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Old 09-18-2015, 09:26 AM   #21
Mailanka
 
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Default Re: Making Magic Mysterious and Eldritch

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Originally Posted by sonic232 View Post
You could use GURPS Powers: Divine Favor as a base, where magic is this indescribable and fickle force. It doesn't necessarily need to model a deity, just this mystical force that you are petitioning for help... You might not necessarily get what you want, but you might get what you need depending on the request. Just ignore the pre-approved prayers part.
Yes. Divine Powers can work for a specific God ("Thor is displeased"), but it can also apply to fickle forces or elements ("The spirits are displeased" or "The Universe knows you mean ill.") In fact, if you really dig deep into theology, or even mythology, you'll find that the personification of a god is a simplification. While many Christians might picture God as a bearded white dude sitting on a throne on a cloud in the sky, actual Christian theology* depicts God as an omnipresent entity that suffuses, or is, the universe.

The best way to make things eldritch is to play up the alienness of this entity. You can easily do this by just claiming that "the Magic does what it wants to do." If "magic" becomes inherently malign, that might make it more eldritch, andif it become inherently ineffable, then it becomes more mysterious (though, ideally, you want it to be somewhat logical, because the point of a mysterious thing is that it can be investigated and understood: the magic teases you with glimpses of structures that you do not yet understand)

*depending on your sect of Christianity, of course.
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Old 09-18-2015, 09:38 AM   #22
A Ladder
 
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Default Re: Making Magic Mysterious and Eldritch

I believe the trick to keeping magic “Mysterious” is to actually do that. Keep the Rules of the system a mystery to the players.

By only giving the players partial information about the magic system, it’s possible to keep magic as a mysterious element. Instead of fleshing out the entirety of how the system works only give them a brief overview of what the penalties, rules, and possibilities entails at the outset. This would force players to pay attention to every bit of detail when spells were being cast to try to figure out what was going on. Net effect: Mystery.

Example: Say your magic system is based on a free-form keyword base like RPM, with costs coming from Threshold and Fatigue. Threshold starts at 0 and has a minimum cost of 1, with no upperbound. Fatigue is generally used to offset the Threshold cost but a minimum Fatigue expenditure is also based on key words used in the spell (IE: All Damage spells and ones that affect an area or multiple targets have a minimum 1 FP, etc.).
Threshold costs are assigned based on how “big” of magic the PCs want to use, but with random element added to them. Then, the effect of the spell is based on a Reaction Roll table, much similar to Divine Favor. A better reaction = a “better/bigger” effect or less Threshold costs.
Increasing your Reaction Roll on the spell table is based on a number of attributes: character behavior, the subjects involved, any esoteric items/ingredients involved, chanting, special locations, time of day, etc…By adding these “Traditional Trappings” to the spells they start to feel more eldritch as they don’t seem to follow the natural order of the how Science explains the universe to work. “Why does creating a magic circle out of the dust of a dead relative make teleportation spells easier?” etc. But also, the randomness adds a hint of unpredictability to the casting. You could think you know all the rules of how to get bonuses, but still get a bad roll and have a wimpy spell go off.

However, you only tell your players that spells use Fatigue and might require research or knowledge checks to make their spells better. The building of the spell is all in the GM’s hands. The GM merely asks the player “what do you want to do?” and assigns keywords and costs based on what the player describes. The GM can give the option of asking “Do you want to spend any FP?”, without telling them what that paying of FP does. Then the GM rolls the 3d Reaction Roll (in secret) every time a spell is cast and doesn’t tell the PCs what that does. Already the Pc’s are curious at all the unknowns. Ah! Mystery!
At this point PCs will start with just trying to cast spells with the least amount of FP. This generally results in faster Threshold accumulation and either less spells or more catastrophic ones. The GM should liberally allow them Per-based Research/Thaumatology/Occultism checks to notice one aspect of something affecting their spells: “Oh the moon was especially bright during your previous Ray of Frost and doesn’t seem to have the same effect during the day.” “Your research shows that those who spend more of their body’s own resources allow spells to be more stable.” Etc.

