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System Influencing Setting: Magic

JochenL

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Two weeks ago, I had an interesting chat with @Auke about Magic influencing the Game World. This is, IMO, related to the GM Triangle of Story, Setting, System. The rules of magic are usually codified in the system. But how do they affect the setting?

AFAIK, most fantasy settings based on these systems don't reflect that.
How does your setting incorporate these magics?

For example, take D&D's Zone of Truth spell (or GURPS' Compel Truth spell):
How does that change trials/court hearings?
Will there be a "truth-sayer" present?
Who will pay for the truth-sayer?
How to prevent the truth-sayer from cheating?

How do you handle such "obvious mismatches" between system and setting?
 

ExileInParadise

RPG Therapist
Staff member
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For Kairos, the RPG I've been developing, I codified this partly using a "Magic Level" which is complimentary to the "Tech Level" of the setting.

Magic Level is derived partly from the sources of magic (Nature, Deities, supernatural, ritual magic) and the number of people in a given block of population who can harness that magical power.

https://armageddonmoon.com/kairos:magic_levels

Once you have set the "Magic Level" of your setting - you can then look at how that level of magical ability influences or changes item by item.

One way to do it is to scan down the list of spells for your system, and ask how each "normal profession" could take advantage of them.

A magical grain farmer can ...
A magical miller can ...
A magical blacksmith can ...

To your questions above:
A magical city guard, bailiff, or magistrate can ...

To handle mismatches - you create a "constraint" that owns the gap.

Deities, natural magic levels in an area, or side effects of the meddling of ancient wizards can create reasons why there are artificial constraints in place.

Also limiting the choice of magics can be constraints that explain why or why note some area of society is more or less powered by magic.

If everyone can cast cantrips - but the ability to research, learn, and use higher level spells is limited to only certain schools or bloodlines - then you can put the brakes on too much magic or magic breaking things you don't want broken as well.

Long ago, I ran a D&D game where each magical item in the DMG was a *unique* magic item in the world.
Instead of +1 swords existing ... there was one single +1 sword.
It made every magic item worth being its own quest - and then you could also bestow a name and add it to the mythos etc.
The caveat was that potions were not unique.
So, in town, the dynamic was that magical potions were an economic commodity that fueled a lot of different activities... and the adventurers quested for the magical artifacts they knew were out there ...

That constraint of "each magical item is unique - but potions are commonplace brewable" drove all sorts of setting goodness.
WIzards who brewed potions were powerhouses.
 

Morvar

Member
Wizard of Combat
Two weeks ago, I had an interesting chat with @Auke about Magic influencing the Game World. This is, IMO, related to the GM Triangle of Story, Setting, System. The rules of magic are usually codified in the system. But how do they affect the setting?

AFAIK, most fantasy settings based on these systems don't reflect that.
How does your setting incorporate these magics?

For example, take D&D's Zone of Truth spell (or GURPS' Compel Truth spell):
How does that change trials/court hearings?
Will there be a "truth-sayer" present?
Who will pay for the truth-sayer?
How to prevent the truth-sayer from cheating?

How do you handle such "obvious mismatches" between system and setting?
Heyho!

Interesting questions! Whereby I must say that I actually see no contradiction.

First I would like to try to make clear what I mean. Then some "solution approaches" supply.

Actual - state:
D&D /Pathfinder/ Gurps offer this spell. In the rulebook. First independent of the game world. Just like many other spells, which can completely confuse the inner-world logic of various fantasy settings or lead it ad absurdum.

Let's stay with "finding the truth".
Rules:
1. all the spells you listed inherently offer the possibility to resist them via a saving throw.
2. the higher the level or the better the saving throw, the greater the chance for the character to resist these interrogations and still be able to lie.
3. it only says that you can only not CONSCIOUSLY lie, but you don't HAVE to tell the truth.

A resourceful player (and normally we are not really interested in the world outside the game experience) can get around the meaning of the spell here within the rules.

Setting:
What specific setting of D&D do you have in mind where there is a huge obvious discrepancy between these rules and the setting?
1) In the Forgotten Realms, of course, there is magic in abundance and, in fact, anything goes there. But just as there is the Zone of Truth spell, there is also Conceal Mind or Banish Magic or magic items that could prevent such things.
2) Ravenloft categorically restricts the way the spells work in order to support that type of play.
3) gurps dungeon fantasy is just a "generic" fantasy world and in my opinion it is always up to the gamemaster to define the "appropriate framework" for his fantasy world.

Solutions for NOT changeable settings:
If I MUST use the rules as written and cannot/should not adjust the magic in a world to fit the mood/genre through clear house rules, I would proceed as follows.

1. courts/jurisdiction.
What does the setting description say? How common is magic? How common are the mages and priests who can use this magic? If there are enough of them, how common are mages who offer matching counterspells for money? Or how well do evil gods protect their priests? Keyword: lie detector and training to outsmart this. E.g. with drugs, mental relaxation or simply by the fact that not every perpetrator has all the information of a plan.

2. truth finder
Who says that a truth finder can not also be a fanatic? Or has long since lost the power to see the truth? Or is simply not strong enough to force the hero to the truth?

