Sunday, August 2, 2015

The True Nature of Magic

OK, so I have to admit, I was watching a chick-thing (not a chick-flick, because it was for TV) about magic and witches. Yes, this is what happens when I look through Netflix instead of just choosing off my already extensive list. Gorgeous women chasing after the only two guys on the show - not bad. But stupid things keep happening around the witches, because they’re witches. Effectively, they don’t fully control their powers and stuff happens. This isn’t all that different from Sabrina the teen-aged witch.

But I think in game worlds where rules matter and we think of things as die rolls and success or failure, we don’t do that. Random stupid things don’t happen around our mages, unless we need a plot device for a mission. I think it should come down to the yin-yang relationship between order and chaos. Probably not where you thought I was going, but without making this incredibly long: Is magic a natural force in your game world or is it something else?
On Fletnern and in Legend Quest, magic is referred to as a “vanetil” source of power - meaning it comes from the energy of life and chaos. A dead planet (sort of like our moon) would have no magic, or extremely little because there is nothing going on there other than the rare impacts or other forces acting upon the moon. But in a world with life, weather, tides, etc. - Here there is an energy created that can be tapped into via magic. So I guess for me, magic is natural.

But it’s not completely magical either. I got to spend some time with the writer Steven Brust and recall a “fan” arguing with him about magic causing an orange pollution in his world. The idea of an orange haze existing over cities with “too much” magic going on has stuck with me, and I think I incorporate some of that into my world too. Magic may have a natural origin, but the way it is being used by sorcerers and necromancers is not necessarily “natural”. The quickie definition is that they are abusing magic in an unnatural way.

If there is any part of magic that is unnatural, then I think it needs to have some outlets. I have written in the past about how magic needs a dark side. (Slaughtering dozens of people in a day with fireballs has to have some manner of unintended consequence!) But I think it needs to have some silly aspects too. I am NOT suggesting that you have a random encounter chart and every day something goofy happens because there is magic in the world. (Even one of our d1000 books wouldn’t have enough ideas to handle that.) But I am going to start having little random things happen where the world is trying to put itself back to “right” by offsetting magic. Maybe the world actually needs a certain minimum of beauty and if that beauty is destroyed by magic (such as burning a forest with fireballs), then mystic butterflies will appear randomly around the world for no reason. If lives are cut short by magic spells, would that life energy infect plants somewhere else, causing them to age/grow supernaturally fast? Some guy on a desert island wakes up one morning and a full size pine tree is now standing in front of his hut where only palm trees grew before. Silly, chaotic things that may be caused by an imbalance or by the “natural” spirits (and gods) of the world looking to strengthen the things they care about. After all the fire magics used by player characters in my world, I could legitimately see the wind spirits blowing clouds full of rain right over a naturally occurring forest fire in order for the water/rain to lessen the fire. They’re just trying to restore the balance, or at least the balance as they see it. Then again, the idea of air magic causing clouds to “explode” in crazy patterns in the sky sounds just silly and unexpected enough to be fun. Then again, my players would probably think it meant something in the storyline and we’d waste two hours while they tried to scientifically test the clouds for enemies.

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