This page is about paranormal magic. For stage magic, see Magic (Theatrical).
In gaming, Magic serves three purposes:
- Differentiation Between Characters: That is to say, every Player Character needs a niche. Many players find their enjoyment of a game is enhanced if there's something special their character can do that others can't. Magic (and especially different Magical Traditions or Varieties of Magical Effect) is one way to allow for this. Likewise, magic might help keep NPC villains from becoming stale or predictable.
- Causality and Justification: Magic can serve as a plot device, ala Mind Control or Enchantment. It can be a Deus Ex Machina used to tie up straggling plot threads. It can unleash the Monster of the Week. It can be the Hand Wave that explains why a MacGuffin is highly sought after, or why a Magic Weapon does so much damage. In this way, invoking magic (pun intended) can empower Willing Suspension of Disbelief.
- Problem Solving: RPG scenarios present puzzles, dilemmas, conflicts and challenges to the players and their characters. Magic can be used as a tool or provide methods for overcoming obstacles. One particular aspect of the problem-solving power of magic shows up during combat, and deserves special attention. It's practically a fourth purpose:
- Charles Dexter Ward Principle
- Functional Magic
- Laws of Magic
- Magic Item
- Magic of Bollywood
- Magical Tradition
- Poppet Magic
- Ritual Tool
- Schools of Magic
- Varieties of Magical Effect
and several other pages we haven't quite gotten around to making yet.
As of this writing, we've got over 1500 pages here on Arcana Wiki, but strangely, we're still just getting started on magic. So, if you're looking to design your own magic system, add more verisimilitude to an existing system, or just do some research for your character, I recommend:
- Wikipedia article on magic
- Wikipedia's list of magical terms and traditions
- Wikipedia's list of methods of divination
- Wikipedia article on magic in D&D
- RPG Sourcebook: Authentic Thaumaturgy by Isaac Bonewits, published by Steve Jackson Games
- RPG Sourcebook: A Magical Medley published by Grey Ghost Games (numerous authors)
- RPG Sourcebook: Occult Lore published by Atlas Games (numerous authors)
Game and Story Use
Besides the material in "In Gaming Magic Serves Three Purposes", above, it's worth considering how much part magic plays in your setting as well as what it is used for. A setting in which magic is a user friendly tool with which everyone is at least familiar (if not actually trained in its use) will differ greatly from one in which it is a dangerous secret. A setting designer needs to ask themselves the following questions when adding magic to their world:
- Where does magic come from? Can it be stored, blocked or re-directed?
- Who can use it - and how often?
- How is it used? How much preparation and activation time is required?
- What does it cost (in all terms from physical exhaustion to required training)?
- How much control do users have over it?
- What can magic do - and what can it not do?
- What are a non-user's options when confronted with magic?
- Are there multiple forms of magic - and if so, how do they relate to one another? Are they different front-ends on the same thing or radically different phenomena? Are "secular" and "divine" magic the same thing or radically different (if either exists and/or if there is a distinction)?
Once these questions have been answered, the setting designer will have a good idea about where magic fits in their campaign. If that picture doesn't match the one they want, they will either need to adjust their baselines or fit some kind of adaptor (for example, magic is actually quite benign in absolute terms, but is not much used because it got really bad PR after the Great Wizard War).