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RPGs with Subtle Magic Systems


Luridis

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I'm just curious as to whether or not this has ever been done successfully. I've obviously not played every RPG or CRPG that has existed, so maybe someone else has seen this.

 

What do I mean by "subtle"?

 

Think about Tolkien's use of magic and another example is the works of Fred Saberhagen in his Book of Swords series. I'll post the summary from the wikipedia article:

 

 

Magic is an arcane and subtle art in the Swords universe. It takes a lifetime of training and dedication to pull off the simplest of parlor tricks. The most powerful sorcerers often have several lifetimes of mastery under their belt, as these mighty few have learned to delay aging and death, usually sacrificing their humanity somewhere along the way.

Magic is very fragile; unsheathed blades and other iron or steel objects degrade its power significantly. Thus it has limited martial uses. It is most often used to influence others, to mentally suggest or trick, to tame or calm. It can be used to accelerate healing, and dispel the effects of alcohol and drugs. Many times, armor or other implements are charmed by the use of symbols and spells to enhance their effectiveness.

Magic can be layered on over time, increasing its effectiveness. If one wanted to shut a door, one could spend literally weeks and months enchanting it, adding one spell on top of another, creating a magical barrier that could stop a determined intruder for days on end.

Wizards require both natural talent and great training to develop their art. However, this also imparts sensitivity to magical effects, which can have downsides. For example, in the Second Book of Swords, a treasure hoard was protected behind a magical maze. Magical sensitivity was required to navigate the maze successfully, but the maze's magical nature subjected Wizards to constant magical attack. Like demons, wizards are very picky about who knows their true name, for they are especially vulnerable to spells and magic incorporating this information.

 

So, how would that be done well in an RPG... Paper or computer? Has anybody seen this? I see lots of games, especially on kickstarter, that go the route of no magic at all and, of course, the status-quot is fireballs, lightening bolts, etc. Frankly, a general sense that when you see a wizard, hell is 5 steps behind them.

 

I guess the root of my own curiosity here is: how could a magic system be subtle and interesting to play at the same time? I mean, a character that can just scry and heal wounds is bound to get boring.

Fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt. - Julius Caesar

 

:facepalm: #define TRUE (!FALSE)

I ran across an article where the above statement was found in a release tarball. LOL! Who does something like this? Predictably, this oddity was found when the article's author tried to build said tarball and the compiler promptly went into cardiac arrest. If you're not a developer, imagine telling someone the literal meaning of up is "not down". Such nonsense makes computers, and developers... angry.

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Both KotOR have subtle magic, yeah you may call it "The Force", but it's still magic in sense.

 

Light Side only have buffs (and race specific offensive), Dark Side only have offensive, Uviversal have buff and invisible weak offensive powers

 

And visual effects for these powers are too little

Edited by Qistina
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Both KotOR have subtle magic, yeah you may call it "The Force", but it's still magic in sense.

 

Light Side only have buffs (and race specific offensive), Dark Side only have offensive, Uviversal have buff and invisible weak offensive powers

 

And visual effects for these powers are too little

 

Well, yea I see that. But in those cases there's still other stuff about the class like lightsabres and whatnot to keep it interesting. I wonder how it would remain interesting in a medieval fantasy setting. For instance, when Lord of the Rings Online first came out, they adhered to cannon as far as practitioners of magic were concerned. I read an article somewhere a few years later that they had to change that because the magic like classes they created just weren't interesting to play. But, I don't know how much truth there is to the article.

Fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt. - Julius Caesar

 

:facepalm: #define TRUE (!FALSE)

I ran across an article where the above statement was found in a release tarball. LOL! Who does something like this? Predictably, this oddity was found when the article's author tried to build said tarball and the compiler promptly went into cardiac arrest. If you're not a developer, imagine telling someone the literal meaning of up is "not down". Such nonsense makes computers, and developers... angry.

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So, how would that be done well in an RPG... Paper or computer? Has anybody seen this? I see lots of games, especially on kickstarter, that go the route of no magic at all and, of course, the status-quot is fireballs, lightening bolts, etc. Frankly, a general sense that when you see a wizard, hell is 5 steps behind them.

 

I guess the root of my own curiosity here is: how could a magic system be subtle and interesting to play at the same time? I mean, a character that can just scry and heal wounds is bound to get boring.

 

 

Well, in the WoD Mage games (Mage: the Ascension, Mage: the Awakening), mages are incentivized to use their magic in subtle ways, keeping the effects in the realm of the probable. They can throw lightning bolts and create giant flaming Gordon Freeman figures out of burning oil, but it invites Paradox, a force that perverts their spells against their goal. It's also generally a bad idea to use magic to hurt or kill people.

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"Lulz is not the highest aspiration of art and mankind, no matter what the Encyclopedia Dramatica says."

 

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I would argue that Darklands had similar magic.

