dealing with the realities of magic

General discussion on worldbuilding.

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mrverbal
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dealing with the realities of magic

Post by mrverbal » Sun Nov 23, 2014 3:20 am

I was going to post this in the "world building" forum, but as it seems not to be open for new topics I figured here would be a reasonable place.

I'll start by saying my main gaming is a somewhat-modified D&D 3.5. 3.5 is an excellent system in a lot of respects - it's pretty easy to get in to and has a vry good high fantasy feel most of the time - and obviously a lot of issues. The game is hard to keep interesting above about level 11 as it is hard to balance fights, there is a lot of poorly thought out balance issues, and the economy is kind of a joke. (You're pretty much forced into world-in-peril territory beyond a certain point as otherwise why is anyone spending a thousand years salary on a better sword?)

But the aspect I want to talk about here is how magic affects your mapping and world building.

In the real middle ages, castles made sense because they were monsterously difficult to get in to, until the advent of gunpowder. Trade routes were long and dangerous, and mapping the world was fanastically challenging.

A high magic fantasy world significantly reduces those issues. And a lot of them stem from teleport and related spells. Trade becomes a whole lot easier when you can set up ring-gates at two ends of a major trade route and cut out a lot of the sea travel. Having encounters en-route from A to B becomes a lot harder when the distance from A to B is the same click-of-fingers for A and B. Scounting out new areas - even large islands - is a hell of a lot easier when you can do it from 2000 feet up while flying.

High magic obviously causes a lot of other problems - and positives - but from a world-design POV these seem to be some of the key ones.

And I have some solutions, of course, but keen to hear everyone else's POV

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Kanchou
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Re: dealing with the realities of magic

Post by Kanchou » Sun Nov 23, 2014 3:25 am

(Fixed permissions issue, and moved topic to Worldbuilding :) ).
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stefanstr
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Re: dealing with the realities of magic

Post by stefanstr » Sun Nov 23, 2014 4:38 am

mrverbal wrote: High magic obviously causes a lot of other problems - and positives - but from a world-design POV these seem to be some of the key ones.

And I have some solutions, of course, but keen to hear everyone else's POV
Just yesterday, I was boring my GF to death with this exact topic. Most high fantasy settings are so poorly thought out it hurts. Nobody seems to wonder what impact magic would have on such cornerstones of a human society as economy, craft or construction.

You touched on economy but what about creating tools? Why would anyone work as a smith if you can create a sword from nothing with a spell? Or why build a cathedral from stone and take 100 years to do so if you can wave your hand and be done with it? It really bothers me that these questions don’t seem to occur to most world builders (and people who play in these worlds).

Some of the key questions that need to be asked to assess the impact of magic on a given world:
- can it be learned by anyone? (if yes, it can enhance or substitute practically every human profession unless magic is difficult and risky)
- what are its energy costs? (does it drain energy from the caster or from the environment, thus creating a natural limit, or can spells be cast indefinitely? If magic allows you to create stuff from nothing, what are its impacts on the balance of mass and energy on the planet?)
- how does magic actually work? (you need to think about magic on the level of physics and basic world mechanics if you are serious about scoping out its impact. Does magic sap energy from the environment? Is it an indication of an imbalance of some physical properties of a given place? Is it a mental power? Does this world have a spiritual plane that affects the physical one? Or maybe, you have to summon otherworldly creatures to do your bidding, which adds a whole new level of complexity from dealing with another intelligent being.)
- how reliable is it? (if magic tends to backfire, it will only ever be employed by daring individuals or in special circumstances?)
- what are its effects on the mage? (if magic impacts your mind and/or soul and changes your personality in unpredictable or negative ways, it might be shunned and distrusted.)

I am very glad you started this topic. I can literally talk about it for hours. If this discussion takes off, I will share with you guys how I solved this problem in the fantasy world I am currently creating.

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Re: dealing with the realities of magic

Post by Vegomatic » Mon Nov 24, 2014 12:52 pm

Have you looked at the Dungeons and Dragons 3.0 book titled "The Stronghold Builders Guidebook." It was one of the smaller (thinner) paperback supplements published 10-15 years ago (just before 3.5 rules came out)...

