Where Has All the Magic Gone?

Jack7

First Post
However, do you think they do so without rigorous training, adequate preparation and taking every precaution they can to minimize the risk to themselves even as they enter a burning building? Will they normally do things where the odds don't favor them? Of course not. Does this make them less heroic? I think not.

Perish the thought SB. But if the front of a building were too engulfed in fire do you think they might seek an alternate way in? Through a back-door, or put up a ladder? Chop a hole through a wall? Do you also think, in the course of their job, if they needed to rescue a trapped person most firefighters would hesitate to risk their own lives to do their job? Of course not. (I’ve seen that happen myself. My old man used to run a volunteer fire dept.)

Putting out a fire in an abandoned building is likely heroic to the owner, but not worth the firefighter’s own life if the situation were helpless (I never encouraged entertaining helpless situations). However just because the odds say the risk is dangerous (as opposed to hopeless) doesn’t mean the firefighter wouldn’t risk their own life to save somebody else, odds to the devil. And that’s all I said. Heroes don’t let odds motivate their behavior or impulse to do the right thing. They do heroic things despite the odds. Jas asked me how do you play such a thing? Heroism?

Why you play it just like you would in real life. If it needs to be done you do it because heroism is not odds-determined. It is behavior-determined. I didn’t say it was easy, I said it was simple. And it is. As a matter of fact most of the time you can do the math in your head, even if you’re not real good at math.


I don't think that adage is true in the sense in which you think it's true.

Alright. I'll bite. What is my normal thought process, and what did I really think it meant was true? I'm just curious in case I ever have to use the phrase again. I’ll wanna know I’m getting it right next time.


Consistently going against the odds results in consistent failure, and consistent failure isn't what's associated in most people's minds with heroism. It's associated with lack of wisdom and lack of competence.

Who in God's name ever suggested, even obliquely, that one should shoot for consistent failure? Or any type of failure? The Marshal in my examples won both his fights. Is this another example where you know my thought processes better than I do? Cause I'm beginning to wonder if I've been thinking the wrong way around these things the whole time. But you know what, even if he had lost his second fight he’d have still been a hero to most folks. Not trying, he wouldn’t have been to many.


You're starting to sound like Sphinx from Mystery Men.

Is he the guy who had the one about the four legged, the two legged, and the three legged used car salesman? That one always makes me laugh. And if I can make people laugh then I must be doing something right.


Alright now, let’s get serious. You raise an interesting point.

No man grows brave through ignorance of statistics either.

You do understand that statistics are created, computed, and compiled as an after action result of action? Statistics are not actions in and of themselves, they are not real events, except to mathematicians, and they get paid to think that way. Statistics are the calculated results of whether men took action (and in this case we appear to be talking game actions), or did not, and what the levels of success they enjoyed as a result of those actions, or what the extent of the level of failure they suffered as a result their actions. (Or inactions.)

I’m gonna posit a theory now. You cannot dissuade a brave man from taking action as a result of the statistical analysis of prior events (statistical calculations can render odds about future behavior, but cannot determine the future), and you cannot encourage a timid man from not taking action by demonstrating to him that statistics are reports of prior behavior. (Meaning you are not automatically condemned to repeat the prior mistakes of others through the operations of statistics, but that doesn’t matter if you believe it is not possible to avoid past mistakes based on a particular analysis of statistical models and what they might imply.)

There is however an apparent problem based upon your previous examples. You seem to be implying that dice rolls are numbers only, not mathematical representations of decided [decision] events. Let’s say you need a D20 to hit an opponent. You roll and your attack misses. Now you’ve nothing else to do right? No other decision to make? You’ll eventually hit or you won’t and so will your opponent? But what if, knowing your attack odds with a sword are bad you instead employ a magical item? Throw a spell? Retreat? Set something on fire? Redeploy with bows that have a better chance? Employ a power? Present a feat? Create a distraction so someone can maneuver to a weak point on your opponent? Change your tactics? Or make any other decision(s) based upon any other resource you possess, or that exists in the surrounding environment, that will change the conditions of the battlespace?
Even using things that don’t rely so heavily, or maybe not at all, on chance? Then is it still just a matter of die rolls? Then is it a matter of just consistently rolling a 10.5 on a D20? Then is heroism, or success or failure in a venture, just a matter of doing the same ineffective thing over and over again and letting the die roll determine the course of action and the pacing of events? Or do actual decisions then start to modify the outcome value of the die? And shape events despite the temporary vicissitudes of chance? You know why heroes in stories succeed so often, despite the odds? Because when they do one thing that doesn’t work, they try something that will? Because they adapt and overcome, without excuse? Because they do not accept that chance determines their actions and therefore insist on making their own decisions? Because they look for an avenue of advantage while those who deiced fate is their master have given up? Is it also possible that players, while in-game and emulating real heroes, might learn the same skills? Practice the same outlook? Apply the same principles? Even against heavy odds? Someone once told me anything is possible when you trust others to be at least as clever as you are. He didn’t have a fancy name like Sphinx, but he did know something about people. And what they can accomplish if they'll try.

