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Point – Counterpoint: Magic Is too Common

Viri the Bard of Valiant has started a new series, Point – Counterpoint.  Her first article takes the position that Magic Is too Common.  My own veiwpoint is that the commonality or non-commonality of magic should be dependent on the setting and characters played.

Viri points out that in the D&D supplement Waterdeep, magic became so commonplace that it was sold in shops.  That objection has merit if your character is a human thief.  However, if you are playing in a Harry Potter-like setting, having magic available in shops that are only accessible by magical folks is completely reasonable.

I will agree with Viri, that the proliferation of magic makes it seems less “magical”.  I watch the PITs playing Kingdom Hearts and I shudder to think of Donald Duck and Goofy as being magic users.  My boys play in the online Pirates of the Caribbean game and again there are too many magical items available (that is my own opinion based on watching them play).  The proliferation of magic in RPGs is a metaphorical arms race, “Mr. GM, why does her elf get a +3 bow of purity?  My Gnome needs something at least that good.”

The way I and my fellow GM, Bill (he runs the weekly AD&D game) handle this is first make sure magical items are rewards by the PC’s deity, meaning that item CAN be taken away by that deity.  Helping the deity’s agenda in unique way gains assistance.  Hindering the deity’s agenda will have repercussions.

The second thing we do in any game we run is to determine if magic is even in the universe in question.  In our Stargate game there is no magic, all “magic” is technological.  In Necessary Evil, yes there is magic but it is rare.  In our D&D games we follow the LOTR/CoN guidelines, there is magic but in needs to enhance game play for role-playing sake, not because it’s COOL.

The solution to common place magic is squarely in the hands of the GM.  However it is incumbant on the GM to remember that is his/her job to find the balance between fun for their players and avoiding a Magical Arms Race.

May 6, 2009 - Posted by | Legacy D&D, News, Reviews and Culture, Other Systems, RPG, Savage Worlds | , , , ,


  1. Good points.

    When it comes to magic items in a campaign… less is more.

    Comment by The Recursion King | May 6, 2009

  2. Donald is the magic user actually, Goofy just beats things with a shield. But everyone in KH is a bit of magic anyway.

    My Spirits of Eden campaign setting is very magical, but the mystique of the spirits which grant and empower that magic, even if the magic itself is commonplace, tends to keep it charming enough.

    Though I personally don’t care to make a +1 sword or whatever other small bit of magic the most amazing thing in the universe, with years of legends, coveted by all…next to the muikara gale goddess of the fey jungles, who’s plumage is so resplendent that rain falls around rather than over her, it’ll always look like a silly bit of treasure. There’s some magical things I try to make important, rare and powerful (usually creatures or locations, as opposed to objects), but for the most part spells, rituals and edged bits of steel aren’t it.

    Comment by Wyatt | May 6, 2009

  3. But if you choose a system like 4E, magic is pretty inherent in the mechanics, is it not?

    Comment by viricordova | May 6, 2009

  4. That magic is inherent does not mean it must necessarily be common. Mage: The Awakening is inherently magical, but the propagation of the magic within varies, as White Wolf loves to tell you, depending on your personal special taste as a personal special person.

    Mechanically 4e only assumes that characters will get a +1 bonus to everything at level 1, 6, 11, 16, 21 and 26.

    Comment by Wyatt | May 6, 2009

  5. @The Recursion King – Agreed, less magic is better.

    @Viri and Wyatt – My experience with 4e is spotty at best. Yes, the few times I’ve played there did seem to be more magic.

    Comment by Vulcan Stev | May 6, 2009

  6. @Wyatt What about inherent powers?

    Comment by Viriatha | May 6, 2009

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