[MUD-Dev] Too much magic?

John Buehler johnbue at msn.com
Fri Feb 13 20:10:12 New Zealand Daylight Time 2004

Hans-Henrik Staerfeldt writes:
> On Tuesday 10 February 2004 06:00, John Buehler wrote:

>> 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.

> Not that i necessarily disagree with you, I feel it is a design
> issue more than anything else how and how much magic is present in
> the game but I feel you are perhaps looking at this from one side,
> when you could look at it a bit differently.

> As an example, I could give other words to the kind of magic you
> seem to find shallow, that fits the description of how you would
> prefer it; > People healing their wounds naturally is a mundane
> process. Having magic that heals their wounds where they normally
> would not would fit your template.

> Fire is a natural, mundane phenomenon that hurts players and
> NPC's. Having magic that creates fire around players and NPC where
> there normally would not be fire is a very similar alteration to
> the ice you mentioned.

> Now I just described a cleric healing peoples HP and fireballs,
> and I have a feeling that that would fit exactly the things you
> dislike about the use of magic in a game (please correct me if i'm
> wrong). What i think is the problem is that magic is often reduced
> to a combat-only oriented - deal damage or reduce my opponents
> combat fitness - kind of magic, where I, if you design a
> low-magic-availability world, would have preferred to used it in
> more subtle problem-solving situations.

It's the subtlety more than the combat-only orientation.  If magic
were combat-only, it wouldn't be a big deal.  It would be
pointlessly limiting as a source of entertainment, but if magic is a
martial art, so be it.  That would be a design decision.

I harp on current combat magic systems, but current games focus on
combat magic.  I assume that combat can be implemented with subtlety
just as well as any other game experience.

My theory is that if mundane processes are implemented, then the
magical processes could be derived from them.  That derivation would
permit game designers to magically augment a mundane world instead
of creating one which is exclusively magical (into which mundane
elements are shoehorned).  In practice, those exclusively magical
worlds come across as being simplistically fabricated.  By bringing
in the mundane, players can use real-world expectations to be
inventive with game mechanisms.  If the magical processes "play
with" the mundane, the magical enhances the normal expectations of
the players.  When the magical processes are their own affair, they
result in a game experience which I see as rather one-dimensional.

A separate issue with current combat magics is the one that Richard
Bartle mentions elsewhere in this thread: massive overpowering.
When I can nuke you into ash, does it really matter if I have a
sharp sword or a dull one?  When magic so overpowers mundane
processes and tools, it makes those processes and tools obsolescent.
And that's why magic gets dumped on top of mundane tools such as
swords.  To bring them up to spec with the overpowered magical
processes and tools.

So back I go to my hope that a game will implement mundane processes
and tools, and then make the magic system respect the validity of
those things.  Without the presence of the mundane processes and
tools, the magic system has no basis in some notion of reality that
players can recognize.  Can such a system have big ol' fireballs?
Certainly.  But it may require a team of mages standing around a
bonfire to pull it off.

It might be simpler to just throw a torch.

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