I prefer my magic...
Unrestrained
22.3% (25)
22.3% (25)
Principled (ruled by laws of nature)
63.4% (71)
63.4% (71)
Other
12.5% (14)
12.5% (14)
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Poll: Magic: How does it work best?

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I'm a fan of fantasy. Well...I'm mostly a fan of fantasy. The one that that often drags it down for me? Magic. It's probably one of the first things people think about they think of fantasy, but to me it is often the thing that breaks the fiction.

Why do I hate it so much? I just feel it often becomes a crutch for the writers. It's a cop-out. A major plot point can occur, with incomprehensible events at its core. And the explanation might often be little more than that old saying: "A wizard did it".

This is something that bothers me in the Dragon Age universe, and not just the first game. If they need some big terrible even, either current or historical, they will often just blame it on magic (and especially blood magic). No more explanation needed.

To contrast this, I present a book series that does the opposite. Patrick Rothfuss' Kingkiller Chronicles (consisting so far of two books: The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear) bounds magic in principles. The main character learns the arcane arts, but the process of learning sounds more like a physics or chemistry lesson than typical magic. There's cause and effect. There are limitations, and crossing those limits can mean ending your life in the process. And to me, this is far more interesting than unbound and unlimited power. How do arcanists accomplish their goal within the rules of their magic? Do they take a chance, pushing themselves to the brink of death to do what needs to be done? It prevents a constant state of problem-solving. And it leads to more intriguing moral dilemmas.

So which of these, if either, do you prefer? Do you prefer your magic to be unbound, infinite power only limited by the will of the one wielding it? Or would you rather it be more systematic, a more limited magic that forces the ones use it to think and execute carefully? Or is it neither? Perhaps you've experienced something better than both ways, or you prefer a balance.

I think magic is most interesting when it's subtle but powerful, like the magic in Song of Ice and Fire. Though the overt kind of magic found in, say, the Forgotten Realms setting is also interesting because it's something people can depend on, so it makes lots of new occupations and such possible that I think are interesting to explore in writing.

Reminds me of alchemy from FMA. I always like the idea of magic that is grounded a bit by physics or nature.

I think magic is cool in fantasy, but I think it should like you said be limited to not made a character seem limitless.

Not necessarily founded in the laws of nature a la what Rothfuss is doing (although that is awesome), but there should be rules. Boundaries that you lay down, and don't cross without explaining it well. Harry Potter kept pulling out new spells that totally changed the game - there were no rules, just convenience. It's okay if it doesn't conform to nature - it's MAGIC. But you lay down the rules, a good sense what can and can't be done, and then explore the consequences of living in a story where that's possible.

I'm a fan of the wizardry, sorcery and warlock style magic in D&D. I like how it co-exists and yet is related.

I hate 'throw your arms out, yell and whatever happens in a flashy way' style magic. I like my mages to have limitations and to have to earn their art.

DarkishFriend:
Reminds me of alchemy from FMA. I always like the idea of magic that is grounded a bit by physics or nature.

I recently watched a few episodes of Fullmetal Alchemist, and its alchemy does have very similar rules to The Kingkiller Chronicles' sympathy (that's the word they use for that particular arcane art). Though sympathy is still not as powerful as alchemy. Not to say it isn't dangerous, though. That's pretty far from the truth.

Unrestrained - Once you're committed to implementing magic in your story. It feels wrong to place limitations on it's abilities and power.

I'm of the idea that magic should be able to accomplish anything in the world. The limiting factors would only come in the form of resources or a lack of knowledge needed to cast a given spell.

I love magic, but I agree that it should be grounded a bit and have clearly defined rules. I'm not saying they should go as for as to ruin the mystique of it by explaining EVERYTHING about it, but it should be grounded enough so as not to be used as all purpose plot insulation.

Magic? How does it work?

Seriously though, I think if there's going to be magic in a medium, there should be some rules about how it works, and not just a giant Deus Ex Machina

Obviously it depends on the game or series I am playing/watching/reading, but I really like how magic is handled in GOT, for example. Theres still a few magical beings here and there but the series is very much grounded in reality. Not once does something happen because "magic lol".

babinro:
-comment-

That avatar. You just had to comment in this thread, didn't you? :D

OT: Well, I like my magic bound in principles. The problem is that that may not mean much if there are principles we are not aware of and as such "A wizard did it" is still a viable explanation. Smiley Face mentioned the Harry Potter series. And yes, it is an example. At one point a time travelling device pops up only to be used once ever - it's not even mentioned after that book. There are spells and magical potions/stuff that, although codiefied, still almost end up as deus ex machinas.