This gives your players incentive to figure out what the hell is going on in your magic system due to all the info they don’t know. The players will then have to make notes on what helped and what didn’t and slowly begin to unravel the rules, the mystery, of the system. But, the Reaction Roll keeps everything not quite "A+B+C = D"-like science.

**But make sure the players (not the PCs) know that there are things the GM is looking for behind the scenes when they cast spells and are on board with this system first!**
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Old 09-18-2015, 10:00 AM   #23
Joe
 
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Default Re: Making Magic Mysterious and Eldritch

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Originally Posted by Donny Brook View Post
I'm about to embark on GMing a TL2 fantasy campaign and approaching this problem what I will try to do is:

-use multiple skins over a fundamental magic engine known only to me in order to stovepipe mage types such that while they may have some mechanistic understanding of their own magic use, the capabilities and methods of other mages will be obscure to them;

-base threshold levels on CP levels;

-us a high threshold but make recovery slow;

-base spell threshold costs on the scale/scope of the effect, and make the scale and scope of effect partially unpredictable;

-make spell failure complications common and relatively manageable, but subject to potentially cascading if bad luck and foolish risks combine.
This sounds like an excellent bundle of solutions. I do think they'll go a long way towards making magic feel mysterious, even to wizard PCs who have significant control over it.
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Old 09-18-2015, 10:09 AM   #24
Joe
 
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Default Re: Making Magic Mysterious and Eldritch

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Originally Posted by A Ladder View Post
Example: Say your magic system is based on a free-form keyword base like RPM, with costs coming from Threshold and Fatigue.
...
Then, the effect of the spell is based on a Reaction Roll table, much similar to Divine Favor.
...
However, you only tell your players that spells use Fatigue and might require research or knowledge checks to make their spells better.
...
Then the GM rolls the 3d Reaction Roll (in secret) every time a spell is cast and doesn’t tell the PCs what that does. Already the Pc’s are curious at all the unknowns. Ah! Mystery!
...
**But make sure the players (not the PCs) know that there are things the GM is looking for behind the scenes when they cast spells and are on board with this system first!**
This is also a damned good idea. I would love to play a wizard in a campaign like this. Doing magical research would be great fun, since it would not just be a matter of the character learning things, but of me, as a player, gradually piecing the puzzle together. Awesome!

All this assumes that I trust the GM really does have a workable magic system behind the GM screen. But this one seems workable.
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Old 09-18-2015, 07:14 PM   #25
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Default Re: Making Magic Mysterious and Eldritch

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Originally Posted by Mailanka View Post
Yes. Divine Powers can work for a specific God ("Thor is displeased"), but it can also apply to fickle forces or elements ("The spirits are displeased" or "The Universe knows you mean ill.") In fact, if you really dig deep into theology, or even mythology, you'll find that the personification of a god is a simplification. While many Christians might picture God as a bearded white dude sitting on a throne on a cloud in the sky, actual Christian theology* depicts God as an omnipresent entity that suffuses, or is, the universe.

The best way to make things eldritch is to play up the alienness of this entity. You can easily do this by just claiming that "the Magic does what it wants to do." If "magic" becomes inherently malign, that might make it more eldritch, andif it become inherently ineffable, then it becomes more mysterious (though, ideally, you want it to be somewhat logical, because the point of a mysterious thing is that it can be investigated and understood: the magic teases you with glimpses of structures that you do not yet understand)

*depending on your sect of Christianity, of course.
Yes and No. And ignoring theology for aesthetics. Chesterton in one essay said that paradoxically people do not get scared of trees until they imagine tree-people inside. When it is just a wooden organism it is not very scary. If it has a guardian nymph that dislikes being disturbed it is scarier. If the guardian nymph has a regular audience with Artimis you are in big trouble. It is true when you think of it. Anthropomorphism when done right is SCARY. Or make it a Celtic version. For some reason Celtic myth seems more frightening then Greek; maybe because it is less obviously subdued and there were folks not so long ago that believed a distilled version of it, and not just intellectual chic but the peasant stuff.

