Sunday, August 2, 2015

The True Nature of Magic - The Balance

In my last post, I mentioned “the balance”. This is a huge concept in some games and on some game worlds. I don’t believe in it, but that doesn’t mean it is not important.

So what don’t I believe in? I don’t believe that there is a precarious balance between good and evil, order and chaos, or stuff like that. I do believe that eventually there would come a tipping point, where if chaos gained such a strong hand, then order wouldn’t be able to regain its strength. But I also believe in the yin-yang concept. At some point, chaos would grow so powerful that it would destroy nearly everything, but then chaos would have created order. Likewise if order were to dominate (and remove random or chance or chaos), then the systems created by that order would become so complicated that at some point, a very minor random effect would bring down the whole system.

But I believe that what most authors and even world builders see as “a precarious balance” isn’t all that precarious. I think the gap where thing fluctuate back and forth is huge and reasonably stable. For a short time on Earth, the Mongols forced a peace that was pretty much unknown before its time. Even the Pax Romana paled in comparison. This would then be “order”. So what happened? Well, it fell apart, just like the Pax Romana had. I think we’ve had one of these recently with the Western cultures forcing peace on the world for the last, what, 60-70 years? I am not forgetting Korea or Vietnam, but relatively isolated wars were taking place in relatively isolated places. But now we have the Middle East practically exploding, and we’re just seeing the beginning of this. Have we reached the point of no return? Has chaos been building strength for decades and is now ready to completely destroy all order? No. The pendulum swings. We are moving from a stronger period of order to a stronger period of chaos. Neither can truly be conquered by the other.

OK - This wasn’t where I wanted to go. Where I want to be is here: People who are caught in the middle of these conflicts (between what they perceive to be good and evil) believe that there is a “perfect state”. Most often they think they understand a certain period of time and believe that it was the perfect time, either perfect balance or best hoped for reduction of order or chaos. But we’re human. We cannot fully understand the entire globe. What may seem like a perfect state of balance in one area could be pure chaos in another and calm/order in another. The pendulum keeps swinging, but we think there is a point where we can make it stop. It may sound like I am arguing for “balance”, but balance is as illusionary as bliss. The excessively complicated system that is our world (and should be your game world as well) is pretty stable, no matter what we do to it. Even if one side gains strength for a long period of time, things will eventually slip back, without the agents of “balance” coming to the aid of whichever side they think needs it.

So I think you should keep your agents of chaos or order or balance in your game world (but get rid of alignments). Let them be fully dedicated to restoring the balance or whatever, but know that they never can. Every victory they think they’ve achieved or loss they think they’ve taken is completely inconsequential to the system as a whole. That doesn’t mean they’ll stop; they might even work that much harder as they realize that what they did did not have the effect they hoped for. Obviously (to them) it was not enough and they will need to work harder at it. Fanatics, misguided but they make for a lot of cool mission ideas.

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