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What is "grim and gritty" and "low magic" anyway?

Bendris Noulg

First Post
Altalazar said:
If your plot requires players be absolutely unable to do something or require them to be absolutely unable to figure out something until times designated by the DM, it starts to smell and sound like railroading to me.
It also sounds like most of the adventures I've seen WotC produce.

But seriously, consider just about every movie, novel, comic book, and other adventure-based tale written. Almost every one of them involve twists, turns, unexpected facts, and other items that change the direction of the story. D&D is the only facet of the fantasy genre I know of where people expect to be able to jump through to the end and eliminate the big baddy, and where the right question (commune) removes any sense of ambiguity from the tale in regards to morals, ethics, and best course of action. Sure, these can be "trumped", either through more magic or simple GM's fiat (the "How To" thread has several shining examples of just that), but that just turns back to the one-up-manship problem that high magic eventually escalates to.
 

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Bendris Noulg

First Post
Dark Jezter said:
Folklore and mythology are also commonly filled with incestuous themes, but you don't see people scrambling to import those in their D&D campaigns.
Well, there is a certain father/daughter thing going on in Vile Darkness. My own setting features a noble family with a 15 year old daughter that has, ehr, gained "control" over the entire family (Erotic Fantasy, Vile Darkness, and Fading Suns' Psionics make an interesting combination).
 

I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
But seriously, consider just about every movie, novel, comic book, and other adventure-based tale written. Almost every one of them involve twists, turns, unexpected facts, and other items that change the direction of the story. D&D is the only facet of the fantasy genre I know of where people expect to be able to jump through to the end and eliminate the big baddy,

That is because D&D is a game, an interactive exercise in imagination, while movies, novels, comic-books, and other adventure-based written tales are passive enjoyment of art.

D&D was never meant to be a point-A to point-B plot progression (except maybe in the dungeons)...and that's why it's 'different.' Because it's not a story, it's not a movie, it's not a comic book, it's not a written tale that someone is supposed to read. It's a game. And games involve random chance, the threat of winning or loosing, and require the players to think like their characters. Writing any of those things, as someone who has done that, and gotten paid, in a non-D&D sense, does not involve any amount of interaction. You write, they read. That's why D&D is a game, and not an excersie in collaborative fiction. Movies, myths, comic-books, novels, and other adventure tales are passive. D&D is not.
 

Bendris Noulg

First Post
Kamikaze Midget said:
D&D was never meant to be a point-A to point-B plot progression (except maybe in the dungeons)...and that's why it's 'different.' Because it's not a story, it's not a movie, it's not a comic book, it's not a written tale that someone is supposed to read. It's a game. And games involve random chance, the threat of winning or loosing, and require the players to think like their characters. Writing any of those things, as someone who has done that, and gotten paid, in a non-D&D sense, does not involve any amount of interaction. You write, they read. That's why D&D is a game, and not an excersie in collaborative fiction. Movies, myths, comic-books, novels, and other adventure tales are passive. D&D is not.
Which would be why I play d20 Fantasy games and not D&D... D&D is too limited in scope.

See, the only difference between an RPG and a written tale is in the main characters. In a written tale, the author has complete authoritative control over everything. In an RPG, the GM has complete authoritative control over everything except the main characters. Yes, this makes the creative process of the tale different than a one-author novel, but that doesn't make it any less a tale. Just look at the Story Hours; these are game sessions transcribed into written form after play has occured, being examples of exactly what I'm talking about here, and many of them have exactly the same kind of features I've indicated and that you are calling irrelevant to game play.

Really, the only difference I see between high and low is how the ends are achieved. In a low magic game, it's through the rarity, unavailability, and unsurity of magic. In a high magic game, it's through trumps, one-up-manship, and fiat. I mean, as a player, I'd rather work harder to gain something later that will almost always function, than to have something practically given to me early that can be trumped over half the time in an escalating arms race with the GM. As a GM, I'd rather reduce character power over-all in order to focus on story, plot, and setting, rather than being forced by high magic rules to waste my time calculating which trumps have to be put in place to keep the PCs powers in check for a given adventure or scenario, allowing my players to focus on role-play and adventure goals instead of trying to one-up me.
 

