dealing with the realities of magic

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Re: dealing with the realities of magic

Post by unklStewy » Mon Dec 22, 2014 9:53 am

stefanstr wrote: On a side note, I think things like erecting a palace might be especially tricky for a magician, as he would have to envision all the little details which are normally being worked on by a host of sculptors and masons. So a building made by a magician would either be very simplistic, or its creating would take a lot of time anyway.
Stefanstr,

I don't know if I would buy that a lone magician would be building a grand structure such as a palace or a royal keep. I would think that a team of magi could effectively complete the same work as a team of mundane peasants in less time thus satisfying the 'pick any three' factors of Speed, Quality, Quantity, Cost production matrix.

If you want it done well (quality) and you want it done fast (speed), and you want a lot of them (quantity) it won't be cheap (cost). In a world of economically motivated magic there will always be a customer willing to strike the balance. In the above production matrix you can chose any three options and the fourth option will tip towards the negative based upon the other three factors.

I would imagine a world of high magic which has been exploited in such a manner that the overall wealth distribution would be extremely top heavy with only the wealthy or the uber rich able to support the magi in their endeavors.

An extreme example might be; wandering companies of magi construction workers build a new keep every 10 years or so and live off the fees until a new potentate pops up and demands another one. Or they wait around until roving bands of marauders tear down the old keeps and they swoop in for repairs. If they are less scrupulous they might have their own bands of marauders on the payroll.

I don't think it would be feasible for a single magi/wizard/sorcerer to be able to complete the work with limited spell slots per day and a full eight hours of uninterrupted rest before the next days labors being required. It would take years for one wizard of even advanced levels to complete the foundations.

This is all predicated on a D&D/Pathfinder style world of course. If it were Fate or Fudge you could always just BS the Storyteller into thinking that one of your Aspects would allow you to Elsa the S**t out of the place and have a shiny new Ice Palace in a day or two.

Casey :ugeek:
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Re: dealing with the realities of magic

Post by stefanstr » Tue Dec 30, 2014 8:30 am

Agreed, Casey. I just wanted to point out that having something done by a magician would still require much of the same resources as non-magical craft (which you have so eloquently elaborated upon).

One exception I can think of: in some fantasy worlds magic is based on bending other creatures’ will to do your bidding (demons, spirits or whatever). In such a world, one magician would be able to potentially create even a very elaborate building in a very short time, as he wouldn’t be the one doing the heavy lifting himself.

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Re: dealing with the realities of magic

Post by unklStewy » Tue Dec 30, 2014 9:45 am

stefanstr wrote:Agreed, Casey. I just wanted to point out that having something done by a magician would still require much of the same resources as non-magical craft (which you have so eloquently elaborated upon).

One exception I can think of: in some fantasy worlds magic is based on bending other creatures’ will to do your bidding (demons, spirits or whatever). In such a world, one magician would be able to potentially create even a very elaborate building in a very short time, as he wouldn’t be the one doing the heavy lifting himself.
stefanstr,

Also agreed and another good point. What can be accomplished by a high magic system is very much dependent on how that magic is created or reasoned out. I generally tend to default to a D&D/Pathfinder stance as that is my first experience with a magic system. I suppose a Mage from either Ascension or Awakening systems could do quite a lot by themselves given three or four game sessions as well. Especially with the teamwork rules.

Casey :ugeek:
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Re: dealing with the realities of magic

Post by Big Mac » Sun Jan 25, 2015 3:28 pm

stefanstr wrote:I love your writeup, Big Mac. This is exactly the kind of thinking that is missing from most fantasy. I would actually love to see a world with „industrialized“ magic like what you describe.
Thank you. I probably would not go down this route, myself, but it seemed a logical way to go.

I've been talking to people about D&D for just over 10 years, mostly about Spelljammer. And every so often somebody has turned up to the communities I've been in, saying that something* in SJ is "broken" and that it needs to be "removed" to make the universe work. So I've seen lots of conversations where people suspect that some sort of fantasy aspect can not work. :lol:

* = Not always the same thing.

