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General Preferences regarding Magic in Fantasy  

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

    • "Whimsical magic"- Magic should be abstract and unpredictable, working behind the scenes.
    • "Ambient magic"- Magic should be evident in the setting and its fantastical locales.
    • Magical objects/tech- I like there to be inanimate objects with magical essences.
    • Magical creatures- I like the bestiary to include magical creatures, either friendly or hostile.
    • "Domesticated magic"- I think it's important that civilized races have come to exert some control over magic (wizards).
    • Magical symbols- Magic is truly only present in words, numbers, etc.
    • Plot device- Occasional supernatural events should serve to move the plot forward.
    • None of the above.
  2. 2. How powerful should magic be in your ideal fantasy setting?

    • Hedge wizardry- its potential is inherently limited.
    • "Scaled magic"- Different objects, creatures, and races have differing propensity for magic.
    • Mercy is the only thing restraining the most practiced of mages.
    • Magic should mainly be limited in the frequency of its use, rather than its power.
    • Magic should be extremely costly (either financially or health-wise) to the practitioner.
    • None of the above.
  3. 3. How is magical ability attained? How prevalent is it?

    • It's an innate talent for some people, the select few.
    • It requires learning and practice that few can afford/obtain.
    • Every individual of a civilized race has intrinsic magical talent.
    • Magical education is widespread, and the mages are many.
    • It must be bestowed by a supernatural being, or requires the gods' favor.
    • The protagonist must have an exceptional talent in this regard.
    • The protagonist and his crew can/should over-represent the prevalence of magic in the setting.
    • None of the above.

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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
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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."

Should we not start with some Ipelagos, or at least some Greater Ipelagos, before tackling a named Arch Ipelago? 6_u

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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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