WizarDru

Adventurer
Bendris Noulg said:
Yes, this makes the creative process of the tale different than a one-author novel, but that doesn't make it any less a tale. Just look at the Story Hours; these are game sessions transcribed into written form after play has occured, being examples of exactly what I'm talking about here, and many of them have exactly the same kind of features I've indicated and that you are calling irrelevant to game play.
So you're using the Story Hours to defend the idea of D&D needing to emulate myth? Reading things like Wulf's, Destan's, Piratecat's or my story hour should make it abundantly clear that those story hours DO NOT make good stories in the traditional sense, per se. Note how Destan's and Wulf's story hour ends, or the sometimes extremely transparent outside metagame elements in my or Piratecat's story hour. In a traditional story or myth, such elements as "character X got lost in a time flux accident and no one bats an eye about their friend of the last decade disappearing" or "character Y drops out and we get no closure about their personal story arc" just wouldn't fly, whereas they are accepted within the Story Hour format. The same way that an unchronicled character, such as Stone Bear, Agar, Shorty or Bolo can show up and become an instant main character with little or no introduction in the greater story, and becomes virtually instantly accepted in the fold with no real character development.

Further, based on what I've seen PC, Destan and Sepulchrave comment on in their respective threads and from personal experience with my own hour, I know that what you're reading is the EDITED version of events. You get the S. Morgenstern "Good Parts" version, ala the Princess Bride. That isn't to say that the story hours aren't based on excellent games...just that the excellent writers involved in some of these story hours are as much a part of their success as the actual game they chronicle.

Now, as to your feelings about the differences in high and low magic, I'll just agree to disagree. I find my players tire of repetition, and that your experiences and theirs differs, sometimes a little, sometimes a great deal.
 

Altalazar

First Post
Bendris Noulg said:
Well, we've got yet another insinuation that low magic equates to bad GMing, but I'll ignore that little gem of bigotry and address the relevant issue...

In my experience as a player, I've seen high magic used by GMs to railroad and screw PCs so often that I started GMing to provide my friends with a game that didn't include any of that nonsense, which inevitably led me down the road to low magic, and, I must say, I'm still a gamer because of it.

None of my players feel that their choices are limited or that they are railroaded in any regard. Indeed, what they see is options within a viable campaign world that they prefer over the other games available to them (most of which are "core" games). Sure, they aren't the same options as one would have in a high magic game, but options are there and choices are theirs to make.

Anyone that's experienced the opposite didn't experience a low magic game, they experienced a bad GM, and bad GMs are not unique to any form or flavor of magic.

I was specifically referring to the complaints made by SOME (not all) who run low magic due to a desire not to have their plots "foiled" by player powers. I meant no bigotry. In fact, one could even argue that railroading, when done right, can lead to a good campaign, but I digress.

It is simply a basic truth that the less power the PCs have, the easier it is to limit their choices as a DM when setting up a campaign. DMs, as absolute powers within their worlds, can railroad the PCs equally well with high or low magic - that is actually completely irrelevant. A world with NO magic could have a DM still just arbitrarily have an army of 1000 warriors surround and capture the PCs and there isn't much they can do about it. So the notion that high magic == more DM railroading is a non-sequitor.
 

Altalazar

First Post
Bendris Noulg said:
It also sounds like most of the adventures I've seen WotC produce.

But seriously, consider just about every movie, novel, comic book, and other adventure-based tale written. Almost every one of them involve twists, turns, unexpected facts, and other items that change the direction of the story. D&D is the only facet of the fantasy genre I know of where people expect to be able to jump through to the end and eliminate the big baddy, and where the right question (commune) removes any sense of ambiguity from the tale in regards to morals, ethics, and best course of action. Sure, these can be "trumped", either through more magic or simple GM's fiat (the "How To" thread has several shining examples of just that), but that just turns back to the one-up-manship problem that high magic eventually escalates to.