I'm not saying this is happening here, by the way. But I think this is a really easy trap for people to fall into, when they start stepping back from "suspending their disbelief" and when they start asking "how would that actually work"?

I think that the issue with dealing with magic (either magic spells, magic items or just the magical way that a fantasy world works) is that we all live in the real-world and get taught to learn science, and our understanding of science conflicts with our understanding of fantasy...so we see clashes. People come up with all sorts of questions, that seem very logical...

...apart from one-thing. Our "scientific understanding", is not based on some sort of "faith in science", it is based on "scientific methodology". And that is what we should be using, if we want to "investigate" how a fantasy world works.

So every time I see someone suggest that it is "scientifically impossible for a dragon to fly with wings so small", I think that they are misapplying science. If you use scientific methodology, and you can observe that a dragon does fly, then you know that it is possible for a dragon to fly. Nobody in a fantasy world would question it for a second.

And if we look at a fantasy world that has both magic and castles...then there has to be some sort of logical reason why wizards are not blowing up castles and killing kings. That reason might not be immediately obvious - we might need to carry out some thought experiments. But I think we need to start off with an attitude that assumes that a fantasy world does indeed work, rather than start off with an attitude that it is broken and call for people to argue that it works.

That doesn't mean that you can't have a fun discussion about how a fantasy works. It just means that you get to have different types of discussions. For example, if you have spells that create water, would you eventually end up flooding a planet with water...or would there be some sort of other factor that removes equal amounts of water (to balance things out).

One thing I would say about these questions - one thing that I think we should bear in mind - is that the answers are so obvious or unimportant to the NPCs in our fantasy world, that they do not even question them. We know this in the case of most fantasy worlds (using "scientific methodology") because if we read fantasy novels and fantasy sourcebooks, we can not usually find characters/NPCs who are complaining about wizards walking through walls.

I would be tempted to turn this question around and ask: what sort of plot-hooks can we get if we put magical attacks up against mundane defence?

Instead of finding a way to "cancel out" magic, what would happen if someone did use magic to get past the defence in a castle?
  • Would people investigating the attack be able to work out what sort of magic (and what level of magic) was used in the attack?
  • Would the PCs get hired to track down the wizard who led the attack, and bring them to justice?
  • Would the PCs be hired to attack whoever had paid spellcasters to attack the castle?
  • Would the PCs be asked to make a magic-assisted attack on an enemy castle (possibly as some sort of magical privateering campaign)?
I actually think that questions like that are more fun. You can tweak the fantasy laws of nature in a gameworld to make it work any way you want. You can always make things work. But the point of a fantasy world is generally to have it work as the background of a story.
stefanstr wrote:Maybe I will create one myself. I feel inspired. (My usual way of solving this is making sure that magic is not really learnable, is unpredictable or has some other sort of limitation that prevents it from being paradigm-shifting. You made me wonder: why fight it if you can embrace it.)
Your usual way is just as valid an approach. I think I read somewhere (it might have been the 1st Edition AD&D Manual of the Planes about worlds being "high magic" or "low magic". There was some sort of number scale to show how easy it was to use magic. I think that zero meant that magic didn't work at all.

So a world with "industrialised magic" could be possible, on that sort of spectrum. Although I wonder if wizards, clerics and other fantasy spellcasters (from whatever game system you want to use) would want to be put into an industrialised system.

Fantasy wizards generally seem like freelance craftsmen, who take on apprentices. Now it is possible that you could have more wizards working together and creating methods to attack and defend castles. But this is kind of like inventors to create weapons of mass destruction, instead of having them invent household items. It is a valid way to go, but focusing on that aspect of the way that magic interacts with castles is going to be a narrow part of magic. It isn't "wrong" (there are no "wrong" ways to set up a fantasy world) but by creating a world where your wizards are building "+2 Walls of Defense" (or whatever), I think you would actually be pushing the gameworld into a situation where magical attacks on castles should be a central theme.

I am reminded of the Jakandor Campaign Setting, where you had an entire society of necromancers, who thought that the answer to all of the world's problems was necromancy. You would not be doing the same thing, with "industrialised magic" but you would be creating a campaign theme that was just as dominant.