 

In Darklands, alchemy was a really slow and uncertain process. You needed a formula, you needed ingredients, you needed lab space, and even then, creating a potion wasn't guaranteed, there were possible mishaps. Calling on the saints' help was simple mechanically, but the effects were often very subtle. Like, you were able to avoid a pack of  wolves, they left you alone, the saint's influence sheltered you from harm. To an outside viewer, nothing happened, the wolves didn't find you, is all.

 

I can see such detailed magic implemented in a computer game, under the following circumstances:

-- Set protagonist, like the Nameless One or Geralt. The protagonist is already adept at magic, and the player will learn from her actions. Has a history, too, steeped in world lore, entangled in various conflicts. A "zero to hero" story is inappropriate, it would destroy the perception that learning magic needs decades, or even lifetimes of dedication.

-- The magic is basically the game itself. Narrative, conflict resolution, companions, exploration, everything is built around the magic.

 

Forget classes, forget character creation, forget a lot things, and then you'll have design space to provide that much detail.

 

EDIT: How could I forget about Mage: The Ascension, my favorite magic-centered RPG? Thanks for mentioning it, AlO3. ;) But casting a spell in Mage requires GM arbitration, and that's the one thing you can't have in a single-player RPG. Darklands was systematic, those ideas could be expanded.

Edited by Endrosz

The Seven Blunders/Roots of Violence: Wealth without work. Pleasure without conscience. Knowledge without character. Commerce without morality. Science without humanity. Worship without sacrifice. Politics without principle. (Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi)

 

Let's Play the Pools Saga (SSI Gold Box Classics)

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EDIT: How could I forget about Mage: The Ascension, my favorite magic-centered RPG? Thanks for mentioning it, AlO3. ;) But casting a spell in Mage requires GM arbitration, and that's the one thing you can't have in a single-player RPG. Darklands was systematic, those ideas could be expanded.

 

Both Mage games had rotes, which were basically ready-made spells. Add contextual casting prompts to model improvised magic, and you're golden.

"Lulz is not the highest aspiration of art and mankind, no matter what the Encyclopedia Dramatica says."

 

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That's interesting... thanks folks, I will check them out.

 

I'm in the process of writing out the back story for post-cataclysmic world. However, the ages-past disaster was not caused by zombie viruses or nuclear waste and mutation, but was instead created by the unbridled use of magic. If I carry it any further than that it won't be, as you say, zero to hero, it will be what happened and what's all this new craziness that's going on.

Edited by Luridis

Fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt. - Julius Caesar

 

:facepalm: #define TRUE (!FALSE)

I ran across an article where the above statement was found in a release tarball. LOL! Who does something like this? Predictably, this oddity was found when the article's author tried to build said tarball and the compiler promptly went into cardiac arrest. If you're not a developer, imagine telling someone the literal meaning of up is "not down". Such nonsense makes computers, and developers... angry.

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Share on other sites

 

Both KotOR have subtle magic, yeah you may call it "The Force", but it's still magic in sense.

 

Light Side only have buffs (and race specific offensive), Dark Side only have offensive, Uviversal have buff and invisible weak offensive powers

 

And visual effects for these powers are too little

 

Well, yea I see that. But in those cases there's still other stuff about the class like lightsabres and whatnot to keep it interesting. I wonder how it would remain interesting in a medieval fantasy setting. For instance, when Lord of the Rings Online first came out, they adhered to cannon as far as practitioners of magic were concerned. I read an article somewhere a few years later that they had to change that because the magic like classes they created just weren't interesting to play. But, I don't know how much truth there is to the article.

 

 

Replace the lightsaber with glowing sword. Star Wars is actually medieval setting, Magus using glowing sword, it just that they make it futuristic. The opening did say "long time ago, in the galaxy far-far away". In LotR Gandalf is Jedi-like, see how he fighting with Saruman, force push and telekinetic always.

 

The turth is, that is real magic, either you believe in magic or not, that is how real magic look like. And if want more realistic magic, mostly are not good, magic itself is evil in real life, most things related to magic are evil. Miracle is another thing, miracle is a gift from God, if you believe such thing. But in games miracles always fall into magic shoes.

 

I prefer to play as a miraculous character, a Paladin type, use miracle as back up, sword as main weapon. I don't really like playing a Priest/Cleric because miracles in game usually against specific race and buff only, there is no point playing as Priest/Cleric, better play as Paladin isn't it?

 

In Dragon Age, i dislike Primal Mage, i don't like offensive magic, so in DA:O i like Arcane Warrior who use magic as buff and hand weapon as main weapon. Sadly they remove it in DA2, but still in DA2 i can play as non-offensive Mage, Spirit Healer and Force Mage.

 

Actually i like Anti-Magic, i can make an Anti-Magic character in DA:O, Dark Souls, Oblivion and Skyrim. I actually liked Anti-Magic since i play Warcraft 3 and DotA. I like Anti-Magic spell or miracle or talents or whatever want to call it.

 

So in short, i like Jedi-like type with miracle and Anti-Magic, for me this kind of class/chraracter is the most fun to play, or at least for me to fantasize.

Edited by Qistina
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