I thought WotC didn't make modules... :confused:

And there is nothing preventing twists and turns within a plot - but in gaming, one should always be prepared to accept that sometimes the players will anticipate the unlikliest of twists, and other times they will completely miss the most obvious twist of all. Now, it may be that much of D&D is stuck in the rut of formulaic adventures with a BBEG encounter at the end, but that is really a separate issue from high or low magic.
 

Altalazar

First Post
Bendris Noulg said:
Which would be why I play d20 Fantasy games and not D&D... D&D is too limited in scope.

See, the only difference between an RPG and a written tale is in the main characters. In a written tale, the author has complete authoritative control over everything. In an RPG, the GM has complete authoritative control over everything except the main characters. Yes, this makes the creative process of the tale different than a one-author novel, but that doesn't make it any less a tale. Just look at the Story Hours; these are game sessions transcribed into written form after play has occured, being examples of exactly what I'm talking about here, and many of them have exactly the same kind of features I've indicated and that you are calling irrelevant to game play.

Really, the only difference I see between high and low is how the ends are achieved. In a low magic game, it's through the rarity, unavailability, and unsurity of magic. In a high magic game, it's through trumps, one-up-manship, and fiat. I mean, as a player, I'd rather work harder to gain something later that will almost always function, than to have something practically given to me early that can be trumped over half the time in an escalating arms race with the GM. As a GM, I'd rather reduce character power over-all in order to focus on story, plot, and setting, rather than being forced by high magic rules to waste my time calculating which trumps have to be put in place to keep the PCs powers in check for a given adventure or scenario, allowing my players to focus on role-play and adventure goals instead of trying to one-up me.


I think you have a somewhat limited view of just what high magic is and can be. You also seem to have very specific ideas about what gaming means overall (from the comments on gaming analogized as writing a story). Which is fine, but it seems to be limiting this discussion, as I don't quite think we're effectively communicating with each other. As I think someone else has said, D&D is not storymaking - it is really as open ended as real life, in many ways. The "Stars" of the game are the players and they are utterly free of any DM control. So where the "story" goes is really ultimately outside of DM control as well. There is nothing stopping the whole group from just abandoning the DM's plot completely and starting one of their own, if they are so inclined. And as for what high magic means, it is not just some sort of escalating arms race. I've played high level adventures where there was a lot of magic available where there really wasn't terribly much actual magical activity going on. A few spells here and there, but mostly your typical NPC interactions and exploration and dealing with problems.

My guess is that you've had some bad experiences with some poorly run games that happened to be high magic and that is coloring your perceptions of it. If I could, I'd love to run a "high" (really medium magic - standard core D&D) magic game that you could play in just to give you the chance to experience a fresh perspective on the matter. Heck, I'd love to play in general right now. (No time of late).
 

Wulf Ratbane

Adventurer
Altalazar said:
It is simply a basic truth that the less power the PCs have, the easier it is to limit their choices as a DM when setting up a campaign.

Easier, yes, but there are fewer limitations in actual practice. In a low-magic game, while your imagination is certainly constrained by the campaign "reality," you are far less likely to come up with an idea that has been specifically trumped by the DM. (Far less likely to hear, "That doesn't work..." or "You can't do that..." or "For some reason, magic is different here...")

The amount of front-end work required of the DM to curb, curtail, limit, head-off, and otherwise railroad the PCs is far more often a feature of a high-magic game than a low-magic game.

The examples of "high magic play" put forward in this thread and the other are stark proof of that.


Wulf
 

Altalazar

First Post
Wulf Ratbane said:
Easier, yes, but there are fewer limitations in actual practice. In a low-magic game, while your imagination is certainly constrained by the campaign "reality," you are far less likely to come up with an idea that has been specifically trumped by the DM. (Far less likely to hear, "That doesn't work..." or "You can't do that..." or "For some reason, magic is different here...")