Maybe you can do that. But perhaps the question you should ask yourself is not "Why fight it if you can embrace it?" Maybe the question should be "Would it be fun to have a world with industrialised magic?" If you think that it would be fun, then maybe you should do it. :)
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Re: dealing with the realities of magic

Post by stefanstr » Mon Jan 26, 2015 10:42 am

Big Mac wrote:But I think this is a really easy trap for people to fall into, when they start stepping back from "suspending their disbelief" and when they start asking "how would that actually work"?

I think that the issue with dealing with magic (either magic spells, magic items or just the magical way that a fantasy world works) is that we all live in the real-world and get taught to learn science, and our understanding of science conflicts with our understanding of fantasy...so we see clashes. People come up with all sorts of questions, that seem very logical...

...apart from one-thing. Our "scientific understanding", is not based on some sort of "faith in science", it is based on "scientific methodology". And that is what we should be using, if we want to "investigate" how a fantasy world works.

So every time I see someone suggest that it is "scientifically impossible for a dragon to fly with wings so small", I think that they are misapplying science. If you use scientific methodology, and you can observe that a dragon does fly, then you know that it is possible for a dragon to fly. Nobody in a fantasy world would question it for a second.
Good point, Big Mac. It made me think. Nobody questions their reality - but humans are curious creatures and try to find explanations for everything. So while people in a fantasy world might not question the fact that dragons fly, they would sure ask how it is (or why it is) that they fly. Their explanations might be naive or false, but they would have them. And they would build upon them. If you take into account that the first people to correctly infer the Earth’s circumference and the distance to the Moon were ancient Greeks, it is not preposterous to think that our typical fantasy world would have at least some level of philosophy and science going on.

I try to recall any fantasy world with seriously developed philosophical thought and realize that most of them don’t provide any trace of world views that their inhabitants would have... That might be an even bigger omission than the incongruent application of magic we are talking about - every human society has their own philosophy, their understanding of the world’s guiding principles, etc. And they have institutions and professions based on that.

Big Mac wrote: Instead of finding a way to "cancel out" magic, what would happen if someone did use magic to get past the defence in a castle?
  • Would people investigating the attack be able to work out what sort of magic (and what level of magic) was used in the attack?
  • Would the PCs get hired to track down the wizard who led the attack, and bring them to justice?
  • Would the PCs be hired to attack whoever had paid spellcasters to attack the castle?
  • Would the PCs be asked to make a magic-assisted attack on an enemy castle (possibly as some sort of magical privateering campaign)?
I actually think that questions like that are more fun. You can tweak the fantasy laws of nature in a gameworld to make it work any way you want. You can always make things work. But the point of a fantasy world is generally to have it work as the background of a story.
Fair enough. I understand that not everyone is as interested in how things are interconnected. I am a big fan of books like „Guns, Germs and Steel“ that provide explanations for how civilization has developed. When I am reading a fantasy book, I always have this question in the back of my head: how did the current state of things come about? And I find that the best books/settings provide convincing answers. Some of them are more naturalistic (like in the Song of Ice and Fire), some of them are heavy on mythos (like the Lord of the Rings) but they have a level of coherence that satisfies me.

I understand that not everyone is like that, but from what point of view should I be speaking if not my own?
Big Mac wrote: Fantasy wizards generally seem like freelance craftsmen, who take on apprentices. Now it is possible that you could have more wizards working together and creating methods to attack and defend castles. But this is kind of like inventors to create weapons of mass destruction, instead of having them invent household items. It is a valid way to go, but focusing on that aspect of the way that magic interacts with castles is going to be a narrow part of magic. It isn't "wrong" (there are no "wrong" ways to set up a fantasy world) but by creating a world where your wizards are building "+2 Walls of Defense" (or whatever), I think you would actually be pushing the gameworld into a situation where magical attacks on castles should be a central theme.
I am noticing one difference in our references: while you seem to be thinking about RPG settings, first and foremost, I am mainly thinking about fantasy books. I am not as concerned about „fun“ or „a good fit for a campaign“ in the sense you are writing about - I enjoy thought experiments, and incongruences in a setting (be it a book or RPG) make it exponentially less fun for me.

