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Author Topic: Mysticism vs. Magic  (Read 1529 times)
arkcure
Member

Posts: 12


« on: February 26, 2003, 07:07:49 PM »

Hello,

Right now I am grappling with the idea of magic and mysticism in a near future setting.  While I do feel that there should be some level of mysticism, I also recognize the sometimes need for magic in RPGs.  

I am trying to set up the setting to be the mystic nature of the game so that it will be interesting.  I'd like to stay away from having magic in the game, though.  

So fellow forgers, Am i being overanalyzing or do I have a valid reason to be divided.
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Jason Lee
Member

Posts: 729


« Reply #1 on: February 26, 2003, 08:42:20 PM »

Well, I see a lot of 'depends on blah' I could throw at your question.

Depends on what you mean by 'magic'.  I normally take it to mean something other than psionics, superpowers, race rules, and the powers of spirits.  I also don't define a distinction between 'religious' and 'arcane' magic (is this the mysticism/magic distinction you are drawing?).  But it could mean all of these or something even more narrow, dependent upon your definition.

The 'depends on' aside (if I can even do it)...

There's nothing wrong having a magical setting with people living in it unable to perform magic.  Or having a setting full of mysticism, but it's all superstition and isn't actually real.

However, I for one will need more specifics to answer your question.
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- Cruciel
Airshipjones
Member

Posts: 7


« Reply #2 on: February 27, 2003, 12:17:34 PM »

I have wanted to do the same for some time as well.  I wanted to create a society where ancestor worship was predominant, but where a plague had wiped out much of the culture.  There would be religion, there would be mysticism.  People would go and talk to the ancestors, and some would even believe they got answers.  But most believed the answers were manifest in what happens after the questions where posed.  Makes for a superstitious society.  There would also be a lot of ritual and mysticism around appeasing the ancestors and interpretation of the Signs.  And sometimes a bit of the "Ignore that Man behind the Curtain" flim-flammery too.

I often think Magic is over-used as a tool/term/color when it doesn't add anything significant to the story.   And I have seen GMs and players get lazy because they relied too much on magic.  They stop thinking and being creative, and just start trying to figure out what is the best spell to have, like they were going shopping for clothes.

I could talk more about what magic is and for example how Tolkien regarded magic, but that gets into a different topic.
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-Troy-
clehrich
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Posts: 1557


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« Reply #3 on: February 27, 2003, 03:05:13 PM »

Quote from: Airship Jones
I wanted to create a society where ancestor worship was predominant, but where a plague had wiped out much of the culture. There would be religion, there would be mysticism. People would go and talk to the ancestors, and some would even believe they got answers. But most believed the answers were manifest in what happens after the questions where posed. Makes for a superstitious society. There would also be a lot of ritual and mysticism around appeasing the ancestors and interpretation of the Signs. And sometimes a bit of the "Ignore that Man behind the Curtain" flim-flammery too.

I'd like a bit more detail here, if you don't mind.  The last bit, the Man Behind the Curtain, sounds perhaps like you could be talking about anything from the Oracle of Delphi to Madame Blavatsky to outright fraud, and obviously those are quite different things.  I'm also really unclear about "the answers [being] manifest in what happens after the questions [are] posed"; do you mean that a question is posed and then some sort of process occurs that has to be interpreted?  What is the process, if so, and who does the interpreting?  Finally, I'm not quite sure what distinction you're making between religion and mysticism, nor what you mean by the latter.

Please note: I'm not trying to force my definitions or categories on you.  I'm extremely interested in all you have posted here, and I want to jump in and be helpful, but at this point it'd be throwing darts in the dark for me.
Quote
I could talk more about what magic is and for example how Tolkien regarded magic, but that gets into a different topic.

I suppose it would be, wouldn't it.  Let's see where the thread goes, though.  If you're right, and this topic turns out to be a second thread, I say let's start it -- sounds like a fascinating discussion to me!
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Chris Lehrich
arkcure
Member

Posts: 12


« Reply #4 on: February 27, 2003, 05:29:19 PM »

My RPG takes place in the near future, so I am limited by what exists.  I do agree with the point someone brought up that magic makes players and GMs lazy.  

The vein I was thinking of persuing is the defintion of magic.  A hundred years ago, you could show someone a television and it could of been thought as magic. But to present that as "magic" is unbelievable because the player knows it is not magic, but something else.  I think it would be very hard to suspend belief that much in a game.

But magical elements arising out of nothing is too unbelievable.  I do see where religions need a level of mysticism ie. miracles and saviors.  But often miracles are seen as a hoax, like Mary in a Tortilla.  

