Where Has All the Magic Gone?





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  1. #1
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    Where Has All the Magic Gone?

    ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN

    Essay Three: Where Has All the Magic Gone?


    Why don't they make Magic Items like they used to?


    I was looking through my AD&D books tonight and noticed how versatile and multi-functional so many of the magic items were.

    They were powerful, and they were odd, and fascinating, and most important of all a lot of them could do all kinds of things.

    By comparison so many of the magic items of more recent editions are bland, plain, uninspired, and uninspiring. It's like suing a piece of technology from the eighties or something. The items are overly specialized, technical, usually limited to one specific function, top-heavy in design and capabilities. A drag to own and use and usually good only for specific encounter types.

    Older magic items were magical. They had so many functions they seemed like a modern mini-computer/cell phone/PDA/wristwatch/GPS/tricorder all in one. Impressive and extremely useful. Versatile. Fluid. A joy to own and use, employable in a wide range of circumstances. They were the Renaissance Men of Miracles, the Polymaths of Magic. And in addition most were mysterious. You had to figure em out as you went along. They could always have extra, hidden potential that you'd never know about til you screwed around with just the right thing and accidentally tripped some concealed latch. And you had Artifacts, and Incredible Devices, and Relics, with strange legends and ancient lore surrounding them. They weren't just treasure types, they were items of real magic.




    We need to get back to that in modern fantasy games.
    It made fantasy gaming fun instead of a technical exercise in weaponry calibres and target types.

    Magic should have some, "Boy, now you're really gonna see something!" to it, instead of "how many rounds ya got in that wand and what is the total count of damage points inflicted by it? I'm trying to calculate exactly how long this combat will last."

    Where has all the magic gone?
    It's gone to hell with the idea that magic is about power shots and ammo counts rather than about mystery and wonder.

    Somebody needs to dig some real magic up out of the grave and see if they can put a resurrect on it.
    Last edited by Jack7; Tuesday, 9th June, 2009 at 05:25 PM.

 

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    Agreed. But I think it is all in the fluff; the responsibility rests with the DM. A +1 short sword isn't half as cool as something with the background and style of Sting.
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  • #3
    A clever and imaginative DM (or GM) makes all the difference. Yes, regardless of game (or edition).

    Of course, clever and imaginative players help a ton, as well.

    Seriously, that's it. No more, no less.

  • #4
    Not every person who picks up the game wants Mystery and Wonder. And it is easier for a DM who wants it to put it back than it is for a DM who doesn't to remove it.

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    Magic items in D&D have always run the gamut from basic tools such as potions of healing and straightforward +n weapons and armor to complex, mysterious and powerful artifacts.

    I would venture to say that the significant majority of magic items in any edition of D&D would be of the basic tool variety, with perhaps one additional, special function.

    Like almost everything else, there is an element of diminishing returns when it comes to complexity and mystery in magic items. When a player has only one or two complex, mysterious items, they feel special. When every item that he possesses has multiple, hidden functions, they start to feel ordinary.

    4e seems to have made a clearer distinction between magic items that are basic tools, and magic items that are clearly meant to be complex and mysterious. The former are the magic items that you find in the PH and AV (although you will find a few relatively complex and multifunctional items there, too). The latter are the artifacts in the DMG and sourcebooks such as Draconomicon.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Filcher View Post
    Agreed. But I think it is all in the fluff; the responsibility rests with the DM. A +1 short sword isn't half as cool as something with the background and style of Sting.
    This is true.

    However, considering all the magical items the system assumes the PCs will receive in 2 levels time, it's just a monumental task to make every one of them seem mystical and important.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rechan View Post
    This is true.

    However, considering all the magical items the system assumes the PCs will receive in 2 levels time, it's just a monumental task to make every one of them seem mystical and important.
    When every magic item is mystical and important, none of them are.

    Oh wait, I hate that quote.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jack7 View Post
    Somebody needs to dig some real magic up out of the grave and see if they can put a resurrect on it.
    Okay! Here's a +1 Sword from my 1st edition game! And my wand of fireballs that does 6d6 and has 12 charges left!

    Oh, that's not what you meant.

    Lots of interesting metaphor and hyperbole in your rant, but do you really support it? Even if you did give some examples, it's incredibly easy to pull highly selective examples to either prove or disprove your argument.

    Merely having multiple functions doesn't make an item more "magical". In fact, if you're trying to invoke items as depicted in fiction, most items have only a single utility.

    I like that in 4E there are no more plain +1 items - every sword, every shield has at least an added power as well as other possible properties. Wands and Staffs are no longer an exercise in counting charges. These are good changes, in my opinion, making these things become more magical than just "it's... uh... sharper. Magically sharper." or ammo counts, as you say. Those are the hallmarks of most items in earlier editions.

    I look in the latest DMG and still see artifacts. I notice in the Dec preview article on the Wizards site a magical tome that lets you alter the destination of planar portals, and the historied Von Zarovich Family Sword, with multiple properties and even a few drawbacks.

    Are magical items different in this edition than previous one? Sure, for a couple of reasons. First, there is a different expectation regarding how much power the sum total of a character's items will give him. Having multiple powers in a single item, like, say, 1st Ed.'s Rings of Elemental Command, works against this expectation.

    Second, in previous editions there was a tendency for a character to become defined by his magical items rather than their own abilities, particularly for some classes. So this time the spotlight has been taken off of magical items somewhat, and focused more on the classes themselves. Which is as it should be, I believe.

    There are still are cool items out there. Just because they aren't multi-function tricorders any more doesn't make them any less magical.
    Last edited by Sir Brennen; Friday, 12th December, 2008 at 04:57 AM.
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    The most mystical, magical game I've played in has been Sorcerer.

    That game is as basic as it gets; you only have 5 stats.

    What's important in that game is colour, how things function in the game fiction. For example, my half-demon's Stamina is defined as "Unnatural Means" - he can handle things because he's a half-demon, he bathes in fire, eats coals, etc. That's all colour, and doesn't affect his Stamina score of 5.

    D&D is a very different game. There are a lot more numbers to deal with. And then there's the whole economy of actions going on.

    However, I think that 4e could be awesome as it deals with magical effects. The Wizard in my game has made awesome use of Mage Hand, dealing good damage with it - equal to an encounter power at times. It's because of the ecnomy of actions and the fact that the guidelines for doing whatever you want are really clear.

    Magic items - like an Immovable Rod - could have really cool effects given player creativity. Let's say that you grab the Immovable Rod with a Minor action and place it in an adjacent square. Suddenly that square becomes Difficult Terrain! Your opponent can no longer shift there, and that might be exactly what you want.

    To sum up, I think that strange, colourful effects without any mechanics can have an important role to play in 4e.
    "If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."
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  • #10
    I think this problem started rearing it's head most in third edition and past. It might be just nostalgia, but I remember magic items being more awesome in 2e.

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