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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: The Fiendish Dr. Samsara on April 28, 2004, 05:51:29 PM



Title: Agrippa's magic
Post by: The Fiendish Dr. Samsara on April 28, 2004, 05:51:29 PM
This thread is a spin-off from http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=10832&sid=c2012109810037019721824e309b2b7f  There was a lot of discussion there about magical theory in the early modern period, specifically H.C. Agrippa’s work, and the disticntions of natural and demonic magic.

Let me suggest to my learned friends that the old Warburg Institute’s understandings of magic have becomea bit dated: fantastic stuff, indeed, but new work has shown a lot of weaknesses.  One of the posters uses Walker’s work and, I suspect, is familiar with Frances Yates as well.  Richard Kieckhefer’s last couple of books, _Magic in the Middle Ages_ and _Forbidden Rites_, are both excellent contemporary sources that build on Walker and Yates work.

The natural/demonic divide for instance, turns out to be a lot more complicated than they tend to suggest and the Church never really accepted the idea of natural magic.  The very orthodox William of Auvergne did first bring this category up in the 12th century, but he wasn’t recommending it and the Church never regarded any kind of magic as licit.  To say that missed the point, since any thing that was licit was not, to them, magic.  See magic was itself a valuative term and the value was also negative.

It’s also important to bear in mind that Agrippa was not in any sense an originator; he was a compiler.  He is sort of the culmination of a tradition of magical scholars who began in the 12th century when NeoPlatonic and Hermetic texts began to by translated from the Arabic.  The Latin text _De radii_, a translation of Al-kindi, basicaly set up the entire theoretical founation for this magic—the stars emit “rays” that influence our world and which are in turn influenced by the elements of our world.  These can be manipulated to get stuff to happen.  This was soon followed by the infamous _Picatrix_, another translation from the Arabic (this time a work called “The Goal of the Wise”)  which makes Agrippa look like a school-boy.  Indeed, Agrippa is actually pretty conservative and not deserving of the black magician reputation that he acquired.  

There were magicians going a lot farther than him and it seems most unlikely that these rituals described were purely for shock value.  People were sometimes praticing magic.  And they weren’t shy about it.  A great late medieval text, _Liber iuratus_, goes to great length to justify the summoning and control of demons as actually doing God’s work (short form: make them do good stuff makes them unhappy which is what God wants).  Other texts don’t even bother to justify it: just shut and summon some demons already.

All I’m saying is don’t get hung up on Agrippa just because he has a bad rep and a nice new edition.


Title: Agrippa's magic
Post by: clehrich on April 28, 2004, 06:29:25 PM
Well, I'm not going to argue with you about Agrippa.  I've published my reasons for analyzing him as I do, and won't try to summarize here.  Suffice it to say that while your comments are mostly accurate, Agrippa was a great deal more than a compiler.  Trust me on this.

As to grimoires and black magic, I do think there's some doubt about this, although certainly the work Kieckhefer edited seems pretty practical.

But we really ought to get back to gaming.  Anyone else ever tried reworking Ars Magica, or writing a clean new system, to do Renaissance magic?

Incidentally, for those who care, two wonderful recent references:
Stuart Clark, Thinking With Demons
Hakan Hakansson, Seeing the Word


Title: Agrippa's magic
Post by: Jere on April 29, 2004, 06:39:42 AM
Quote from: clehrich
But we really ought to get back to gaming.  Anyone else ever tried reworking Ars Magica, or writing a clean new system, to do Renaissance magic?


Yes on both. One can streamline the Forms (which I did and have on some zip disk at home, I'll try to find it) rather easily to represent a better view. I ended up cribbing a lot of ideas from Cardano.

The last time I took a stab at a Renasiance magic system I found myself with a version of Everway and decided just to use it. Very Shakespearian.

Jere


Title: Agrippa's magic
Post by: John Kim on April 29, 2004, 10:10:12 PM
Quote from: clehrich
  But we really ought to get back to gaming.  Anyone else ever tried reworking Ars Magica, or writing a clean new system, to do Renaissance magic?  

I think there is a conceptual issues here first, which is -- what are adventures going to be like?  i.e. What are magicians going to do?  Also where does one set in the range between real history and fantasy?  

As a variant of Ars Magica, one could have a Rosicrucian or Rosicrucian-like organization substituting for the Order of Hermes.  It could have a very similar set-up to a fair degree: magicians organized in sequestered covenants engaging in true magic.  On the other hand, you could have a variant of Sorcerer, with scattered PCs doing various demon summoning.  

There are many possible setups.  One could have more of a swashbuckling tone, or more of a gothic horror tone, etc.  There are many different gaming possibilities which could involve Renaissance magic, and they all have implications for what the system should be, I think.


Title: Agrippa's magic
Post by: simon_hibbs on April 30, 2004, 04:23:28 AM
Quote from: clehrich
But we really ought to get back to gaming.  Anyone else ever tried reworking Ars Magica, or writing a clean new system, to do Renaissance magic?


There are a few games that have tried to address this to some extent, but they all end up taking a very idiosyncratic take on the subject based on their particular setting. Curps cabal is one example with it's purportedly astrologicaly influenced system of magic based on the Decans. Nephilim had a stab at it too, but it's setting is _very_ ideosyncratic.

One system that I think is often under-rated is call of Cthulhu. It's simple, easily extensible and handles both summoning and spell casting magic. The standard system and spell list is of course tuned to emulating mythos fiction, but it seems to me that it would be fairly easy to adapt to a more faithful depiction of 'real' renaisance magic.

I have a copy of the free version oif Cthulhu dark ages, but there's a much more complete commercial edition out now that I haven't seen that is probably worth checking out.


Simon Hibbs


Title: Agrippa's magic
Post by: redwalker on April 30, 2004, 03:29:32 PM
Quote from: clehrich


But we really ought to get back to gaming.  Anyone else ever tried reworking Ars Magica, or writing a clean new system, to do Renaissance magic?