"A wizard did it" is not only for the unrestrained magical systems. Another example - the other Harry - Harry Dresden, manages to come against stuff even he didn't know before. Magic still technically works by the rules, it's just that neither the reader nor the protagonist knew exactly what the rules are.

It's still better if we get a satisfying explanation why or how something happened. A minor example, in the Dresden-verse, wizards live longer than normal humans. They can comfortably hit 100 years and go a bit beyond that (assuming they are not killed). It seems like a fairly normal thing - in lots of settings wizards live longer. In the Dresden-verse, it turns out that their bodies regenerate cells better (including cells that die of old age), so their bodies do live longer according to natural principles.

And another example - in the very first book (also the first episode of the TV series) somebody kills people with magic from afar. But the problem, from Harry's perspective, is that it's pretty much impossible to do this due to the immense amount of power it would require. And there is actually a reasonable explanation how a wizard manages to do it.

SmashLovesTitanQuest:
Obviously it depends on the game or series I am playing/watching/reading, but I really like how magic is handled in GOT, for example. Theres still a few magical beings here and there but the series is very much grounded in reality. Not once does something happen because "magic lol".

Yeah, it's good. The Valyrian Steel weapons are a simple, grounded use of magic, and then there's the sheer amount of people being all "look at me! I are magical!" and a lot of them turn out to be blowhards.

The greenseers also possess a decent, grounded ability, albeit one that's got some very diverse uses.

Predictable to a degree but anything you want. If you do the same actions, speak the same words, concentrate the same way, the effect should be the same. If you make a fireball on Tuesday and do the same thing on Thursday it should not be a tornado. However, you should also be able to develop new spells if you want. The pre-spell plague Forgotten Realms was the best imo. Post-spell plague there is too much that is unpredictable.

Binnsyboy:

SmashLovesTitanQuest:
Obviously it depends on the game or series I am playing/watching/reading, but I really like how magic is handled in GOT, for example. Theres still a few magical beings here and there but the series is very much grounded in reality. Not once does something happen because "magic lol".

Yeah, it's good. The Valyrian Steel weapons are a simple, grounded use of magic, and then there's the sheer amount of people being all "look at me! I are magical!" and a lot of them turn out to be blowhards.

The greenseers also possess a decent, grounded ability, albeit one that's got some very diverse uses.

I actually havent read the books (yet) so I wont be reading that, hehe. Thinking about ordering them but I dunno man... I can see myself reading all 4 books, being hyped up for the next one, and then Martin dies from a heart attack or something.

Bit of both to be honest.

Dresden Files is one the best example of magic that I have heard of.

All of it follows rules, i.e. If you want fire, then you have to put in the energy, either from yourself or from your surroundings, then afterwards it behaves exactly like fire does normally. If you want it to stay around for longer, or start doing strange things, then you have to put a lot more effort in.

However, there are also types of magic in that series that aren't from this reality, so they behave as such. But, to use them is to go mad since your playing with stuff that isn't meant to be anywhere near you.

I know it may be crazy but I actually deeply love the way the Eragon series does magic. Like how if you can see a connection between water and a diamond, you could simply say "water" and make a diamond (well only if you had enough energy). I don't know, Harry Potters magic was wrong, and other series have done it well (although I don't actually like A Song of Fire and Ice's magic).

SmashLovesTitanQuest:

Binnsyboy:

SmashLovesTitanQuest:
Obviously it depends on the game or series I am playing/watching/reading, but I really like how magic is handled in GOT, for example. Theres still a few magical beings here and there but the series is very much grounded in reality. Not once does something happen because "magic lol".

Yeah, it's good. The Valyrian Steel weapons are a simple, grounded use of magic, and then there's the sheer amount of people being all "look at me! I are magical!" and a lot of them turn out to be blowhards.

The greenseers also possess a decent, grounded ability, albeit one that's got some very diverse uses.

I actually havent read the books (yet) so I wont be reading that, hehe. Thinking about ordering them but I dunno man... I can see myself reading all 4 books, being hyped up for the next one, and then Martin dies from a heart attack or something.

