D&D General What does "magic" mean? [Read carefully, you can't change your vote]

What does "magic" mean?


  • Poll closed .
Well, for an example of where it becomes important: Are Fighters "magic"?

They don't cast spells. But they're certainly able to take punishment they should not be able to do so if they lived by Earth physics, at least in every edition of D&D I know of. They can pull off some actions or feats that border on physically impossible, and all it takes is some training to be world-class best at at least one or two tricks.

But if you call Fighters "magic" quite a few folks have a conniption fit. Fighters getting anything that even looks vaguely like "magic" is often anathema. Many folks--even those who see "supernatural" as encompassing a much broader space than just "magic"--get super wary about allowing any recognition of certain classes as doing anything beyond the limits of mundanity.
I see. So is the question really is whether there is some middle space between 'magic' and 'normal as in the real world?' I'd say there is, for example most people wouldn't probably see giant creatures as magic, even though they couldn't really function under the real world physics. I think in a similar vein it might be easier for people to accept if fighters and such did amazing physical feats* instead of actually shooting lightning bolts etc.

Personally I feel the fighter's mundanity should be tied to the level. 1-5 is 'realistic' 6-10 is 'Hollywood mundane' and beyond ten we can simply accept that they're epic legendary fantasy heroes and can do blatantly non-mundane stuff.

Though I'm not sure that any of this is super closely connected to definition of magic.

(* Probably more like Captain America in scope, rather than Thor.**)
(** Who can also shoot lighting bolts, but that wasn't my point.)
 

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Shadowdweller00

Adventurer
The word is context dependent. It could potentially mean anything supernatural in one context...e.g. "This Anti-Magic field shuts down anything that's magic(al)". But in other circumstances it can be used specifically to describe spellcraft or item enchantments...e.g. "I am skilled at magic".
 

Hussar

Legend
The word is context dependent. It could potentially mean anything supernatural in one context...e.g. "This Anti-Magic field shuts down anything that's magic(al)". But in other circumstances it can be used specifically to describe spellcraft or item enchantments...e.g. "I am skilled at magic".
Very well said. I was thinking pretty much the same thing. The term "magic" does not really have a single definition within the context of the game, and which definition we're using at the moment will always depend on the situation.

I don't think you can actually get very far in D&D with a single definition of magic. It just doesn't work.
 

Oofta

Legend
Well, for an example of where it becomes important: Are Fighters "magic"?

They don't cast spells. But they're certainly able to take punishment they should not be able to do so if they lived by Earth physics, at least in every edition of D&D I know of. They can pull off some actions or feats that border on physically impossible, and all it takes is some training to be world-class best at at least one or two tricks.

But if you call Fighters "magic" quite a few folks have a conniption fit. Fighters getting anything that even looks vaguely like "magic" is often anathema. Many folks--even those who see "supernatural" as encompassing a much broader space than just "magic"--get super wary about allowing any recognition of certain classes as doing anything beyond the limits of mundanity.
D&D runs on Hollywood action movie reality, not real world reality. For example people in my "absolutely no magic zone" also don't heal as fast as they would otherwise even though I use the alternate long rest rules. So just like TV/Movies you can get shot and a day or two later you're just fine instead of it taking months of surgery and therapy to recover.

I assume that if you evolve in a world with magic everyone uses it just a little without even knowing it. In other words I don't think of fighters as being particularly supernatural any more than what we see in movies such as Die Hard where McClane should have been hospitalized multiple times over or some of the things Legoland Legolas does in LOTR to name a couple.
 


Obviously not scientific, but it's the best we can do. Keep in mind, unlike most polls on this forum, you CANNOT change your vote after voting, nor can you view the results until you have voted.

Frankly? However you prefer to answer the question. Seriously. If your gut answer is to go to the rules of your favorite edition to determine it, then do that. If your gut answer is thematic, then do that.
So you want very rigorous controls surrounding the process of answering the question, but leave very open exactly what question people are answering? The survey research scientist in me is screaming. I hope you are aware that the end results of the survey won't be very meaningful (although they can still foster discussion, which I assume is the actual primary goal).