Incidentally, for those who care, two wonderful recent references:
Stuart Clark, Thinking With Demons
Hakan Hakansson, Seeing the Word


I would be interested to know what makes those works good.  I haven't read them but if I knew your criteria I could comment in more detail.

One of my favored works is Idries Shah's Secret Lore of Magic.  It must have been revolutionary when it came out, but it had many imitators.  Shah's comments are few -- he mostly lets the texts speak for themselves -- but he talks about the psychology of the magical process.

And then sometimes, as in his discussion of the Grimoirum Verum, he says really provocative things.  One gets the impression that he is trying to drive scholars to distraction.  He says that the Grimoirum Verum could not truly be from 1517, but that it claimed to be from that earlier date in order to avoid persecution.  (So it dates from some later time ... when?)  He claims that at the time of publication, there was an implicit truce of sorts in persecution of magic, because the influence of Arabian Spain had cordoned off White Magic as a protected topic that did not require persecution as Black Magic did.  Before this truce, everything was unquestionably Black Magic unless it was orthodox Church ritual.

Then Shah piques the reader's curiosity by mentioning that there was an Arabian sort of magic which used djinn, which were regarded as analogous to electricity -- amoral and capable of being used for good or ill.

But he does not give us leads or sources.  He simply hints that the stuff that Arabian Spain was doing was vastly cooler than all this externalist, decadent European stuff, he makes an offhand comment about Assyrian influence, and he leaves the reader to his own devices.  

A highly motivated reader might learn Arabic and go somewhere to try to learn about djinn.  I am not that motivated at this time, and it's possible that I never will be.

However, if I were to devise a game system with magic, I would try to find a sympathetic professor of Islamic studies and request good titles for learning about the role of the djinn in Arabian magic, and how it derived from the Assyrian model.

Historians will also be interested to see that Shah's text traces European magic to Babylonian roots with regard to items like the magic circle.  Of course Shah was not interested in promoting magic, unlike the commercial presses which made a fair amount of money by publishing grimoires.

If anyone has any good references on Arabian thought and its influence on Spanish magic, I submit that those are the references that would be useful in building a new system of fictional Renaissance magic.


Title: Agrippa's magic
Post by: clehrich on April 30, 2004, 05:02:06 PM
    Stuart Clark,
Thinking With Demons
Hakan Hakansson, Seeing the Word[/list:u]
Quote from: redwalker
I would be interested to know what makes those works good.  I haven't read them but if I knew your criteria I could comment in more detail.
Clark's is by a very long chalk the best, most sophisticated attempt to explain what witchcraft and witch-hunting had to do with intellectual or elite magic.  Clearly there was considerable overlap in time-period, as the witch-hunts really got going in the 1480s and mostly died down by the 1760s, just as Ficino and Pico got going in the 1460s-1480s and the new science pretty much won out by the late 17th century.  And of course, major occult thinkers certainly talked about witch-hunting, often disparagingly (Agrippa himself got one woman off on the grounds that the Inquistor had misused legal form).  But there doesn't seem to be a lot of other connection, somehow; it's all very slippery.  Clark does a wonderful job of correlating things.

Hakansson's book is hands-down the best book on John Dee.  It does require, however, that you have read Nick Clulee's book on Dee, and preferably Deb Harkness's as well.  But nobody ever heard of Hakansson's book because it was printed in some teeeeeeny print run by Lunds University, and so it went out of print before half the libraries that wanted it could get it.
Quote
One of my favored works is Idries Shah's Secret Lore of Magic.  ... And then sometimes, as in his discussion of the Grimoirum Verum, he says really provocative things.  One gets the impression that he is trying to drive scholars to distraction.  He says that the Grimoirum Verum could not truly be from 1517, but that it claimed to be from that earlier date in order to avoid persecution.  (So it dates from some later time ... when?)
Probably late 16th C, at a guess.  The only way to figure it out for sure is to track down a very early edition, establishing a latest-possible date, and then look to see what books of known provenance it quotes (without references, of course).  The reason nobody has done this is that until very recently, black magic was kind of a non-subject among professional philologist types, who are the only people with the type of knowledge and training required to do this stuff effectively.
Quote
He claims that at the time of publication, there was an implicit truce of sorts in persecution of magic, because the influence of Arabian Spain had cordoned off White Magic as a protected topic that did not require persecution as Black Magic did.  Before this truce, everything was unquestionably Black Magic unless it was orthodox Church ritual.
He's wrong, I'm afraid.  First, the formal distinction was intensively debated for centuries; see Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles (actually quite a good source for Arabic thinking about magic).  Second, elite magic never really was persecuted, particularly, unless you mean burning books.  I know of very, very few elite magicians prosecuted for their magic, at least not in Catholic countries.

For the Arabic/Spanish material, Dr. Samsara has already mentioned Picatrix, as yet (I think) untranslated into English, as well as al-Kindi's On Rays (Latin: De radiis); there's a nice French volume edited by Silvain Matton that includes al-Kindi and several related 8th-9th C. Arabic magical theory texts.  There's very little in English, although you could look for the works of David Pingree.
Quote
Historians will also be interested to see that Shah's text traces European magic to Babylonian roots with regard to items like the magic circle.
Exceedingly difficult to establish.  I'd look instead to the PGM (Greek Magical Papyri, in the Preisendanz collection, edited by Hans Dieter Betz) for some nice early Greco-Egyptian magic; this stuff was clearly influential on the Arabs, where the Babylonian connection, while certainly real, is fantastically difficult to trace.
Quote
If anyone has any good references on Arabian thought and its influence on Spanish magic, I submit that those are the references that would be useful in building a new system of fictional Renaissance magic.
Oh, I'd start with Frances Yates, actually.  I mean, totally out of date and often wrong, but a great basis.  She's always wrong in deep and subtle ways, and right in fundamentally more important ways.  Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition is her masterpiece, for those who don't know her work.

