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Why Not Magic?

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Well, my observation in the game system/setting where it was most true (Runequest) was that people didn't insist on avoiding magic. Even in versions where it wasn't pretty much the only route to higher levels of power, nobody was bent out of shape avoiding having Healing and Bladesharp.
Right, if an effective tool exists that can make you better at a craft, and it is feasible to obtain it, we generally will do so.

And so to accommodate the players who just want to play a fully mundane character, without having to just handwave the strangeness of the choice, you have to have in universe reasons a person might never learn any magic, or just expect them to compromise and be minimally magical, rather than fully non-magical.
 

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Bluenose

Adventurer
Right, if an effective tool exists that can make you better at a craft, and it is feasible to obtain it, we generally will do so.

And so to accommodate the players who just want to play a fully mundane character, without having to just handwave the strangeness of the choice, you have to have in universe reasons a person might never learn any magic, or just expect them to compromise and be minimally magical, rather than fully non-magical.
Of course if you believe what the Kralorelans and others say about MYsticism, they're very specifically not doing magic. They're merely removing limitations through negating their limits. Refuse to accept that gravity limits you hard enough, and you can fly. And some western societies restrict use of magic to Wizards (or try to, that peasant trying to move a particularly large rock from out of the way of his plough may well assist himself furtively with a bit of magic) and their soldiers are extremely well trained mundane warriors who have magic cast on them by their supporting Wizards.

Of course in Glorantha, not taking part in magic is equivalent to not taking part in society. You literally can't be an adult as a theist without going to the God World and visiting your gods' home, and you will have magic if you do that. Other forms of worship exist (and also deliver magical powers).
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Of course if you believe what the Kralorelans and others say about MYsticism, they're very specifically not doing magic. They're merely removing limitations through negating their limits. Refuse to accept that gravity limits you hard enough, and you can fly. And some western societies restrict use of magic to Wizards (or try to, that peasant trying to move a particularly large rock from out of the way of his plough may well assist himself furtively with a bit of magic) and their soldiers are extremely well trained mundane warriors who have magic cast on them by their supporting Wizards.

Of course in Glorantha, not taking part in magic is equivalent to not taking part in society. You literally can't be an adult as a theist without going to the God World and visiting your gods' home, and you will have magic if you do that. Other forms of worship exist (and also deliver magical powers).
A lot of that is gibberish to me because I don't know what a Glorantha or a Kralorelan is, but I think I get the gist.

And your peasant farmer example raises another issue, of course, that has many times had it's own thread, which is that we all know deep down that DnD societies don't make sense if you stop squinting and actually look at them. If that farmer can use magic to help him move the boulder, but doing so is illegal and could get him in trouble because magic is strictly for wizards, that society will fail. Either by revolt, or by neighboring lands that aren't actively stabbing their own feet deciding that the backward fools to the west would be better off with foreign landlords, or whtaever
 

Lord Shark

Explorer
Because after 40+ years of playing D&D and other RPGs, I find magic in most games dull, flavorless, and repetitious. When "magic" means a 100-page list of spells, only a handful of which most players will ever use, I'm going to avoid interacting with that system as much as possible.

Also, D&D spellcasting is silly. I'd rather play the person who can do awesome things because they're Just That Damn Good, not because they wiggle their fingers and throw around bat guano.
 

Bluenose

Adventurer
A lot of that is gibberish to me because I don't know what a Glorantha or a Kralorelan is, but I think I get the gist.
Fair enough.
And your peasant farmer example raises another issue, of course, that has many times had it's own thread, which is that we all know deep down that DnD societies don't make sense if you stop squinting and actually look at them. If that farmer can use magic to help him move the boulder, but doing so is illegal and could get him in trouble because magic is strictly for wizards, that society will fail. Either by revolt, or by neighboring lands that aren't actively stabbing their own feet deciding that the backward fools to the west would be better off with foreign landlords, or whtaever
Western society typically has four castes . The Lord wants the field ploughed. The Wizard (who may also be the village priest) wants to keep the Lord's favour. The Knights want to fight an enemy and perhaps get noticed enough to have a little bit of land carved out for them to become a Lord. And the Peasant (who could be anything from a person living in a cottage who collects firewood to the wealthiest merchant in a city) just wants to get their job done without attracting attention that would have to do something about a little bit of improper behaviour. Everyone knows that people who shouldn't use magic will sometimes do so, and as long as no real fanatic notices then all is well. It's hypocritical, maybe the peasant feels bad about it and tells the village's priest-wizard and gets some penance, but it gets things done; and it's not as if other societies don't have their own hypocrisies.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Of course in Glorantha, not taking part in magic is equivalent to not taking part in society. You literally can't be an adult as a theist without going to the God World and visiting your gods' home, and you will have magic if you do that. Other forms of worship exist (and also deliver magical powers).

