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Why Not Magic?

I think you might want a broad palette for characters. You want them to have options. If there is a cost to magic it matters. Perhaps it’s unpredictable or dangerous.

maybe some people are honored for doing it the hard way. Some warrior traditions are not totally efficient so to speak but the honor and adherence to a code matters.

maybe if you want to have magic use be common but not universal maybe it’s an aptitude or inheritance that skills can match in some facets but it’s not easy for every individual even if it’s present in every society as a whole? Just thinking out loud.

I would love to be able to teleport and would have a hard time saying no to the power!

eldritch blast would be pretty keen…
 

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Garthanos

Arcadian Knight

Garthanos said:

The character might even be a throwback. If most of the world is using a form of formal magic sharply defined and delineated the individual may be using a subtle informal manifestation from an earlier era. And be learning his own way.

@doctorbadwolf One might add this to your story line ... they might be derided as throwbacks and primitivists or wilders or something. And while you can add ways they learn new empowered effects perhaps it even seems accidental.
 

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 .

Don't take this wrong, man--but it isn't about you. Its about how the people wanting a non-magic ranger are seeing it. The description I gave is much older and has a much bigger footprint than any more specific one. It goes back to all kinds of archetypes that predate Aragorn even, and if that's how they think of it, that's how they're going to see it whether you, I or anyone else thinks its relevant.

More broadly, some people have specific ideas about certain concepts they want to engage with, and if the setting doesn't want them to, they'll either walk away from it or fight with the setting. Yes, that latter's a problem, but its also reality.
 
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I don’t really understand a thing, and I’d like to.

[snip]

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

I know players of 4 different types of motivations for this:
  1. Because it comes with other benefits
  2. For the Challenge
  3. Avoid the Complexity
  4. Because it's thematically appropriate
Other Benefits...
In D&D 5E, that's
  • Fighter: more HP, better with weapons
  • Barbarian: more HP, better with weapons (but not as far as fighters), increased stat maximum for ST & Con
  • Rogue: better damage, better stealth, can actually learn skills to better levels than any other class
In Tunnels and Trolls, I may as well discuss all 4 "Types" (core classes) from the 5E rules and the explicit one and implied one from the 1E Monsters! Monsters! rules:
  • Core
    • Warrior: double armor's value (damage reduction), but cannot cast spells by any means. (Some later editions increase combat adds, as well)
    • Wizard: reduce spell costs by (CL-SL; can further reduce by using a staff, cannot use weapons with 3D or more combat potential. (Daggers, staves, and slings all have 2d base, but various adds/subtracts to/from those 2d. At higher levels, can create spells
    • Rogue: Can cast spells, but cannot reduce spell costs. Can use any weapon or armor at base. Cannot buy spells from the guild.
    • Warrior-Wizard (later called Paragon): reduce spell costs by (CL-SL)/2, reduce with staff, +1 to value of worn armor, +1 to shield's Armor
  • Monsters! Monsters!
    • Monster: kindred specific special abilities, unarmed damage = level. Can cast spells, can use weapons. Cannot reduce spell costs, cannot reduce magic costs by either means.
    • Normal Man (implied): do not know magic, but can be taught like rogues; cannot reduce the costs. Can use any weapons Do not gain any other bonuses.
T&T Warriors suck up damage. In actual play, they make saving rolls to do things that allow them to take others' share of damage. It's not actually written in the rules that way, but it's part of the game that is implied strongly enough that most think it is. It's also worth noting that damage in T&T is to Con, so fighters don't actually have significantly more damage capacity than wizards... Deluxe has shuffled things a bit, but basically, the core is the same, tho' a bunch of "specialists" exist (one per attribute), all characters get one talent (rogues get a second), Normal Men are formally a class, but have to roll to cast every spell, and thei get to increase a talent every level by 1.

For the Challenge
Some players simply like the challenge of not using all the available advantages.

