[MUD-Dev] Too much magic?

John Buehler johnbue at msn.com
Tue Feb 10 00:00:32 New Zealand Daylight Time 2004

Brian Hook writes:

> I'm pretty much torn on this issue.  On the one hand I'd actually
> like a world where one magical item per person would almost be
> considered excessive, not a world reminiscent of my days as a
> 13-year old Monty Haul DM.  On the other hand, I really don't want
> players to get frustrated because they can't have magical crap in
> every possible character location.

I'm a devotee of keeping magic to a minimum.  I see magic in games
the same way that I see sex and violence in movies, or a deus ex
machina in a novel.  They're techniques and mechanisms that require
less skill on the part of the designer, and which produce a
shallower sense of entertainment for the player/viewer/reader.

I believe that magic is implemented because it can be completely
manufactured from soup to nuts - without worrying about reality.
Reality is tougher to make entertaining.  A constant statement about
realistic presentation of technology - such as an animated human
face, realistic behavior in simulations, etc - is that the closer
you get to reality, the more annoying the unrealistic pieces are to
the consumer.  It's just simpler to make it all up.

Naturally, implementing these magic systems can involve significant
inventiveness and creativity.  But invariably I don't find the
result particularly engaging.  I suppose that's my greatest hit on
having lots of magic.  It 'feels' arbitrary, and it's invariably
very shallow entertainment.

My own preference for magic in a game context is to have magic
augment and alter 'mundane' elements of the game fiction.  If a game
has ice, and it's slippery, have magic that can create ice when ice
normally wouldn't be around.  More fundamentally, if 'slippery' is a
quality supported by the game engine, permit magical ways of
manufacturing slipperiness when it wouldn't normally be present.

By having magic alter mundane processes, it first requires the
implementation of those mundane processes, and then makes those
processes more interesting by letting players fool with them.  That,
instead of manufacturing magical processes which all mundane objects
are then drawn into.

Such an approach has the characteristic of having players think
while they're playing, instead of thinking about setting up their
ideal character in advance, and then slogging through gameplay with
that character.

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