Ghost said in Because Magic:

    Why does it exist?
    Why can people touch it?
    Why does it behave the way that it does?
    Why does any of this matter to the setting at all?

    I add to this: what does it cost to use?

    One of my favorite magical settings is Final Fantasy VI. Without going into tremendous detail, magic had to be drained from other living beings. Naturally, the villains captured and drained these beings, and used their magic power to fuel their war machines in ways that other conventional peoples could not oppose.

    Good stuff.


  • Admin

    @Ganymede My favorite cost comes from Dark Sun... for a much larger-scale version of the same thing.


  • Pitcrew

    @Ganymede said in Because Magic:

    @Ghost said in Because Magic:

    Why does it exist?
    Why can people touch it?
    Why does it behave the way that it does?
    Why does any of this matter to the setting at all?

    I add to this: what does it cost to use?

    One of my favorite magical settings is Final Fantasy VI. Without going into tremendous detail, magic had to be drained from other living beings. Naturally, the villains captured and drained these beings, and used their magic power to fuel their war machines in ways that other conventional peoples could not oppose.

    Good stuff.

    Recalling back to the Peter Grant books? They discover that magic does take a toll on the user. It basically turns the brain into swiss cheese over time. So over-use is a Bad Thing (TM)... and has the added benefit, for the author, of meaning the characters often have to use non-magic means to solve things.

    I thought it was a very clever way of overcoming those questions of 'Well if they can throw fireballs then why...'



  • See, I would be cautious here. While having an answer for every little thing is sometimes neat, there are many instances where "Things work like this because magic, and nobody is really sure why..." adds interesting dynamic to the world. Some things really do need to remain a mystery, and the more questions you answer, the more awe and mystery you take out of it. You need to know how it works. Not why it works.


  • Pitcrew

    My favorite cost is the meme magic way where your power level is equivalent to the number of years you've maintained your virginity with 30 being the entry level. Those who allow a succubus to drain their mana are forever reduced to normie scum.


  • Admin

    I'm biased, but I'm also pretty fond of the way the Wheel of Time saga handled their flavor of magic.

    Use too much at once and you can burn out - lose all your powers permanently and sink into a manic depression for the rest of your life. Women are weaker than men but they can pool their powers together, and men go insane from using it in the long run. Oh, and everyone hates magic-users because they broke the world that one time.

    If there's no true, tangible stigma, drawback or risk I feel magic is too cheap in a MU* setting. And I'm not talking the paper tiger that is Paradox in the nWoD. Either make it really dangerous or don't bother so much.


  • Pitcrew

    @Arkandel
    That's what I always liked about the Deryni books. They were the first books that I read where magic cost.
    Magic drained the user and could leave them incapacitated both mentally and physically.
    Use too much, and the practitioner could die
    Extensive use of rituals (based on Catholic practices) to focus abilities.
    Oh, and everyone hated you, so if it was ever discovered that you could do this, they'd probably burn you at the stake.

    I know now that other books (like Wheel of Time) incorporated similar themes, but to my little high school brain it was game changing, and I'll always love the series for that.


Log in to reply
 

Looks like your connection to MU Soapbox was lost, please wait while we try to reconnect.