I read through it when it came out... and my recollection is not what it used to be... but as I recall, it addressed some of the issues regarding strongholds and magic... it also gave suggestions regarding design and had several example strongholds in the book.

It was a book about building a fortress that was "defensible" in a magical world.

It was far from perfect, but it was one of the first publications that I remember seeing that addressed the subject in any way.
> Veg

Konda Immortal
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Re: dealing with the realities of magic

Post by Konda Immortal » Sun Nov 30, 2014 2:23 pm

Me and a friend have been working on the magic for our tabletop game. We often think about the implications of it to society.

What does a mage do for a living in a city?
How does magic affect travel?
How is it used in everyday life?

To answer these questions you need to first determine how magic works in your world. This is what we did. We chose the four kinds of magic that we wanted. We also decided that there are not good and bad magics but good and bad people who wield them. Pretty basic four magics. Arcane, Divine, Primal, and Psionic. We decided we wanted each one to be different from the others. This means not just lists of spell blocks. Arcane has some but that is all (mostly examples of Evocation spells).

Arcane
-Power of visualization. Once you know how to control the energy you need to visualize what you want to do with it.
-Uses energy that seeps into the world from the astral plane.
--Limited amount in each area but replenishes over time.
--Can draw as much from a portal as you want but too much is dangerous.
-Has some spell blocks (still use skills, like Evocation, power based on result) but also uses that are only skills (such as Necromancy).
-Can be learned by anyone.

Divine
-Pray to deities for power.
--You have no powers at all and do not choose what they do. They help in anyway they see fit.
---From healing someone to showing up themselves to fight while you retreat.
-Reputation is tracked with each deity that has taken notice of someone.
--Different reputation changes for each deity, some contrary.
--When it gets high enough and ask for help it may appear.
-Reputation limits help per day (situational and varies by deity).
-Can be done by anyone.

Primal
-Power of the elements and spirit.
--Air, Earth, Fire, Spirit, Water.
-Gained through primal awakening.
--When in danger there is a chance people awaken (very low).
--Can be performed by primal users or some objects designed to do so.
---Imagine an obelisk in the middle of a forest, something like that may awaken someone who touches it.
-Completely skill based. One skill for each of the elements.
-No usage limit.
-Only used by the awakened.

Psionic
-Power of the mind.
-Skills and spell blocks (mostly as examples).
-Gained through psionic awakening.
--Requires a brain, not just sentience but a brain.
--Can be done by those with psionics or by objects.
--Can happen while in danger, will save you but may lead to your death.
-Usage increases stress and may lead to nose bleeds, temporary loss of sight or limb function, permanent loss of these things, death, and more.
--May continue to use psionics as long as you are alive / conscious, even if you should stop.
-Only usable by the awakened.

I think we did a good job determining how magic works. If you do not understand something just reply.

How magic affects the world depends on the abundance of it and the difficulty. Arcane magic can be used to create objects but it is very difficult to create permanent ones. Primal magic could be used to make a large stone building but it is nearly impossible to achieve. Psionics can turn someone into a tree. These are not balanced and they should not be. On the continents I am designing one has almost no magic. On the other it is a part of everyday life. On the second there is a school for magic (arcane), some fishermen use primal to move the water with the fish into onto their boat, soil is tilled with magic, buildings are built with floating devices carrying large bricks, among other things.

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Big Mac
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Re: dealing with the realities of magic

Post by Big Mac » Wed Dec 10, 2014 7:32 am

mrverbal wrote:In the real middle ages, castles made sense because they were monsterously difficult to get in to, until the advent of gunpowder. Trade routes were long and dangerous, and mapping the world was fanastically challenging.
Well, you will remove some dangers with magic, but you will also add new ones.

If magic is common, then magical defences will also be common.

Teleportation can be blocked, so NPC magic users would create methods to block the spell and make that commercially available to people building strongholds.

It could even be possible to create some sort of "teleportation focus", put that focus into a locked cage and "capture" people who try to teleport in (rather than simply block them). I think I've even heard that it is possible to create a teleportation trap that would separate a PC from their magic items. Maybe they would arrive naked in a cage with their clothes, weapons and spell componets arriving somewhere else.