So without magic, the only thing left is straighforward gameplay with weapons and fists.  This too leaves me unnerved but I feel that if I write the setting to be fascinating, a place where the reader could say, "Oh my god, I never thought of that," then that would be suffiecient in my book.

But others on my team feel that an RPG should have some level of mysticism to make it interesting.  I disagree but I see their point.  I just can't justify adding "magic", whatever you define that as, because it should be there.  

The reason I added this post was to see from other people what they thought as far as RPGs go.  It is unnacceptable, in the case of my RPG, to have the player wonder what life in America was like before a disaster, when the player is living in those times and knows.  So there can be no mysticism except for what i create, and that is what I am trying to do with the story itself.

So, would you as RPG players, play a "rich setting" RPG if it had no level of mysticism or "magic", as you define it?
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Andrew Martin
Member

Posts: 785


« Reply #5 on: February 27, 2003, 10:27:23 PM »

Quote from: arkcure
So, would you as RPG players, play a "rich setting" RPG if it had no level of mysticism or "magic", as you define it?


Provided it was something that I and my fellow players could not equally as well create in Fudge, S, GURPS, Traveller and other "generic" systems...
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Andrew Martin
clehrich
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Posts: 1557


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« Reply #6 on: February 27, 2003, 10:39:12 PM »

I don't quite understand.  If this is a near-future setting, let's say a cyberpunk thing for example, why do you have to have magic or "mysticism" at all?  I mean, why should the question even arise?  If you want to have that, do Shadowrun-style stuff, fine; but does every RPG have to have magic?  Not that I'm aware of.

As to mysticism, are we talking about people believing in whatever they believe in, or actual inexplicable events, or do we mean some element of the mysterious?  I mean, would alien abductions count here, or are you talking specifically about miraculous events in a traditionally religious context?  Assuming we're talking about religion here (that being the example you've given), I do not see why the game-world needs to pronounce on whether these things are real or not.  In our own world, for example, it's not at all clear; you make a certain set of epistemological choices about the nature of truth and reality, and then within that framework you interpret the claims of miraculous events (with interpretations ranging from fraud, delusion, or hysteria to the Hand of God, and everything in between).

Is the question of the miraculous going to be essential to the world?  Or does the rest of the team just think that every RPG has to have a magic system in order to be an RPG (a claim I do not understand)?
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Chris Lehrich
arkcure
Member

Posts: 12


« Reply #7 on: February 28, 2003, 12:41:11 AM »

Here's a question.  Are you curious about the game I am creating?  I've given few details, and on purpose.  If your answer is yes, then THAT is what I mean by mysticism.

If your answer is no, then why are you asking questions?  I only mentioned miracles as an example of mysticism in the real world.  So don't worry about the miracles thing.  Its a moot point.

Would you play a game that had no mysticism in it whatsoever, but had a setting that really involved the players and made them ask questions?
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contracycle
Member

Posts: 2807


« Reply #8 on: February 28, 2003, 01:01:23 AM »

Quote from: arkcure

Would you play a game that had no mysticism in it whatsoever, but had a setting that really involved the players and made them ask questions?


Surely, there are plenty of games like that, unless I misunderstand what you mean by mysticism.  James Bond, Milleniums End spring to mind.  so, I'm not sure I understand why the questions arises either; in what sense is "mysticism" a default feature?  Is that what you mean?
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simon_hibbs
Member

Posts: 678


« Reply #9 on: February 28, 2003, 06:06:08 AM »

Quote from: arkcure
Here's a question.  Are you curious about the game I am creating?  I've given few details, and on purpose.  If your answer is yes, then THAT is what I mean by mysticism.


Liking your game is mysticism?

Since mysticism is commonly defined in terms of ritual practices which lead to and experience of god (the gods, divine revelation, whatever).

Quote
If your answer is no, then why are you asking questions?  I only mentioned miracles as an example of mysticism in the real world.  So don't worry about the miracles thing.  Its a moot point.


I can see there's some confusion here because you seem to be using an orriginal meaning of the term mysticism that many of us here don't necesserily agree with or fully understand.

We are askign questions because we want to udnerstand what you want, and are genuinely interested in helping.

Quote
Would you play a game that had no mysticism in it whatsoever, but had a setting that really involved the players and made them ask questions?


I have played many such games and enjoyed them, so yes.

Well known examples of mysticism in SF are Star Wars (The Force) and Star Trek (Vulcan philosophy). In oth cases, central characters struggle between the seemingly contradictory demand placed upon them by the beliefs to which they aspire, and their relationships with other people.

