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Fantasy Magic: Form, Power, and Prevalence

magic supernatural low fantasy high fantasy fantasy powers

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Poll: General Preferences regarding Magic in Fantasy (40 member(s) have cast votes)

What form(s) of magic do you prefer in fantasy?

  1. "Whimsical magic"- Magic should be abstract and unpredictable, working behind the scenes. (13 votes [8.23%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 8.23%

  2. "Ambient magic"- Magic should be evident in the setting and its fantastical locales. (28 votes [17.72%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 17.72%

  3. Magical objects/tech- I like there to be inanimate objects with magical essences. (29 votes [18.35%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 18.35%

  4. Magical creatures- I like the bestiary to include magical creatures, either friendly or hostile. (29 votes [18.35%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 18.35%

  5. "Domesticated magic"- I think it's important that civilized races have come to exert some control over magic (wizards). (24 votes [15.19%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 15.19%

  6. Magical symbols- Magic is truly only present in words, numbers, etc. (11 votes [6.96%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 6.96%

  7. Plot device- Occasional supernatural events should serve to move the plot forward. (23 votes [14.56%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 14.56%

  8. None of the above. (1 votes [0.63%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 0.63%

How powerful should magic be in your ideal fantasy setting?

  1. Hedge wizardry- its potential is inherently limited. (15 votes [22.39%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 22.39%

  2. "Scaled magic"- Different objects, creatures, and races have differing propensity for magic. (21 votes [31.34%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 31.34%

  3. Mercy is the only thing restraining the most practiced of mages. (8 votes [11.94%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 11.94%

  4. Magic should mainly be limited in the frequency of its use, rather than its power. (11 votes [16.42%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 16.42%

  5. Magic should be extremely costly (either financially or health-wise) to the practitioner. (11 votes [16.42%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 16.42%

  6. None of the above. (1 votes [1.49%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 1.49%

How is magical ability attained? How prevalent is it?

  1. It's an innate talent for some people, the select few. (22 votes [25.58%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 25.58%

  2. It requires learning and practice that few can afford/obtain. (30 votes [34.88%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 34.88%

  3. Every individual of a civilized race has intrinsic magical talent. (6 votes [6.98%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 6.98%

  4. Magical education is widespread, and the mages are many. (3 votes [3.49%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 3.49%

  5. It must be bestowed by a supernatural being, or requires the gods' favor. (8 votes [9.30%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 9.30%

  6. The protagonist must have an exceptional talent in this regard. (7 votes [8.14%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 8.14%

  7. The protagonist and his crew can/should over-represent the prevalence of magic in the setting. (7 votes [8.14%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 8.14%

  8. None of the above. (3 votes [3.49%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 3.49%

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    (3) Conjurer

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Please no Arcanum system, where even in the game's lore magic is a predefined, limited set of spells, and magic users are basically some typos with x-men abilities. Can't think of anything lamer, really. 


I pretty much like the D&D system,  Monte Cook/Dark Tower style is also appealing. 


Magic should be something you get through manipulating energies, both "inside" and "outside", from all kinds of different sources (weave, shadow weave, soul, elemental planes, surroundings, spirits, nature, some tree of life, artifacts ..bla), as well as utilizing all kinds of supernatural laws. Don't like the idea that magic users only bring forth magic through the power of their souls, this strikes me to be to limiting and dull.


As to how magic is practiced, it can be intuitive, and non intuitive, through music like chanters do, or more "scientific" through intensive studies, which would be the wizard way, and somehow natural like blickers do it. Knowing someones true name and abusing it, would be an example of "magic" that everybody can utilize. 

Edited by Iucounu, 25 July 2013 - 07:16 PM.



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For me I like magic to have rules that define it. As much as I understand why D&D magic is the way it is I much prefer something with narrower scope. If anybody is familiar at all with Brandon Sanderson's books he has a great talent for building interesting magic systems with strict rules as to what you can and cannot do with magic. I prefer this vastly over the MAGIC CAN DO ANYTHING ways of D&D or the completely amorphous magic of say Lord of the Rings where people say Gandalf is a wizard but damned if I ever see him do anything magical.




