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Old 07-07-2018, 02:17 AM   #1
scc
 
Join Date: Mar 2013
Default The Problem With Magic

Magic doesn't exactly have the best rep, some of it deserved (Not really updated from 3e) and some not (It's too cheap), but I think I've figured out a real problem it suffers from: No Meta-physics.

There's no attempt to explain HOW any of the spells work and that's rather important. Now this may sound silly or folly but it's actually rather important because it informs you how magic itself works and what it's limits are. And lack of definitions here may have carry on effects.

An example of this problem is how the College's are organized, they work along themes rather then appearing to work on fundamental (magical) concepts, which can result in spells that would logically go together not, or very weak colleges (Food).

Now while the various other magic systems lack the same level of definition, given that they don't have pre-determined lists of spells it less of a problem.
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Old 07-07-2018, 03:11 AM   #2
Polydamas
 
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Default Re: The Problem With Magic

Quote:
Originally Posted by scc View Post
Magic doesn't exactly have the best rep, some of it deserved (Not really updated from 3e) and some not (It's too cheap), but I think I've figured out a real problem it suffers from: No Meta-physics.

There's no attempt to explain HOW any of the spells work and that's rather important. Now this may sound silly or folly but it's actually rather important because it informs you how magic itself works and what it's limits are. And lack of definitions here may have carry on effects.

An example of this problem is how the College's are organized, they work along themes rather then appearing to work on fundamental (magical) concepts, which can result in spells that would logically go together not, or very weak colleges (Food).

Now while the various other magic systems lack the same level of definition, given that they don't have pre-determined lists of spells it less of a problem.
I don't see that as a problem, because it is a generic system (so has to work in settings with servitor angels and settings with magic as an energy field), and because the odds are that your players have no idea why magic works either, any more than the average electrician really understands subatomic physics. D&D magic does not come with metaphysics either. I still think that the two main problems are:

- There are too many common spells which let a single character break a 'typical fantasy RPG setting' (the Unofficial GURPS Magic Faq has an OK list). Many of them are basically boring spells too ... in most settings we don't want mages replacing barbers and masons.
- The implicit assumptions about how (not why) magic works which held up to GURPS (3e) Magic (about 10 FP and powerstones, repeated small, short-ranged castings to create major effects, int14magery3, mana levels, combat spells are either about as effective as a crossbow or can take one opponent out of the fight at the cost of all your FP) faded away, leaving a bundle of spells which is not very flavourful and takes too long to organize

About 10 years ago, David Pulver suggested that the solution was to regroup around a list of about 100 spells suitable for a ghost story, horror novel, or medieval legend, another list for flashy fantasy novel magic, another for technomagic, another for 'please don't call it psi' ...
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Old 07-07-2018, 03:36 AM   #3
The Colonel
 
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Default Re: The Problem With Magic

Yep. Flavourless because generic - add seasoning to taste.

If you want some ideas on how to season, pick up Thaumatology, because that has all sorts of metaphysical stuff.
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Old 07-07-2018, 03:51 AM   #4
Mithlas
 
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Default Re: The Problem With Magic

Although you have some good points, I am inclined to fall in scc's camp. I think magic should've been held off for its own book (one of, anyway). It is important where magic comes from because that can affect what its limitations are, what happens when it goes wrong, and whether it can 'go too right'. It can also provide pointers to how to group them depending on which system magic is built on.

D&D avoids this somewhat by having long lists of spells for every single class (regardless of how sensible it might be for a cleric to be unable to cast Make Whole, for example), but it isn't without some metaphysical underpinnings. There's "material realm" or arcane magic that doesn't (usually) involve outside entities and there's "contract magic" gifted from a worshiped god (or demon), has fewer failure points but tends to be more restricted.

GURPS could have benefited from some paring down and restructuring of its magic, as well as providing alternative associations so some absurdly powerful spells don't have only one prerequisite.
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Old 07-07-2018, 04:21 AM   #5
scc
 
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Default Re: The Problem With Magic

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Originally Posted by The Colonel View Post
Yep. Flavourless because generic - add seasoning to taste.