I use my "fantasy common sense" when it comes to this question. Most "supernatural" things I consider magic, however, I do not go expressly to the "if it breaks the laws of our Earth physics, it is magical" ruling though. This is because (as @MatthewJHanson mentions) it would mean creature sizes and the ability to fly at those sizes would make these creatures and animals have to be magical. And that's... I just don't feel the need to go that far. It doesn't break my "fantasy common sense" to think a Giant Ape could exist, or that a pegasus could fly with its wings able to lift its body, or that a fighter could actually cut through dragon scale (and maybe even kill a dragon) with just a regular sword. Yes, those all break our Earth-physics... but I'm willing to accept "fantasy world physics" could allow all those to happen without requiring to be "magical".

D&D runs on Hollywood action movie reality, not real world reality. For example people in my "absolutely no magic zone" also don't heal as fast as they would otherwise even though I use the alternate long rest rules. So just like TV/Movies you can get shot and a day or two later you're just fine instead of it taking months of surgery and therapy to recover.

I assume that if you evolve in a world with magic everyone uses it just a little without even knowing it. In other words I don't think of fighters as being particularly supernatural any more than what we see in movies such as Die Hard where McClane should have been hospitalized multiple times over or some of the things Legoland Legolas does in LOTR to name a couple.
I tend to hew to this notion for my games. If something works as it does in the real world, simply with different numbers (my fighter just doubled a world record in a long jump, for instance), it's 'fantastical' or 'power fantasy mundane' as opposed to magic. In particular because the numbers are usually pretty arbitrary in my game. Is the chasm really 10 meters across? Not really, it's 'an epic leap's distance across (as opposed to 'trivial,' 'challenging,' and 'no, don't even try, you know you can't jump this' which are the other categories), and that doesn't change based on me now googling the world record running long jump and finding out it is 8.95 meters (so I'm retroactively expecting that my mundane fighter is supernatural). Same with lifting and things to lift (how much does a stone gargoyle statue on the side of a cathedral weigh? I don't know and neither would my players. Can the party strongman lift one if it serves the story? Yes and I'm sure I'll be able to come up with a how-challenging-metric).

As to the question more broadly, I think there needs to be middle grounds, if nothing else because there will be things which would be extraordinary in the game world, as well as things that would be mundane there, but impossible IRL. That of course is assuming that anything in the game world is extraordinary (maybe they have no concept of magic, or they do and it's things that no one can do in that world), but generally we want there to be wizards and genies and things in the game world which 'do magic' even as far as the denizens of said world are concerned.
 

Oofta

Legend
So you want very rigorous controls surrounding the process of answering the question, but leave very open exactly what question people are answering? The survey research scientist in me is screaming. I hope you are aware that the end results of the survey won't be very meaningful (although they can still foster discussion, which I assume is the actual primary goal).

I was kind of wondering the same thing, there doesn't really seem to be a purpose for this poll other than a rhetorical trick to get people to post. Nothing wrong with that but the poll results themselves are kind of meaningless. Of course it doesn't really matter all that much anyway, it's just a game and it really doesn't matter if my definition of magic matches up to the definition used by anyone else.
 

Magic is a general term that refers to unexplored physics, usually associated with a power source not normally present in our current world.

Subsequently, when studied closer there are several sets of unexplored physics/power sources that fall under this umbrella. Such as Arcane, Divine, Psionic, Primal, etc.

After being sufficiently analyzed, we wouldn't call it magic anymore. But sometimes a given physic/power source has properties that make analysis difficult (Drezden style).

Which option is that?
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
I see. So is the question really is whether there is some middle space between 'magic' and 'normal as in the real world?' I'd say there is, for example most people wouldn't probably see giant creatures as magic, even though they couldn't really function under the real world physics. I think in a similar vein it might be easier for people to accept if fighters and such did amazing physical feats* instead of actually shooting lightning bolts etc.

Personally I feel the fighter's mundanity should be tied to the level. 1-5 is 'realistic' 6-10 is 'Hollywood mundane' and beyond ten we can simply accept that they're epic legendary fantasy heroes and can do blatantly non-mundane stuff.

Though I'm not sure that any of this is super closely connected to definition of magic.

(* Probably more like Captain America in scope, rather than Thor.**)
(** Who can also shoot lighting bolts, but that wasn't my point.)
It really doesn't even need to be connected to character level, because even 1st level characters do things that go against our "Earth" physics. I mean we have 1st level characters who can and do wear heavy armors all day long, going on 8 to 10 hour marches up mountains and through swamps, and never suffer anything close to fatigue for doing so. And it's true regardless of how good or how crappy the armor is, and how strong or constitutional the character is.

