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Patrick Zoch
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A question suggested by

Steffan O'Sullivan
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Is RPG magic simply a science based on different laws of nature?

That is, does a mage casting a spell yield consistently predictable results with a successful casting (which is no difference from science, except the basic laws of nature they're calling on wouldn't work in our world.) Or is the result more variable while achieving the same effect?


Do you have a question you want asked as QOTD? Post here!

And if you want to find an old QOTD: The big QOTD Summary and Subscription Thread Volume 3
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Lev
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Depends on the system and GM. I imagine magic as a fairly predictable art not science.
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Alain Curato
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http://www.darkshire.net/~jhkim/rpg/magic/antiscience.html

[Placeholder for a more detailed answer]
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Roger
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have to agree with lev. Depends on system and game master.
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No, the laws are the "game" part of the rpg. Most spells are the product of a player or writer's imagination rather than the result of the scientific method.
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Magic missile...

Rpgs with their probability mechanics are not really equipped to do non linear, non-logic magic.

Mind you, it doesn't bother me. As long as magic isn't some cheap way to have everyone's powers and skills I'm fine with it. Heck I love me some Full metal alchemist type magic which is literally a reflection of science with other laws of nature.
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Science, in the form of a technological object built according to high standards of fabrication, should be able to function flawlessly all the time, every time, at least until it's power source runs out.

So, there would never be any reason to roll.

Press on the appropriate button, and it just works.


As for magic, well, it doesn't really exist anyway, and so it should never work.

So, no need to roll, either.
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I think the operative term here is natural law. The idea is not that magic is wild or unpredictable, but that it is unnatural in relation to workings of everyday life. The most traditional version is forming pacts with otherworldly forces that allow the signatory the ability to break the rules of nature. In cWOD Mage the MU is actually imposing their will power over the collective will power of everyone else [SIC].

Interestingly, in The Dying Earth, from which derives D&D's Vancian magic, magic is more or less described as technology - with invisible servants (nanobots?) preforming the work of the magician.
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Another agreement with Lev, though that link very welcome and I'll have to digest what it's saying later...
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I like to think of a lot of magic systems as working like using the linux shell / DOS. An initiate has no idea why anything they do does what it does, they just work by memorization. A craftsman knows practically all the commands and how to string them together, but perhaps only has glimpses of why they work. A master understands what's going on behind the commands and might even be able to 'abuse' some of the commands to do things they shouldn't be able to.

Science is a methodology of learning about things, and how scientifically advanced in the study of magic a society is can determine whether they have any craftsmen or masters of the art.
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Eric Clason
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I don't want my magic to be a science. However the gamification of magic in RPGs can make magic look more like a science.

I think that whether magic is seen as another science in an RPG, in large part depends on intent. I have heard of some fantasy RPG setting where magic is treated like technology with Continual Light street lamps and the like. On the other hand if a setting treats magic as special, mysterious, and well magical, than magic need not seem like a science despite following the RPGs rules.
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Roger Hobden
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Well, magic is 100 % invented.

So the equation "magic = gamification" will always be an absolute, and will always be there, no matter what.
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Roger Hobden
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One form of magic is to respect the natural laws as closely as possible, except for the super-human control of those natural laws (gravity, temperature, volume, pressure, electricity, bonding of materials, etc.).

Another form of magic is invoking the existence of super-natural entities or creatures, or the existence of different planes then ours.

Or giving inanimate objects, or plants, or creatures, properties that they could never really have in real life.


In my eyes, the 'best' magical system would be one that is totally self-consistent, with the strictest minimum of loopholes.

Does there exist such a system within the currently available RPGs ?

What I do know is that Ars Magica is not one of them.
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It's very much dependent on the game, as others have noted.

Magic in D&D is technology under a different name; spells do what they say they do, reliably and predictably, and without any roll required to bring the effects into play. RuneQuest magic is similar in function, but adds the uncertainty of a casting roll.