The trick to making things Eldritch is to combine the Anthropomorphized with the Mysterious and Inhuman in the proper way.

When magic is used have a Wise One communicate with something like this-however. He will not see the roll, the GM will make the roll. It will require good acting for the GM to scare the PC playing the Wise One. He will give a cryptic message to the Wise One(perhaps a riddle or whatever in fact a riddle is a good idea). What the other PCs will see is something spectacular and mysterious happening to the Wise One until he returns with his message.

In any case the Eldritch Creature has to be anthropomorphized just a little bit or it will be just beastly rather then eldritch. But the anthropomorphism can't be taken to far. Perhaps a good guide is to imagine the Wizard of Oz-without a little man in the corner.
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Old 09-18-2015, 10:05 PM   #26
Balor Patch
 
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Default Re: Making Magic Mysterious and Eldritch

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This is the tension - for players to use magic, it must be Tool. For magic to be as the OP desires it, magic must be Other.
It can also be roleplaying. If warriors of your PCs culture always shout "In Nomine Dei!" when they charge then that's a spell. If sometimes the fiends flee then it worked and god gave them the victory.

If the GM lets the players know that sometimes doing these things right will help, or at least keep the ancestors from getting mad, then their characters will keep trying magic.
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Old 09-19-2015, 12:42 AM   #27
Peter Knutsen
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Default Re: Making Magic Mysterious and Eldritch

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The thing is, if you did succeed in making magic not a Tool, rational players would never use it, because they'd know it couldn't be made to do what they needed it to. And they would have a legitimate complaint if anybody else in the story did manage to make it do something they wanted, so it's difficult to justify the NPCs using it much either.

In some senses I suppose magic that never appears in play is pretty mysterious, but not in a very interesting way.
Since this is the GURPS sub-forum, the question isn't just whether rational players would ever use it. It goes much deeper than that: Would rational players ever choose to pay points for it?

Purchasing abilities with points implies ownership of said abilities. GURPS then has some pricing game mechanics, Limitations, that can be used to limit ability ownership, so that the character can in many cases be said to to fully (100%) own the ability that the player playing the character paid points for.

Thus, it's an RPG mechancis design issue:
A question of how to use the existing mechanics to as fully as possible achieve the desired goal, or seeking to tweak, change or modify the RAW mechanics so that the goal can be achieved more fully.
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Old 09-19-2015, 01:06 AM   #28
Peter Knutsen
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Default Re: Making Magic Mysterious and Eldritch

Here are some of my ideas. Not for GURPS, for a different system, but they can all be used in GURPS:

1. Have multiple magic systems in the world, not just one.

2. Create broad random-roll tables to determine the consequences of magic use Fumbles. Instead of just one 3d6 table with 16 different outcomes, try something like first a 1d6 roll to determine which of six 1d18 sub-tables to roll on. Magic mishaps should be able to produce a very wide variety of undesirable effects, ranging from the annoying or embarassing to the truly dangerous, preferably with more powerful magics being more likely to produce the truly dangerous ones. Ideally each magic system should have its own set of Fumble tables, thus if your world has four different kinds of magic then you'd need 6 times 18 times 4 outcomes, but fortunately in some cases it makes sense to have a smaller and less broad table, for instance Divine magic can use just an 1d6- or 1d12-based Divine Displeasure Table.

3. Magic should never work all of the time. Unlike AD&D and D&D, this is already an intrinsic element of most GURPS magic systems (so this won't induce cognitice dissonance in you guys), with GURPS Powers as the exception where you have to actively apply one of the several available "doesn't work 100% of the time"-Limitations to achieve this.