The amount of front-end work required of the DM to curb, curtail, limit, head-off, and otherwise railroad the PCs is far more often a feature of a high-magic game than a low-magic game.

The examples of "high magic play" put forward in this thread and the other are stark proof of that.


Wulf

I've never had to deal with that in running or playing high magic, with the odd exception of anti-magic zones, which can be interesting in their own right. Spells just work, and the DM takes into account that they are there and what happens, appropriately, when they are used.

Why does the DM need to curb ANYTHING upfront in such a manner? The only reason I can think of is perhaps an attempt to play a higher level game as if it were still a low-level game by negating all of the higher level magic. But then, if you do that, might as well just start over at first level.

You can't design an adventure around a wilderness trek when you know your party can just teleport to their destination. If the DM just says "teleport seems to fail" then that is just playing a low level adventure with high level characters. It is like playing a Star Trek role playing game as cadets at Starfleet academy - up through them making Captain and commanding ships and fleets, and then complaining that your "hapless cadet" type adventures require too much "nerfing" of abilities - like saying the Captain's fleets are all powerless, the crews abandoned them, and they are all now back together like the academy, with no ships, no crews, nothing that their ranks and experience had given them - and saying that shows that games with the "higher level" ships Captains don't work because they require too much railroading to force them back into playing like they were all hapless cadets again.
 

malladin

Explorer
What eventually became DarkLore started out as a standard, high magic, D&D game. When we developed the new dark magic feel rules that we put into DarkLore I had the players change their charactrers to the new system. I think the resounding opinion was that DarkLore had less constraints on their creativity than a standard D&D character. With free multiclassing, pick-your-own class freatures and the chance to purchase tailored magic items that grow with the character proved a winner. Even Matt, and he's a real power gamer!


Cheerio,

Ben
 

Bendris Noulg

First Post
WizarDru said:
So you're using the Story Hours to defend the idea of D&D needing to emulate myth?
First, I don't think D&D needs to emulate myth, only that it should allow it as a viable option (that it doesn't is testiment to it's shortcomings as a system). What I am saying is that many of the story hours contain the plot twists, surprise discoveries, and time-based events that Altazaar indicates are not part of a D&D game.

Now, as to your feelings about the differences in high and low magic, I'll just agree to disagree. I find my players tire of repetition, and that your experiences and theirs differs, sometimes a little, sometimes a great deal.
I don't expect anyone to agree with me, and I certainly don't have any intention of making folks that don't like Low Magic to "convert" or anything of that nature. What I would like to see is less occurances of know-nothings shooting off vague insults by virtue of refering to Low Magic as the result of laziness, railroading, and poor GMing.
 

Bendris Noulg

First Post
Altalazar said:
I thought WotC didn't make modules... :confused:
Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, Speaker in Dreams, Sunless Citadel, and a few other titles I don't remember. Modules may not be part of their business model now, but given how awful some of the modules they made were, that's probably a good thing.
 

Altalazar

First Post
Bendris Noulg said:
Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, Speaker in Dreams, Sunless Citadel, and a few other titles I don't remember. Modules may not be part of their business model now, but given how awful some of the modules they made were, that's probably a good thing.

Sunless Citadel and Speaker In Dreams - I liked both of those. I also liked the Return module. In fact, I must say, I generally liked all of them. Which ones do you think were "awful" and why do you think so?
 

WizarDru

Adventurer
Bendris Noulg said:
I don't expect anyone to agree with me, and I certainly don't have any intention of making folks that don't like Low Magic to "convert" or anything of that nature. What I would like to see is less occurances of know-nothings shooting off vague insults by virtue of refering to Low Magic as the result of laziness, railroading, and poor GMing.
And just to make sure we're clear on the fact, I never said that and certainly didn't mean to imply it. I LIKE low magic and high magic. They are equally different and enjoyable for different reasons, the same way that I can enjoy Ronin, Commando and the Pirates of the Carribean.

