PREFACE: This editorial is not intended to offend anyone nor
deface any Earth religions, but, rather, to give an accurate a history
Magic is easy. Casting it and finding appropriate casters for the desired spell, however, are not necessarily true.
Why is magic easy? Magic, by Merriam-Webster's definition is supernatural, and super, by at least one definition,
is better than normal. (I admit I tease.) Magic, being supernatural,
explains and makes possible things normally impossible by mortal means.
Magic is the catch-all, the thing that creates meteors, causes people
to fall at your feet in reverence, and bring the dead back to life.
When designers want something mystertious to happen, it's usually by
magic just as how blacks were blamed in America in the twentieth
century's first half for the world's troubles. This is admittedly a
partially true oversimplification.
Why is this? Magic is mysterious and seemingly inexplicable to
outsiders. Traditionally, magic is flashy and ritualistic. (Terry
Pratchett's The Light Fantastic, Sourcery, and Equal Rites give insight on how Discworld Wizards view magic. Avid Final Fantasy Tactics
players should agree: FFT magic flasiness was largely proportionate to
power.) Magic is novel, and since secrets are considered more
interesting than common knowledge, magical 'secrets' are expected to
deliver. Ever since Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, and company conceived Dungeons & Dragons in Chainmail, magic has been flashy. It was a fireball spell that turned a catapult into a Wizard.
What are the alternatives? The first is to remove magic. RPGs sans
magic generally seem like Caffeine Free Diet Mountain Dew: What's the
point? Without magic, your typical sword & sorcery minus-sorcery
RPGs turns into a war game, adventure game, or some other genre.
Another, perhaps the other alternative is to change the setting. If
Arthur C Clarke's "Truly highly-advanced technology is
indistinguishable from magic" is correct, then space seemingly has the
answers. Change some names, like gold or gil to credits or dollars,
bows to blasters, planes to planets, magical experiments to genetic
engineering, and magic to psionics and you're set, right?
Not so fast. While magic is meant to be enigmatic to outsiders,
modern and probably futurisitc science should be explainable by some
means. I don't understand all of what goes on in a star, for example,
but I also know that some people can explain it in enough details by
which I can sleep. Psionics, then, can only go so far. Assuming
psionics is scientifically explicable and assuming nothing supernatural
is actively at work, there are some issues. First, matter can't be
created nor destroyed, merely changed. That rules out fireballs
unless the psion can get them from somewhere. Second, while there is
the faint possibility of some futuristic method of physically reviving
the dead, will they be able to think? Will they have a soul? Will they
need one? While the System Shock series has its bio-reconstruction chambers, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
has The Force which mysteriously automatically returns 0HP party
members to 1HP after battles, I can believe only so much in these
circumstances before I realize that this is a game.
Assuming the dead can't be revived, how do we handle these things
assuming we're making a game? First, we could assume that death is
permanent. In the proper setting, like NetHack, this is appropriate, however annoying. If players know that death is real
death, they will act differently, but if they can just save and reload
through all dangers, this facet is lost. (Those who learned to back up
their NetHack saves still can reload.) We could also assume that some
sort of funky technology exists to revive people on the verge of death
so many times which effectively grant the player 'lives,' regardless of
saves. These two methods work best in MMORPGs where people can't just
reload. Finally, there is the reincarnation chamber as found in GalaxyWeb: Stellar Epoch
where dead players are revived over the course of three to four minutes
at the nearest medical center and accrue debt. (You can make a GWSE
account here.) To me this just feels cheap and makes life not so valuable, but opinions will differ.
With that established, how do we go about handling 'magic' in this
space setting? We could grant the power to psions, certainly. Suddenly,
the elementalist is a pyrokinetic ('mental fire spewer') or cryokinetic
('mental freezer') perchance with some telekinetics ('remote movement')
and psychometabolist ('status caster') for good measure. Still there is
the problem of life.
Magic, while traditionally flashy and mysterious, still holds the most logical answer to life and its giving and returning.