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Why Not Magic?

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I don’t really understand a thing, and I’d like to.

In every game that isn’t specifically about doing magic, folks expect to be able to play a wholly non-magical character. I’m building a game of my own, and I am having trouble seeing reasons that anyone who has magic as an option would choose not to use it?

This relates to the non-magical Ranger thread, but it’s more about the thematic notion of fully mundane heroes in a world with fairly common magic.

In my game’s setting, anyone who is exposed to magic and chooses to practice and study it can learn magic. This means all PCs have magic skills available to them, and all archetypes have magic skills on their skill list, though some only have 1 or 2.

I guess the question is; why would someone choose to be a hero/adventurer/etc and not want to learn any magic?
 

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J.Quondam

CR 1/8
I like the option of low-/non-magical PCs because I don't automatically assume that the world is one with fairly common (or safe) magic. Personally, I like to be able to twist that "magical setting" dial down, and still have plenty of options for PCs. Yes, that's not "default" gonzo-style D&D, but low-magic is a common fantasy trope, so it'd be nice to do it out of the box.

But... Your question assumes a magical setting. In that case, I think you're probably right: It probably is strange to prefer a character with no magic. I mean, I can think of a few RP rationales (eg, some philosophical order that eschews magic use). But aside from stuff like that, if magic really is the most effective tool in a setting, it does seem strange not to use that tool.
 


Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
Because players (not necessarily the PCS) have a strong bias against magic.

Magic isn't real. Even in a setting where it ostensibly replaces the laws of physics, magic breaks the rules somehow. Even in stories where Muscles let you do physically impossible things, it isn't magic.

Magic isn't true. It doesn't match up with what they perceive magic "should be." This could mean anything from how much magic should cost to the systems used, to how much magic even exists.

Magic is problematic. Traditionally speaking, magic comes from evil sources: Demons, corrupt rituals, outsider gods, "The Others" etc. Contemporarily speaking, magic comes from evil sources: Bloodlines or genetics, power-consolidating institutions, selling yourself to powerful beings, etc. Just having power and using it can seem evil because years of human experience telling you to not rock the boat or years of seeing people with power abuse it casually.

Magic is guilty by association. In other games, there was that one guy who completely went off the rails with magic, people just hate that guy, enabling that guy, and anything that reminds them of that guy.
 

Argyle King

Legend
I don’t really understand a thing, and I’d like to.

In every game that isn’t specifically about doing magic, folks expect to be able to play a wholly non-magical character. I’m building a game of my own...

I guess the question is; why would someone choose to be a hero/adventurer/etc and not want to learn any magic?

In the game you're building, what would be answer to that question?

Is it possible for non-magic options to contribute in some way that's not easily replicated by magic?

If magic is the best option, what reasons would there be for someone not learning to use it as much as possible?
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
I can think of three reasons off the top of my head, and they're all player reasons, not character reasons--a distinction I trust is clear.

The player may feel as though the game's rules for magic use are more complicated than the rules for not, and more complicated than they want to deal with.

The player may have a strong preference for not playing magician characters, or at least may have a mostly non-magical idea that's next up in their mental rolodex of characters.

The player may have a specific interest in answering the same character questions you're wondering about: What is it like to be a non-magical hero in a world with common magic? Why would one choose (if it's a choice) to be such?
 

payn

Hero
I was just thinking of some popular tropes from stories and television on this. One is from Ghost in the Shell. This crack squad of transhuman special agents hunt hackers and criminals. One member of the group has no augments and is just a regular Joe. It gives some friendly banter and plot elements where being tricked out in cyberware can be a detriment in certain circumstances.

In Lord of the Rings, magic is rare and simply augments awesome heroes but they don't need it to save the day.

In some settings, magic can have a cost that moves a person from their humanity. Sometimes having a mundane around can help center and bring users back from the brink. The moral compass keeps the good guys from becoming bad guys.

Really its going to come down to the setting. If everyone uses magic and it aint no thang, it might be a bit snowflake to want a mundane. Depends on how folks want to play it.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I guess the question is; why would someone choose to be a hero/adventurer/etc and not want to learn any magic?

Well one reason is: Batman.

Imagine how badass you are if you can keep up with, or indeed beat, someone with magic/superpowers when you don't have any?

(Yes, Bruce Wayne has a superpower of "more money than god to pay for all this stuff" - but people ignore that, because it is off screen).
 

Greg K

Hero
Perhaps, because there are stories where magic exists and the heroes (or most of the heroes) do not wield magic
  • Conan: magic is typically in the hands of villains.
  • Robin Hood: some versions have villains with magic, but Robin does not.
  • Phillipe, Navarre, Isabeau in Ladyhawk don't have magic (okay, the only magic seen is the curse the bishop placed and Navarre and Isabeau and because of that they spend tim opposite of each other in an animal form. However, we know magic exists in the word, but probably not common)
  • Toran and Slant, whom were two of the three protagonists from the failed early 1980s tv pilot, Archer: Fugitive From the Empire (a.k.a Archer and the Sorceress). The third protagonist,Estra, has some magical powers, but it is summoning animals from the charm she wears, control winds, talking to the spirit of her mother mother, and some for of see through an animals eyes and communicating through dreams (iirc). We also are toldthat there are other spellcasters in addition to Estra
  • Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Gawaine in the modern Merlin TV series don't have magic
  • Of the top of my head, I don't recall the BBC Sinbad protagonists having magic, but I might be wrong since i have not seen it for a while.
  • Edit: also cannot forget Thundarr: the Barbarian. Neither Thundarr nor Ookla have magic powers (unless we are counting magic items as magic).
 
