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Old 11-02-2023, 06:44 PM   #1
xerxes
 
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Default Tolkien magic and game applications

Consider Tolkien's middle-earth. What forms of supernatural power are portrayed in his writing? What is going on? How does it work? What is the "true nature" of it?

Now that you have developed a comprehensive conceptual framework, how do you manifest all of that in an RPG that stays true to his writing?

If you would use an existing game system then, OK , how would you do it? If you are going to invent out of whole-cloth then what would it be?

Let's assume that I want do a campaign set a few hundred years into the 4th age if that makes a difference.
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Old 11-02-2023, 06:53 PM   #2
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Default Re: Tolkien magic and game applications

I used the second edition of Big Eyes Small Mouth when I wanted to run a campaign set in Middle-Earth. It looks like I still have the protocols for that campaign, including the magic rules and racial templates. If you'd like a look, private message me with your e-mail and I'll send you a copy.

Basically I used Magic for what a few player characters could do, I limited Dynamic Sorcery to powerful beings such as Tom Bombadil, and I made up a new trait, Maker, for characters who could make works of craft with magical power but not cast spells. The animistic flavor of the Japanese supernatural material was a surprisingly good fit to Tolkien's world.
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Old 11-02-2023, 11:13 PM   #3
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Default Re: Tolkien magic and game applications

The thing about Tolkien's Legendarium that a lot of people miss (that is important in this context) is that it's not a low-power setting. It's what someone on another forum called a 'high subtlety' setting: Powerful magic that is obvious is rare because it sends a signal up to any other power, while powerful magic that is subtle probably doesn't (or not as 'loudly'), but is also less noticeable to the readers. In a game, subtle-but-powerful magic is more noticeable to the players, since they have to roll for or against it, and depending on the character they're playing, may have skills for it, or be able to sense it.
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Old 11-03-2023, 04:34 AM   #4
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Default Re: Tolkien magic and game applications

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Originally Posted by Prince Charon View Post
The thing about Tolkien's Legendarium that a lot of people miss (that is important in this context) is that it's not a low-power setting. It's what someone on another forum called a 'high subtlety' setting: Powerful magic that is obvious is rare because it sends a signal up to any other power, while powerful magic that is subtle probably doesn't (or not as 'loudly'), but is also less noticeable to the readers. In a game, subtle-but-powerful magic is more noticeable to the players, since they have to roll for or against it, and depending on the character they're playing, may have skills for it, or be able to sense it.
The other, obvious thing about magic in that setting is that it's ... potentially rude. That is, that doing too much by magic essentially involves second guessing the way that Eru created the world. That, of course, was Morgoth's shctick, but is a massive issue for those in service to Eru.
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Old 11-03-2023, 06:39 AM   #5
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Default Re: Tolkien magic and game applications

I would note Galadriel's comment to Frodo that the word "magic" seems to apply both to what the elves do and to "the deceits of the Enemy," which in her view are entirely different things. I tend to think of this as akin to the difference between magia and goetia, or "Truth" and "the Lie."
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Old 11-03-2023, 07:11 AM   #6
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I would note Galadriel's comment to Frodo that the word "magic" seems to apply both to what the elves do and to "the deceits of the Enemy," which in her view are entirely different things. I tend to think of this as akin to the difference between magia and goetia, or "Truth" and "the Lie."
I suppose the elven way is having a really good understanding of the way things are meant to be and so creating things that are close to perfect, and the Istari bend reality with permission under authority, whilst Morgoth's people actively hack reality.
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Old 11-05-2023, 09:52 PM   #7
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Default Re: Tolkien magic and game applications

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Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
I would note Galadriel's comment to Frodo that the word "magic" seems to apply both to what the elves do and to "the deceits of the Enemy," which in her view are entirely different things. I tend to think of this as akin to the difference between magia and goetia, or "Truth" and "the Lie."
Well, partly it's that mortals such as Hobbits tend to use the word 'magic' to mean a bunch of different things, lumping them all together.

For ex, both Elves and Men are telepathic. That is, any of them can potentially learn to communicate mind to mind. Most Men don't live long enough to learn that on their own and few of them have teachers to make up for it, but the Numenoreans had it. Mortals call that magic, but it's an innate ability of sapient beings.

(Aragorn mentions in LOTR that 'senses there are other than sight and smell', that's part of that.)

Some of what mortals call magic is actually examples of what we would call technology. This is esp. true of the Dwarves and the Noldor. Items like the palantiri and the Silmarils fall into this category. So do the Rings of Power, though they probably overlap with 'true' magic.

Some Men think Hobbits are magical, because of their ability to move around so quietly and stealthily, but the Hobbits know it's not magic. It's that sort of thing.
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Old 11-05-2023, 09:37 PM   #8
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Default Re: Tolkien magic and game applications

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Originally Posted by The Colonel View Post
The other, obvious thing about magic in that setting is that it's ... potentially rude. That is, that doing too much by magic essentially involves second guessing the way that Eru created the world. That, of course, was Morgoth's shctick, but is a massive issue for those in service to Eru.
This has various dimensions.

For ex, one very real factor in using magic in Tolkien's world is the Law of Unintended Consequences. That applies in Tolkien's world just as much as it does today, and it applies even to the Valar themselves. This makes the people who do have a lot of 'magical' power hesitant to exercise it, because they can't predict all the outcomes. The more Power you use, the easier it is to screw up.

(This is part of why the Istari operate under such tight restrictions.)

Also, for those loyal to God's plan, it's critical not to infringe needlessly on the free will and free choices of others. This is so important that some of the Elves in the Third Age are reluctant even to give asked advice for fear of improperly shaping someone else's choices.

Along with that is the fact that the Valar are gradually withdrawing from mortal affairs as the Domination of Men approaches, and the older, more powerful High Elves are leaving Middle Earth for Valinor. Mortals have very limited access to 'magic' as such, and we don't live long enough to learn to do the sort of things the High Elves knew how to do.

So the Power is becoming less and less of a factor in life as time passes.
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Old 11-07-2023, 04:17 PM   #9
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Default Re: Tolkien magic and game applications

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Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
I used the second edition of Big Eyes Small Mouth when I wanted to run a campaign set in Middle-Earth. It looks like I still have the protocols for that campaign, including the magic rules and racial templates. If you'd like a look, private message me with your e-mail and I'll send you a copy.

Basically I used Magic for what a few player characters could do, I limited Dynamic Sorcery to powerful beings such as Tom Bombadil, and I made up a new trait, Maker, for characters who could make works of craft with magical power but not cast spells. The animistic flavor of the Japanese supernatural material was a surprisingly good fit to Tolkien's world.

OK, I'll send a private message.
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Old 11-09-2023, 07:52 PM   #10
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Default Re: Tolkien magic and game applications

Thanks for the various comments in the thread.

I had been thinking of using In Nomine as the rule set for a Tolkien-based game. The Songs might be more like the the "natural magic" mentioned by some folks in this thread. And, the sorcery rules would be more like...well...sorcery.

So, mundane humans are composed of 5 Forces, a Soldier is composed of 6 Forces and a Celestial of 9 Forces. What do you think about generating elves if I use In Nomine?
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