To avoid the complexities of the Magic System
Most games magic systems add complexity to the character in excess of non-magical abilities. This is VERY true in D&D and T&T.
It's not particularly true in L5R 5E, since other kinds of abilities use the same mechanics, but spells have more limitations.

Because it's thematically appropriate.
Some players choose to play non-casters simply because the genre includes protagonists who aren't spellcasters. For example, in Ars Magica, it's thematic for non-mages to be part of the party, either as primary or secondary characters, because Mages have limits on allowed actions (due to setting guild rules, not mechanics), which custos characters do not.
 

Shadowedeyes

Explorer
This thread has moved quickly. Anyway, after some clarification, I think it is perfectly fine to have a setting where the assumption is that everyone will have some level of magic. If the mechanics have a flaw system of some sort, you could have a non-magic/magic adverse flaw, like some systems set in the modern day have a flaw about technology use. This kind of setting will not appeal to some players, but that is pretty much the case for any setting really.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
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!

Most fantasy authors are not sociologists, or experts in human behavior. They tend to write monocultures and sketches of cultures, and do not have time for nuance as their character tries to defeat Gororath the acid-spewing great wyrm, or whatever it is.

When you say that no group has ever tried, I think you are mistaking "tried" for "succeeded". Maybe groups have tried, but didn't manage to have an impact, for social, political, technical, or economic reasons, and so don't really bear mentioning as Gorgorath melts the city walls with its caustic emissions. An extended discussion about how one group tried, but failed, to teach magic broadly a hundred years ago, and if they'd succeeded, today Gorgorath would be met with an onslought of a thousand fireballs, but since they didn't the hero's love interest got swallowed whole, may not be a great story beat.

Also, the world not viewing magic as evil of inherently dangerous sounds like a generalization eliding into a mono-cultural trait. What does it mean that "the world doesn't view" things a certain way? What percentage of the population does that mean? How reasonable is it to expect a very high percentage of the population to share the same belief and be correct at the same time?
 

Cadence

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

I think this gets at my approach to the question. What is the parallel between Magic in your world and Engineering/Science/Medicine in ours? Which time period of it does your world seem closer to ours in terms of superstition, folk-medicine, anti-industrialization, alchemy, internet addiction, etc...? Not every capable person in the modern world has lots of training in engineering, science, or medicine, but they are seemingly at a severe disadvantage in some ways if they close off some of the options available to them.

So would you design a game with some level of accommodation for players that don’t want a magical character in such a world?

If I were making a modern or futuristic campaign, I don't think I'd make anything special for characters who didn't want to use any products of science/medicine or didn't have an at least high school level knowledge of science and a basic first aid course. On the other hand that feels different than making a game where the characters are required to be a scientist or EMT/nurse/M.D. Which level of magic involvement are you aiming for?

I think for any campaign idea there are players somewhere who will rebel just for the sake of rebelling (wanting an ancient Egyptian type character in your Japanese inspired game, an elf in your world based on real medieval Europe that's all humans, a paladin in your breaking the law heist game, etc... ) or some folks who just aren't inspired by a particular game idea (don't want sci-fi, or fantasy, or old west, or whatnot). So I'd say that if everyone else is on board, not everyone needs to play all the time.

More broadly, some people have specific ideas about certain concepts they want to engage with, and if the setting doesn't want them to, they'll either walk away from it or fight with the setting. Yes, that latter's a problem, but its also reality.
Is it the setting not wanting? Or is it them not wanting?

It feels like there is a difference between someone who likes most board games but really dislikes a few, and someone who only likes a couple board games. The later isn't a problem if the person isn't in a board game group, or is in a group dedicated to those couple games. But it would be if they think they're going to enjoy being part of a board game club. (For the person who likes all but a few, the question is then if the group never supposed to play those games vs. plays them sometimes vs. deciding to play those games a lot).
 