But as for me I also never said ignore the odds. I don’t think men should ignore odds. But I also don’t think men should be ruled by them. I said, by example and proclamation, do not let them determine your actions. If you believe that the dice are the primary determinants of your actions in-game (and I ain't saying you do, but that seems to be your implication, but then again it might not be, it could just be a ruse to confuse salesmen), or chance the primary determinant of events in real life for that matter, and will determine the outcome of your every action, then I'd probably suggest that you aren't playing an RPG (and I'm not saying you are - but iffin you were then what does it matter how you play your role if your role will be settled by events beyond your control, by what model of statistical variation is applied in formulating the necessary and operational functions of that particular game’s mechanistic modes of play) but are in actuality playing something very like Russian roulette. Because no matter how good you are at spinning sooner or later, according to the odds you’re gonna pull a hammer that strikes paydirt.)

However I'm still failing to see how things like statistics and balance can influence deterministically on either how a character behaves or, for that matter, on how magical items should work. Can statistics control the dice (assuming the dice are all important)? Or do statistics tell you what the dice have reported about prior rolls, about previous events? Or, in the same vein, is balance likely just a game mechanism, like the dice themselves, as statistical calculations are, to determine levels of friction and oppositional force? (That is to say mechanisms are not motives and dice-rolling is not the same as decision-making, and if balance, and the odds, and statistical models are merely game mechanisms then do they determine the nature of the game and your actions, and if they do then why don't you juts create a computer model to run such calculations ad infinitum? Because you are going to lose encounters, both unbalanced and balanced ones. So why the effort to make decisions of your own based on anything but the inevitability of the numbers? Right? You could play D&D even when asleep by having the statistics that cannot be ignored by mechanisms that cannot be subverted or circumvented by rational action played for you in abstentia and save yourself the trouble of making decisions for yourself or of having to make calculations upon human factors like heroism, right or wrong, or danger and risk. Until that is the statistics tell you that you are going to lose (and eventually you will, statistically speaking), and then the game can be over, you having enjoyed your foray into the dark and dangerous realms of balanced numbers, where the statistical bandersnatch roam.

I do though allow for the fact that I may be either exaggerating or misinterpreting your point and the real implications of your argument, and if that is the case then I’ll let you clarify. Unless of course you tell me that’s not really what I meant to say then I’ll just wait to hear what you thought I was really thinking.

However I do believe we can agree on one point. The way a person looks at real life is very likely to determine how he thinks his entertainments should operate, that they imply, and what they should be about. But then again maybe we won’t agree on that unless you tell me we do and then I guess there’s nothing I can about that. It's just the way things are.

No, I’m just kidding. I’m already working up a plan in the case you’re not thinking what I think you’re thinking I oughtta be thinking.

Anyways, I like you Jas. You remind me of an old buddy a mine.
It was fun arguing with him too.

See ya later.
 

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Gimby

Explorer
Leaving aside that heroes overcome their opposition so often in fiction because their victory is a matter of author fiat rather than any contact with the odds, you do touch on the point about why people would take the +1 sword over the wand of wonder.

If a course of action is proving pointless, you change your action. In doing so, you *change the odds*. The use of clever tactics, positioning and so on doesn't mean that you beat unfavourable odds, it means that you first make the odds favourable (represented here by lowering the required target number on the dice) and then beat the now-favourable odds instead.

Essentially, you contradict yourself within your post - you say this:

I said, by example and proclamation, do not let them determine your actions.

After just giving examples of how actions are determined by unfavourable odds - to whit, taking actions to improve said odds.