I do think it's highly amusing that outside the films, Gandalf is supposed to be the mightiest wizard ever, and his spells seem to be:


- set light to pine cones

- set light to wolves

- collapse tunnel


All of these feats leave him completely knackered.


He's basically got destructive power very slightly below the ebullient kid you knew in high school who experimented with fireworks.

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    (2) Evoker

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It isn't in the poll, but I like it when magic mechanics are explained. I think the best example is The Force in Star Wars. The Force is governed by three umbrella schools and any force power is just the wielder using it slightly differently. There aren't specific spells, only ways that the user can think of for using the power, but due to their nature and teaching they manifest in similar ways.



    (4) Theurgist

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I'd like to see a fantasy RPG without magic for once, it seems to me like they all just follow the same path.


I always feel that the magic in RPGs is largely just reskinned laser beams, and sometimes as what seems like a lazy way to add a plot device... I understand that some people love playing wizards and love the magic in fantasy RPGs but it's not as if they aren't already well catered for...


I'm not suggesting I don't want magic in P:E, as after all it's marketed as a successor to the infinity engine games, which all had magic..I don't particularly dislike it, I just feel a bit jaded by the whole thing, I feel it has become far more of a cliche than the standard fantasy races. People already know what spells to expect before they've even played the game..


I'd like the fantasy to come in the form of different cultures, creatures and landscapes, a realistic world which doesn't necessarily need to follow our history or have a realistic bestiary



Alternatively an RPG where magic is something different than just another weapon, a way of manipulating your surroundings rather than just shooting laser beams from your fingers etc...

Edited by motorizer, 26 July 2013 - 10:05 AM.

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I've never been a fan of high magic settings, where catch-all magic comes to solve the problem like a giant deus-ex-machina just at the right time
Nor do I like "the chosen one" bull****, and while we're at it, prophecies are the lamest plot device in recorded history.

I opt for a subtle magic, where magic feels wondrous, more than it feels powerful.

I don't mind magical abilities to be powerful, but only because of skilful use, not because you kamehameha'ed your over 9000 powerlevel straight at the goblin's face (also goblins, heh, because we couldn't make humans diverse and interesting enough to serve as enemies all the time, I guess.)
Like the Jedi powers of Obi-Wan in Star Wars Episode IV, using a mental distraction (did you hear a sound over there?) as misdirection.

I like magic to be intrinsically linked to the natural world, like the summer glade where water eddies in a stream with just the right amount of heat and sunlight and shade so that anyone near it hearing the babbling feels the slow current charging them, invigorating them.
That's magic, that's wondrous.

I enjoy the ephemeral nature of magic where you don't know for sure if someone is magically capable, incredibly lucky, or just cheating without us realising it.
Someone who seems to avoid all guards on their patrol routes, and when you observe them making a mistake, knowing they will be seen by the guard, the guard suddenly stumbles or stops to tie his shoelaces.
Or the "I got a bad feeling about this". It maybe clich├ęd, but the notion that this underbelly feeling is in fact not just nerves or your subconscious, but rather some tenuous connection to the living force telling you someone is sending you bad vibrations, that feels magical to me.

Magic which is created or used with knowledge of how it affects the world without betraying too much of its nature.

A door which no-one sees, not because it is invisible, but because it is created in such a way that most people's subconscious automatically makes them ignore it, that's magical.
And some people who are particularly bright, observant, or somehow confronted with the door with no way to avoid it, for them the illusion will shatter.

Magic which while some may have talent, (that guy often has lucky dice throws, always wins at games) it is truly only in the hands of those who have trained and studied hard to understand a fraction of it. Each one understanding and capable of something different. Different parts of the same whole.

