Monday, September 20, 2010

Magic: Fireballs vs. The Mystic Journey

A couple of questions that come to mind when thinking about magic in Role Playing Games from a Gamesmaster's perspective.

A) In many Fantasy Role Playing games (and fantasy films) magic is often a display of directed energy, transmutation, or transmigration. For example, we often see wizards flying, casting fireballs and lightning bolts, and polymorphing themselves into other forms, all of which is common fare for RPGs and modern fantasy films. I think of this as "Special Effects Magic", which is to say, Magic whose purpose appears to be to make for dramatic visual displays that "shock and awe" the audience.

However, there is another kind of magic possible and from our readings of literature we can see hints of it. One excellent example is the Finnish Poem 'The Kalevala' wherein we learn of the great Wizard, Old and Truthful, Wainamoinen. In this ancient tale of primordial sorcery coming out of the northern tundras of Lapland we learn of the ways in which men and Gods were once believed to use magic. There is a shamanistic aspect to these mystical adventures, and there are layers of meaning embedded in the tales. I wonder how could we as Gamesmasters incorporate the magic of the Inuit Indians, for example, or the ancient magical style of Medea and Circe? What of the less "magical" magic of herblore, poisons, and alchemy? And most interestingly, how might magic in the tale of Wainamoinen demonstrate how magic might be used not so much as an effect, but as an element of the mystic journey?

B) How does magic reflect the symbolism hidden within a story? What is the nature of correspondences between say the Constellation Leo, the Sun, Apollo, Music, Healing and Apollo's Plaguing Arrows? How might a Gamesmaster set about understanding these correspondences in order to evolve a 'larger' story within their game?

Just some questions posed as food for thought for those who might find an interest in thinking about such things. For my game I like to try to make magic more subtle than what I usually find in the common lot of RPGs and fantasy films. Of course, I have fire bolts, and lightning arrows, which from a game perspective are important. However, I also like to include more subtle forms of magic into my game world wherever possible. You might notice these kinds of effects in the Play Test Stories I've been posting. Especially, I think, in the next one that I will be posting based on last weeks game. In this segment I will be illustrating a more subtle kind of magic that is used way down in the Tiny-World of the Insect Kingdom. Stay tuned.
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