Friday, August 19, 2011

Discussion: Magic

I don't know about you, but I have a really strange Love/Hate relationship with magic in RPGs. See, I very much enjoy my heroic fantasy. I like my noble warriors, my slimy rogues, my hopeful priests, and yes, even my scholarly mages. The problem is, I've yet to see an RPG that is based around having all of that in it that does magic in a way that I particularly like, or that blends mages into the world in a way I agree with.

The common solution for magic is to codify it into a set number of spells, each requiring a specific level to cast, and those are the effects that a magic user can do. It works perfectly fine for a game, and even allows for balance as the most powerful spells are also often the most limited. This makes it harder for the mage to completely overshadow everyone, as they will eventually run out of spells and are often quite vulnerable in the meantime.

The problem I have with this though, is that magic is supposed to be a lot more. Magic is a one word catch all solution that can explain anything. "Why are there Dragons?" "Magic!" "How did you survive that fight?" "Magic!"

So, the other solution is to have magic be able to do almost anything. Like in the stories, right? Well sure, but that is hard to codify. Especially if you want to keep it balanced against the rogues and warriors.

Which, of course, could be the crux of my problem. Maybe I'm just jealous of being outshined by mages while playing warriors. Or the knowledge that my top tier warrior could be killed in a round by someone with a piece of paper. It could be a lot of things.

So, how about you? How do you feel about magic? Do you like it? Do you love it? Or do you tend to stray away from it and keep it for plot devices?


  1. I'm no fan of 'magic' can do anything. If you can do anything, there's nothing worth doing.

    Myself, I handle it either with a Class/Level system the provides exactly the magic I wish to the players.

    Or if using HERO System with VPP that limit the effects and style of the magic.

  2. Magic is the core of the fantasy genre. I try to have most things work within the rules for my campaigns, but sometimes, especially for background elements, the "it is magic" explanation is the right one.

  3. There have been lots of ways put in to limit magic. I think my least favorite was Pendragon, where casting a simple spell had my mage knocked out for nearly 2 months to recover. That kind of sucked, being unconscious due to exhaustion while everyone else had fun.

    I do agree that magic is at the core, and magic SHOULD exist in fantasy games. How much it should be front and center, or in PCs hands, I could debate endlessly. Though that also would vary from story to story, group to group, and GM to GM.

  4. I've always loved the magic spells slots. I just love the idea of running out of spells, but not having to keep track of mana. I get it from playing balder's gate and neverwinter nights and it's just stuck with me as my personal favorite.

    I also like having the idea of a certain number of spell points that you apply to your spells or to your magic type (air, fire, etc). So, you have twenty spell points and you can cast a fire spell using 1 or using 20 points and it's more or less powerful depending on how many you use.

    I have also always been a fan of magic being the end all be all to fighting and as soon as the mage decides to cast his spell, it's over. I think that would work best with a very limited magic structure to discourage constant spell use, but allow for the mage to get away with other things that avoid combat. So, a skill junky mage with a few ultra-powerful spells or the ability to do practically anything, but only a limited number of times before he needs to recover.

    I've never liked the idea of a system that forces a character into uselessness using the actual system rules. It's not fun to play a game if you don't get to play.