Sorry.  Ron's probably about to shut this down hard.


Title: Agrippa's magic
Post by: neelk on April 30, 2004, 05:07:42 PM
Quote from: redwalker


Then Shah piques the reader's curiosity by mentioning that there was an Arabian sort of magic which used djinn, which were regarded as analogous to electricity -- amoral and capable of being used for good or ill. [...] However, if I were to devise a game system with magic, I would try to find a sympathetic professor of Islamic studies and request good titles for learning about the role of the djinn in Arabian magic, and how it derived from the Assyrian model.


I'm not even remotely an expert, but this is definitely not the way djinn are generally regarded in modern Islamic theology (though of course magic is almost always a fringe practice with odd relationships to the mainstream). The djinn are normally considered to be very powerful, immortal people, who can choose to be Muslim or not, just as humans can. Unfortunately, because of their magical powers and firey nature, most of them are arrogant and refuse to embrace Islam, and hence are dangerous and evil. You can persuade djinn to help you with their powers, but that's precisely like persuading a person to help you.

Years and years ago I ran a GURPS game in which magic worked like this (well, minus all the Islam). Relationships with magical creatures were bought as Allies, Patrons and Contacts, and performing magic was a matter of persuasion and psychology.  I've been keeping the idea in the "Hey, this worked -- try it again some time" pile. (<thinks> Hey, that's one of the key ideas of Sorcerer, isn't it? Well, I guess I know what system to use for that....)


Title: Agrippa's magic
Post by: The Fiendish Dr. Samsara on May 04, 2004, 06:58:07 PM
By the Rood, but it would be easy to get all academic and distracted by this thread, but channeling J.T. Kirk: must…resist…higher…brain…functions!

Anyway, all this talk really could be of use in gaming, although no one has addressed it directly.  But think about all the history and competing theory that we have been discussing.  Now think about your last game and how much of that occurred in it?  Right.

History provides great examples of magicians translating (and mistranslating) texts, trying to compile that ever-elusive “unified theory of magic”.  What did the _Asclepius_ say?  Can that be harmonized with St. Paul?  Yes, no, maybe.  Does this plant heal you by its inner, occult virtues?  Or because it harmonizes the influence of the sun and its salutary, solar rays? Or because using it creates an implicit pact with a spirit?  Or all three somehow?

How many game wizards ever wonder _how _ their magic works?  How many ever try to find out?  How many debate it with other wizards?  This thread is all about the myriad ways that people have conceptualized magic and this, I contend, is pretty much virgin territory for gaming, where “magic” is generally just a tool used to accomplish something else and never the subject of the gaming.  Even Sorcerer, I think, focuses more on the effects of magic and what you use it for than on the magic itself.

Anyway, that’s why I started the original thread on Magical Metaphysics.  Thus full circle.

Okay, I can’t resist: Idries Shaw is not a real scholar.  Medieval magic circles are not even about keeping demons at bay.  And Chris is so right about Frances Yates: wrong, yet right.  That’s why she’s a great historian and not merely a topical one.


Title: Agrippa's magic
Post by: clehrich on May 04, 2004, 07:58:23 PM
The only game I've seen (and admittedly I haven't really read all that many games) that makes study of the "how" and "why" of magic at all interesting is Ars Magica, and even there much is left to the all-embracing skill "Magic Theory."  Given my interests, you won't be surprised to learn that I have, on more than one occasion, tried to incorporate some historical magical conceptions into AM, but with limited success.  The biggest problem, for me, was that unless others were also interested in this sort of thing, I ended up pretty much on my own.

I have thought, many times, about writing an early modern magic game.  The idea would be to incorporate as much historical magical theory into the rules as possible.  Some day I'll go back to it, I suppose.

About all I ever came up with clearly was that your character sheet would be generated astrologically.  You'd place all the planets and calculate a few other factors, and then you'd have a character base.  Ideally, you would choose one or two known factors, and then the rest would be generated backwards by a program like Astrolog (a wonderful free astrology program, available on the web).  You'd then have points or something to place in background events and behaviors, thus altering the final effects and inclinations of the chart.  Remember, the stars do not rule man; man rules the stars.

So for example, an obvious thing for a magician character would be someone with strong Saturnian influences in the right houses, inclining him toward genius; at the same time, he would have to work to avoid melancholia.

I also thought a great thing would be to have the group (I was thinking of an old-fashioned party structure) be book-hunters working for some patron.  This would give them a great excuse to wander around digging into things, and generally getting into trouble and local politics.

The problem, I always found, is that early modern magic isn't terribly dramatic in its effects.  I mean, obviously no fireballs, but beyond that most of it would be very subtle manipulation of what was already true: you could make yourself (or someone else) learn better, or do curing of some kind, or advise people.  Anything much more dramatic would probably involve demonic magic -- a big no-no -- or drag us out of the realm of the historical entirely.

As I write this, though, I realize that my sense of gaming has changed a lot since I started mucking about on the Forge.  I think it would be entirely possible, perhaps, to have some sort of meta-gaming structure that produced a sort of "read" (astrological or otherwise) of a given situation or person, and then through magical techniques you could impose long-term inclinations and changes that would then affect the world over time.

I do think you'd have to write up the discussion of astrology very, very well.  For just about everything in magic, astrology comes in somewhere, and the players would have to have an immediate and dynamic working knowledge of the planets, fixed stars, and houses.

Another thing that would be essential, in my mind, would be eliminating the unfortunate late Ars Magica tendency to cast all magic as under perpetual attack by the Church.  And you'd also have to explain, to a significant degree, what the different denominations were all about: once you get well into the 16th century, you've got Lutherans, and Calvinists, and all sorts of stuff, and besides the Catholic Church was never really all that unified anyway: it would matter a lot if you were dealing with Dominicans, Jesuits, Franciscans, or whatever, as well as priests from whatever area.  For example, getting interrogated by the Inquisition in Italy, assuming you're not a Protestant, is probably a pretty minor concern; getting interrogated by Inquisitors in Germany, however, is quite likely to be lethal.

