2009-04-30 : Magical Magic
It's a perennial topic on the Forge's First Thoughts forum, and elsewhere. Somebody's like "this one game I played, the magic seemed really magical, you know? And I want that again," or else "in the games I've played, the magic's never really seemed magical, you know? And I want it to." They're certain that magical magic is within the purview of the roleplaying form, but how did they get it that one time (if they did), and how can they make sure it happens in the future?
I have a proposal for how we've gotten it in the past, those of us who have. It builds upon this post in particular:
2009-04-10 : A Moment of Judgment
And incorporates side points from these, so maybe go refresh yourself if you aren't in a rush:
Re: For Rafial: interesting play in Poison'd (at the Forge)
2008-09-29 : Creative Tension
2008-05-12 : Expressionism in Roleplaying
2008-03-01 : Respecting the fiction
Here's my proposal.
(a) There's a person responsible for judging cause and effect in the game. Let's call her Gina Marie because that's usually how it works, but of course it's not necessary that she be the GM. Her judgment calls maybe include assigning mechanical bonuses, or may limit themselves to setting ranges of possibility for what happens next.
(b) The player in question, let's call him Abe, trusts G.M. to fulfill her responsibility rightly, and she in fact makes good. When she makes a surprising call - which she does, that's part of what makes her good at this - even when it's against Abe personally, he can always see its rightness.
So far, this is straight out of "a Moment of Judgment," common as anything in roleplaying.
(c) Moreover, though, G.M. has (innately, or cultivated) a poetic, maybe ironic, maybe symbolically dense aesthetic she's bringing to bear on her judgments. If you skipped it, please go read that Forge post of mine about Poison'd. It's short and SO to the point.
So put 'em together and what you've got is (pardon the crudity, this is an approximately real example of J's of a time when magic felt magical to him): with plain rockets your character's rocket launcher obviously won't hurt Tiamat, but if your rocket launcher fires dildos instead, maybe then it can.
A person is bringing her aesthetic sense of magic into her judgments about cause and effect. Since her job is to make judgments about cause and effect, and since her aesthetics aren't identical to the players', aren't predictable, but also are right to the players, the effect upon the game's system is that magic works in a startling, delightful, symbolically rich, magical way.
...But, well, back to that perennial Forge thread. The person just wrote "other than 'find a GM with a sense of magic and turn cause and effect over to her,' how do I make magic seem magical?" - but then he inevitably spends the second half of the post proposing rules whose arrows point the wrong way. The helpful people at the Forge respond by proposing more rules whose arrows also point the wrong way, and so of course nothing comes of it. Nobody I know of has STILL designed that game.
I don't know yet - it's surely not a triviality - but I think that the right set of cloud-outward rules could do it. You could bring the designer's magical aesthetic into the game's judgment of cause and effect, that'd be one way. Another way would be to set the group (or a player) up to judge cause and effect, and provoke them (or her) to develop magical aesthetics to bring to bear. Both seem possible to me, but both seem kind of hard.
1. On 2009-04-30, Paul T. said:
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