[*]I. The Problem.
[*]II. The Proposal.
[*]III. The solution.
[*]IV. The Detailed Response.
[*]V. The Setting.
[*]VI. Nature and Dynamics.
I've always had a problem with the systems of magic in most popular media forums. Be they games, film or written work I've not enjoyed their portrayal. Could I be the kind of person who throws his lot in with Science and looks on magicks and its practitioners with a wary eye? Nothing so mundane. In fact it's my broad-minded nature that's lead me to the conclusion I reach today [which wildly sprawls out into culture, game ideas and more].
[i]I. The Problem[/i]
The issue I have stems largely from the very rules and restrictions regarding practitioners of magicks and their very nature. Why so limited? One has to note that magic on the whole, in its every portrayal is a limited thing, in fact one might almost say it's a way of illustrating a type of racial superiourity or dominance.
What we're left with in almost every case is that magic either has to be practiced over years, which leaves beardy men with large amounts of power that leave the peastanry at ease or the alternatives; the powers are granted by Gods or they're something that a fraction of the populace as a whole are born with. This has been a repeating meme throughout the ages, even in more popular ideas where magic is portrayed less obviously.
Even Superheroes in most comic mediums could fall under this banner. The X-Men are feared due to their abilities, whereas the Fantastic Four peer on from the heights of Baxter Towers, celebrities in all (not without their problems I admit but they're still famous and loved). There are also those who've mastered their abilities over the years to their age's benefit. Those people are often feared by the peasantry.
As you can no doubt see, it's a repeating idea that hasn't lost any of its momentum over the past number of centuries even. The question I pose is; why?
[i]II. The Proposal[/i]
The solution I came up with is a rather simple one. That magic should be like code. Anyone can pick it up and it takes a little skill to get really good at it. Anyone with a certain amount of intellect can grasp the basic mechanics but it still takes a level of effort and education to do really grand things with. This results in the following situation -- if the housewife were to get free lighting from this in the form of a light spell, would she not learn the basics in order to master that ability? If a Fisherman believed he could make the fish leap out of the sea and into his welcoming hands, would he not try to master the ability to do so? I admit that such a system without its limitations would be unbalanced and the resources of the World would be reaped within decades.
From this we'd all have people who could wield magical nukes at each other with gay abandon. School bullies might take out their entire nation in a fit of angst against authority figures. The Universe might get twisting into a swirling maelstrom of Anachronoxian mess. People would vye for Godhood and control large batallions of millions and force them to go to war against their own will. They'd create life and death, perhaps even spawn new Universes. Where does it end?! I have a solution to this and once again I draw from coding to do so, I think I'll call the solution "processing power".
[i]III. The Solution[/i]
The everyday person isn't born a genius. They don't have an innate sense for code or an in-borne talent for logic. Some do but not all. Most of the rest just pick bits up along the way. In other words, the magic a person produces is in direct correlation to two things; the effort they put in and the intelligence they have. If a not-so-intelligent person puts in a lot of effort, they can be just as creative and genius as a genius is at-ease. However, the truth of most people is that they're lazy and they'd rather get on with their lives, so thusly we introduce The Easy Option.
As I said, most will pick up basic spell-making for their own uses, light to cook dinner by and likewise a Warrior might be able to randomly summon a basic light-spell or a flame-enchantment for his sword (that wouldn't last very long). This is because he's trained his body. Folks can't train body and mind to equal degrees. We have musclemen or geniuses and that's just a truth of the way biology works. One can't be a real poet of beauty and a wrestler. At least not from what I've ever seen. This is our restriction and this is why The Easy Option helps so much. Items and numerous forms of 'conductors' (such as specially treated scrolls) can hold enchantments that can be passed along to other objects (much like digital copying). It can work as a sort of ... placeholder until it reaches its destination.
There would be malls with these and the ones that would be sold would be those certified by certain Universities and Knightdoms. Instead of heading out to buy a sack of coal to place in the fire, one might buy an elementalist spell of persistent fire and cast it in the slot where the wood and coal would normally be found. These would sell for a reasonable amount with the price scaling to the effect of the type of magic in question. There would of course be underground radicals who would provide free (as in beer, I know -- this is getting rather ludicrous and funny at the same time but I like it) magics to anyone. Either completely free or merely just an exchange for the parchment used. These would be largely frowned on by the law services and the reigning oligarchy but they would not be illegal, merely unsupported. Anyone using such a spell that backfired and killed someone could be held responsible, for example.
Also, some of the smaller insurance brokers would refuse to broke for people who utilized those kinds of magic. It would be considered dangerous and even somewhat subversive to the populace but not everyone believes that magic should be sold. Where do we go from here, then? Regulations under law; there are even more radical groups that the law seeks to crush and destroy (and sometimes they can be quite successful). Those who would sell nukes for the right price, these would be terrorists to such a land, the equivalent of. However, some of them might be acting out of what they believe to be the Right Thing to do. They might be supplying only to rebellionist factions or oppressed peoples but they'd still fall under this law enforcement. The law isn't perfect so even supplying free healing aids to a nation at war would be considered an act against the reigning King or Queen.