As a result of this last point, and all the complications of the status of magic in early modern thought, it would really be quite important to have the players get some working knowledge of the theology of magic.  This isn't really all that difficult to do, so long as we're sticking to the orthodox Catholic perspective, but as soon as you widen out it gets messy.

Anyway, just some late-night ramblings.


Title: Agrippa's magic
Post by: M. J. Young on May 04, 2004, 11:09:58 PM
Quote from: The Fiendish Dr. Samsara
How many game wizards ever wonder _how _ their magic works?  How many ever try to find out?  How many debate it with other wizards?

Interestingly, I see a little of this in Multiverser. Player characters are empowered to create magic rituals whenever they wish to attempt something new, magically. This requires the player to consider how his character expects magic to work.

From a game world perspective, the magic "works" because the character expects it to work. Thus what the character expects will work has a good chance of working. Many of my players perform their magic through prayers, because that's what they expect. Some devise fancy game-type rituals, because their exposure to magic comes from games and fantasy books. I've got one guy who is an engineer (characters are in-game versions of their players) whose magic rituals are frequently laced with technological fragments--such as a reduction spell that includes placing the object at the wrong end of a telescope.

I've also had characters learn their first magic in worlds in which magic worked a particular way. The most interesting of these was not a game I ran, but one in which I was a player, and in a particular world the wizards and sorcerers all did battle by singing at each other. The character who learned magic in that world tended thereafter to think of songs as the way to perform spells, and whenever he was creating magic that's what he did.

The player characters thus fall into a view of how and why magic "works" for them. It only has real-world connections when the players or referees have such knowledge and involve it in the game world, but it's often very interesting regardless of what it reflects.

--M. J. Young


Title: Agrippa's magic
Post by: talysman on May 04, 2004, 11:49:17 PM
Chris Lehrich: intrestingly enough, the early magic system based on astrology that you describe is pretty close to the one in "Fantasy Wargaming" (the famous RPG with Baphomet emerging from a grimoire.) a bit stripped down, and with some other stuff mixed in.

instead of calculating your full astrological influnces as if doing a chart, you are assigned zodiac (sun) signs randomly, which figures into the System of Correspondences. there's a chart of the 12 signs and the corresponding locations, animals, plants, body parts, etc... having multiple items matching a particular sign gives a bonus on the resolution roll.

the mainstay of this system is talismanic, with sorcerors constructing talismans of specific metals and gems in an auspicious place and time to create +1 or +2 talismans. if the object enchanted is practical, it gets a +1 or +2 on its practical function.

a second form of magic is pure words of command; another is elemental magic, which is of course more late-period. these other varieties of magic are affected by the astrological bonuses and penalties as well.

the system went with a non-medieval "mana" (powerpoint) system to power magic, but uses it to god effect, since you have to "raise mana" first before casting, which you do through ritual feasts, dancing, meditation, and so on. how much mana you can raise by each method depends on whether you are a sorcerer, a cunning man/wise woman, a hedge wizard, a cabalist, or a (medieval satanic) witch. the types are reasonably close in description to medieval types.

there's also a piety/religious system based on medieval christianity. the whole thing is still not completely accurate, but still gives a closer-to-medieval feel.


Title: Agrippa's magic
Post by: simon_hibbs on May 05, 2004, 01:13:36 AM
The only game I know that explicitly addresses the 'How' and 'Why' questions for magic is Nephilim. Of course that game presents a very ideosyncratic secret history of the world, and the metaphysics of the (apparent) nature of the Nephilim themselves is somewhat unusual. It certainly isn't historical magic as it has been discussed here, but given the overt apparent metaphysics of the Nephilim, the game is explicitly about exploring and understanding the place of Nephilim in the world and their relationship with mundane humanity.


Simon Hibbs


Title: Agrippa's magic
Post by: contracycle on May 05, 2004, 07:45:26 AM
The "how and why" aspect is something that is under-represented for several reasons IMO.

1) Its a game and have to know the rules.
That is, while in real life you may acknowledge that ignorance limits your decisions, this is inherently unsatisfying in a game in which decisions mean resolutions.  In order to make an intelligent decision, the problem must be clear enough to be examined.  Note that this does not rule out strategy, for even though strategy may, as recently suggested, require that cause and effect not be self evident, the field of conflict is still pretty much understood in principle.

2) The ghost of Jack Chick
I knew someone whos parents prevented him doing easterm martial arts because this might undermine their christianity.  There is a long habit of specifically not offering a red rag to the bull which IMO makes RPGH shy away from such topics.  As long as magic is vague and mechanical it remains harmless; as soon as it appears explanantory, and thus potentially polemical, it becomes dangerous.  Therefore, explanations have been nominal or silly.

3) I think it only REALLY interests the Sim agenda.  It seems to me these issues are relatively unimportant for S and G players.  G becuase as per point 1, once the relationships of the moving parts are established its all good, and for Nar because its not very important what powers magic, but rather why you use it and what for.

4) Really what we are talking about here is an ideology or doctrine of reality - the very thing conspicuous by its absence in RPG.  This partly due to the habit of deference to the customer and the unwillingness to 'dictacte' to the players, and partly becuase western thought largely considers itself to be non-ideological (ha ha) and doesn't really grant it much importance.

5) The habitual reluctance of those few who DO hold to genuinely alternative doctrines about the nature of the world to commit to any meaningful statement.  Thus we have debates which refuse to define magic on the basis that this 'limits' magic or similar; the net result is that nothing ever solidifies enough to become a tangibly useful mechanism.  I take it some groups work around this at the social contract level, but it is very poorly represented in game design despite the disproportionate representation of alternative lifestyles in RPG.