So in the context of magic items, getting permanent bonuses is one of many methods that can be used to shift the odds in your favour. By getting that extra +1 I can now confidently take on more powerful challenges than before.

The point of encounter balance is to make encounter design predicable for the DM - so they can confidently say whether a fight will be easy or hard or nigh impossible. Its still up to the players to decide whether or not to take on that hard encounter - the heroism of their characters depends very much on what they decide to face, what rewards are worth what risks. Timid characters will face only easy encounters, heroic ones will risk the tougher ones - confident that they can use their teamwork and abilities to give them acceptable odds of success.

To give an example of an unbalanced encounter, consider a CR 9 encounter vs a EPL 10 party. Should be a pushover, right? Except that this CR 9 encounter is 20 level 1 kobold sorcerors with Magic Missile. Unless they have brooches of sheilding, this encounter will probably kill one party member per turn(no save, just die), until they run out of missiles, at which point they present essentially no threat at all. Its that kind of idiocy that balanced encounters attempt to avoid.

Just because an encounter is balanced does not mean that victory is certain, that you don't have to play smart to win or it doesn't require any player input (or luck) at all.

To address this point:
You do understand that statistics are created, computed, and compiled as an after action result of action?

This is certainly true for the real world. It is not however true for the simulated game world - this is because we know the probabilities associated with every event that occurs in the game world - if we didn't, we couldn't simulate it. We can use this to follow every path in a decision tree and determine the probability of every outcome. Do we actually do this in actual play? Of course not, but its part of the game design process. It's where the values of ACs, attack bonusses and so on come from.

In short, I'm not sure what you are arguing. That characters shouldn't only take actions that they are 100% likely to succeed at? That heroism requires taking risks? These aren't particularly contentious positions. I am confused about your railing against balance here - what is it that you think balance means?
 

AllisterH

First Post
My practical experience with comparing characters that enjoy plot-immunity (ie Luke Skywalker, Bilbo Baggins) with those that don't (insert PC name here) is that they're a considerable waste of time. Call it the "Luke was a Commoner Fallacy".

Oh yes, I agree 100%. I think the "X was a commoner" fallacy is one of the biggest problems when trying to translate prose into game rules.

Another prime example would be Conan. Many people point to Conan as an example of a normal melee guy who overcomes the odds but also tend to forget that Conan has straight 18s across the board.

Basically, Conan is a twinked out stat character....
 

jasin

Explorer
There is however an apparent problem based upon your previous examples. You seem to be implying that dice rolls are numbers only, not mathematical representations of decided [decision] events. Let’s say you need a D20 to hit an opponent. You roll and your attack misses. Now you’ve nothing else to do right? No other decision to make? You’ll eventually hit or you won’t and so will your opponent? But what if, knowing your attack odds with a sword are bad you instead employ a magical item? Throw a spell? Retreat? Set something on fire? Redeploy with bows that have a better chance? Employ a power? Present a feat? Create a distraction so someone can maneuver to a weak point on your opponent? Change your tactics? Or make any other decision(s) based upon any other resource you possess, or that exists in the surrounding environment, that will change the conditions of the battlespace?
Shouldn't all these be accounted for in a balanced encounter?

Game balance isn't about monsters rolling d20+10 and you rolling d20+15 and seeing who rolls higher. It's about monsters outnumbering you 5 to 1, but only having half of your hit points, but then again you have better powers, and yet they have the advantage of terrain, but quick thinking and good teamwork can turning that advantage to your side, but they'll also get reinforcements in the middle of the fight, but you have action points which allow you to bend the usual rules &c., all of which combines to give you a 90% chance of success. So in 9 out of 10 such encounters the PCs win despite the illusion of terrible danger. That's how D&D emulates heroism (numbers adjusted to taste, obviously).

If the PCs face genuine danger (say, 33% odds of success even if they do all the right things), 2 attempts out of 3 will just end in failure. That sort of (imaginary) disregard for personal safety in order to do the (imaginary) right thing might be in some ways closer to true heroism than consistently having the odds subtly stacked in your favour, but for most people the illusion of danger and consistent success feels more satisfying (and heroic!) than true danger and consistent failure.
 

TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
I completely, 100% agree that 1st edition AD&D was the leader in terms of style and flavour. As for the rest of it....

AllisterH said:
I have the Encyclopedia Magica (the leather tomes from pre 3E that had ALL the magical items ever printed for the game up to then....) and the vast majority of the items in the books are, well, shockingly mundane. Great fluff and description but the effect is pretty "normal".