The important point about Glorantha though is 1) Magic is divine and ritualistic (its not Arcane in the D&D sense but comes from gods/spirits/patrons(grimoire) under limited conditions) 2) the system is skill based (so inherently limited) 3)the cults/patrons and their magic are fully integrated and integral to the bronze age setting

That last one really is the crux of the matter - how does magic enhance the Narrative of 'my characters' story, do I want my story to be that my character has access to magic that does wonderous things or do I want my character to be of such superlative skill that their talents seem magical? they're both valid.

Its the difference between Tarzan being raised by Apes and learning the 'ways of the jungle' and Tarzan being taught the speak with animals spell.
 
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Right, if an effective tool exists that can make you better at a craft, and it is feasible to obtain it, we generally will do so.

And so to accommodate the players who just want to play a fully mundane character, without having to just handwave the strangeness of the choice, you have to have in universe reasons a person might never learn any magic, or just expect them to compromise and be minimally magical, rather than fully non-magical.

A lot of it depends on whether the culture involved considers magic at all distinct from other skills (that's not a given). If they do, then there's always going to be outgroups that decide its bad or undesirable on some level. If they don't, its not only kind of nonsensical, from any in-world perspective it simply makes no sense.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
A lot of it depends on whether the culture involved considers magic at all distinct from other skills (that's not a given). If they do, then there's always going to be outgroups that decide its bad or undesirable on some level. If they don't, its not only kind of nonsensical, from any in-world perspective it simply makes no sense.
I mean there are taboos about totally mundane stuff IRL. There would certainly be no-magic straight edge folks or whatever.

But they probably wouldn’t be Rangers (a word which here refers to people who are Wise to the supernatural and go about helping people, so the PCs and thier most useful allies), or would have a much harder time doing the job.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Fair enough.

Western society typically has four castes . The Lord wants the field ploughed. The Wizard (who may also be the village priest) wants to keep the Lord's favour. The Knights want to fight an enemy and perhaps get noticed enough to have a little bit of land carved out for them to become a Lord. And the Peasant (who could be anything from a person living in a cottage who collects firewood to the wealthiest merchant in a city) just wants to get their job done without attracting attention that would have to do something about a little bit of improper behaviour. Everyone knows that people who shouldn't use magic will sometimes do so, and as long as no real fanatic notices then all is well. It's hypocritical, maybe the peasant feels bad about it and tells the village's priest-wizard and gets some penance, but it gets things done; and it's not as if other societies don't have their own hypocrisies.
So my question would be, what prevents violent popular revolt? It can’t just be fear of wizards and knights. People revolt against governments with bombers and mercenary armies who won’t hesitate to shoot civilians, they aren’t going to not do so because fireball exists. Especially when they can apperently learn magic in secret and there is a culture of pretending the peasant class doesn’t know magic.

Is it somehow a fair society?
 


Composer99

Explorer
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 the context of your particular setting, I would expect most player characters would learn magic unless they had a particular reason not to. In that setting, it sounds like it's a tool much like others. You use the tools you have to do the job at hand.

For many TTRPGs, though, I suspect there is enough ambiguity in the "default" setting (if the game has one) about how commonplace magic is, or how it's viewed by non-magic folk, to make a wide variety of player character views work within the setting. That's the case with D&D, especially in settings outside of the Forgotten Realms.

And of course there are TTRPGs whose settings lean into magic as being inherently corrupting or dangerous.




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…

This doesn't really make sense to me.

(1) Your references are D&D-centric, where it's worth noting that most powerful magic effects that genuinely step on non-magical capabilities are limited-use. When you can cast spells only so many times in a day before the tank runs out of gas, you're probably better off having people who can do non-magic stuff over and over and over and over (and so on). And other games don't use the D&D paradigm.

(2) A character achieving things by their own ability to use magic is not meaningfully different from a character achieving things by their own ability to do something else, all else in the setting being equal.
 

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?
I would say this reminds me of some folks who culturally avoid science in lieu of folk-whatever.

some people are culturally avoidant of some things that would benefit them whether by virtue of religion, politics or religion ideas and values transmitted through their family culture.

but in most cases they get by fine the old fashioned way right up until they need modern medicine or whatever. And even then some folks choose to go their own way.