--

All this said, my favourite game for such introspection is Mage: The Ascension.  Like MJ's game, magic was suibjective and defined mechanically - the actual in game procedure was extemporised.  It was very interesting and stimulated much discussion, without doubt some of the most interesting I have had in RPG.  But becuase Mage also framed its magic as implementing that subjectevity at an even more profound level, it translated into game effects easily and elegantly.  Seeing as we COULD go and duplicate the effects of Jesus or Moses, if we wanted, we had to decide whether we should, and why they had.  Interesting stuff.

--

I think that the essential problem here is a) the unwillingness to be detailed as outlined above, and b) the abstraction of these concerns to 'off board' in actual play.  That is, real people are often motivated by concerns for a post mortem existance; RPG characters never are, becuase if they die perforce a new character will be generated.  Sure, we pay lip service to a characters nominal faith, but this seldom becomes a serious driver.  

I have proposed previously that if this internal dyanmic is externalised in some way - in a prop that aqctually sits on the game table - it may become a more pressing issue.  Like if we a board denoting the souls post mortem destination in a western christian fashion, but only allowed priest characters to see the locations of souls on the board, and other players could only get a peek or influence their location by confessing to their priest, then a priest PC will have an actually priestly function in the game.


Title: 1.
Post by: The Fiendish Dr. Samsara on May 05, 2004, 12:14:19 PM
I agree with this indeterminate status of Ars Magica in answer to my question.  The rules support doing all sorts of magic stuff, but none of it is really about magic; it’s all utilitarian again (learn better spells).  There is precious little magical theory in Magical Theory.  And while I think it is a good game and was mind-blowing at the time, the historian in me just rankles at the completely non-Hermetic magic practiced by the Order of Hermes.  That and the stupid, pseudo-Latinate names of the Houses (which really ought to be _Collegia_).

I can’t really comment on Mutliverser, as I’m only tenuously aware of how it works (sorry, M.J.).  Whoever brought up MAGE is spot on: that’s the only game that I can think of that made thinking about magic a part of the game.  It had lots of problems, but that was cool—the 1st ed remains a great set-up for a game.

And Fantasy Wargaming is surprisingly good, considering that it ought, by all rights, be D&D again.  The system does force some thinking about magic and that can be more heavily emphasized in game.  Who were those guys and what happened to them?

Oh, and I have no argument with the point that this may be of more interest to those who lean toward Sim.  That’s me do for sure.  In fact,. I suppose that my point could be rephrased thus: why do so few games support the Exploration of Magic, in the way that many games support the Exploration of Setting?  Magic should be an integral part of the Setting, but it rarely is.  And I’d think that a game about magicians would use this.

Consider this: take the Detective story and replace the “Mystery” with “Magic” and the Detective with the Wizard.  There you go.  Instead of guys operating semi-cluelessly amid hidden passions, betrayals, schemes, etc., you have magicians operating semi-cluelessly amid occult forces, connections, and beings.  Like the Detective, the Wizard has to adopt a “working theory” and go with that until and unless he is forced to revise in light of new evidence.  Which is what he really wants: he wants to know what’s going on and that’s what makes him engage in this dangerous game.  Just like the Detective, the Wizard a liminal social figure and seems stuck between being powerful and powerless—he can do some things much better than regular folk and yet he always seems to get screwed by larger forces in the end.

“Well, Jake, that’s Magic Town.”


Title: 2.
Post by: The Fiendish Dr. Samsara on May 05, 2004, 12:16:48 PM
Chris, you seem to be making an odd choice if I understand you right: an historical game that would allow Walker’s “spiritual magic” as real or operative, but disallow “demonic magic”.  I don’t get that.  Alternately, if you are saying that someone might legitimately practice the former and not the latter: well, maybe, but so what?  And magicians trying to prove that they are legit and the other guys are not is a classic engaged in by Heinrich and Trithemius and all those folks (the Trithemius-Bovillus debate is a game set-up right there).

Another good game premise: can you be a wizard and not slide into demonic practices?  Where do you draw the line between manipulating astral rays and pacting with astral demons?

On RPG.net, there is a discussion going on about gaming Renaissance Florence during Lorenzo the Magnificent.  The fellow starting the thread wanted to do an historical game i.e. no magic, and concentrate on artists struggling for patronage and success.  I suggested that ignoring magic in this setting was not historical; Marsilio Ficino is under Lorenzo’s patronage.  Scholar-translator-magicians would fit into the game he was suggesting perfectly (better than artists IMHO since I find the Cult of the Artist boring).  I imagine that there must have been real nasty debates between magician-scholars, boasting of the texts that they had translated and how badly their rivals had done so: “my talismans are better than yours for you have failed to take Iamblichus into account, my supposedly learned friend!  Oh, you haven’t translated Iamblichus?  Ah!”

I also suggested that it might make for an interesting game if there were magic, but no magic system.  I was thinking of Chris’ comment that early modern magic is pretty tame stuff (if you discount the necromancy, witchcraft, Kabbalah, and the highest levels of Hermetic practice) and might be boring to game (no fireballs).  What if magic simply increased/decreased personal traits?  A Martial talisman that helps stamina or a ritual that decreases your rivals perceptions?  That could be very historical and still interesting.  You could go even further and say that “magic” is just a social skill, used to convince people of things or impress/scare the Hell out of them?

There’s just so much gaming potential in magic that is never, ever considered.


Title: Agrippa's magic
Post by: talysman on May 05, 2004, 02:12:05 PM
Quote from: The Fiendish Dr. Samsara
And Fantasy Wargaming is surprisingly good, considering that it ought, by all rights, be D&D again.  The system does force some thinking about magic and that can be more heavily emphasized in game.  Who were those guys and what happened to them?


they were Bruce Galloway, Mike Hodson-Smith, Nick Lowe, Bruce Quarrie, and Paul Sturman, although only Galloway is mentioned on the cover and title page. I don't recognize these names from anything recent in gaming. I did a little searching and found this article in an SF zine (http://www.ansible.co.uk/Ansible/plotdev.html) by Nick Lowe, and I note that Bruce Quarrie apparently went on to write other stuff, but not necessarly RPG-related.

