Thursday, 24 February 2011

Cost-benefit of magic

We like magic and psychic powers, but this isn't always true in reverse. There's often a trade-off that barely slows the player, but has the magic-user and friends suffer. Why? What's the rationale for that? To ration it? To create drama or make a point? Maybe the user isn't doing it right? Or maybe if it were free, the fictional world would look different.

Anyway C'nor has a community table for side effects, and your suggestions are welcome. Don't forget the Wyrd table at Quickly, Quietly, Carefully too.

What if those side effects themselves extend beyond, into the wider world? Lexie at Poisoned Rationality reviews a novel in which the world is being overrun by Bramble, though it's not clear exactly what this is. I can see the real world parallels in that. If it's technology you're thinking, Harald at The Book of Worlds has some draft house rules for creating new. They could have unforeseen quirks too.

As an aside, what does the fictional world itself get out of it? If there is a cost, is the cost interest or usury - Pat's Blog has a distinction - or something else again?

C'nor is also working on a scalable magic system, mentioned here and briefly here, and this is something I find very interesting. Why are spells so often so specific? Why can't the user form new from zero on the spot or tweak existing? I always think of the Lone Wolf novelisations and the way spells could be built up - as far as I remember - in a space of slowed time and as a crystalline structure. Is this so unfeasible in a game?


Pontifex said...

I don't see having drawbacks as problematic. How many times do you get +2 to something but a -1 to something else as a result. Magic makes you more powerful than the Fighter in that moment, so you need some kind of flaw to even it out.

The Angry Lurker said...

My brief foray into magig has always been with Games Workshop's Warhammer Fantasy Battle, Lord of the Rings and to a lesser extent WH40K but it horrifys me with the randomness of it in thode rules but I must admit I liked it when it backfired on an opposing wizard and the consequences that followed but my favourite instance and earliest memories come from the skeletons in Clash of the Titans and the effects magic had on Tom Baker's character in the The Golden Voyage of Sinbad movie when he performed magic and this is the way I haved always liked magic to be shown.
Another way some of them channel and save themselves is the use of familiars to take the effect and damage of magic.

The Angry Lurker said...

.....and congratulations on 100 follower's, this blog deserves a lot more.

The Angry Lurker said...

and magic I meant not magig (but maybe it's called magig in another universe).

Xyanthon said...

Porky, good commentary and congrats on the 100 followers. I personally like having drawbacks and caveats to magic. It suits my style of play where magic is an alien force that can have a corrupting influence on the user.

Porky said...

@ Greg Christopher - I see the point of balance, especially if we're talking about games involving parties - and one in which each player has a character - or even about ensemble fiction in general. The supposed needs of the audience or the demands of adhering to a genre would naturally shape the magic. But going beyond that, into the possible other games or other fiction types?

The second point ties in with this. A classic take on the magic-user is a physically weak, bookish individual, natural if the user has had to devote time to learning from texts over many years. But if so, isn't this weakness enough to offset the power of the magic by comparison to others in a group, without drawbacks to magic use itself?

Beyond this approach are multiple possible concepts of magic-user not involving book learning, in which the magic is a talent for example, and a talent which might even be honed in communion with nature in the great outdoors, or in socialising.

The question I'm really asking is this: why don't we more often explore beyond magic with a side effect?

@ The Angry Lurker - Based on that you ought to be The Friendly Commenter. Thanks very much - the number's a good round one!

Good thoughts too, as ever. I wonder whether the wizards in Warhammer are preparing all their lives to becoming overcharged weapons, and expect just a handful of battles in their careers, because mortality rates do seem high. Or why they don't hold back just a little; fewer of the enemy might be lost, but the increased chances of survival would surely be worth it to the friendly side. Wizards on opposing sides could just give each other a nudge and wink through the aether and tone it down. This comes back to scalability of course.

It could well be called 'magig' elsewhere, and I like the word, a corruption of the original. New words are always welcome!

@ Johnathan Bingham - Thanks very much to you too!

I'll admit I like the idea of a capricious, corrupting magic as much as the next guy might, and thought of it as an alien force is definitely attractive. We've many of us got accustomed to it, but I just wonder.

Pontifex said...

@ Porky

That's why I wrote Errant magic users to bypass traditional drawbacks. Sorcerer magic is based on Constitution and it drains your life force when cast, so a Sorcerer would be a very strong individual to pay those prices. And my Scholarly class is based on creating scrolls ahead of time, so they are not even draining themselves in combat just reading it out.

Pontifex said...

@ Porky

Thanks dude, you rock

Porky said...

@ Greg - I don't doubt you've thought about it hard. The existing conventions and even our own expectations as an audience can be limiting, but from what I can see you're using the space we have to make steps in other directions. Your Synapse concept intrigues me for example.

If you're following this and interested in the possible costs and benefits of advanced tech (sufficiently advanced of course it's indistinguishable from magic), especially in games, Greg has put up some notes on energy for his post-collapse sci-fi setting. There's no disagreement between us on how well this game is being developed. The material I've seen has the best intro to a setting and concept I can remember reading.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

The way magic works in the Wheel of Time series is like that. The problem is, that everything being variable causes problems because how long it takes to cast spells, and possibly their level, becomes variable based on a variety of factors.

Capcha: Impigge: Actually, that would be you, but...

Cronickain said...

I'll have to send you my idea for my Shylitheria RPG. In that game a mage actually is a channeler and has to CHANNEL magic through their person. To cast spells in that world it actually affects you physically.