Those perpetrating such actions if caught would simply have the magical knowledge removed from their mind. Thusly through this end we achieve a system much like the World today.
People could wield harmless firecracker pranks at each other with gay abandon. School bullies might set their principle's wig alight for shits and giggles. People would create forms of religeon and use light mind-control to set them up as fanatical preechers to draw the small-minded to their flock. They'd create sea monkeys and the goldfish bowls to keep them in and that's where it ends.
Of course, a great many spells would actually require small amounts of certain reagents (in order to imbue the spell's nature; a light spell would just need daylight, for example) in order to create them, so that child who set his principle's wig on fire wouldn't be to blame. It's his parents fault for letting him get his grubby little hands on a small amount of kindling from which the spell was formed.
A gruntish, barbarian warrior might only have a collection of two or three favourite spells he could cast. Whereas a highwayman of good breeding and upbringing, would not only have witty repartee on his side but a larger collection of abilities, including perhaps a few spells to increase his agility or blur the motion of his sword, thus empowering his own panache.
In essence, the very nature of magic would be one that's easy to understand and grasp yet not everyone would to a great degree thanks to what is widely known as the VCR-equation (how many people actually know how to program a VCR?).
[i]IV. The Detailed Response[/i]
Of course, now we'd need constitutions and detailed laws in order to manage to deal with this but it's no different than today. Creating an intelligence would force the same responsibilities on a person as owning a pet. The Golem of little or no real intelligence would have the same rights as a household canine and the owner would have the same responsibilities to it. More complex intelligences would come with higher responsibilities. Anyone trying to do anything really Godlike would be whisked off to a University in order to be educated on protocol and why it's bad to explode Planets, even if they could do so.
In essence, it would be a mirror of the possibilities of today except it would be intertwined with the possibilities of a fantasy World. How would this be? I'll get to that in a moment. It would require structure and careful handling by each particular society and perhaps other cultures would handle magic in a different way. Some countries might even make their entire profit out of magical exports to other countries that don't believe in allowing their populace to use it at all (hence the oppressed). To this end we'd see an end to beardy mages casting light spells whilst the Warrior would need to carry around an unfeasible backpack of 50 stacked torches. We'd also not need to give the Warrior a 50 foot length of rope as he'd be able to utilize his own levitation capabilities through the afforementioned copy-objects.
Where do our new possibilities come in? Let's say we have an inventor that builds a metallic golem of cogs and gears. That could be imbued with intelligence and then rode by the inventor. In other words we'd be able to see the kinds of Magitek armour akin to those seen in Final Fantasy VI. Such creatures might be rode around by law enforcement services. There might be the occasional hiccup and one might end up too intelligent and disarmed, would be allowed to proceed by its own sapience. In other words we'd have golems and constructs wandering around and interacting just as other people do.
One could create a gigantic pair of wings, much as Daedalus did and then imbue the base intelligence of a bird to flap them. Combine this with air and put a tiny basket beneath the wings and just about anyone could make a makeshift flying machine. Of course, the Knightships and so on might have more fancy versions, complete mechanical Dragon constructs that would ride the skies with automatic crossbows and vortex generators and and and ... *Coughs.* but I digress.
Even automobiles would become a reality. Imbue a cart with a movement spell and then armour it up like a Horse, create it like the Roman turtle formation and have numerous spears sticking out of it. It becomes an immediate battle vehicle.
Not only that but such magics could be used to create anything from foodstuffs to impossible structures. Knightships could live in crystalline-towers or upside-down cities. They might even live on floating islands using a truly powerful levitation spell -- or a mixture of engineering for wings and gigantic fan-blades and then the air and intelligence to move them.
[i]V. The Setting[/i]
What kind of World would support something like this? I'm thinking that if this were a game, I'd go with a Daggerfall style of random generation for most areas and then just have major cities because it would be big and ambitious. What I'd like to do is take examples of past cultures and work them in to one, large montage.
The Australian peoples from their era of dreamtime. Native Americans who might be masters of the shapeshifting arts. Cowboys who believe in BIGGAH GUNZ. The British who're all about protocol and using magic sparingly and with great refinement, teaching balance and practicality in all things. France which would show the beauty of all things, which in some cases might also become a den of inequity as back-alley "shops of romance attribution d'etre" would become a worryingly growing fad. The oriental people might use it for mysticism and scrying, the peasantry would learn to yield it for better crop ratios and the Warrios would put it to use to give themselves larger balance on the battlefield with ninja techniques. Enhanced stealth, illusions and that species of kidney. We'd have the rich nature of the Arabian past to deal with, finding ways to exist in arrid wastes and mastering the art of being a thief or a survivor. Oh and the Canadians would be in there somewhere finding ways to use sticks to bat magically-hardened cabbages around as a form of sport.