Well, I would prefer it if you could refrain from killing George R.R. Martin with your cursed luck... really though, they're very engrossing books, with one of the most expansive plots I've ever seen.

And the next book's been in production for a while, so it'll probably get released before you kill him :P

Principled.

I generally think of magic as being a distortion of the normal laws of physics within an area that don't actually break the primary rules, causing heat energy to flow against its normal gradient in order to form a fireball for example (as opposed to creating energy from nothing). The greater the distortion, the greater the resistance, with the spring-back once it is released possibly releasing a great deal of energy in unpredictable ways if caution is not used. One would have to deal with other effects as well, such as finding a safe manner to collect the heat used for the earlier fireball (I can imagine quite a few would be apprentices being found frozen solid after making the attempt)

I always think magic needs to have some rules and limits other wise plot holes the size of the milky way can start forming.

Magic is overpowered. I like my magic in the background, maybe serving some plot elements, but with no actual mages of any sort. It forces people to solve problems with their wits and good old mundane items, not cast some stupid spell that gets past any situation.

Uh, in D&D, that is.

In books/movies, I don't really mind unrestrained, badly explained magic. I understand your point that pseudo-science beats "it just works that way," but for me it's just not a big deal. Of course, other things equal, I wouldn't mind some logic and some rules behind it, as long as it doesn't get needlessly complicated and interfere with storytelling.

DoPo:

babinro:
-comment-

That avatar. You just had to comment in this thread, didn't you? :D

Of course! Needless to say I was disappointed by the actual subject matter.

I prefer if magic could achieve anything, in kingkiller chronicles it seems to be very powerful. But it should need some resources or talent or something else.

Most important, a set of rules for the magic should be established and every magic in the story should work within these boundaries.

babinro:
Of course! Needless to say I was disappointed by the actual subject matter.

Why? Were you hoping to reply with 'lots of SLIGH!!'?! -_-

OT: I prefer there to be limitations based on much like... well, what babinro said. That said, I liked the separation of magical disciplines in the M;tG universe, based on source core rather than intent. Not sure whether that's relevant, but never mind.

Also, the WHF/WH40K system of cast/miscast/PotW is quite cool, where the power is unlimited but the risk is associated with the amount of power you want to access. Just how much do you want a daemon exploding out y'head?

DustyDrB:
To contrast this, I present a book series that does the opposite. Patrick Rothfuss' Kingkiller Chronicles (consisting so far of two books: The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear) bounds magic in principles. The main character learns the arcane arts, but the process of learning sounds more like a physics or chemistry lesson than typical magic. There's cause and effect. There are limitations, and crossing those limits can mean ending your life in the process. And to me, this is far more interesting than unbound and unlimited power. How do arcanists accomplish their goal within the rules of their magic? Do they take a chance, pushing themselves to the brink of death to do what needs to be done? It prevents a constant state of problem-solving. And it leads to more intriguing moral dilemmas.

This. Magic is much, much better when bound by concrete laws. Not laws such as: "We shouldn't do this because its wrong or immoral.". No, more like "You cannot do that, because A): It simply won't work, and B): It will either kill you, kill (x) amount of people, or cause (x) amount of utter destruction."

As another poster said here:

DarkishFriend:
Reminds me of alchemy from FMA. I always like the idea of magic that is grounded a bit by physics or nature.

The Alchemy of Fullmetal Alchemist is essentially magic for all intents and purposes. Its just that their 'magic' has a very specific cost that, if not appeased, either makes whatever they were trying to do not work, or worse, backfire completely.

You also neglected to point out something else nice about magic needing to be learned, bound by solid laws of nature, and having limits: Not just any idiot can learn it. You need to have more than just two spare brain cells to rub together, and it isn't just inherent. Oh, someone can have a natural skill it at, that's normal for anything worth learning. But dumb luck can only get you so far in this case, and there's less prevalence for some 'Chosen One', to come around and solve everyone's problems.

I like the idea of giant spells that change the very laws of nature themselves, but I also love the idea of a dozen or so elderly wizards chanting together in a circle for hours to make it happen.
Magic, in my experience, in something that should take a lot of work, and has to be paired up with some sort of physical shortcomings. It's best when the person performing the magic can't defend himself.

Power should have no limits but the user should have to work incredibly hard to reach the most powerful spells. So you could theoretically destroy a planet but it would take thousands of years to become powerful enough.
Running with this it would also mean gods are basically mages who advanced in power fast enough to extend their life indefinitely and then became more powerful and priest/cleric spells drawn from the gods are merely more of the gods magic.