D&D requires a good DM, regardless of what the house-rules or campaign-specific style happens to be. There's only one wrong way to play D&D...and that's when people don't have fun. Anything else is irrelevant.
 

Bendris Noulg

First Post
Altalazar said:
DMs, as absolute powers within their worlds, can railroad the PCs equally well with high or low magic - that is actually completely irrelevant.
No, it's not irrelevant. When it's insinuated that Low Magic = Railroading GM, the implication is that railroading is mostly a Low Magic thing and that Low Magic is used primarily to railroad. Therefore, that the GM actually has more tools to railroad PCs in a high magic world and a low magic world is not irrelevant. And, again, if the players feel their options have been limited by a lack of magic, rather than seeing different options that are viable because of it, it's a limitation of the players.

Now, as for the GM "arbitrarily" making a decision, well, I don't see a lacking of that in High Magic games (a few of the posts in the "How To" thread make extensive use of it, in fact).

And who's to say that PCs in a low magic game can't get away from a 1000-man army? I mean, if you adhere to the false belief that low magic = low level, than yeah, a 1000 man army is a bit skewed (and if a means of escape isn't provided by the GM within the scenario design, it's poor design). But a party of 15th level PCs, even in a low magic world, should have little trouble with a 1000 man army (and if one of the PCs is a spellcaster, that 1000 man army might end up retreating before actual melee combat begins just from a simple illusion that makes the army think that it's about to get smacked down).

But this again relates to preconceptions about low magic; Folks have their idea of what low magic is and given this prejudicial view more weight than the actual in-game experiences of other gamers posting in this thread. You are more comfortable with your misconception than you are with the truth of the matter being posted by others, and you'd rather spread your limited views as facts to others that don't know for themselves (possibly preventing them from discovering that you are wrong).

Where I come from, that's called bigotry.
 

WizarDru

Adventurer
Altalazar said:
Sunless Citadel and Speaker In Dreams - I liked both of those. I also liked the Return module. In fact, I must say, I generally liked all of them. Which ones do you think were "awful" and why do you think so?
Actually, several modules have been announced for Eberron, so WotC is still in the module business...but only to support a larger goal.

As for Bad modules...I'd say The Standing Stone and Bastion of Broken Souls were the worst and most egregious examples of poor module design (particluary in regards to this thread, where they highlight the 'cheat the players to enforce the plot' that we've been arguing about). Deep Horizon and Lord of the Iron Fortress weren't bad, but not particularly good, either.

Return is an excellent module, for the first half of the book. Then it just becomes a slog. If the latter half was a good as Hommlett and the Moathouse and the first parts of the mines, it would be a great module. But at some point, it just becomes a Bataan death march.
 

Bendris Noulg

First Post
Altalazar said:
I think you have a somewhat limited view of just what high magic is and can be. You also seem to have very specific ideas about what gaming means overall (from the comments on gaming analogized as writing a story).
Actually, my "limited view" is fairly much in-line with the DMG's description of what a DM is and does.

Which is fine, but it seems to be limiting this discussion, as I don't quite think we're effectively communicating with each other.
With all due respect, seeing something "different" from you isn't limiting the discussion (unless, of course, you believe that conceding to your point is the only means of making "progress" within the discussion).

As I think someone else has said, D&D is not storymaking - it is really as open ended as real life, in many ways. The "Stars" of the game are the players and they are utterly free of any DM control. So where the "story" goes is really ultimately outside of DM control as well. There is nothing stopping the whole group from just abandoning the DM's plot completely and starting one of their own, if they are so inclined.
See, we do agree... Mostly. I don't believe the story is outside of the GM's control, only the course of action chosen by the PCs, as it's the GM that determines how the world/environment around the PCs react to the PC's actions and how the world "advances" over the course of time.