This is probably the most important point, the +1 dagger does in fact predate 3E..

el remmen said:
I must say that the first thing I do with any published adventure of any edition after the first read through, is go through with a black sharpie and mark out the magical items (and some treasure) I wanted to eliminate. There has always been more magical stuff in printed D&D than I like, even when I did have a much more magic item-rich campaign than I have these days.

And you can have to much of a good thing. 1E was treasure rich (no matter what RCK says), and it could just get overwhelming. Daods Wonderous Lanthorn, A Deck of Many Things, The Demonicon of Igwiz...try having that in the group at the same time, and more! Its over top, but maybe worse, at some point, everyone just starts to loose track of stuff. Which leads to...

Allister said:
I think it all comes down to "not being able to sell those items".

Take for example, this post detailing items from classic modules

If the same modules was run in 3e/4e, without a doubt, most of those magic items would be sold and used to finance more mundane but more consistent/powerful items like +2 swords/armours/cloaks etc...

Even PCs loose interest. I have seen in various editions, clever items being traded for the most boring crap by good players, because they want to use the boring crap...

Kid Charlemagne said:
I'm surprised that not everyone loved the Magic Item Compendium, 'cause everyone in my gaming groups thinks its the best thing ever. It reintroduced a lot of items that could do lots of little things, and made them inexpensive enough to buy a few of them.

And speaking of latter editions, there are multi function items, even some flavourfull ones, and the compendium has plenty of them (many pretty clever)

Plane Sailing said:
The other big issue IMO is the idea of 'expected wealth' which was introduced in 3e. Because a lot of the versatile, interesting magic items were still in the DMG, but were given an 'expected wealth value' which was so high they never saw play in the game.

4e strives to make items a bit more interesting than 3e at low level, but still suffers a bit from the "you're heroic tier? Only one daily power for you!" metagame design - and there seems a complete paucity of multi-functional higher level stuff at all. It is as if an average has been taken which is a bit better than low level 3e, but worse than high level 3e, and that average stretched across all the tiers.

The 4e exception for me is artifacts, which I think have probably recieved one of their best core rules treatments I've seen.

4E did reprice items, give them some powers...and artifacts, artifacts are great, and made so that you can actually use them at the levels you will actually play at.

But, as I went through all this, I realized:

I have continued to use multifunction, flavourfull items all along. Some from published sources, some I just made up.

But of course, I am a DM, so I am capable of doing that.

It does make me wonder about this 11+ page thread though. :p
 

Jack7

First Post
I like some of the things all of you said. And agreed with many other of the things you said, as well as disagreeing with a few.

I got some more things to say on the matter but didn't want you guys to think I was ignoring what you said.

But I've been busy lately, real busy. And didn't wanna give hurried, sloppy, misleading answers to your points. And I realized we kinda got off track because I personally see a real connection between magic in fantasy games and heroism in fantasy games. I can't respond like I'd like right now so I'll come back to this later.

If you guys want to continue this without me til then please feel free.


Til then I've got a couple of questions about magic and if you guys wanna discuss/argue/debate them then go at it.

1. What, if any, do you think is the underlying connection between magic and heroism in fantasy RPGs?

2. What do you think is the connections between magic and treasure in fantasy RPGs? Is magic a type of treasure or is it a treasure of a totally different kind? If so then why?

3. Have these connections been lost over time?

4. What does magic do differently than powers?

5. What does magic do differently than science, and/or technology? (in other words what separates science from magic and what separates the Scientist from the Wizard, the Technician from the Thaumaturgist?)

6. Is magic a weapon? Is it only a weapon? What else should it be aside from a weapon?

7. Should the Wizard control magic in the same way a scientist controls electromagnetism, or channel magic as if he were a conductor?

8. Should the Cleric control Divine magic, or should God, or the gods?

9 What is the real nature of magic and how should it function as a game device for changing game-reality?



Well, gotta go.
Looking forward to your replies.
Of course you're not limited to these questions. Talk about whatever you wish. I just thought they'd give you something to ruminate about.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Supporter
1. What, if any, do you think is the underlying connection between magic and heroism in fantasy RPGs?

Magic is the "tech" of FRPGs. Its not integral to the definition of "hero" to use tech to achieve his goals- indeed, heroic achievements without using tech seem more heroic than those achieved with it.