I'm sad this wasn't about what I thought it was... It always works best if you mix it with some red cards.

OT: As long as rules are established it tends to work pretty well.

I always liked it when magic can be used unrestrained, but it is incredibly dangerous to do so. So organizations or guilds put rules in place to protect the magic users and the world at large.

In fiction, I don't like magic. Everything that I write in fiction that deals with something that closely resembles magic, I tend to not refer to as magic. Sometimes its cosmic energy, inner power, manipulation of the elements, or psionic energy.

I don't like magic because it literally can be anything and do anything. There are often no rules/consequences/limits/explanation to how it works and the most common response is that "it's magic, dude. What do you expect?" or that "it's not magic, just a trick." I don't have a problem with it in general, I just don't go near it.

Smiley Face:
Not necessarily founded in the laws of nature a la what Rothfuss is doing (although that is awesome), but there should be rules. Boundaries that you lay down, and don't cross without explaining it well. Harry Potter kept pulling out new spells that totally changed the game - there were no rules, just convenience. It's okay if it doesn't conform to nature - it's MAGIC. But you lay down the rules, a good sense what can and can't be done, and then explore the consequences of living in a story where that's possible.

Certainly this. I'm mostly a sci-fi guy, and hard sci-fi at that, but I do enjoy the occasional fantasy universe. As for magic, I tend to stick by those where it's limited in use, so you have to think up of innovative ways of doing it. One of my favourite settings would be the Black Magician trilogy with prequel and sequels by Trudi Canavan. The use of magic drains roughly the same amount of energy it would take to do the task by hand, similar to Eragon, though any inefficiencies can be reduced by just being awesome at magic.
I don't like Harry Potter for this exact reason. One wizard could solve any energy crisis, as well as reverse the overall entropy of the universe.

I generally think of magic as the extra/different set of laws of physics that the fantasy setting's universe has, and that if rules aren't stated to exist, that just means the protagonists don't know what they are, or perhaps the people studying magic don't know either. Given that fantasy settings usually have medieval tech, that's not all that unbelievable.

If a setting has unrestrained magic, I call foul. Magic with no rules or principles over how it works means anyone who can do magic can cast any spell they want, or even any spell they imagine existing, but there's no rule saying it obeys what you think or say or convey with your magic wand gestures, so the spell could do or be anything and nothing. Meanwhile, everybody and nobody is magically gifted, and by the way, where's the rule that says only sentient beings can do magic?
BOOM! The pebble you just stepped on just cast meteor swarm!

A setting with unrestrained magic shouldn't look like a medieval fantasy setting, it should (on a good day!) look like a world that was sucked into the warp and is now ruled by the Chaos God Tzeentch. On a bad day, it doesn't resemble any kind of world.

Yeah, my definitions of "principled" and "unrestrained" might be a bit different. I prefer principled magic because unrestrained magic is a horrible idea, and leads to horrible places and no stories.

Basic storytelling rule: "Any sufficiently well-explained magic is science, any insufficiently explained science is magic."

Basically, when you're bending or breaking the laws of physics in a story, the trick is to be consistent. If your magic or tech is completely black-box unexplainable, don't explain it and don't have main characters who are better at it than everyone else. If it has a concrete system; use it, build on it, and again, be consistent.

SmashLovesTitanQuest:
Obviously it depends on the game or series I am playing/watching/reading, but I really like how magic is handled in GOT, for example. Theres still a few magical beings here and there but the series is very much grounded in reality. Not once does something happen because "magic lol".

Not trying to spoil anything but in the later books stuff kinda starts going the way of "magic did it".

Anyhoo magic works best in my opinion if it is governed by a set of rules. It's annoying when magic ends up being the Dues EX way for the writers to get out of every situation.

The worst though is when the writers establish rules and then proceed to break them. Like in Harry Potter the first couple of books make it seem like the most powerful spells need time to prepare/take lots of physical and mental energy/verbal words needed/etc, but then in the later books everyone can pretty much do whatever the heck they want when the writers need them to do so.

Am I the only one who hoped this thread would be about Magic: The Gathering?

Anyway, I think magic works best when wild and chaotic by nature. Remember the inverse of Clark's Third Law:

"Any sufficiently rigorously defined magic is indistinguishable from technology."

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