And as for what high magic means, it is not just some sort of escalating arms race. I've played high level adventures where there was a lot of magic available where there really wasn't terribly much actual magical activity going on. A few spells here and there, but mostly your typical NPC interactions and exploration and dealing with problems.
See, not everything can be painted with broad strokes from the same brush. You might consider learning from your own exceptions that other exceptions are possible (even if you don't care for those exception personally).

My guess is that you've had some bad experiences with some poorly run games that happened to be high magic and that is coloring your perceptions of it.
Check it out, dude... This thread basically started as a "why like low magic or GnG" discussion. However, it quickly turned from explaining why we like it to defending our preferences for it.

I personally don't care what other people do in their games. And you don't see me jumping into threads about high magic games spewing a bunch of ignorance and arrogant opinions. However, as you'll see in this thread and many others on the same topic, there's no shortage of folks jumping in to attack others for their preferences in taste and style (hence the repeated and increasing boring drivel about laziness, railroading, and overall poor GMing skills).

Fact is, it has nothing to do with bad experiences with High Magic; When I took the helm as a GM, I started with the magic level as presented in the books and various modules. But with each incarnation of the rules, and especially so with 3E, I've noted that the game has grown increasingly cheesy. There was a time when I could pick up a D&D book, read it, and be inspired to do something with the material on hand. Now, I've got little compulsion to purchase too many products all around (especially WotC products) because of the cheese factor (and there are some publishers I've written off completely because of it).

If I could, I'd love to run a "high" (really medium magic - standard core D&D) magic game that you could play in just to give you the chance to experience a fresh perspective on the matter. Heck, I'd love to play in general right now. (No time of late).
See, I don't see 3E as "medium" magic, in that the only incarnations of higher magic I can find are the 3E settings that add more magic in (FRCS and now Eberron, which is just more cheese from the looks of it).

As is, though, I'm in the same mind set: If I could get half the people that have presumptions about low magic to get to my table, and to do so with an open mind, I'm sure I'd change a lot of opinions too. Unfortunately, this medium (message board with world-wide access) means that we all really have two choices: believe what someone else is saying about their personal experience even if it doesn't fit our conforting preconceptions, or cling to those preconceptions and ignore the experiences of others.

It's not rocket science to determine which of the two leads to more productive discussions.
 

Bendris Noulg

First Post
WizarDru said:
And just to make sure we're clear on the fact, I never said that and certainly didn't mean to imply it. I LIKE low magic and high magic. They are equally different and enjoyable for different reasons, the same way that I can enjoy Ronin, Commando and the Pirates of the Carribean.

D&D requires a good DM, regardless of what the house-rules or campaign-specific style happens to be. There's only one wrong way to play D&D...and that's when people don't have fun. Anything else is irrelevant.
Agreed!

As for the "never said that", you are right. But that's also half the problem with these sorts of threads. Allow me to clarify: Some posters come in, tossing out presumptions about poor GMing involving laziness, railroading, and other negative connotations (sp?). Eventually, these individuals make the discussion heated. It then makes it difficult for those like me (the targets of the attitude) to discuss the matter with those that don't have an attitude but have a similar stance to those that did.

It's also frustrating when it appears that the accusations (laziness, railroading) have tapered off but then return. It kinda generates that feeling of, "My gawds, we gotta deal with this again? I thought we cleared this crap up 5 pages ago..."

Know what I mean?
 

Bendris Noulg

First Post
WizarDru said:
As for Bad modules...I'd say The Standing Stone and Bastion of Broken Souls were the worst and most egregious examples of poor module design (particluary in regards to this thread, where they highlight the 'cheat the players to enforce the plot' that we've been arguing about). Deep Horizon and Lord of the Iron Fortress weren't bad, but not particularly good, either.

Return is an excellent module, for the first half of the book. Then it just becomes a slog. If the latter half was a good as Hommlett and the Moathouse and the first parts of the mines, it would be a great module. But at some point, it just becomes a Bataan death march.
My views of the modules is a little different from WizarDru's here, but he sums it up well enough that I don't think I need to expand on it.
 

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