However, sometimes, tech is necessary. Knights have their armor. Modern Action Heroes usually carry some kind of firearm, possibly explosives. MacGyver carried nothing, but improvised a lot of tech.

In a fantasy world, Dutch (the Governator's character from Predator) would trade his machine gun for a magic staff or weapon. (When that failed, of course, he'd still be setting up his primitive traps- another form of tech).

2. What do you think is the connections between magic and treasure in fantasy RPGs? Is magic a type of treasure or is it a treasure of a totally different kind? If so then why?

To me, Magic is both a subset of treasure that may be found or won and something that can be created by one's self or allies.

3. Have these connections been lost over time?

Not IME.
4. What does magic do differently than powers?

For one thing, its removable. And because its removable, it can be used against its former possessors or even completely destroyed.

5. What does magic do differently than science, and/or technology? (in other words what separates science from magic and what separates the Scientist from the Wizard, the Technician from the Thaumaturgist?)

The old Arthur C. Clark adage comes into play here: Any significantly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Some would argue that the reverse is also true.

However, one thing that magic does that (real) technology doesn't is break the laws of physics.


6. Is magic a weapon? Is it only a weapon? What else should it be aside from a weapon?

Like Weapons, Magic is a tool. As such, it can be bent to any task that a creative mind can come up with. Sometimes, though, the use of magic is impractical, as it is with RW tech as well.

One wouldn't create a 5 hour ritual to sharpen your pencil, after all- that would be the magical equivalent of a Rube Goldberg device.

7. Should the Wizard control magic in the same way a scientist controls electromagnetism, or channel magic as if he were a conductor?

That depends upon the setting and the kind of magic.
8. Should the Cleric control Divine magic, or should God, or the gods?

Clerics channel divine energies granted to them by their god or philosophy. Their power is not inherent, but rather, is on loan.

9 What is the real nature of magic and how should it function as a game device for changing game-reality?

Again, that depends upon the setting and kind of magic.
 

The Shaman

First Post
Well, that and standardization. I noticed this most clearly with the "Rod of Wonder" in 3E. Why did it go from "Wand of Wonder" in AD&D to "Rod of Wonder" in 3E? Because in 3E, Rods can be used by everybody but all wands can only be used by Wizards. In other words... the Design Cops got mad at the Wand of Wonder for breaking the rules.

Hello... way to miss the point! The Wand of Wonder was all about breaking the rules. Yeah, it's a wand that can be used by a Fighter. So what? It's also a wand that can shoot a rhinoceros at your foe. It doesn't play well with others. What part of "This wand shoots rhinoceroses" suggests that it should play well with others?

Really, though, throughout 3E and 4E I see a continual striving for standardization, rationalization and a smooth mechanistic balance. Hence the tirelessly tiring treatment of magic items as nothing more than pieces of sparkly technology. They all work the same, they all follow the same rules, they contain no surprises and behave exactly as you would expect... The End.

Yet another reason that I like the kooky old products such as OD&D and AD&D. In OD&D, Elves choose at the beginning of the adventure whether they will play as a Fighting Man or a Magic-User for that adventure. They switch classes from adventure to adventure. "But that doesn't make any sense!" you cry. You're right... they're creepy fae folk that live lives ultimately beyond the ken of mortal man. Of course they're weirdos.

Really, you can keep your Fordist Fantasy. And I'll keep my schizo-elfs riding around in apparatuses of Kwalish shooting rhinoceroses at the bullywug hordes.
This post is quoted in its entirety as it is A Thing of Beauty.

:cool:
 

avin

First Post
4E is just starting. The fluff and history will come, particularly in themed books like the Manual of the Planes and Open Grave, or in campaign-specific books.

I'm inclined to disagree... except for Bazaar of the Bizarre 4E isn't very fond of fluffed items... and I suppose it won't be.
 

Delta

First Post
Another prime example would be Conan. Many people point to Conan as an example of a normal melee guy who overcomes the odds but also tend to forget that Conan has straight 18s across the board.

Gygax's writeup of Conan in Dragon #49 gives him:
Age 15 -- 18/76, 12, 8, 18, 18, 15
Age 30 -- 19, 16, 11, 19, 18, 16
Age 70 -- 18/01, 18, 15, 16, 15, 17

With some other iterations at ages in between.
 

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