But games with less-structured or improvised magic make it feel less like a pseudoscience and much more like an art, and if you keep going in that direction you end up with my favourite magic system, the one from 1st/3rd/5th edition Pendragon, which essentially boils down to two simple rules: "Only NPCs have magic" and "Magic does whatever the GM thinks it does". That doesn't feel game-ified or pseudoscientific at all, but it's not an ideal system for every game.
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The problem with magic being non-scientific in a role-playing game is that the rules are there to systematize the conventions of the game into something that's playable. Rules imply predictability in effect.

The thing about magic is that it is supposed to work according to a set of principles that the magicians don't understand, and game rules don't work that way!

And so most magic systems in games (looking at you, D&D) are science-replacements. They don't really get into "things beyond your ken" because the ruleset that runs them is systematized to make the game playable.

That's a good link above, and I especially like his point about how magic being a known system makes it less mysterious. One of the reasons I like the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (2nd Edition) rules is that spells can backfire and produce strange, or even catastrophic effects. But the rules system is still fairly well-understood by the players, and the extent of the system defines how bad things can get.

To really get the feel of the Warhammer World you'd have to have a spell system like that, but one that the players didn't understand very well. It would need variables that aren't immediately apparent. (That's a really excellent point from Alain's link.)

The problems with that are

(1) That players might balk at a magic system that they don't understand. Some players really like the feeling of control, and using a magic system that has non-transparent variables could be frustrating for them.

(2) Keeping the magic system opaque from the players loads a lot more work onto the GM. He has to figure out what variables are happening and how it impacts the players every single time someone wants to use a spell. A good GM could do that, but it's going to take time and focus away from the rest of the game.

I think it's possible to run a magic system that is mysterious and unreliable, but if you're going to do that you need to make it a major focus of the game. And you're going to need to either introduce your players to a new game system or modify a known game to handle it.

Good question today.
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Mallet wrote:

Well, magic is 100 % invented.

So the equation "magic = gamification" will always be an absolute, and will always be there, no matter what.


I don't think that's true. Magic was a way of explaining things that humans didn't understand in a day before science moved in and systematized everything (or, at least, tried to*.) "Magic", then, was something inaccessible to regular mortals. And wizards/sorcerers/medicine men mastered it by understanding something that was beyond the ken of other men.

I think that the way game systems express magic implies gamification, but it doesn't have to be that way. You could run a magic system entirely on the whim of GM caprice. And there are probably people who'd love to play that game (and many, many others who would hate it.)

*There is a really interesting philosophy discussion to be had on the limits of science, but I sense this is not the thread to get into it.
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As long as I can keep annoying my friends by calling The Force magic, I'm good.
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robbbbbb wrote:


And wizards/sorcerers/medicine men mastered it by understanding something that was beyond the ken of other men.



Hmm ...

As far as I know, there is no scientific proof to support such a statement.

cool

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robbbbbb wrote:
[q="Mallet"]

*There is a really interesting philosophy discussion to be had on the limits of science, but I sense this is not the thread to get into it.


And the limits of the human mind of coping with all the information science can provide. We are a mythic people.

I'm ready, coach!
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brumcg wrote:
As long as I can keep annoying my friends by calling The Force magic, I'm good.


Dude, The Force totally is magic. It's magic in a pre-rational way that totally fits in with what Alain's article above talks about. The Force is mysterious. It's intimately tied to the natural world. It's an inborn talent, and not something cast as a spell. There's no conservation of Force energy. And the way it expresses itself is definitely and absolutely tied to moral behavior.

The best Star Wars movies are the ones in which The Force isn't a power to be manipulated (the prequel trilogy) but is instead an ally, or a mystical power to be understood. This article on The Force really gets into the spiritual dimensions of Star Wars, and highlights how Rogue One returns to reverence.