So to sum up:
unconventional and surprising. (feeling of wonder)
hard to define but following a logic which no-one fully understands yet.
true mastery is the capability of consciously manipulating magic to a purpose, rather than a passive understanding or uncontrolled usage.

the way I'd envision to see this in a game is that there are plenty of wizards around, each can teach the player something else, but the player will be limited in learning by his or her character. A player who lives life as thief or stalker will more easily learn to understand stealth, misdirection, darkness/shadow/light, silence and sound, observation and awareness.
Someone who lives his life surrounded by politicking bastards will quickly learn observation and awareness, communication, manipulation and misdirection, and psychology and motivations.
someone who lives her life in the wildest of nature will likely learn about endurance, resilience, observation and awareness, energy flows, resource efficiency, life and death, growth and decay.
someone who grows up around stories and music will learn about motivations, about curiosity and learning, about pacing and tempo, about passion and imagination. about sound and silence, about rhyme and rhythm, about structure and creativity, expectations and originality.
etc. etc.

So each wizard would be fairly specialised.
A player could learn from any number of them, but not all could be learned by any one character.

I hope that made sense.
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    (6) Magician

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Although- if magical abilities are to be included in the game- they must be coded in some kind of rules-based manner, I think that rules-based magic can be a bit of an enigma. For some people I suppose it may help their immersion to have some notion of magic's workings, but I suspect there are other people like me who have never encountered a sufficiently convincing explanation of magic for such attempts to have a positive effect on immersion. On top of that, there is a sense that the more that you explain it away the less magical it becomes; a fully rules-based system of magic might be more of an alternative physics scheme than anything else. While the scarcity of magic and magically gifted characters can certainly make it seem more special and therefore more rewarding, I don't think that necessarily makes it any more or less "magical". I'm by no means advocating a high-magic setting where magic is constantly interfering with the plot, but I do think that in too many RPGs and video games magic amounts to superpowers in a period context rather than the stuff of classic literary fantasy.

Edited by mcmanusaur, 28 July 2013 - 11:05 AM.

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^ *shrug*

With oodles of things in reality, we use science to study HOW they work, more so than WHY they work the way they work. I mean, we'd LOVE to know the answer to the latter question, but any answer we get is generally based upon something else we already hold true, despite not knowing its very own "why."

I mean, we know that splitting atoms releases oodles of energy, but do we know WHY atoms have so much energy stored within their bonds?

Even if we do, the point is that even the scientific method is little more than extremely well-documented/organized trial-and-error. If you found you could manipulate things via magic, you could practice and discover plenty of things, without ever figuring out WHY you can manipulate things via magic, or "how magic works."



    (3) Conjurer

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You can only have finite causality chains. I think the trick is to make the "endings" of the chain as mysterious and exciting as possible. Although this might often mean to explain only the general idea of magic, and only very shallow. Sometimes inserting pseudo expainations, that are very vague, perhaps use a lot of metaphers and/or lead people to believe that magic works after some other sort of logic, that contradicts logic. 
You could say the maximum "enigma" in a magical system is when you only have the highest layer, meaning the effects that you achieve with magic, and leave everything else in the dark. OK, but not very imaginative, and probably dull for some. 
Personally, I enjoy studying metaphysics of a fantasy world, and the inner workings of magic in the world. For example the metaphysics of World of Darkness is something I could study for hours. Perhaps the comparatively well explained magical system puts something of the "magic" away (although this is perhaps subjective), but I find it fascinating as well, just like quantum theory can be fascinating, or Schoppenhauer's philosophy of will can be fascinating. And If more new questions appear than questions are answered, it might still feel magical, or even more magical for some. 
In any case, I don't think that magic that feels "magical" and magic that feels more "scientific" are mutually exclusive. Even if you can't come up with a system that achieves both, you can just have several systems in your game. Good example would be the kingkiller chronicles. There you have sympathy, sygaldrie and stuff, which are really only some sort of fantasy physics, and you have naming and other more exotic magics, that appear more mysterious and elusive. They also have more to do with "character" than sympathy or sygaldrie. 

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