When you say „fantasy wizards generally seem like freelance craftsmen“, I am tempted to paraphrase: „D&D wizards generally seem like freelance craftsmen.“ I can think of a lot of fantasy settings where things look very different. (Take the Tolkien’s universe, for example, where magic is more or less limited to „angelic“ beings.)

When I create a setting for RPG, I am asking a different question, though. I don’t ask „how do I architect magic so my players can have a lot of fun playing wizards?“ I would create a universe first - according to whatever idea I have in mind - and would then ask „what kinds of characters would be fun for players to play as in this universe?“ - and I will suggest characters to them based on that. So in a world with „industrialized magic“, a player might not be interested in playing the kind of wizard that builds „+2 Walls of Defense“ as you put it - the same way no player would choose to play with a stonemason. But they might want to play a magician specializing in „detective magic“ - the same way a lot of players might want to play an adventurer or a detective.

I like this discussion a lot. Let us keep it going.

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Re: dealing with the realities of magic

Post by Big Mac » Mon Mar 16, 2015 4:19 pm

Sorry for the delay with this. Real-life has been pretty busy.
stefanstr wrote:
Big Mac wrote:But I think this is a really easy trap for people to fall into, when they start stepping back from "suspending their disbelief" and when they start asking "how would that actually work"?

I think that the issue with dealing with magic (either magic spells, magic items or just the magical way that a fantasy world works) is that we all live in the real-world and get taught to learn science, and our understanding of science conflicts with our understanding of fantasy...so we see clashes. People come up with all sorts of questions, that seem very logical...

...apart from one-thing. Our "scientific understanding", is not based on some sort of "faith in science", it is based on "scientific methodology". And that is what we should be using, if we want to "investigate" how a fantasy world works.

So every time I see someone suggest that it is "scientifically impossible for a dragon to fly with wings so small", I think that they are misapplying science. If you use scientific methodology, and you can observe that a dragon does fly, then you know that it is possible for a dragon to fly. Nobody in a fantasy world would question it for a second.
Good point, Big Mac. It made me think. Nobody questions their reality - but humans are curious creatures and try to find explanations for everything. So while people in a fantasy world might not question the fact that dragons fly, they would sure ask how it is (or why it is) that they fly. Their explanations might be naive or false, but they would have them. And they would build upon them. If you take into account that the first people to correctly infer the Earth’s circumference and the distance to the Moon were ancient Greeks, it is not preposterous to think that our typical fantasy world would have at least some level of philosophy and science going on.
I couldn't agree with you more there. But, the main point I was trying to make was that fantasy worlds would not have the same "scientific laws" that the real world has, specifically because fantasy is about changing how the world makes.

You would of course have people in a fantasy world that do what the Greeks did (or what the Arabs or the Chinese or countless other cultures did).

People would try to work out how dragons fly, why the moon is round, why the sun always moves the same way across the sky.

And while you are correct that some people would come up with naive or false explanations, other people would come up with correct ones. That is exactly how things happened in the real world.

Furthermore, in a fantasy world, people could use magic to try to obtain answers, that our ancestors might not have been able to discover.
stefanstr wrote:I try to recall any fantasy world with seriously developed philosophical thought and realize that most of them don’t provide any trace of world views that their inhabitants would have... That might be an even bigger omission than the incongruent application of magic we are talking about - every human society has their own philosophy, their understanding of the world’s guiding principles, etc. And they have institutions and professions based on that.
Fantasy worlds often have sages, wise old men, people who predict the future by casting stones and so on. All of this sort of stuff was equally "real" in our own past, and might be seen as equally real in a fantasy world.