Ralph may actually have something to say about this; I think I found a detailed comment he made about Fantasy Wargaming sometime in 2002.


Title: Agrippa's magic
Post by: Piers on May 05, 2004, 04:25:13 PM
Quote from: The Fiendish Dr. Samsara
Chris, you seem to be making an odd choice if I understand you right: an historical game that would allow Walker’s “spiritual magic” as real or operative, but disallow “demonic magic”. I don’t get that. Alternately, if you are saying that someone might legitimately practice the former and not the latter: well, maybe, but so what? And magicians trying to prove that they are legit and the other guys are not is a classic engaged in by Heinrich and Trithemius and all those folks (the Trithemius-Bovillus debate is a game set-up right there).


I find it interesting, that the discussion has been concentrating on the academic end of Early Modern magical activity.  Of course, it is the most comprehensively theorized area of magical activity, but just as there was continual contention amongst learned magicians defending the licitness of their activities, I don't think that any of the other less formalized magicians would be any happier to be labelled simply as engaging in 'demonic magic.' Bodin might be quite happy to label them as worshipers of Satan, but with a few exceptions, they would have claimed something quite different.   And it is that sort of ambiguity on so many levels that I find attractive about magic during the Renaissance.

Rather than wandering off into the contentious territory of the Witch Trials, maybe the best place to talk about ambiguity is in the Books of Secrets, and the sorts of issues they raise.  

For a start, they make the sort of high/low magic dichotomy I constructed above very problematic, when you consider that some of the most popular Books were written by the likes of Cardano, Scaliger, Della Porta, etc.  But in addition to all the erudite material draw together from Classical and Biblical sources, there is a great deal of essentially traditional material, drawn from folk sources, from crafts, as well as from observation.  Now much of this material is reinterpreted in terms of theories derived from Classical magical sources, but if it is practiced amongst the comon folk, then it is easy to argue that at least some of their magic must not be demonic.  Some of it probably is too.

I want to be able to bring in curing cows, rain-bringing, and worshiping bleeding hosts, and still ask:

Quote
can you be a wizard and not slide into demonic practices? Where do you draw the line between manipulating astral rays and pacting with astral demons?  


Heck, I want to be able to ask if it is heretical too.

Second, in deriving (often very common) material from the 'maker's knowledge' tradition, Books of Secrets point to the line between crafts and 'mechanical magic'--the variety of automata, fountains, etc. that were displayed in cabinets of curiosities and at courts.  here we have something that is 'obviously' magical (the statue speaks), unlike the effects of amulets, and yet the sort of distinctions we might make between magical and no-magical have real trouble here.  How do we make system where the beginning of magical activity and the end of ordinary activity is almost indistinguishable and still make the activity of magic important? (Medicine would have to work in almost the same way.)

Finally, the dubious nature of the contents of the books, points to the prevelance of fakers and tricksters of varying dubiousness: the land of Charlatani, of Chaucer's Nun's Priest's tale, Cellini's Autobiography and so on.  In particular, the existence of widespread dubiousness of certain magical practices as fake, alongside belief in magic and even the same magical practices in different hands (No, that alchemist is a fake, but yes, you can make the Philosopher's Stone).

The last case, is of course, one of the aspects in which Ars Magica is far superior to Mage.  The contrast between the difficulty of working out when magical activity is going on in ArM, compared to the overwhelming amount of information in Mage completely changes the tone of the games.

It is all these sorts of complications that make me interested in how magic might work in game in the same way as Chris--because of the way they point towards some sort of coherence that Renaissance magicians were able to see vaguely in the distance, but were unable to bring completely together.  And that really does give the motive force to drive a game.


Title: Agrippa's magic
Post by: Alan McVey on May 05, 2004, 08:09:48 PM
Quote from: The Fiendish Dr. Samsara
might be boring to game (no fireballs).  What if magic simply increased/decreased personal traits?  A Martial talisman that helps stamina or a ritual that decreases your rivals perceptions?  That could be very historical and still interesting.  You could go even further and say that “magic” is just a social skill, used to convince people of things or impress/scare the Hell out of them?


I like this idea, and was considering something similar.  Say you take a system like Heroquest and assign a planet or a constellation to each of a person's traits, so that you get something like Swordsmanship (Mars), Loyalty to Family (Jupiter), and so on.

Magic can then be used in one of two ways: the first is the one that you describe; a magician enhances or counters an ability by drawing the influence of the appropriate planet to bear on the target.  The second is to keep the ability the same, but replace one planetary influence with another, changing the "flavour" of the trait.  Loyalty to Family (Jupiter) suggests that the character will want to see the family thrive in the political and social sphere, but if that's nudged over to Loyalty to Family (Mars), then the emotion would take on more violent characteristics, while bringing in Venus could make it downright unhealthy.

I'm using an idea here from Giordano Bruno's work on bonds, De vinculis in genere, where he describes everyone and everything being influenced by invisible bonds that cannot be severed, but that can be transformed in quality.  I'm not sure how you'd apply it to physical abilities, but I do think that this could capture some of the subtlety of early modern magic.

-A. McVey


Title: Agrippa's magic
Post by: clehrich on May 05, 2004, 11:05:10 PM
I'll get back to some of the more difficult questions when I have a minute -- I'm grading a stack of papers -- but I did want to mention that the text Alan refers to, Bruno's De vinculis, is available in a good translation.  The volume is:

Giordano Bruno, Cause, Principle and Unity, and Essays on Magic, trans. and ed. Richard J. Blackwell and Robert de Lucca (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998).

There is also an ongoing project to translate all of Bruno's works into Italian (those that aren't already) and French, under the direction of Nuccio Ordine, but they haven't gotten very far with the Latin works.  Last time I spoke with him, Nuccio was very gung-ho, but I think the project has stalled somewhere.