3. magic and faith can be expensive expenses. I don't think that in every court case such a thing can be applied.

4. fraud
A Truthfinder might have to submit to a GEAS spell or be tested by another Truthfinder before each trial.

Solutions for settings in which one can and may change:
Just set what can and cannot be done and ignore the rules.

An example for my game world to avoid most "problems".
1. the limit of immortality
Magic cannot stop or reverse natural aging. Slowing down is possible, but immortality is not. LICHes are undead!
2. the limit of magic connections
Magic can only be cast beyond a caster's field of vision if the caster has an arcane connection available (i.e. a lock of the victim's hair, a pebble from the location to be enchanted at a distance, etc.).
3. the limit of creation
Magic can only create things permanently if the caster permanently sacrifices special reagents, life force, or their own magical energy.
4. the limit of healing
Magic cannot recover physical energy, or heal injuries permanently. Nor can it heal mental injuries. This is reserved for the gods and their believers.
5. the limit of the soul
Magic cannot create an immortal soul, and therefore cannot create real life. For this reason, resurrections are also not possible. Animals usually do not have a soul and therefore can be created.
6. the law of time
Magic cannot influence the passage of time. What has happened cannot be changed afterwards. What will happen can only be influenced by changes in the present.
7. the law of deep feelings
If people have true love or true faith or similarly strong beliefs, then that cannot be changed by magic (there are not that many people to whom this applies, though).
8. the law of magic
Those who deal with the powers of magic longer or more often will change. Mortals are not made for the Source.
9. the limit of the mind
The thoughts of conscious beings cannot be read. Likewise, it is not possible to transmit thoughts without eye contact or in sight.
10. the limits of travel
Neither is magic able to make a wizard fly, nor can he teleport. Both are possible only with the help of powerful permanent magic.

Greetings
 

pbianchi

Member
Hireling for Adventure
Wizard of Story
Looks like Ars Magica Hermetic Magic limits... at least a good part of them... Did you get inspired by that?
 

Morvar

Member
Wizard of Combat
To be honest, I don't really know! Have for rules of my magic simply much researched on the Internet and gathered everything that seemed suitable to me. ARS MAGICA I have never read or played. But know it from reports!
 

JochenL

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Staff member
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How does that change trials/court hearings?
Will there be a "truth-sayer" present?
Who will pay for the truth-sayer?
How to prevent the truth-sayer from cheating?

How do you handle such "obvious mismatches" between system and setting?
To sum up, your answers as I understand them:

For Kairos, the RPG I've been developing, I codified this partly using a "Magic Level" which is complimentary to the "Tech Level" of the setting.
Magic is (replacing) technology. So you would treat a truth-sayer as a lie detector. It is just part of the setting and blends into the background.

lie detector and training to outsmart this
I like this. It reminds me of the Fairy Way of not telling the truth without actually lying.

A Truthfinder might have to submit to a GEAS spell or be tested by another Truthfinder before each trial.
This is a good suggestion, too!

Just set what can and cannot be done and ignore the rules.
Not an option as this is a mental exercise in deriving setting elements from a given system.
 

Stephan Hornick

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Staff member
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Wizard of Story
Great question, Jochen. I always sticked to "magic is rare, only seems predictable for some, and has always a flipside".

Magic is rare
Although D&D is a setting with high fantasy elements and thus with a lot of common magic, magic is still rare, meaning that high magic is not something common, even in D&D. On the other hand, you can purchase magical items in shops, spells and potions for almost everything, magic is known to a crude degree to the common people, and there are a lot of magic users.
Let's speak rough percentages. How likely would be a wizard in a small village? Very unlikely. In a town? More likely. And in a city. Very likely. I would assume that there are even several wizards in the capital. Wizards flock to locations of learning. So what would they do in a village? Nothing. Oh, they may be able to help, but they are from a different world. And all their fancy Aethermancy and dimensional studies, demonology or even their power over fire will seem useless for villagers who need good weather, a cow that gives milk and a healthy baby. And they on the other hand might die from boredom. Likewise, I would not assume that there were many magic items in a village. Of course, this could be a quest if something like this happens in a village. An event the locals will talk about for generations. So coming back to your own example, here in a small village, if you did something wrong, you will be dealt with directly and without the use of magic, or you will be accompanied to the next town (which is more trouble for the peasants).
And the more cultivated and learned the background gets, the more is it likely to happen upon magical means used by the locals. There could very well be a wizard in town. But with all the different ways of magic, how likely is it that (a) there is a wizard, (b) that he is not busy with other things, but free to help and (c) willing, and (d) takes on an official title in town? Again, how much less likely is it, that he (e) actually knows these kinds of spells? A true truthsayer in a city might be in comparison very rare! The more magic variety there is and the more restricted magic becomes due to powerful magic in the world, the less likely it is that magic mingles with the commoners' lifes. At least, that's what I believe.
And then again, where there are forces of magic and good, there are always those that stand against them, want their power, strife to push them out of their "unfair" office, try to force their will unto them or pay them off for their own agendas.
I personally find it fantastic to introduce a truthsayer to a court, but not on regular basis. Last month's truthsayer may have found a sudden visit by a relative of the condemned to be more than what he/she could handle. Some may be well protected and stay in office long. But then, these towns will probably be renowned for them and hard judicial cases will be brought forth to them to be dealt with, like they would be brought to a temple of a truth saying diety. And even magical items of the sort are hard to keep save when there are contradicting agendas, jealousy between cities and guilds, or even the danger magic bears itself.