It's prefectly possible to cosntruct similar dilemas for your characters without mysticism or abstract philosophy playign any part. For example a characetr might be faced with contradictory demands by family and by duty to the state; or be cought between loyalty to a friend and evidence that the friend is wanted for a crime.

A key thing to realise is that narrative in roleplaying games is no different from narative in any other narative medium - books, films, manga, whatever. Not all novels have mysticism as a theme, in fact I would guess the vast majority don't, so why should all rpgs?


Simon Hibbs
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Simon Hibbs
Jason Lee
Member

Posts: 729


« Reply #10 on: February 28, 2003, 03:39:25 PM »

I'm pushing the "Reply" button and I turn around and look at my RPG bookshelf.  I own all of one game without some sort of magic/psi system in it.  The supernatural systems in some are optional, but all save Cyberpunk has something.  Tells you where my preference lies.

That said, I think games without supernatural powers are a little easier to play/GM.  Supernatural powers bypass more of your conflict options.  Incorrect Quote: "It's easier to write a Batman story than a Superman story, because you don't need to involve a glowing green rock every time."

One of the other 'depends on':
Do you need a magic system?  Depends upon where you want one or not.  Nothing wrong with either approach (from a technical or consumer acceptance standpoint).
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- Cruciel
M. J. Young
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Posts: 2198


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« Reply #11 on: February 28, 2003, 09:56:54 PM »

I read a rant within the past few years by someone, and I don't remember who or where or why, who observed that games with an element we might call "unreal" were in general more successful commercially than games that had more of a "reality" basis to them. That is, more specifically, if you had a modern or science fiction setting and you added magic or psionics or undead creatures or something like that to them, the game would sell better than a similar game without that element. I don't know that it's universally true, but at the time he gave some convincing examples. You could do a medieval world without magic, but everyone still plays swords & sorcery. Space travel games that allow psionically-empowered aliens (or even humans) tend to outpull those that don't.

 I think that part of the reason for this is that people want to imagine themselves as able to do what they in reality cannot. Why is Cyberpunk successful without magic or psionics? Is it because implants serve the same function? It might well be.

 If you're asking whether a game is going to be more commercially viable if it has something "superpowered" in it, the historical track record suggests that the answer is probably yes. If you're asking whether you can design a good game without such an element, the answer is again yes.

 Your use of the word "mysticism" is confusing; it seems at times that what you mean by it is "mystery", that is, that the game world has to have elements within it that the characters (and probably the players) do not understand at the outset and must discover through play. I think that if you've created a game world in which the players and the characters know all things at the outset, you've got to do a lot more on other levels to give them something to discover--whether it's story elements or character development or challenges, if there's nothing "unknown" in a game, why play it? It's like in WarGames (the movie) when they're trying to get the computer to play tic-tac-toe, and someone says, "You can't win that game." Once you know that, you don't play anymore, because there's nothing interesting about the game. If there's nothing to discover through play, why are we playing?

 But if you mean that it has to have some element that is inexplicable to the players or characters, such as mysterious magical or psionic powers, you might be confused. In a sense, there is nothing at all mysterious about the magic or psionic powers in D&D; they are all explained in great detail, and every player and every character seems to understand exactly how and why they work. They're no more mysterious than asking why swords kill people (of which probably the characters have less understanding). Whatever you don't explain to the players is going to be mysterious and inexplicable, at least until they figure it out. It doesn't have to be magical; and a magic system has a better chance of taking the mystery out of it than of putting it in.

 Does that help?

--M. J. Young
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MoonHunter
Member

Posts: 12


« Reply #12 on: March 03, 2003, 03:30:49 AM »

Robin of Robin's law coined the term "Crunchy Bits".  Crunchy bits are the elements of power that characters can achieve in a given game system.  These could be cool abilities, magik, super powers, psi abilities, cyberware, or what ever.  Games that tend to be successful tend to have good crunchy bits. WhiteWolf, with an emphasis on story, still has the coolest most powerful crunchy bits of in the industry.  The multiple appeal of story emphasis, character development, and powerful crunchy bits, nearly assured their success.  (Angst ridden teens supplied the rest.)

For your game, it does not have to be magik. Psionics is the acceptable substitution for magik in a sci-fi game.  It could be cool technology. It could be altered abilities you get from being exposed to fusion generators.  As long as it is consistant for your world, choose at will.

One thing. Nobody said getting the really wierd or powerful crunchy bits has to be easy.  Perhaps it is something you really have to work at... a metagoal in the game.
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MoonHunter
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