Title: Agrippa's magic
Post by: redwalker on May 06, 2004, 09:33:44 AM
Quote from: contracycle
The "how and why" aspect is something that is under-represented for several reasons IMO.

[snip]


4) Really what we are talking about here is an ideology or doctrine of reality - the very thing conspicuous by its absence in RPG.  This partly due to the habit of deference to the customer and the unwillingness to 'dictacte' to the players, and partly becuase western thought largely considers itself to be non-ideological (ha ha) and doesn't really grant it much importance.

5) The habitual reluctance of those few who DO hold to genuinely alternative doctrines about the nature of the world to commit to any meaningful statement.  Thus we have debates which refuse to define magic on the basis that this 'limits' magic or similar; the net result is that nothing ever solidifies enough to become a tangibly useful mechanism.  I take it some groups work around this at the social contract level, but it is very poorly represented in game design despite the disproportionate representation of alternative lifestyles in RPG.


You make excellent points.  I will only take time to reply to some of them.  I note in passing that I also like Mage, but I have enough objections to it to write a "fantasy heartbreaker" that fixes the problems I see with Mage.

Much of the popular occult press is entertainment.  They know they can sell books that inpire occultists with vapid sentiment.  They print those books, they sell those books, they take their money, and they don't care when their credibility sinks into the gutter.

Considering the occult non-fiction is so corrupted by entertainment over substance, it's not surprising that occult fiction lacks substance.

As to the reluctance of those who are committed to make "meaningful" statements, I protest that.  

Suppose someone starts out with an interest in paranormal faculties of the human body, starting with radionics, telekinesis, and acupuncture.  Eventually he gets so committed to the quest for scientific proof that he drops his other researches and concentrates on acupuncture.  He learns statistics, medical law, the Chinese language, etc.  He is concerned with the details of vindicating acupuncture and silencing the mockery of allopathic physicians.

Such a man is committed, and his research is meaningful to medical researchers, statisticians, insurance companies,etc.  He has narrowed his message to the medical industry and it is very hard for him to say things that are interesting, intelligible to the layman, and non-trivial.  That is a consequence of his commitment to a narrow field of study.

Such a man might have a lot of opinions on broader topics, but be unwilling to take the time to justify them to specialists in other fields.  Inside his own field, he can show his resume and say, "Look at my track record and then trust my opinion."  Outside his field, no one will appreciate his accomplishments.

Such a man might be well acquainted (for example) with the literature surrounding Idries Shah and the scholarly controversies that flared during Shah's life.  That does not mean he is able or willing to take the time to defend Shah's scholarship from (e.g.) a historian.


Title: Agrippa's magic
Post by: The Fiendish Dr. Samsara on May 06, 2004, 10:48:32 AM
Quote from: Alan McVey
Say you take a system like Heroquest and assign a planet or a constellation to each of a person's traits, so that you get something like Swordsmanship (Mars), Loyalty to Family (Jupiter), and so on.

Magic can then be used in one of two ways: the first is the one that you describe; a magician enhances or counters an ability by drawing the influence of the appropriate planet to bear on the target.  The second is to keep the ability the same, but replace one planetary influence with another, changing the "flavour" of the trait.  Loyalty to Family (Jupiter) suggests that the character will want to see the family thrive in the political and social sphere, but if that's nudged over to Loyalty to Family (Mars), then the emotion would take on more violent characteristics, while bringing in Venus could make it downright unhealthy.

I'm using an idea here from Giordano Bruno's work on bonds, De vinculis in genere, where he describes everyone and everything being influenced by invisible bonds that cannot be severed, but that can be transformed in quality.  I'm not sure how you'd apply it to physical abilities, but I do think that this could capture some of the subtlety of early modern magic.

-A. McVey


1. That’s a really nice idea.  I was thinking the same thing more or less (which must be why I like it).  You could categorize the skill/attribute list by the seven planets.  Or the twelve signs, I guess, but I think the seven planets would work the best.  I was thinking of this with my Contest Check mechanics because things such as Connections and Patronage and Motives are all stats and thus would fit right in to the system.  How Machiavellian to concoct an image which damages your rivals Patronage stat or improves you own.  

Incidentally, deciding what stat goes under which planet would tell you a lot about your gaming world.  And then again, some might be variable as you suggest: passions might fit under any planet depending on their nature.  Actually, you could possibly expand that to all stats if you wanted to complicate things.  

It seems so obvious that “Swordsmanship” is a martial skill and maybe should be so as default, but what might “Venerean” or “Jovial” swordsmanship be like?  Mercurial swordsmen might be faster than the norm, while Saturnian might be immovable (a decidedly weird style of fighting in the Renaissance).  Anyway, just a thought.

2. Redwalker—I wasn’t meaning to knock Shah as an esotericist.  I’m just saying that he’s no historian, so that his historical assertions are not that useful.  But an esotericist doesn’t need to be an historian.  Indeed, the fundamental assumptions of an orthodox historian may be antithetical to a functional esotericist.  The latter often operate through a Law of Similarity in their thinking that mainstream historians find ridiculous (ask me sometime about the Richard Kieckhefer-Carlo Ginzburg witchcraft battles).  As someone who has operated on both sides of the divide, I would suggest that neither has any superior claim to “correctness”.  But that’s just me.

3. Here’s another idea for a game: the War of the Roses(the 17th century French affair, not the English Civil Wars).  John Kim (I think) brought up the Rosicrucians.  What if the characters are initiates or wannabe initiates in Paris attempting to locate other initiates but without any idea of how.  It’s a kind of conspiracy game.  Everybody is trying to find Brother C.R.C.’s wonder-tomb (complete with tape recording of Yahweh!), but no one knows where it is.  Or recalling Frances Yates’ one-time suggestion about Bruno and the Rosicrucians, what if the characters are traveling around creating secret societies?  To what purpose?  To find the true initiates?  Or to hide themselves from their antagonists?  Or, if we bring in Eco, maybe you are trying to create a secret society that will really know what is going on so that you can then join it (bearing Groucho Marx’s  dictum in mind).