And this is why it's so difficult for games to capture the aesthetic of The Force. Jedi have never been done well in a Star Wars game because the game system systematizes something that is supposed to be treated with reverence.
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Any force is subject to scientific investigation. Magic certainly could be investigated via the scientific method - probably, significant insights could be thus gained.

The dichotomy is false, however, because non-magic force (e.g., gravity) is not itself "science"; rather, it has been well-investigated by the scientific method. That has not altered in any way the force, merely the way we understand it.

A valid dichotomy is whether practitioners of magical arts view their pursuits as unknowable by preference or open to examination by the scientific method.

A real-world comparable situation would be religion. Can it be investigated using the scientific method? Of course. Would believers feel they had gained insight by pursuing religion in this method? Some perhaps; most, probably not. Because it's about faith, not knowledge, and by consensual understanding religion is a form of magical thinking that eschews external logic in favor of personal experience. Thus, religion will never be "proved" by external supports.

This is the flip-side of students asking each other if they "believe" in natural selection and evolution. No, of course they do not "believe" in it - nor does anybody else, because it is not a belief system. It's a theoretical framework upon which our understanding of the natural world is constructed, supported by masses of data that are statistically reliable.
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rebuscarnival wrote:
I think the operative term here is natural law. The idea is not that magic is wild or unpredictable, but that it is unnatural in relation to workings of everyday life. The most traditional version is forming pacts with otherworldly forces that allow the signatory the ability to break the rules of nature. In cWOD Mage the MU is actually imposing their will power over the collective will power of everyone else [SIC].

Interestingly, in The Dying Earth, from which derives D&D's Vancian magic, magic is more or less described as technology - with invisible servants (nanobots?) preforming the work of the magician.


I would say that the WoD version of magic is one of the least predictive, most flexible systems in that anything you say it is can happen. It is not a prescription by a "spell" which does gives magic that exact preciseness magic has in most rpg games. That's the best thing about WoD IMHO.
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ctimmins wrote:
This is the flip-side of students asking each other if they "believe" in natural selection and evolution. No, of course they do not "believe" in it - nor does anybody else, because it is not a belief system. It's a theoretical framework upon which our understanding of the natural world is constructed, supported by masses of data that are statistically reliable.


I think a lot of people believe in it and do not understand the scientific foundation of the theory. I think this is true of almost all lay-person's understand of science. We have just replaced the preferred authority figure with a phd.

Present company accepted, of course.
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Roger Hobden
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robbbbbb wrote:


That's a good link above, and I especially like his point about how magic being a known system makes it less mysterious. One of the reasons I like the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (2nd Edition) rules is that spells can backfire and produce strange, or even catastrophic effects. But the rules system is still fairly well-understood by the players, and the extent of the system defines how bad things can get.

To really get the feel of the Warhammer World you'd have to have a spell system like that, but one that the players didn't understand very well. It would need variables that aren't immediately apparent. (That's a really excellent point from Alain's link.)



"magic can backfire": yes, that is very good point, and should probably be considered to be the most desirable magical systems that currently exist.

Call of Cthulhu has this, and the consequences of a bad roll are known, and can be pretty dire for The Investigators.

To add more unpredictability, all that would be required would be a much bigger table of negative effects, assigning a very small probability to each, and rolling D100. That should be more then sufficient.

"unknown variables (1)": well, games like Fluxx, Cosmic Encounter and Magic: the Gathering thrive on the concept of game rules that change as the game develops, so in theory a RPG could integrate such an approach to the governing magical sub-system. It remains to be seen if such a "collectable RPG magical system" would become popular or not.

"unknown variables (2)": by GM fiat, you can in theory do what you want , however.
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Mallet wrote:
"magic can backfire": yes, that is very good point, and should probably be considered to be the most desirable magical systems that currently exist.

Call of Cthulhu has this, and the consequences of a bad roll are known, and can be pretty dire for The Investigators.


I think there's a spell in Lamentations of the Flame Princess that, if it backfires, drowns the entire planet. Now that's a backfire.
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