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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I don’t really understand a thing, and I’d like to.

In every game that isn’t specifically about doing magic, folks expect to be able to play a wholly non-magical character. I’m building a game of my own, and I am having trouble seeing reasons that anyone who has magic as an option would choose not to use it?

This relates to the non-magical Ranger thread, but it’s more about the thematic notion of fully mundane heroes in a world with fairly common magic.

In my game’s setting, anyone who is exposed to magic and chooses to practice and study it can learn magic. This means all PCs have magic skills available to them, and all archetypes have magic skills on their skill list, though some only have 1 or 2.

I guess the question is; why would someone choose to be a hero/adventurer/etc and not want to learn any magic?
In your setting they probably would all(or nearly all) learn magic. The 5e default, though, is that spellcasters are relatively few in number, so non-magical classes make much more sense.

As for why someone would choose to be completely mundane in your world, perhaps as a child he saw his family burned to death by a wizard and views magic as an evil obscenity. My father was an abusive alcoholic and I refuse to touch alcohol. I don't want there to be any chance that I don't have full control over myself. I've had DMs offer me multiple levels and/or magic items if I would just take one shot with the guys during a celebration. I never wavered. The one time I drank a single shot was at my fathers funeral. It seemed somehow appropriate. Such convictions and reasonings can apply in your world and result in a completely mundane PC adventurer. Another reason could be the challenge of success against all odds. A thrill seeker might go the mundane route.
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
Well one reason is: Batman.

Imagine how badass you are if you can keep up with, or indeed beat, someone with magic/superpowers when you don't have any?

(Yes, Bruce Wayne has a superpower of "more money than god to pay for all this stuff" - but people ignore that, because it is off screen).

"I see your disintegrate, Wizard, and raise you this caviar fork in your throat!"
 


TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
I don't know about "every game", but D&D is the big tent one. If there is a very familiar character type out there--the hero in a magical world that is not a wizard--then it would make sense to cater to that. And D&D always has.

Its interesting to note that, at least by class, D&D has always been mostly magical. First five classes: Magic-user, cleric, thief, paladin. 3/5 magical. But non-magical options are there. Of course the fighter or thief would hope to find magic items. That also always been there, and also consistent with the wider lore.
 

Blue Orange

Adventurer
As people here have said, it's more of a player thing. I think there are quite a few nonmagical heroes in the classic fantasy stories that spawned the game (the hobbits just have a magic ring, Conan occasionally uses magic but he distrusts it, Fafhrd never casts spells, Lovecraft protagonists usually don't), so lots of people want to play characters like them. Magical protagonists are a problem for a writer because unless you make it really clear what they can and can't do they can theoretically solve any problem with magic. So nonmagical protagonists in fantasy fiction are common.
 

As others have said, there are a lot of knights in shining armor, plucky thieves, knowledgeable woodsmen, and other such characters in fiction who take on the hero role, but few and far between are the spellcasters main protagonists (usually relegated to supporting characters or villains).

I don't know about "every game", but D&D is the big tent one. If there is a very familiar character type out there--the hero in a magical world that is not a wizard--then it would make sense to cater to that. And D&D always has.
Let's pick another one as a point of comparison: GURPS. GURPS has a relatively solid magic system and playing a wizard is fun. However, being a wizard costs character points. For the point cost of being a decent wizard, you can be a pretty powerful knight in shining armor as well. The knight has some key advantages, notably being able to swing their sword relatively indefinitely, as well as being able to upgrade their abilities through found items (actual treasure or weapons/armor taken from defeated foes) much more easily than the wizard (who can turn treasure into magic-boosting items, but not nearly as readily).
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Because if everything is magic then nothing is

moreover there is no purpose to doing anything else - if everyone can use a magic missile that never misses then why bother with archery, or even inventing the bow? Why bother with rope if I can spiderclimb or fly? Why bother to be a blacksmith instead or fabricate? why bother to go out and work when I can just cast goodberry or heroes feast?

a character wants to achieve things by their own ability, superior strength or agility or endurance, not have the convinience of a spell doing it for them

thats why I hate spells that replace skills - instead they should gove a skill bonus but still require the character to use their natural ability…
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
I guess the question is; why would someone choose to be a hero/adventurer/etc and not want to learn any magic?
If you mean the character themselves choosing? Have you read the chronicles of Thomas Covenant? there are well let's call them monks who swear off just about every kind of tool you would imagine out of a desire to perfect their autonomous potence, this is pretty much akin to The Riddle of Steel. By not becoming dependent on tool x you can better perfect all others. Perfection of self means forgoing all things originating outside of that.

As far as players? Nonmagical may be the easiest to identify with.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
The prevalence of magical talent may in story preclude a character from being able to do magic whether they want it or not. Then overcoming that may be quite a story. Your story is now about how you are awesome the hard way.
 


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