The Magic of Roleplaying

This RoleCraft edition begins a series of examinations into magic in MMORPGs, with an aim at helping to expand understanding of its forms and functions as it applies in game and to our roleplaying. By the end of this and each article, I hope to share with you new thoughts, ideas, and examples of how you may better your spell-casting RP characters.

Magic is an incredibly deep topic, whether it is addressed in real world or in game terms. I dare say, in the realm of fantasy-based MMORPGs, it is probably only second in importance after combat to developers and players alike. With all the MMORPGs (and even solo player games) that employ magic, each does it in their own exclusive way. While you may have roleplaying the art of magic down pat in your favorite MMORPG, I think it’s a good idea to broaden your RP intellect every once in awhile to see how other games make use of magic. If by chance you’ve simply been taking magic for granted, perhaps this series will also give you new insight into the art, and help you increase your RP skills with it.

Starting off on such a lofty endeavor can lead down a thousand different paths. Just google the word ‘magic’ and you’ll see what I mean. It would be very easy to get off on so many tangents that one may never return to the original point. So, to keep to the theme, let’s first look at a larger picture of magic, and slowly break it down into more easily followed sections from there.

The first main point is to note that this series is about magic and how it’s represented in game, not out of game. Of course, if you haven’t already, much of what players learn about real life magic may be of great RP inspiration. To that end, I’ll provide links to various websites where you may do some reading up on magic on your own time.

Much like in real life, in game magic has two primary components: the spell-caster, and the spell-casting. The spell-caster is your character, along with other things that directly attach spell-casting to the character, like class, or spell specialization. Spell-casting is the actual use of those things that attach spell-casting to your character, like verbal, material, and somatic elements. With this foundation in mind, we’ll proceed to divide each one into other categories, starting with the spellcaster.

Spell-caster is the generic overall term I use to identify one who casts spells, which includes all the class names that may be more familiar to you: magic-user, mage, wizard, priest, enchanter, battlemage, and shaman, just to name a few. Long have they been a staple in the fantasy genre, and with all the fantasy-based MMORPGs currently in play and being created, they show no sign of leaving the genre any time soon.

Regarding the spellcaster, there are two areas to discern: where a spellcaster draws his source of magic power from, and how a spellcaster releases this power from himself. The source of magic power is another junction where we could go in every direction. However, in looking at MMORPGs and how best to RP magic’s source, I think they fall into these types: mental, physical, spiritual, and elemental.

Mental magic is an internal and often learned ability, whether it’s innate or not. The most common source comes by way of the student who has spent years in a magic college, or apprenticed to a high-level spellcaster. In MMORPGs, this is the most prevalent magic power source, as it’s the easiest to replicate. Just buy spells from an instructor, have him wave his hands at you, and suddenly your character can magically heal wounds and hurl fireballs quick as a thought! Of course, roleplayers will do a deal more in roleplaying out the learning of spells, which goes a long way in keeping this rather dull and unimaginative built in method from feeling so.

Physical sources of magic power are things outside a character, like magic weapons, armor, and other items. Usually a character has to activate, wield, or simply be in possession of the item for the magic to be of use. Physical sources can also be certain locations, like mythical toadstool rings, or magical devices, like teleporting doorways and crystals. The rule of thumb is that a character has to interact with a physical source of magic in order to use (or be used by) the magic. Once a character cuts off contact with the item, the magic stops.

Spiritual sources of magic are, for the most part, gods, or other highly benevolent beings. Tapping into this power in game usually doesn’t involve anything more than the effort expended in obtaining mental magic in MMORPGs. However, for classes like clerics and priests, roleplayers will know this source of power is implied, and a good roleplayer will take that implication and RP it out to the best of their ability.

Elemental sources means being in tune with Mother Nature, or being well connected to your hippy tree-hugging inner flower child. There may be more MMORPG spells that involve at least one of the natural elements (air, earth, fire, water) than all others combined, and rightfully so. It helps gamers interact with, and feel just a tad bit more connected to, the game world, and that’s a good thing. Plus, it’s relatively easy for gamers to understand this style of magic power, especially when it comes to combat against the opposite element.

Ideally, these magic power sources inherently connect to one or more of the other sources to certain degrees, although that is to my knowledge a point only observed by roleplayers, and not actually built in to MMORPGs. For example, a player roleplaying a priest may require a prayer every morning (spiritual) in order to be granted a days’ worth of spells to memory (mental). Or a specialist fire mage (elemental) may have to carry a piece of volcanic rock (physical) in order to cast specific fire spells. It all depends on how far you and your imagination want to take it.

What other sources for magic power do you roleplay, and how? With the next edition, we’ll look at how spell-casters make use of their magic, by way of the varying schools and disciplines of magic, in and out of game. As always, please send me your comments below in the Comments section, directly to my email at RoleCraft at gmail dot com, and via Twitter. Also click over to The RP Archives, a blog where I gather all the roleplaying knowledge from across the interwebs into one handy reference place. Until next time, role on!

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