Title: Agrippa's magic
Post by: Matt Machell on May 06, 2004, 12:58:12 PM
People who have an interest in Hermetic settings for RPGs would do well to check out some of Mary Gentle's books: Sundial in a Grave and Rats and Gargoyles. They are both strongly influenced by "real world" approaches to magic and mysticism.

-Matt


Title: Agrippa's magic
Post by: contracycle on May 07, 2004, 01:00:30 AM
Quote from: redwalker

As to the reluctance of those who are committed to make "meaningful" statements, I protest that.  


I fear you took my remark as applying more generally than intended.  I meant, with the RPG 'community' such as it is.  We have no shortage of adherents of seriously alternative, non-mainstream views, but we never seem able to translate these worldviews into actual mechanisms.  I fully agree with your diagnosis of the 'occult press'; my remark was intended to convey that much the same problem permeates RPG in my view.


Title: magician vs. normal
Post by: BPetroff93 on May 07, 2004, 11:02:33 AM
Quote from: contracycle
We have no shortage of adherents of seriously alternative, non-mainstream views, but we never seem able to translate these worldviews into actual mechanisms.


I think the problem is a matter of perspective.  From the "normal" viewpoint magick is a specialized skillset utilized for certain limited activities.  From the magician's point of veiw, it is a universal skillset that everyone is forced to intereact with all the time.  I think only two games have really addressed this framework albeit to a very limited extent, Mage and Herowars/Heroquest.  CoC's occult suppliments also have their moments but are too heavily geared towards the original source "flavor" to be considered realistic by any stretch (not that there is any problem with that)

Bringing a truly magickal perspective to game design would be very difficult without making the game focused on that one area.

I find Contracycle's comments on page one are especially on the nose.  Also the question he brings up about whether or not such "realism" is even desireable outside of a sim CA is particularly relavent.  However, there is the possibility of a universal magick system, as the underlying reality of the game world supporting premise or step on up, similar to TROS's use of its combat system.  

The question really is why we find current game magick systems unsatisfying.  A desire for "realism" is difficult to advocate because most of us have very little background in the construction and execution of magick rituals, and even those of us that do could spend years arguing the correct interpretation of magickal theory.  I think the call for realism in an RPG setting is really more about a desire to make magick MAGICK, something that has value and meaning and power, rather than just another set of mechanical rules.  There are enough gamers with at least a breif introduction or association with the art that we think we know what it should feel like.  I propose that when we want "realism" we are really chasing after that "feeling" we have associated with the word.


Title: Agrippa's magic
Post by: redwalker on May 07, 2004, 04:17:39 PM
Quote from: The Fiendish Dr. Samsara




2. Redwalker—I wasn’t meaning to knock Shah as an esotericist.  I’m just saying that he’s no historian, so that his historical assertions are not that useful.  But an esotericist doesn’t need to be an historian.  Indeed, the fundamental assumptions of an orthodox historian may be antithetical to a functional esotericist.  The latter often operate through a Law of Similarity in their thinking that mainstream historians find ridiculous (ask me sometime about the Richard Kieckhefer-Carlo Ginzburg witchcraft battles).  As someone who has operated on both sides of the divide, I would suggest that neither has any superior claim to “correctness”.  But that’s just me.


Don't mind me, I'm just complaining about how little time I have to pursue such issues and how frustrating it is to have to narrow one's focus in order to navigate social hierarchies.  So if I grumble, I'm just being a grognard, pay me no heed.

Some other time, probably in some other forum, I would like to ask you about Kieckhefer and Ginzburg.  But that will doubtless spiral into epistemological issues, so I shouldn't write about it on a gaming board.


Title: Re: magician vs. normal
Post by: redwalker on May 07, 2004, 04:28:32 PM
Quote from: BPetroff93


The question really is why we find current game magick systems unsatisfying.  A desire for "realism" is difficult to advocate because most of us have very little background in the construction and execution of magick rituals, and even those of us that do could spend years arguing the correct interpretation of magickal theory.  I think the call for realism in an RPG setting is really more about a desire to make magick MAGICK, something that has value and meaning and power, rather than just another set of mechanical rules.  


Well, I am a firm believer in the Sim perspective.

I think even a dry, mechanical magic could have value and meaning and emotional resonance.

Let's take a situation that has great emotional resonance but doesn't display Hermetic symbology.

Suppose an athlete does many push-ups every day because she is motivated to compete in the Olympic games.  The push-ups can be called a magical sacrifice.  The goal of Olympian competition has great emotional resonance.

If she came to a point in her life where it was clear that she would not have a chance to compete, her whole world might be overthrown.  She might commit suicide, for example.

If, for example, your system puts numbers on what percentage of time you spend doing push-ups, and you had to spend effort points to fight off distractions and do the work, a mechanical rule system could allow players to game the experience of the athlete, who is emotionally committed.

Suppose the player builds the character with an understanding of the rules.  The player says, "Look, I want to have more enthusiasm points to make sure I don't fail my willpower checks for daily training.  I want to be totally committed.  In fact the character will attempt suicide if she doesn't get to the Olympics.  I want to be able to funnel as much of her willpower as possible into the goal."

I assume that everyone recalls Levi's claim that "All Magic is in the Will."

If a system of rules can simulate the workings of human willpower, then that system can simulate Levi's idea of magic -- even if there are no rituals, no Neo-Plationism, no Hermetic symbols.


Title: Meaning and magic
Post by: BPetroff93 on May 10, 2004, 08:08:31 PM
Hey Redwalker, thanks for the response.  I agree with your point that you can construct meaning from a "mechanical" system that does not include hermetic symbolism.  I wasn't saying that you could not, just that when we look at hermetic symbolism or ritual with an eye towards it's RPG useage that it is the emotion charge we (as gamers) assossiate with the concepts that is most relevant and how we wish to see that charge in action rather than the desire to "accuratly" mimic real world occultism.