There could even be mundane materials (like lead) that block teleportation (or other things like scrying).
mrverbal wrote:A high magic fantasy world significantly reduces those issues. And a lot of them stem from teleport and related spells. Trade becomes a whole lot easier when you can set up ring-gates at two ends of a major trade route and cut out a lot of the sea travel. Having encounters en-route from A to B becomes a lot harder when the distance from A to B is the same click-of-fingers for A and B. Scounting out new areas - even large islands - is a hell of a lot easier when you can do it from 2000 feet up while flying.
Magic robberies becomes easier too. If you can get people to "hack" those ring gates, you can divert the trade goods sent through them to other locations.

And invasions, via magic gates would also be possible. So if a bunch of countries that had too much focus on trade put all their efforts into making it easy to get around their lands, another more aggressive neibour, could sneak into their land, take control of their magical gates and attempt to take over the entire area the gates access.

You would need to have war wizards to protect gates (and if necessary disable or destroy them) and you would need to be careful to avoid getting spies in your gate-protection force.

So you get different problems, if you increase magic.
David "Big Mac" Shepheard
(A Spelljammer fan hoping to user Other World Mapper to make lots of maps of planets.)
You can see more of me over at The Piazza campaign settings forums

stefanstr
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Re: dealing with the realities of magic

Post by stefanstr » Wed Dec 10, 2014 12:39 pm

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. 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.)

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Re: dealing with the realities of magic

Post by unklStewy » Fri Dec 12, 2014 1:31 pm

Good Afternoon,
stefanstr wrote: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.)
I've been a fan of "The Sword of Truth" series for a long time and one of the ideas it gave me for magic use is the fact the most powerful magic can be read like a book or sheet music if you posses the talent and skill. The SOT series calls them "spell forms" but in my head and and world you can mess with these spell forms by changing the geometric structure of the magic flows. It is a bit like inserting virus code into an otherwise innocuous bit of code.

In a world where this is common practice either in an offensive or defensive nature it would stand to reason that someone else is working to prevent it. I also like the idea of commercialized/industrialized magi that sell their services. Too many people treat magic like a sacred cow and so their game philosophy reflects that. "Don't use magic for personal gain... blah... Don't use magic for acts of hubris... meh ... Don't use magic for tasks that can be done with out it's effects... Pisshaw" If I could levitate a bag of chips and beer from the kitchen to the den I would never get up.. Let the magic be free, but to every excess there is a downside. It's the downsides that give me GM Giggle Fits (TM).


Casey :ugeek:
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boris1558
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Re: dealing with the realities of magic

Post by boris1558 » Sun Dec 21, 2014 9:00 pm

I think it is more about common/cheap than powerful. "Simple" spells like grease, levitate, heat metal, create water, extinguish, repair and even create food make construction easier (at least economically). Expensive spell components would mitigate this, if is cheaper to hire/feed workers mundanely to carry building materials than a mage to levitate them them economics will rule. If mages can create castle/cathedral/shrine parts even if expensively then the rich and powerful will pay the premium to get theirs quickly. I think using these assumptions means that the world is closer to historical for the lives of the peasants/third estate but allows more elaborate castles/dungeons and exotic lives for the hero (characters) and nobilities. This is the vision I always has for the general D&D type settings. Constructing a whole new economic structure that is internally consistent is very hard, my group has been working on a space empire for years and continue to find holes in our logic.
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stefanstr
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Re: dealing with the realities of magic

Post by stefanstr » Mon Dec 22, 2014 4:07 am

This is a very valid point. Magic has its costs and they would have to be taken into account. I think what bugs me in fantasy worlds isn't so much the quantity of magic, but its quality. I think that the true game changers in a world with magic wouldn't be the things that can be done without magic, but the things which cannot. E.g., teleportation, distant communication, healing.

A world with magic would be like our modern world in a lot of ways: a lot of diseases which decimated medieval societies would be curable, there would be better means of transportation, there would be a network of instant communication, etc.


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.

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