If you look at some mythology, some of the explanations for things are tied into the themes of the culture. As you mentioned the Greeks, I'll pick on Helios. He flew a golden chariot across the sky every day and travelled under the world, via Oceanus every night. Telling Greeks that the sun was a gigantic ball that did not move, would not just be a new scientific theory, it would also be a challenge against the faith in Helios.
stefanstr wrote:
Big Mac wrote:Instead of finding a way to "cancel out" magic, what would happen if someone did use magic to get past the defence in a castle?
  • Would people investigating the attack be able to work out what sort of magic (and what level of magic) was used in the attack?
  • Would the PCs get hired to track down the wizard who led the attack, and bring them to justice?
  • Would the PCs be hired to attack whoever had paid spellcasters to attack the castle?
  • Would the PCs be asked to make a magic-assisted attack on an enemy castle (possibly as some sort of magical privateering campaign)?
I actually think that questions like that are more fun. You can tweak the fantasy laws of nature in a gameworld to make it work any way you want. You can always make things work. But the point of a fantasy world is generally to have it work as the background of a story.
Fair enough. I understand that not everyone is as interested in how things are interconnected. I am a big fan of books like „Guns, Germs and Steel“ that provide explanations for how civilization has developed. When I am reading a fantasy book, I always have this question in the back of my head: how did the current state of things come about? And I find that the best books/settings provide convincing answers. Some of them are more naturalistic (like in the Song of Ice and Fire), some of them are heavy on mythos (like the Lord of the Rings) but they have a level of coherence that satisfies me.
I've not read Guns, Germs and Steel. Maybe I should check it out sometime.

The way things work can be a big or small part of a story. And they can be both big and small at the same time. Both A Song of Ice and Fire and Lord of the Rings have "normal" people, who do not believe in magic, as well as people who do use special powers (of one sort or another). Mundane people can just "get on with it" without needing to to understand all the rules of your fantasy world. But the people who use magic are generally much more interested in learning how the world works that normal people.
stefanstr wrote:I understand that not everyone is like that, but from what point of view should I be speaking if not my own?
No it's good. You might get a hook you can use to create an interesting story, from exploring this point of view.
stefanstr wrote:
Big Mac wrote:Fantasy wizards generally seem like freelance craftsmen, who take on apprentices. Now it is possible that you could have more wizards working together and creating methods to attack and defend castles. But this is kind of like inventors to create weapons of mass destruction, instead of having them invent household items. It is a valid way to go, but focusing on that aspect of the way that magic interacts with castles is going to be a narrow part of magic. It isn't "wrong" (there are no "wrong" ways to set up a fantasy world) but by creating a world where your wizards are building "+2 Walls of Defense" (or whatever), I think you would actually be pushing the gameworld into a situation where magical attacks on castles should be a central theme.
I am noticing one difference in our references: while you seem to be thinking about RPG settings, first and foremost, I am mainly thinking about fantasy books. I am not as concerned about „fun“ or „a good fit for a campaign“ in the sense you are writing about - I enjoy thought experiments, and incongruences in a setting (be it a book or RPG) make it exponentially less fun for me.

When you say „fantasy wizards generally seem like freelance craftsmen“, I am tempted to paraphrase: „D&D wizards generally seem like freelance craftsmen.“ I can think of a lot of fantasy settings where things look very different. (Take the Tolkien’s universe, for example, where magic is more or less limited to „angelic“ beings.)

When I create a setting for RPG, I am asking a different question, though. I don’t ask „how do I architect magic so my players can have a lot of fun playing wizards?“ I would create a universe first - according to whatever idea I have in mind - and would then ask „what kinds of characters would be fun for players to play as in this universe?“ - and I will suggest characters to them based on that. So in a world with „industrialized magic“, a player might not be interested in playing the kind of wizard that builds „+2 Walls of Defense“ as you put it - the same way no player would choose to play with a stonemason. But they might want to play a magician specializing in „detective magic“ - the same way a lot of players might want to play an adventurer or a detective.

I like this discussion a lot. Let us keep it going.
Most fantasy worlds have a few different hooks build into them. And it would certainly be boring if they all use the same hooks. There do seem to be some that have been used so much that other people designing worlds have borrowed them.

I think that the main thing that fictional worlds give us (regardless of if they are fantasy or science fiction) is the opportunity to have stories that deal with things that are impossible in the real world. If you are looking at written fiction, rather than gaming, then you get to set up the problems, as well as getting the protagonist to solve those problems.