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Dausuul

Legend
I feel like there are a number of assumptions that many people default to in these discussions, which all boil down to "magic is just like technology":
  1. Magic is generally safe to use.
  2. Magic can be used by anybody.
  3. Magic is not shackled to a particular scarce resource.
  4. Magic offers practical benefits in every sphere of human life.
Take any one of these away, and there's no question why you'd have non-magic-using people. Arcane magic in Dark Sun, for example, violates #1 and #3: Magic is very unsafe, and it depends on a scarce and dwindling resource. (A lot of early D&D fiction also implies that magic requires inborn talent, violating #2; but I'm not sure if that's ever been explicitly stated in Dark Sun.)
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
This thread has moved quickly. Anyway, after some clarification, I think it is perfectly fine to have a setting where the assumption is that everyone will have some level of magic. If the mechanics have a flaw system of some sort, you could have a non-magic/magic adverse flaw, like some systems set in the modern day have a flaw about technology use. This kind of setting will not appeal to some players, but that is pretty much the case for any setting really.
Yeah that is definitely an option, I just wonder if there might be value in finding a place that makes sense without a “magical Luddite” flaw or whatever. At this point I may have to make a different thread for the idea of having to eschew magic in order to train and maintain the ability to shut magic down and be especially resistant to it.

In my world I do have an order of knights who serve the Red Dragon of Wales, who specialize in countering magic. Right now they have allies who are part of secret orders that preserved what they could of the old Druidic traditions and adapted them over the centuries, I could make the dichotomy much clearer and have the Knights rely entirely on the Druidic Orders for magical work.

The question is, would that provide a good basis for fully mundane characters for the people who want them, or would it be a waste of effort I could put elsewhere. I don’t know.
Most fantasy authors are not sociologists, or experts in human behavior. They tend to write monocultures and sketches of cultures, and do not have time for nuance as their character tries to defeat Gororath the acid-spewing great wyrm, or whatever it is.
That’s bad writing. Like…even mediocre authors do a little research and spend some time thinking about how to make their world make sense, and features some noticeable degree of nuance.
When you say that no group has ever tried, I think you are mistaking "tried" for "succeeded". Maybe groups have tried, but didn't manage to have an impact, for social, political, technical, or economic reasons, and so don't really bear mentioning as Gorgorath melts the city walls with its caustic emissions. An extended discussion about how one group tried, but failed, to teach magic broadly a hundred years ago, and if they'd succeeded, today Gorgorath would be met with an onslought of a thousand fireballs, but since they didn't the hero's love interest got swallowed whole, may not be a great story beat.
I’m probably not mistaking the intent of my own words, but skipping past that, being threatened by a big monster wouldn’t stop people from trying to develop better weapons, and vanishingly few fantasy stories I’ve ever read feature societies that are constantly under threat.

This seems pretty tangential, as well. Why are we arguing the fine particulars of fantasy worldbuilding instead of discussing the question of why characters in a world where they could learn magic would choose not to, what might allow such characters to exist and make sense for the benefit of players with that preference in spite of magic being generally learnable and not evil or dangerously erratic, and why in worlds like Eberron do we not see more magic in the use of “mundane” warriors?

In my Eberron any “professional” soldier/mercenary/whatever will generally spend the time to learn a couple rituals and cantrips so they have enough magical grounding to use a combat wand or stave, and every nation has soldiers who can perform some apprentice level magewright tasks, at least, because every martial tradition recognized the practical benefits of doing so, outside of maybe ancient Dakaan.
Also, the world not viewing magic as evil of inherently dangerous sounds like a generalization eliding into a mono-cultural trait. What does it mean that "the world doesn't view" things a certain way? What percentage of the population does that mean? How reasonable is it to expect a very high percentage of the population to share the same belief and be correct at the same time?
Does the world view electricity as inherently dangerous or evil? No. There being pockets of groups who do doesn’t make the general statement false. We are not obligated to constantly provide caveats and addendums to every general statement we make.