[i]VI. Nature and Dynamics[/i]
This will be the shortest section, just to go over a couple of things. How would they get these powers? Well, I have no reason for such a development yet but I suppose it would be a natural occurrance, the capability of "rendering" the manifestation of matter and energy. Perhaps it's all some crazy Matrix-esque simulated World? Bwaha. No. I won't take that route, it'd be an interesting system to come up with an excuse for, though.
Anyway, I could go on like this but I won't. Many of you might be wishing I'd stop so I shall. I'll wrap this up! It's already gone on a bit too long.
I'm sure there's much more I wanted to add to this that I probably will at a future time, things tend to escape my mind quickly but I think I went over the most important aspects. I've always found it interesting though that the human psyche impresses greed upon things and that certain abilities should only be capable for certain groups of people. I've sat here this morning and wondered of a solution to this problem and this is what I came up with. I don't know whether you'll find it interesting but I thought I'd share it anyway.
I honestly don't know whether this is one of the silliest things I've come up with or something of an intrigue. I'd love to see a magic system in place in a game like that eventually though. People making shoes from scraps of leather andsoforth, it'd be fun and take a lot of the banality out of trades.
It's interesting. It actually seems like you've outlined a lot of problems game designers must work through (whether they realize it or not) while designing their systems. I've often thought of what I might do if I designed my own game. Flexibility is always the first thought. Give people unrestricted ability to choose what spells and abilities they want. But this then always leads to dilemma that there will be certain spells that everyone will want and thus diversity is actually hampered. Travel spells, for example. There would be no character without them if one could just pick it from a list.
But anyway, your system is intriguing. I like the ideas of buying or brokering spells.
I'd also love to see a 'trade' system in-place here. Like what Gothic had and World of Warcraft crappily pretended to have. Basically, in Gothic you could skin any animal you liked but sometimes, there'd be some guy who'd be willing to trade in skins for things like weapons, training or whatever. They'd be after a certain kind of rare trophy to hang on their walls.
Think of it as inverse questing.
Basically, my idea would be that a 'tit-for-tat' system of values could be in place. So if a person wanted to pickup ten teleport scrolls they could do so by killing so many types of animal which could then be traded in for their value. Basically value would vary from shop to shop but since these resources often float around, it'd be a supply-and-demand system.
If it were winter for example, everyone might want heavy cloaks and those would curry a greater 'value' than they would in the summer months when all people would do with them is make fancy cloaks. So the market dealer could trade in the furs with the local tanner for a less amount of cloak, taking his time of resources out of it. They could then put these up for sale which farmers (or players) could then buy.
This is the kind of economy I'd like to see in a game. I often feel like money is a weak excuse to avoid tackling something like this. What it also means though is that if one goes out and collects the right kinds of resources, they could come back and have enough in trade to pickup the ten teleport spells they wanted. So whereas someone who could easily craft spells could make their own teleport spells, Rangers/Warriors could go out and earn their spells by hunting things that people want.
The "Ars Magica" RPG has a good magic system, as do the Mage: The Ascension RPG from White Wolf. Mage's system is more fluid, Ars Magica is something you can calculate and implement in computer games. Basically, Ars Magica has 5 "Verbs" and 10 "Noums". Verbs are like "to create" (Creo), "to destroy" (Perdo), "to change" (Muto) and the Noums are "Fire" (Ignem), "Images" (Imagen), "Mind" (Mentem).
You cast spells using the Verb and one Noum (or more, but it's advanced and rare), like Creo Ignem (Fireball!), Rego Mentem (Mind Control), Perdo Imagen (Invisibility). You can accomplish various different effects using different combinations, and even similar effects using completely different combinations.
Each verb or noum has a score from -10 to +10, and the spell power is defined by the sum of those scores, like: Creo 5, Ignem 5 nets a result of 10 (+ some attribute I forgot), so the power of the fire created will be limited by that.
The book also comes with a pre-defined list of previously created spells avaiable to the magic students, and they have nice names like "Ball of Abismal Fire" Creo Ignem (Fireball) or "Call the Lightning" (Lightning Storm), and rules to create new spells, and etecetera.
As I said, it's a good way to make a 'free form' magic system that get some logic.
This reminds me in a way of Planescape, though in a different way. One of the things about the Outer Planes in Planescape is that belief is an incredibly powerful force; convince enough people something is the case, and it will be the case.
For instance, let us take the principle's wig on fire example, if you were to be able to get the belief going that the principle's wig will catch fire it will be catching fire. But the amount of belief needed is dependent on the complexity of the action; if we were to take making a church for example, for a god worshiped by such a church to become an all-powerful celestial being, there would have to be a lot of fanatical followers, inversely this also means that if something were to be done exterminating those followers, the celestial being would also weaken as each of his followers stop worshiping him. It also means that debating about existence is something you have to be careful with, if someone else is charismatic enough he could well convince people of an argument which involves your existence never having been, and you'd cease existing on the spot!