D&D General What Edition to Use? 1!

What Edition best portrays 'Dark Magic'?

  • Zero Edition (Red Box, White Box, etc)

    Votes: 5 25.0%
  • 1st Edition

    Votes: 2 10.0%
  • 2nd Edition

    Votes: 3 15.0%
  • 3rd Edition (including 3.5 and Pathfinder)

    Votes: 1 5.0%
  • 4nd Edition (plus Essentinals)

    Votes: 5 25.0%
  • 5th Edition (including 2024?)

    Votes: 4 20.0%

If Mortal Kombat can reboot their numbering; so can I! Here's the deal: I give you an improbable situation and you tell me which edition of D&D best portrays it. Today, I ask, "What edition of D&D can best portray 'Dark Magic'?" Let me tell you what "Dark Magic" is!

Dark Magic
Magia Erebea
"Magia" is Latin for "magic." "Erebea" is the feminie singular nominative case of the adjective meaning "of Erebos." According to Hesiod, Erebos is the god of darkness in Greek mythology, the son of one of the original gods, Chaos. The children that Erebos begat with his twin sister Nyx (night) were Aether (shining air) and Hemera (day), and, being darkness and night, they are the divine beings that precede light. In the words of the German romantic philosopher F. W. J. Schelling (1775-1854), "All birth is birth from darkness to light." (Investigations of Human Freedom, SW360; but according to Hesoid, it wasn't that everything was born from Chaos and darkness-the heavens, the oceans, and many others were born from Gaia, who was born at the same time as Choas.)

Thus, light cannot give birth to darkness, but darkness can give birth to light. Darkness is not in opposition to light. Darkness is a source that holds all things within it, and is tremendously board-minded. And this board-mindedness becomes a power that takes in all opposites such as good and evil, superiority and inferiority, self and others, etc. This is because light is the basis of opposition and disparity. Schellign says, "Light's advance on the dark aspiration to create something... is due to the thoughts that are mingled in chaos becoming distinct... and unity being erected." If light is the basis of opposition and disparity, darkness is the basis of nondiscrimination. Therefore, dark magic has the tremendous broad-mindedness to take in all power without discriminating between self and others.

However, things are not that simple. Within darkness, all disparity becomes invisible; the difference between self and others vanishes as well, and the spellcaster loses sight of himself. But magic spells are never anything more than techniques the caster uses to accomplish his willful purposes; their purpose is not to reach some kind of absolute truth. As stated by Schelling's school colleague, G. W. F. Hegal (1770-1830), "To pit this single assertion, that 'In the Absolute, all is one,' against the organized whole of determinate and complete knowledge, or of knowledge which at least aims at and demands complete development-to give out its Absolute as the night, in which, as we say, all cows are black-that is the very naivete of emptiness of knowledge." (Phenomenology of Spirit, preface). In order to use a technique as a technique, especially within darkness, one must make sure to not lose sight of one's self.

What is needed then is a "confrontation with one's shadow," or "an encounter with one's anima." The battle one can fight in Phantasmagoria is none other then a "confrontation with his shadow," or "encounter with his anima."

The Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung (1875-1961) said the following in regards to encounters with one's self and encounters with one's shadow: "A meeting with one's self first means meeting with one's shadow. By shadow, I mean none other than a single narrow path, a single gate... What comes after that gate is, unsurprisingly, a limitless, unprecedented uncertainty. There, it is believed there is neither inside nor outside, up nor down, far nor near, self nor other, good nor evil.

That is a world of water, and approximately everything with life there is floating, drifting" (The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious). By encountering one's shadow, one enters into his own soul and, as Hegel points out, enters into an obscure darkness. Jung states the following: "There, I am joined directly and firmly to the world, and it's all too simple to forget who I am in actuality. If I were to characterize this condition, the most appropriate phrase would be 'lost within oneself'" (ibid). Thus, if one goes through their shadow into darkness, they face the fundamental danger of losing sight of oneself.