I feel like there are a number of assumptions that many people default to in these discussions, which all boil down to "magic is just like technology":
  1. Magic is generally safe to use.
  2. Magic can be used by anybody.
  3. Magic is not shackled to a particular scarce resource.
  4. Magic offers practical benefits in every sphere of human life.
Take any one of these away, and there's no question why you'd have non-magic-using people. Arcane magic in Dark Sun, for example, violates #1 and #3: Magic is very unsafe, and it depends on a scarce and dwindling resource. (A lot of early D&D fiction also implies that magic requires inborn talent, violating #2; but I'm not sure if that's ever been explicitly stated in Dark Sun.)
I think you can take 4 away no problem, as long as it provides practical benefits to some common facets of life. 2, is also a matter of degree but also of things like “is it inherited?” and “is it purely inherent or do people without the spark or whatever just have to work harder and are more limited?” and especially “how common is the spark or whatever?”

But of course in the OP I do assume everyone can learn at least some magic, in hopes of giving the thread a little bit of direction.
 

Bluenose

Adventurer
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?
Revolts happen. Not necessarily successful ones, but some are (usually if they're supported by the wealthy urban peasantry, who can afford time to train as part of their militia duties and can hire mercenary professionals from outside the realm to do some of the harder fighting).

I will note that I over-simplified by talking of "Western" culture. It's true from the point of view of how they approach magic (officially), and something of the caste system is found in nearly all places where that's true. But like Christianity or Islam, there's a lot of different cultures that practice the religious/magical aspects - and some of them are rather strange about it in the way the Taiping were "Christian". Some of them encourage caste progression, so a peasant who excels in their militia exercises might be approached to try to become a knight, and maybe later a wizard and even a lord. Although if you start off as the son of a knight then your chance of having the skills that are needed to become a knight yourself are much higher, but officially you will also start your career in some sort of peasant career.
 

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.

There could be a metaphysical reason why some rare folks lack the magical trait. It could be an organ that some people are born without (or have a disease or injury that damages it). It could be their count of midi-chlorians (noooo!) It could be a spiritual angle, like a divine curse. It could be the result of a magical calamity (did they cause it or were they collateral damage?).

In many game systems, a player who chooses to play such a character might gain other benefits. It might be a disadvantage in GURPS giving them points to spend on other advantages, attributes, or skills. Or a class designed to be mundane that has other bennies (like more hit points or whatever). This can be rationalized as an explanation for how this individual has survived up to the starting point of the campaign. Through luck or grit or quirks of their background, they were able to become especially good at their schtick.

An intriguing possibility might be to also make these rare folks more resistant to magic. Might just be better saving throws (or whatever analog you've got). Or they might dampen the mana field, interfering with magical activity in their vicinity. Or some such. This would have bigger social repercussions and might not be to every player or group's taste.
 

Mustrum_Ridcully

Adventurer
Well, why don't people learn to read and write or do maths? Why do people not learn how to wield heavy armor and longswords?
I figure often it is the lack of opportunity. They just don't have access to the education.
Or does in your game mean learning to speak or read and write that you automatically pick up some magic tricks - if spells are just words of power, maybe some can be tought to a baby, and it can say the "Kaka-Go-Away-Spell" instead of needing to go too the toilet. In such a world, it's extremely unlikely you would not pick up magic, because you basically have to deliberately go out of your way at an age where you can't make such decisions, which suggests that the parents decided you shouldn't learn it.

The next step is - how long does it take to get better at something without magic that it's easier to learn magic to get better at the skill?

In D&D, the Fighter never learns to cast spells, and he gets better at his job ,and he goes toe to toe with dragons and giants. However, in the process of getting there he will usually pick up magc items.
I haven't experienced any gamers that were unwilling to do that for their otherwise non-magical characters. Though I am definitely personally part of the gamers that would prefer if the "math" of the game system doesn't require something boring as +X weapons just to make the math work out. It feels to me like it just turns magic into something too mundane. That's more something that you could do with technology, and say that at some point 9mm bullets or .22 caliber weapons aren't sufficient anymore, if you want to deal with dragon (body) armor, you need .45 Magnum, 5.54mm 7.72mm or whatever.

