Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Comparative Magic Systems

The magic system of the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role playing game always seemed to me more or less haphazard. The lists of spells that wizards could cast seemed like a jumble of everything that the game designers could think of. Like the content of many early computer CDs: dumpware.

By comparison, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings Amber, and my own nameless variant of the D & D fantasy role playing games have underlay which seem to make sense of it all. Naturally, if it makes perfect sense, its not magic so much as science. These systems don't give everything away. My own system makes the most sense - at least to me. The magic system is called Lawful Magic - not because the players need to follow the rules, but because the system itself has rules and follows them.

So, Lawful Magic is powered by the individual. An organ, controlled by the brain is developed to a lesser or greater extent. So, some people have more potential than others. Many have potential that goes unnoticed or undeveloped. Magic is difficult, and may require a number of skills. Magic is deliberate. No one accidentally casts it, as with Harry. Casting magic takes practice, requires energy from the body, and due to efficiency issues, is essentially an intellectual exercise. As time goes on, new magic is researched and learned, and magic gains in power over time, the knowledge amassed in libraries.

Magic in Amber comes to a small pool of people - one family. A pattern is encoded genetically, and grants a fairly narrow range of tremendous powers. Magical power comes from desire.

In The Lord of the Rings magic is inherited from ancient god-like creatures. Through time, their descendants blood becomes less potent, and people become less powerful and live shorter lives. So ancient people like Tom Bombadil live forever and have personal power above all magic. The elves live forever and have significant magical powers. Men have less or none. Its an anti-Darwinian universe, where each new generation is less fit than the previous. It appears to be modeled on nobility from the dark ages, where inbreeding leads to such losses. That line is all but spent.

The Harry Potter universe has magic potential as genetic, and random. The power comes from emotion. Magic can happen by accident, for example, when angry or scared. The whole story seems to be about what happens when an evil person makes everyone angry and scared. Yet, there is a knowledge component, and as in my system, knowledge is power.

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