Magic only seems predictable
Magic is like physics. We know a lot about the world thrue the eyes of physics, but there is even more that we still don't know. Likewise, even if the standard wizard is sure about his magic formulas, I like to sprinkle wonder and excitement back into this magic-science approach by sometimes letting things happen that are unpredictable (and a new quest or mistery).

Magic has a flipside
Magic has a price, can be used against the user, has forces behind it that many do not understand. Using this "rule of magic" for example, there could indeed be a magical artifact for truthseeing in a town, but the townsfolk have either learned to fear the use of it because it could result in chicken-plagues, or they have accustomed to and relied upon that item so much that they won't believe anything someone says without such proof. Maybe the artifact is set to too high degree resulting in every uneasiness of the victim to be a blatant lie resulting in death. Or all the people suddenly want the artifact for themselves to make sure that no one is lying to them ever again. Again, nice as quests.

That said, I think you CAN change and reinvent the setting by taking into account the influence magic of a system would have on it, but I would usually refrain from overdoing it. The players have specific expectations and wouldn't follow your 2-3-4 steps of ensuring truth and what powers there actually are in the system which could be used and which the PCs should have known. If you want to do this, you should directly talk with the players about it and introduce it gradually.

(My players were once shocked when I showed them how easy it would be for the corporate investigators in Shadowrun with all their technological and magical advancements to identify the culprits of a deed, i.e. their PCs. And they still didn't even get half of what I researched about what possibilities there were.)
 

JochenL

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Last month's truthsayer may have found a sudden visit by a relative of the condemned to be more than what he/she could handle.
I like that!

Magic is like physics.
Sorry, but that causes me to shiver! Even if we don't know all of physics, we know enough to have cell phones and fly into space. The unexpected fringe stuff does not normally show up in everyday life. So, for magic, I would expect that this shows up only in ivory tower research and not in daily usage.

I always sticked to "magic is rare, only seems predictable for some, and has always a flipside".
So, your usual approach is "avoidance", to sum it up.
 

Stephan Hornick

Community Goblin
Staff member
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Sorry, but that causes me to shiver! Even if we don't know all of physics, we know enough to have cell phones and fly into space. The unexpected fringe stuff does not normally show up in everyday life. So, for magic, I would expect that this shows up only in ivory tower research and not in daily usage.
Ok, it was formulated to brisk or incomplete. Yes, we know now more than ever about physics. I meant physics from medieval perspective. There was still much unknown. I see a magician like a "scientist" or "doctor" of the 15th to 19th century warding of plagues by "best practice" and investigating the effect of opium on children and agriculture. In my understanding magical formulas are recipes to create an effect, but there are always circumstances that could lead to a slightly different outcome.

So, your usual approach is "avoidance", to sum it up.
This surprises me. I don't think I avoid. On the contrary, I would make such changes to the standard setting an adventure and put the magic into the core of the adventure. I have no problem with recurring common magical trinkets with limited effects that even commoners use (as long as my players know about it), but I hold back the ocean of powerful magical things in the world and make them appear first as rumors, later as the core of the adventure to keep the wonder in the world. I must confess, I hate it when PCs talk about their magical sword +1 as if it was just a good knife. In contrast, I try to create moments where the PCs speak in awe about the magical sword "Ravenbane", formerly wielded by the general of the Ravenfeathers' court Sir Ichnak who was able to hold his ground against a mighty troll in Duskriver canyon, and which they picked up at his grave. This is the same +1 sword of course, but it is for me all the difference. Magic is wonder. If it is not, it is just a modifier and boring for me. Sorry. So, I'm not sure why you called this "avoidance". I've not the impression I would avoid that topic.
 

ExileInParadise

RPG Therapist
Staff member
Wizard of Adventure
Wizard of Story
Magic is (replacing) technology. So you would treat a truth-sayer as a lie detector. It is just part of the setting and blends into the background.
Not exactly.
Many sci-fi RPGs have a "Tech Level" explaining what tech is available and when - or what is required.

Many fantasy RPGs have varying "pervasiveness" of Magic - some settings are very low magic with vary rare wizards / items / potions while others are like Eberron where magic is commonplace infrastructure.

So, for my RPG, I tried to quantify a scale of "how pervasive is magic" that works similar to "how advanced is technology".

One aspect of the magic scale is how many people in the population can harness it.
Another aspect derives from the available sources of magic.

My idea isn't "100% done in stone" at this point, but I've posted it up to the web and linked it above to put *something* out there.

So, really - part of the answer to your questions comes from deciding just how pervasive / accessible / commonplace magic ability is in your setting.

Once you know that, you can start calculating or imagining its impact on the various other aspects of the setting.

And, imagine something like Shadowrun where there is a tech level AND a magic level both at work at the same time...
 
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