However, if your Fighter starts learning spells at some level, or you can only take 10 levels of fighters but characters can go from Level 1 to 40 and you could be a Level 40 Wizard, it becomes obvious that you need magic at some point or you just can't meaningful get better at a skill, or at least the type of tasks you can accomplish with pure skill. Maybe if you state this beforehand, it's no big deal to players that you can't make non-magical characters. However, if one could be a Level 40 Fighter and he can get away with no spells but not a Level 40 Rogue without spells, some might ask why you can get better at a physical skill like fighting that you never need to pick up spells, but to pick locks and sneak around you must learn magic?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
The question is, would that provide a good basis for fully mundane characters for the people who want them, or would it be a waste of effort I could put elsewhere. I don’t know.

So... I'll give a different perspective on this - that's a business decision. Building in-world justifications and game design elements comes after deciding whether these items matter in terms of your goals for what you are building.

For example, we can think of four cases:
1) I am building this for my own table or local community
2) I am building this just for the experience of building it.
3) I am building it to get 1000 sales over 5 years
4) I am building it to be the next Paizo

Each of these have different answers to the question, "Would this be a waste of effort?"

So, what are your goals?

That’s bad writing.

Others might say it is focused writing. Fafhrd and Grey Mouser walk through a world largely lacking in detailed history of failed projects, for example.

I’m probably not mistaking the intent of my own words, but skipping past that, being threatened by a big monster wouldn’t stop people from trying to develop better weapons, and vanishingly few fantasy stories I’ve ever read feature societies that are constantly under threat.

I think the point didn't hit home. My point is that when there's a big monster, nobody gives a whit about whether anyone tried a thing in the past that didn't work out. The world-building you see in a work is that which turns out to be relevant to the conflicts in the work. That which isn't relevant is largely absent.

If that history is absent, then, "nobody ever thought to try," becomes an unfounded assumption. Unless you are introducing a plot element about it, whether anyone has ever tried it in the past is not relevant to whatever present crisis the characters are engaged in. It isn't bad writing or worldbuilding - it is just not writing about items of no consequence.

Why are we arguing the fine particulars of fantasy worldbuilding instead of discussing...

Um... we are talking about it because you brought up having an issue with a lot of fantasy worldbuilding. And, when you are engaged in a worldbuilding question, the point that there's often unanswered questions in the worldbuilding seemed pretty relevant.

Does the world view electricity as inherently dangerous or evil? No. There being pockets of groups who do doesn’t make the general statement false. We are not obligated to constantly provide caveats and addendums to every general statement we make.

Wow. You have completely missed the point.

Let me try this way - what the world believes, in general, is not binding on individuals in that world. In the midst of a general belief, there are still likely to be notable minorities who do not hold that belief, and in doing so they may be irrelevant fringe or they may be impactful on the world, depending on the details of the situation.

I mean, look out the window. We live in a society that largely believes that education is a good thing, and in theory, everyone can get a high school degree at no cost other than time and effort. But, overall, the US has about a 5% high school dropout rate. Why does anyone choose to not graduate from high school?

This concept holds even more true for PCs. If you set forth a particular type for a culture, playing against that type is a fairly obvious choice in terms of both role-playing and tactical challenges. The more you stress how everyone has magic, the stronger the invitation to be contrary and subvert the trope, because it makes the "what if?" question even more pronounced and important.

You ask why people would choose to do other than follow the norm. I'm handing you answers to that question, and seem to be accusing me of requiring caveats and addendums. I'm not. I'm answering your question.
 
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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
what the world believes, in general, is not binding on individuals in that world.
What the world believes is what is relevant to the specific point I was making when I brought it up, which is that institutions and traditions exist in whatever forms they exist as a result of what the world believes, in general.