What is needed to conquer this danger is an "encounter with one's anima." Those who pass through their shadow selves and search out their souls, (as explained above), enter into a "world of water," but inside this water, people (especially men) meet their anima. "What one who gazes into water first sees is a form of himself, but soon a living entity surfaces from beneath it... It is a unique kind of water creature. Sometimes a water sprite, or a mermaid caught in a fisherman's net... The water sprite is an early, instinctive stage of the mystical, feminine entity called anima." (ibid) It is said that the anima's early stage sometimes takes the form of erotic spirits, such as demon girls or vampire women (Lamie). And it is said that "anima appears in the form of goddesses or witches." And this encounter with an anima results in a certain wisdom. "Indeed the anima is a chaotic life impulse, but on the other hand, in a mysterious sense, it has on hand secret knowledge and concealed wisdom, and is in the most peculiar opposition to one illogical nature... This wisdom aspect appears only to one who confronts his anima. This is an intense labor... and can more strongly indicate that something like a secret intention hides behind all cruelty that play with man's fate. This unpredictable thing, this chaotic thing that brings anxiety is precisely what exposes deep meaning. As one becomes aware of this meaning, the anima loses its aggressive personality. The embankments that hold off the flood of chaos gradually build up." (ibid) When the one who has passed through his shadow and set foot into darkness confronts his anima and touches on that wisdom, he conquers the fundamental danger of losing sight of himself in the darkness and chaos, and obtains a way to use darkness magic, or in other words, the original broad-mindedness that encompasses all opposites.

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I put 1e since I would need to rewrite some of the rules anyways to make it fit. It might end up a bit 5e in terms of mechanics, but be simpler like 1e.


None, D&D is, in its origins a grab bag of pulp fantasy tropes, with a mix of folklore, and some myth and legend thrown in. It is also an adaption of a wargame chassis.
I am not aware of any game that does what the OP describes but my knowledge of modern rpgs is limited.
I am not even sure you could adapt an existing version of D&D to accurately reflect the essay in the OP. Though you could strip out the basic D20 system and build something from there.

Bacon Bits

I agree with the "None of the above" conclusion. D&D isn't good for what you're suggesting.

You might want to look at Dungeon Crawl Classics. That's a B/X-adjacent OSR system with a magic system that contains a modest element of danger every time it's used and variable spell outcomes. There has to be, because otherwise you can just cast spells endlessly. Your level determines what level spell you can know, but there's no limit on spells per day. Each spell fails or is expended based on how it's written, and rolling a natural 1 typically has consequences. There's a quick start PDF available. It's very much a "roll on the chart to see what happens" kind of game. The most divisive thing about it is the dice chain: d3 – d4 – d5 – d6 – d7 – d8 – d10 – d12 – d14 – d16 – d20 – d24 – d30. That's how circumstantial modifiers are often handled throughout the system.

Another option would be Modiphius 2d20 Conan. Conan's politics (Howard's works especially) kind of fit the system you're describing, and this is a system where magic carries significant costs, but... those books are so terribly organized, and the magic rules are incomprehensible broken in the books themselves. The FAQ and Errata help a lot, but it's still very rough, as rules are buried throughout the books. It's a very good system if you're willing to put a lot of time and investment into it, but I do not really recommend it.


The EN World kitten
The closest D&D has ever come to what you're talking about is the use of Shadow Weave Magic in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (3E)...and even then, it's an imperfect match (though its depiction in the Returns of the Archwizards trilogy is closer, having a whole "losing yourself to your dark side" angle, even if that doesn't match the game mechanics).

Being magic powered by an "alternate source" compared to spells cast via the Weave, Shadow Weave magic is harder to detect and affect with "normal" magic (and likewise has a harder time detecting and affecting it in turn). Notably, using it hits you with a permanent loss of 2 points of Wisdom unless you worship Shar (the nihilist goddess of darkness, who created the Shadow Weave), who soothes the "mental pain" that comes from using the Shadow Weave, which encourages practitioners who wouldn't otherwise have her as their patron goddess to adopt her faith. (This was dropped in the 3.5 version of the feat in the Player's Guide to Faerûn, as by that time the design philosophy had codified around "feats shouldn't inflict penalties.")

EDIT: I'm pretty sure a few of the alternative magic systems in AD&D 2E's Player's Option - Spells & Magic sourcebook function closer to what you're talking about also, as witchcraft has a corruption system (which is basically Ravenloft's dark powers checks) and alienism causes insanity.

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