Thursday, May 04, 2017

Tolkienian Magic

I was on Imzy today browsing around and OculusWriter asked a question which got me thinking...

"Discovering how magic systems work can be the most geek-worthy part of reading fantasy stories. Do you enjoy one detailed magic system, or many interlocking ones? Let's spark some awesome! Share your favorite magic system moments!"

Here's my reply:

My preference is for Tolkienian Magic ... as discussed here ...

While I have yet to work out exactly how I wish to implement this in my World via The Mythos Machine ( I do plan to do so sometime within the next ... oh ... eon or so. Hopefully. At any rate, that's the style I would like my system to embody for at least one of my Worlds.

The hard part is divorcing from the standard, which is this kind of awful focus on Weaponized Spells, such as Fire Ball and Lightning Bolt. Really overt Kill-Magic. Nothing could be less magical, in my mind, than a "Magic User" standing there and casting a Fire Ball from his fingers. Magic should be cloaked, mysterious, unfathomable, even while adhering to it's own occult laws.

How to get there from here is my challenge. I accept. Just don't expect me to work it out quickly. I don't do anything quickly, it seems. Ah well... I must learn to accept this and keep plodding. Maybe my totem animal is the tortoise.

Of course one of the biggest problems with implementing Tolkienian Magic is that Wizards are extremely rare, and are in fact celestial avatars named Istari, and manifest in the world for the specific purpose of fulfilling Illuvitar's Almighty Vision. There are only five of them in Arda. So ... that kind of puts a damper on the whole "I wanna play a magic user!" kind of thing, if I develop my system based on Tolkien's vision of Magic. For Tolkien's Arda it makes perfect sense, and goes a long way to making magic balance in his world.

The problem with the standard RPG model is that were a world like that to actually exist, it would very likely get torn apart by competing magical forces and factions, and would rapidly devolve into chaos and insanity. Read OD&D's magic list and think. What would our world be like if during the medieval era something like 20% of people had access to this list of spells? And magic items? In my mind I see a world of fire and ice, and endless intrigues and destruction untold. My guess is that if you toss in mythical monsters, and powerful evil forces... yeah... I kind of think we'd not have a world for long. It would be overrun by monsters, and the last straw to seal the deal would be human pride, greed and lust of power. So as I see it, magic as D&D posits it is only workable because GMs curtail what the evil forces of the world would actually do with it. Otherwise, we'd not have a game for very long. And that's the only reason magic of this sort works in RPGs.

So the first thing to tackle would be to figure out how to have a world of very rare magic, and very rare magic users, and not unbalance the game to the point where the players feel like they can't have all the fun they want. After all, at least 20% of my players want to play Magic Users.

So ... how to get there from here ... It's a puzzler. But this would be the first step at least in the process of working out how to turn Tolkienian Magic into an RPG system. So catch me in an eon or two and I think I'll have worked it out by then, possibly. In the meantime, any thoughts you may have are quite welcome! :)

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