Broad belief isn't required for a thing to become a tradition, but if the belief is broad that the thing is useful and not evil or inherently dangerous to mess with, it will probably be encouraged and gain traction in some societies as part of that society's traditions.

eg, in Eberron magic is scientific, useful, reliable, etc, and so learning to be a blacksmith involves learning some small amount of magic. Baker recently made a post about weapons tech in Eberron, noting that in his Eberron crossbows are "mundane" in that they don't do any overt magical things, but their construction involves magical processes that make a crossbow that can be reloaded very quickly while providing great range and power. In short, truly mundane crossbow tech is pretty basic, but the common crossbow isn't truly mundane, it's basically magitech.

Those sorts of things exist in Eberron because they are the rational outcome of a world that views, and is right to view, magic in that way.

So the outgrowth from this line of discussion, for me, is to consider what "mundane" actually means in a world, rather than just taking for granted that the common usage of the term makes the most sense. Perhaps in a world like Eberron, we can simply consider the level 1 Fighter to have magical principles of self-empowerment, healing, and body mechanics, as seemlessly integrated aspects of their martial training, and not something they'd have to go to a special gish school for.
 

You realize this literally isn’t the Ranger thread, right?

Yes, but you asked a question about why people felt that way (its right in the title of the thead). As such, what other people think is still just as relevant, and what you feel is just as much not. Nor, in the end, does it make any difference what makes sense in an in-world context.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Yes, but you asked a question about why people felt that way (its right in the title of the thead). As such, what other people think is still just as relevant, and what you feel is just as much not. Nor, in the end, does it make any difference what makes sense in an in-world context.
Well, no. I asked why characters would choose to not use magic, and you decided to swoop in a thread crap with baggage from another thread. Please stop.
 

Well, no. I asked why characters would choose to not use magic, and you decided to swoop in a thread crap with baggage from another thread. Please stop.

I didn't ever even see the other thread (I still haven't); the only reason I knew about it was you referenced it, and rangers.

And I think trying to separate what the players think from what the characters think is, if not a waste of time, still assuming most people will draw a sharper line there than I have any sign they'll do. Note I mentioned earlier that even if it makes sense in the world, many players will either just not participate if forced that way, or participate and act like its not true.

Now if you want to act like everyone, or even a majority of people will ignore what they feel because its not entirely congruent with the setting, well, carry on; maybe the kind of players you've hit are better about that than the average run. But don't be surprised if you hit people who don't. And no adjustment of the setting, per se, will change that; its a less extreme version of the people who play some version of the same character no matter where the game is set or even what genre, and those aren't exactly rare, either.

[Edit: to make it clear, I'm not trying to threadcrap; I'm just suggesting that the issue you're looking at isn't entirely possible to handle at the setting design end. Its another case where you have to get full and genuine buy-in by people, and I'm not sold that's all that entirely common. I watched someone stubbornly insist on building someone with no magic and no cyberware in a Shadowrun 1e game many a year ago, and that was a setting, character convention and system that really counterselected for that, but he did it anyway].
 

Let me step this back: do you actually care what results you're going to get in-play from your setting decisions? Because your reactions to both Umbran and my posts suggests not. If not I'll step out, because the point I'm making is irrelevant to you.
 

jdrakeh

Adventurer
For me, it honestly depends on the nature of the magic in a given setting. In D&D (and most D&D-derived settings) there's little to no consequence or downside to using magic so, sure, I think most people would use it, given the opportunity. But you get into settings like the Old World (WFRP), Melnibone (Stormbringer), Hyborian Age Earth (Conan RPGs), etc and, suddenly, magic is a wild and dangerous thing that not only could screw you pretty bad if you practice it, but it's usually linked to the forces of chaos or evil. In these settings, it makes a lot of sense for heroes to eschew its practice.
 

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