Magic Is Evil
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Basic Information

Whereas in traditional fantasy magic can be used by both heroes and villains alike to achieve phenomenal results, in a setting where Magic is Evil it is a decadent and arrogant practice undertaken by frail mortals who would wield power too great for them. Often -and perhaps intrinsically - this leads to moral corruption and/or grave physical costs.

Ironically this is probably closer to traditional perceptions of magic than most fantasy genre works - the magician is, at best, an outsider to be treated with suspicion and at worst a dangerous menace. Even workers of 'white magic' tend to be kept at arms length by their societies.

This trope may also fit well to settings where the majority of magic is blood magic or something similarly dark. Likewise, a suitably bloody minded allocation of necessary power components may assist this theme - collecting liar's tongues, the hands of murderers and the eyes of covetous men for various workings will eventually make most people question their life choices. Especially if they have to be fresh.

Evil magic may or may not be the sum total of the supernatural powers in the setting - a typical counterpart to the evil 'sorcerous' magic may be divinely granted powers and/or theurgy, or everything may be off limits.

A subtrope of this makes magic inherently malicious and painful and/or harmful for the magician to use - this would fit better with a Mayan or Olmec style tradition in which the magician is obliged to self mortify as part of his magic.

This can also be modelled into a magic system by ensuring that all - or most - magic exposes the user to corruption as an inherent cost.


Game and Story Use

  • The really interesting trick is to play this and to make sure that the PCs may need to use magic anyway - the players will have to balance the danger to their souls (and possibly their bodies as well) with their need to defeat supernatural enemies.
  • This phenomenon will have serious consequences for the style of play in the campaign - the high fantasy, fireball throwing wizard is likely to become unplayable, and indeed most of the traditional magic using classes will be severely impaired - this may lead to disappointment amongst players unless they are made clearly aware of the nature of the setting before character creation. GMs and setting designers will also need to make sure that there are plenty of non-magical means to overcome the challenges they create. Where it is necessary for a party to use some magic regardless, this will generally mean using magic as a secondary skill rather than a speciality - something many RPGs, especially "traditional" class and level system ones, may struggle with.
  • A subtrope of this can be achieved simply by adding random side effects to all magic - not just those instances where it goes wrong. If even successful uses of magic causes random harm, injury or annoyance then it is likely that magic will be far less of a crutch than where it is safe and reliable.
  • This trope fits well with old fashioned sword and sorcery genre stuff like Conan - the hero has the sword, the villain has the sorcery and the former is the solution to the latter. Later RPGs lost track of this a bit…
  • Call of Cthulhu is also made of this - although "evil" is something of a moot point as quite a lot of the evil in genre simply consists of being completely incompatible with being human rather than any kind of malice.
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