If you want some ideas on how to season, pick up Thaumatology, because that has all sorts of metaphysical stuff.
This goes beyond mere 'seasoning', and really isn't something the GM should be doing, when you pick up a book like Magic and except that the spells inside it form a cohesive whole, not a couple of hundred spell ideas, for an example of the problems as I see them:

Elemental seems to be treated as both something naturally occurring AND things created by mages, they can't both be right.

Lend Vitality would suggest that a world where it is used requires something like the elthric doubles from Katherine Kerr's Deverry novels, so why isn't there a spell that reverses the effect that damages the double, which would bypass all physical defenses and likely only be heal-able by magic.
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Old 07-07-2018, 05:28 AM   #6
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Default Re: The Problem With Magic

From what I've heard Magic suffered from being very early in the 4e cycle (hence issues with still having some 3e-isms, at least according to the review I read).
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Old 07-07-2018, 05:48 AM   #7
Refplace
 
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Default Re: The Problem With Magic

I'm of the mind that Magic is mostly fine and criticisms against it are mostly overrated.
Certain spells may be a problem in certain settings, just disallow them.
The colleges are organized into understandable themes that make sense in some settings but could be organized differently for other settings.
As for the metaphysics? That is a setting issue and this is a generic system. Sure it could have done with a chapter on exploring different ideas but being generic allows it to fit more places.
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Old 07-07-2018, 05:51 AM   #8
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Default Re: The Problem With Magic

Quote:
Originally Posted by scc View Post
Magic doesn't exactly have the best rep, some of it deserved (Not really updated from 3e) and some not (It's too cheap), but I think I've figured out a real problem it suffers from: No Meta-physics.

There's no attempt to explain HOW any of the spells work and that's rather important. Now this may sound silly or folly but it's actually rather important because it informs you how magic itself works and what it's limits are. And lack of definitions here may have carry on effects.

An example of this problem is how the College's are organized, they work along themes rather then appearing to work on fundamental (magical) concepts, which can result in spells that would logically go together not, or very weak colleges (Food).

Now while the various other magic systems lack the same level of definition, given that they don't have pre-determined lists of spells it less of a problem.
I wouldn't call Food a "weak" college for anything below TL5. Preserve Food is going to have a huge impact as one of the main issues was the inability to keep food fresh. Create Food is even more insane. Those two spells alone can change the whole way wars are fought. Starving the enemy becomes difficult at best and impossible at worst.

Sure on an individual level the spells are kind of meh but at the level of tiny village up their impact increases.

As I showed in the with an actual GURPS Fantasy example in the "A question about Tech Level" thread it doesn't take high flashy magic to totally mess up the world's Effective TL.

Spice would totally nix any spice trade that could exist if common enough and that was the key element in the Age of Exploration.

IMHO people are so used to the high impact spells in games like D&D they fail to see how "powerful" the supposedly "weak" spells in GURPS Magic are.

Tell Time properly utilized will tell you Longitude, something at wasn't practical in our world until TL5 (c 1750s).

Purify Water is critical in anything TL5 or below; in fact people often drank alcohol because the water was of such questionable quality.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of the ways mundane spells that look "meh" can change the world.

Last edited by maximara; 07-07-2018 at 06:27 AM.
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Old 07-07-2018, 05:56 AM   #9
AlexanderHowl
 
Join Date: Feb 2016
Default Re: The Problem With Magic

I generally ignore Magic nowadays because it is so unbalanced. It is more enjoyable to use my own magical systems, so I generally use a combination Flexible Magic, Path/Book Magic, or Powered Magic to represent magic in my games. The advantage of using my own systems is that I knew that they were balanced.

For example, I have had games in settings where practitioners of magic had access to Path/Book Magic, Powered Magic, and Symbolic Magic. Magery was specific to each type of magic and gave unique bonuses according to the type of magic. Each type of magic possessed its own advantages and benefits (Path/Book magic was slow but inexpensive, Powered Magic was fast but expensive, and Symbolic Magic ended up between the two).
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Old 07-07-2018, 06:23 AM   #10
SilvercatMoonpaw
 
Join Date: Jun 2017
Default Re: The Problem With Magic

I've heard that one of the spell design rules says "three CP of advantages costs 1 FP". You could make your own spells by using Sorcery/Powered Magic and converting that way.
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