Because the other thing we all need to remember is that there is a HUGE part of D&D that exists purely as a function of game rules. Making the game work and be enjoyable as a game, even though it would "break" any sort of reality if we looked at it logically or through "real-world physics". This is where we get the issues of hit points and damage for instance-- the idea that a character can take sword hit after sword hit, stab after stab, and not suffer any consequences (since they still have hit points.) Or that characters can fall from hundreds of feet and hit the ground with no real injury other than a loss of hit points (because of the game rules for Falling damage.) Or be entirely engulfed in a massive Fireball and suffer no long term consequences whatsoever, even by claiming the character just "ducked" or "turned away" from the fireball even though that makes little to no sense. In all these cases, the characters only take bits of hit point damage because the game needs them to not die instantly. So they are all "magical" in that sense, regardless of the type of character they are and whatever level they might be.

All these "narrative" things happen because they sound cool in a fantasy world adventuring context... but when we connect them to "Earth" physics we end up ignoring all the actual real-world results because the game requires that characters not actually die as easily as they really should be based upon the punishment they take. I mean if we attributed real-world physics to all parts of the D&D game... actual real-world "Thunder" damage that was to cause injury would permanently deafen every single person hit with it, and that's a "Lingering Injury" that a spell like Cure Wounds wouldn't heal. But the game ignores that fact because it makes for a lamer and less fun game... and thus "Fantasy World Physics" is borne.
 
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(although they can still foster discussion, which I assume is the actual primary goal).
Yes. That was more or less the point. Well, that and seeing how "spread" the results are. As you can see from the above, no result (not even the "I'll explain below" result) has gotten a negligible amount of votes, and further, no result has gotten anything like a solid plurality, with "often spells, but also other things too" only being at 32.4% as of this post.

This more or less confirms my hypothesis that the idea various people bring to the discussion table--whatever standard they evaluate it by--varies WILDLY from person to person and even from one context to another. This is pretty much proof positive that a ton of the conversations people regularly have are, after a fashion, a bit pointless. Odds are extremely good that the majority of participants not only don't have solid agreement on the meaning of the terms they're using, but that who agrees with whom literally changes from one context to another, potentially even in a single conversation.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I see. So is the question really is whether there is some middle space between 'magic' and 'normal as in the real world?' I'd say there is, for example most people wouldn't probably see giant creatures as magic, even though they couldn't really function under the real world physics.
I'm not most people then, as to me the very fact that giants can't function under real-world physics means they need the environmental presence of magic in order to exist/survive. "Giant" versions of some smaller mundane creatures, e.g. a giant rat, could function under real-world physics and thus would survive were magic to disappear from the setting. (I've had to think about this due to the countless times I've had to rule on what counts as a "normal animal" for purposes of spells that affect such)

Same with a high-level fighter - she's able to do what she does only because of the environmental presence of magic. In a non-magical world she'd still have skill but only that of a good real-world swordswoman, not the quasi-superhero she can be in a magic-friendly setting.
 



So are you saying that dinosaurs that walked/ran on two legs did not exist? Or that huge grizzly or Kodiak bears cannot get up on their hind legs and walk?
Duh! Both dinosaurs and bears are obviously magical!

But I meant things that would blatantly be impossible due the square cube law. Dragons flying, giant insects existing, some other giant creatures that are not build in a way that they could actually support their weight etc.
 

Duh! Both dinosaurs and bears are obviously magical!

But I meant things that would blatantly be impossible due the square cube law. Dragons flying, giant insects existing, some other giant creatures that are not build in a way that they could actually support their weight etc.
The square-cube law is the greatest killjoy of all the laws of physics. It's the first thing to go once I ascend to a higher level of existence.
 


renbot

Explorer
Sigh. A little topic-adjacent, but does anyone else miss the spell-like/supernatural/extraordinary ability distinctions? Because sometimes I do.

One person's clunky is another person's elegant!
 



Oofta

Legend
So are you saying that dinosaurs that walked/ran on two legs did not exist? Or that huge grizzly or Kodiak bears cannot get up on their hind legs and walk?
Dinos had hollow bones and did not have a humanoid shape. In addition, a T-Rex may have been 40 foot long, but it was only 12 foot tall. A large giant might be possible, huge and gargantuan giants probably not.
 

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