4. Keep the characters guessing as to what is and is not magical. In one of my posts on my OdinsDay Blog, I rant against the super-availability of Detect Magic in AD&D and D&D. In most cases it's a 1st level spell, and the exceptions means it's a zeroeth level spell or a constantly available ability. That's exactly the wrong way to go about it. Instead, it should be difficult to determine whether magic is actually present, e.g. in an effect (a warrior moving very swiftly in battle, dodging blows with superb grace - is he or is he not subject to a spell buff?) or an item (a very good sword might be magical or it might not; after using it in a few fights you have a sense of how sharp and balanced it is, but you cannot be sure if it is extraordinary because of magic or merely because it was made by a very skilled smith). Detect Magic should probably still be a possibility, just not something as trivially easy as the equivalent of an AD&D 1st level spell (and detecting exotic kinds of magic should be harder). TvTropes has the MaybeMagicMaybeMundane trope, and that's a good place to start. Decipher's "Lord of the Rings" RPG also has an interesting page on different ways for magic weapons (or other items) to have bonuses, rather than everything just being due to Enchanting.

5. Avoid generalist magic users being the norm. Instead, try to have most magic users have an easier time learning some kinds of magic and a harder time learning other kinds, with different magic users finding different kinds of magic easy or hard. That way you get specialist casters being the setting norm, and so not everyone will have access to the Detect Magic Spell (which doesn't mean you can downgrade Detect Magic to a "1st level spell" again!), and when you're preparing to fight a magic-using enemy, part of the intel you'll want to gather on him is what kinds of magics he actually can use - something that is nonsensical in worlds where the magic system makes it easy to be a generalist magic user, such as GURPS Magic or AD&D/D&D.

6. Have exceptions occur. In some RPGs, the only way to get that, for a player, is to perform a sexual favour for the GM, but GURPS has this wonderful mechanic called the UB, which facilitates the resolution of such desires without needing to stoop to the metagame level. In this way, exceptions from the setting's usual cap can exist, and can surprise the other characters ("I didn't think that was possible!"). For instance, instead of setting a hard cap of Magery of X levels, say that the cap can be exceeded by two (i.e. to X+2), the first such additional level costing an UB of 5 points, and the second additional level costing an UB of 10 or even 15 points (an even more sophisticated implementation would base the UB not on levels of Magery but rather on points in Magery). The UB mechanic can be used for a lot of things, including starting the game having training in a magic system that is ultra-rare in in-world terms, adding to the surprise value.



It'll add to the mystery if the player characters don't always immediately (or at all) share capabilitistic information with each other. Not always sharing information is bad tactical practice in a Dungeon Fantasy paradigm (the party leader needs to know how badly the Wizard's spellcasting ability becomes gimped if he gets a ferrous dagger stuck into his body, as just one example), but makes sense in a lot of other fantasy settings (although the benefits can be mitigated if character creation is an intensely collectivist activity where the players almost sit on each other's shoulders when they make the characters).
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Old 09-19-2015, 05:12 AM   #29
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Default Re: Making Magic Mysterious and Eldritch

I played a game where magic was really mysterious and frightening. It was a Palaeolithic setting where magic was newly discovered and not well-controlled.

You had a tally, of all the magic points you'd ever used, and as it went up, there was a gradually increasing chance that any working would run away, be vastly more effective and kill you. Some characters worked really hard on finding ways to do a lot with a few points; the system was improvisational, but responded well to ingenuity, and the characters knew the odds. Some simply did no magic unless it was a matter of tribal survival.
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Old 02-07-2016, 11:00 PM   #30
Donny Brook
 
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Default Re: Making Magic Mysterious and Eldritch

Further to my remark regarding threshold based on the CP of the character in post 20, I have decided on the function for the relationship:

Threshold = [(sqrt (23* Total CP + 1) -1)/2.3] + CP spent on magery advantages.

This produces the following thresholds at key CP levels:

0 CP -- Threshold = magery CP spent
25 CP -- Threshold = 10 + magery CP spent
150 CP -- Threshold = 25 + magery CP spent
250 CP -- Threshold = 32 + magery CP spent
500 CP -- Threshold = 46 + magery CP spent
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