If an adventurer could succeed without magic they might do what they know and have been taught.

though some conveniences like the very ready access to fire or light or healing would be very hard for even traditionally no magic wielding folk to resist.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Another item might be if they specialize in something mundane tools do better.
Thing is if there is magic as an enhancer then they will do both.
Absolutely. Also; If magic can make blacksmithing better and easier, that just means that blacksmithing will get more advanced. Creative people don’t tend to just sit around in stagnation, they challenge themselves and eachother and figure out new stuff. If magic can cause part of a piece to stay cool while another part becomes very hot, ways to use that to make things you couldn’t otherwise will be developed.
 

But they probably wouldn’t be Rangers (a word which here refers to people who are Wise to the supernatural and go about helping people, so the PCs and thier most useful allies), or would have a much harder time doing the job.

The problem, I suspect, is you're applying that specific meaning to ranger, when other people who want a non-magic ranger aren't; to them its just a concept about a wilderness-wise light fighter/scout. It certainly doesn't automatically evoke anything supernatural to me.
 

Is magic tied to formal training?

if so, economic and social considerations might be a factor.

a poor urchin turned thief may never be shown even rudimentary skills and focus on hand to mouth survival.

now if anyone can learn by trial and error the story changes dramatically! I don’t think it would be common to see folks without magic at all
 

Dausuul

Legend
Magic is only the best way to do everything if you, the creator of the world, choose to make it so.

If, on the other hand, there are things that magic isn't very good at, people who specialize in those things won't use magic.

Personally, I strongly prefer a magic system with weaknesses as well as strengths.
 
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Undrave

Hero
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.
There's also this weird dichotomy where people want their magical adventurers and think magic is common... but somehow magical EQUIPMENT has to absolutely be rare and you can't have 'Magical Flea Markets'. It's one or the other, you can't have both! Either magic is rare or a fighter can deck himself out in magical gear (which I am perfectly fine with for a Mundane Hero in such a world) if they have the coin!
 

pemerton

Legend
So I gather @doctorbadwolf is framing the question from an in-fiction perspective.

What is magic, within the fiction?

Glorantha gives one answer, which @Bluenose has explained upthread - magic is a mode of participating in social life, and so all non-outcasts use it. Another RPG that presented something similar to this is Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed/Evolved - especially in the Mearls-authored supplement Mystic Secrets: The Lore of Word and Rune.

Middle Earth gives a different answer: "magic" can be the closeness to earth/nature of some beings (Elves, Dwarves Hobbits) - and Burning Wheel is the best incorporation of that idea into a RPG that I know of - or can be "spells" which only The Wise can learn, and which is dangerous knowledge on top of that.

Eberron, as I understand it, gives a different answer again: "magic" is technology which is widely available and which doesn't depend upon any particular aspect of character or personality to master (or are Dragonmarks an exception to this? I've never quite got those). So only "luddites" would reject magic.

I don't think there's any answer to the question that can be put forward independent of these matters of culture, history, theology, etc.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
There's also this weird dichotomy where people want their magical adventurers and think magic is common... but somehow magical EQUIPMENT has to absolutely be rare and you can't have 'Magical Flea Markets'. It's one or the other, you can't have both! Either magic is rare or a fighter can deck himself out in magical gear (which I am perfectly fine with for a Mundane Hero in such a world) if they have the coin!
Perseus or the Atlantean Warrior sparkling with magic .... oh and make spells cost cash like rituals do and tada the wizard is not decked out in items as his cash goes to spellcraft.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
The problem, I suspect, is you're applying that specific meaning to ranger, when other people who want a non-magic ranger aren't; to them its just a concept about a wilderness-wise light fighter/scout. It certainly doesn't automatically evoke anything supernatural to me.
Um…this isn’t the Ranger thread, so I doubt it. In the Ranger thread, I’m talking about the D&D Ranger. In this thread I’m not even talking about D&D .
Is magic tied to formal training?

if so, economic and social considerations might be a factor.

a poor urchin turned thief may never be shown even rudimentary skills and focus on hand to mouth survival.
Agreed.
now if anyone can learn by trial and error the story changes dramatically! I don’t think it would be common to see folks without magic at all
So would you design a game with some level of accommodation for players that don’t want a magical character in such a world?
Magic is only the best way to do everything if you, the creator of the world, choose to make it so.

If, on the other hand, there are things that magic isn't very good at, people who specialize in those things won't use magic.

Personally, I strongly prefer a magic system with weaknesses as well as strengths.
I think that if magic is generally useful, it’s just going to be used. Because at some point it becomes weird if society keeps rejecting magic.


One of the issues I have with a lot of fantasy worlds is the dichotomy of ancient magical traditions, and whole ethnic-cultural geographic regions where no group with power to create infrastructure has ever tried to figure out how many people can learn to do it and increase the prevalence of it, even when the world doesn’t view magic as evil or inherently dangerous!
 

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