Isaac Asimov got a ton of different stories out of the way that his Laws of Robotics would work in given situations, so I'm sure that it would be possible to get a ton of stories out of various aspects of how fantasy worlds work.
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Re: dealing with the realities of magic

Post by stefanstr » Fri Apr 17, 2015 9:38 am

I have only now noticed I never responded to the last post here. I read it in March, I formed an answer in my head... and apparently forgot to actually post it. And now I don’t remember what I was meaning to say, obviously.

I have been working on the World of Twin Suns recently - a world I want to accompany me for a longer time. While my main focus at the moment is working out the climate of the planet, I am deliberating about including or not including magic in it. I would like to share my thoughts in this very private place first. If nothing else, I will get a better understanding of my own ideas.

My initial idea was to have a naturalistic world without magic - and I am making serious efforts to have realistic cosmology, climate and biology in this world. At the same time, no magic seems a bit dull.

One solution would be to have magic the same way our world has magic: through beliefs, legends, and explanations of poorly understood phenomena. Some part of me would like to have real magic in the world, though.

I was thinking about having a „magical pole“ in the world: a ray of energy going through the planet and altering life where it meets the surface. In that vein, the energy would slowly modify animals and people, giving them „powers“ that could be inherited. In sync with some biological decisions I made (and which are not of interest here), all of these powers would „reside“ in the skin and possibly connect to the nervous system.

The main powers I am considering:
- altering the molecular structure of materials through touch (think: a magician-smith refining the blade he made)
- some kind of access to the nervous system of another person (maybe as simple as calming or confusing or mesmerizing them, or maybe as complex as instilling visions)
- commanding an electromagnetic field around the magician (think human electric eel)
- affecting plant growth in some way

The consequences of having magic of this sort:
- as the source of magic would be a blind energy field, the whole land around „the magical pole“ would be transformed: animals with these same kinds of powers would evolve (e.g., a reptile capable of burrowing itself in the sand and transforming the sand around it in a cocoon; a predator causing an overload of the nervous system in its victims; an animal living in symbiosis with some plants and steering their growth)
- as magic would be innate, newborn magicians would often cause trouble: imagine a toddler with the first power I listed changing the skin of its mother’s arm into stone; or a child directly attuned to its parents thoughts. This would be a strong reason why the magical gene would never become dominant - its opportunity cost is high, and young magicians need to be identified early and taught to avoid causing harm to themselves and others.
- being close to the magical pole would magnify the powers but would not be required for them to work: but all magicians would be descendants of the people living in that area, and would subsequently be the scarcer the further from that land you would get.

What do you guys think?

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Re: dealing with the realities of magic

Post by Big Mac » Sun May 10, 2015 7:34 pm

stefanstr wrote:What do you guys think?
That all sounds workable.

You will need to keep track of any non-standard stuff you do (and might need to tweak things a bit) but so long as you can do that, anything should work.
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Re: dealing with the realities of magic

Post by aotte » Sat Jun 23, 2018 4:26 pm

In writing, a fundamental rule is that the author needs to have done a lot of background research as to how they believe magic would work and WHY it works. A lot of details are left out of the story, but having them makes for a spell that feels real.

For example, if the magic is fire related, maybe that can burn castles to the ground when the sun is shining, but barely light a match when it is nighttime. Someone with teleportal powers might have to trade off between distance traveled and size of the portal.

Now, if I want to burn down a castle at night, I would combine the two. Have a narrow portal go far into the atmosphere until I can catch the sunlight, have it directed to my fire magician and have her wreak havoc.

Of course, that means that your fire magician is highly visible to others, and now a guy with a crossbow could pick her off. Unless there is...

And so on.

Limitations in the form of availability, cost, and desirability are what makes it necessary to come up with exciting twists for stories and what I assume would make for more compelling gameplay that the players will have to come up with to play the game to the fullest. I.e., if you make the tools - e.g., magic - more limited and varied, the fun comes in by putting them together in more unexpected ways. That's why Lego has had such tremendous staying power.

Just some thoughts from a non-gamer.
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