WHY DOES EVERYTHING NEED TO HAVE MAGIC IN IT

I was linked to a KS this morning for a game that, at first, seemed to be about an interesting and mostly overlooked (by RPGs) period in world history… and then I got to the “plus there’s magic, so you’re basically fantasy adventurers but…”

JMFC why? Why TF does being an RPG mean that fantastical bullshit needs to be crammed in it?

Similarly, I’m a backer of the new Jane Austen RPG that just funded, and I’ll admit I was a little bummed to see that one of the achieved stretch goals was an expansion that added sorcery to the game. Again, why? How is Jane Fucking Austen not enough? How does shoving the premise into bad, self-published ebook territory make Austen better?

That said… I mean… I get it. Fucking nerds. I’m a fucking nerd.

But… just… WHY.

88 thoughts on “WHY DOES EVERYTHING NEED TO HAVE MAGIC IN IT

  1. It’s also super distracting to the core thematic stuff of a game, which IMO is to the game’s detriment. Buuuut I think it’s pretty clear that woo-woo sells more than thoughtful thematic treatment, which is why the entirety of thematic indie gaming is a rounding error in the grand scheme of tabletop.

  2. < ![CDATA[It's also super distracting to the core thematic stuff of a game, which IMO is to the game's detriment. Buuuut I think it's pretty clear that woo-woo sells more than thoughtful thematic treatment, which is why the entirety of thematic indie gaming is a rounding error in the grand scheme of tabletop.]]>

  3. Also, I feel like this “but with magic” stuff is all about execution (as with all things). Sometimes the mix is perfect and synergizes with both genres wonderfully and sometimes it turns it into a dissonant mockery.

  4. < ![CDATA[Also, I feel like this "but with magic" stuff is all about execution (as with all things). Sometimes the mix is perfect and synergizes with both genres wonderfully and sometimes it turns it into a dissonant mockery.]]>

  5. I feel like this is basically a failure of imagination. “If I can’t shoot mind bullets at people in this game, then what the hell am I supposed to do?” Gee, I dunno, maybe explore the vast landscape of human experience?

    And I say that as someone who has like 47 urban fantasy RPGs sitting on my hard drive.

  6. < ![CDATA[I feel like this is basically a failure of imagination. "If I can't shoot mind bullets at people in this game, then what the hell am I supposed to do?" Gee, I dunno, maybe explore the vast landscape of human experience? And I say that as someone who has like 47 urban fantasy RPGs sitting on my hard drive.]]>

  7. I’m assuming the asking of “why” was rhetorical, but I suspect the answer to why this sort of thing comes up so often is because if there’s magic then that gives you more permission to not get hung up on the actual details and focus on the thematic or aesthetic stuff you care about. It clearly marks it as “alternate” or “different” to set it up as a place where you can play, not a museum where you’re supposed to look but not touch.

  8. < ![CDATA[I'm assuming the asking of "why" was rhetorical, but I suspect the answer to why this sort of thing comes up so often is because if there's magic then that gives you more permission to not get hung up on the actual details and focus on the thematic or aesthetic stuff you care about. It clearly marks it as "alternate" or "different" to set it up as a place where you can play, not a museum where you're supposed to look but not touch.]]>

  9. Robert Bohl It bothers me because it bothers me. I don’t know what else to tell you.

    The Austen example far, far, far less so that the main KS I’m talking about. That was more a little “Oh, of course they added a magic supplement” eye-rolling (backers literally voted for it out of a list of options). I am still psyched for that game.

    It’s in the same territory as Paul’s example of sprinkling everything with Cthulhu, or why every game needs to have three angry PCs — one of whom has big tits — in fighting stance on the cover, or unquestioned murderhoboing as a premise. It’s me ranting about how stupid a big swath of this hobby seems to me. Maybe I’m an awful person.

  10. < ![CDATA[Robert Bohl It bothers me because it bothers me. I don't know what else to tell you. The Austen example far, far, far less so that the main KS I'm talking about. That was more a little "Oh, of course they added a magic supplement" eye-rolling (backers literally voted for it out of a list of options). I am still psyched for that game. It's in the same territory as Paul's example of sprinkling everything with Cthulhu, or why every game needs to have three angry PCs — one of whom has big tits — in fighting stance on the cover, or unquestioned murderhoboing as a premise. It's me ranting about how stupid a big swath of this hobby seems to me. Maybe I'm an awful person.]]>

  11. Dan Maruschak That’s exactly my problem with it when applied to historical settings. I would like to see more explorations of real history, because we’ve covered it with such a veneer of romanticism anyway. I think history is cool, and I would rather clear away our misconceptions of it instead of adding more.

  12. < ![CDATA[Dan Maruschak That's exactly my problem with it when applied to historical settings. I would like to see more explorations of real history, because we've covered it with such a veneer of romanticism anyway. I think history is cool, and I would rather clear away our misconceptions of it instead of adding more.]]>

  13. Magic and other stuff can also be used as an alibi to examine things that are touchy or boring. Jason Morningstar said (if I recall correctly) that he couldn’t figure out how to get people to care about colonial Australia until he set it in space for Durance. And it’s kind of what Shock: is all about; using a fabulizer to allow for and engender enthusiasm about a discussion about whatever issues you’re interested in examining.

    But I also get being sick of it as a trope.

  14. < ![CDATA[Magic and other stuff can also be used as an alibi to examine things that are touchy or boring. Jason Morningstar said (if I recall correctly) that he couldn't figure out how to get people to care about colonial Australia until he set it in space for Durance. And it’s kind of what Shock: is all about; using a fabulizer to allow for and engender enthusiasm about a discussion about whatever issues you’re interested in examining.
    But I also get being sick of it as a trope.]]>

  15. Dan Maruschak I get what you’re saying, but I guess I’m gonna call bullshit. Plenty of extensive fantasy settings get the museum treatment by gamers. And, really, if gamers can invest literal man-weeks in learning these detailed settings, why can’t they read a couple of Wikipedia articles about 19th-century literary realism?

    I dunno. I have to wonder if the permission being granted is “do some D&D stuff but in [historical era].”

  16. < ![CDATA[Dan Maruschak I get what you're saying, but I guess I'm gonna call bullshit. Plenty of extensive fantasy settings get the museum treatment by gamers. And, really, if gamers can invest literal man-weeks in learning these detailed settings, why can't they read a couple of Wikipedia articles about 19th-century literary realism? I dunno. I have to wonder if the permission being granted is "do some D&D stuff but in [historical era]."]]>

  17. Robert Bohl I feel like that’s the exact opposite of what I”m talking about here. The analog to what I’m talking about would be to make a game set in an Australian prison colony but with Cthulhu.

  18. < ![CDATA[Robert Bohl I feel like that's the exact opposite of what I"m talking about here. The analog to what I'm talking about would be to make a game set in an Australian prison colony but with Cthulhu.]]>

  19. Mark Delsing tbh I feel the same way about an Austen rpg as I do about an Earthsea rpg. Some things are better left alone.

    In that particular case I do think it shows a remarkable lack of judgement, though. But then I’m the person that wonders what anybody could find remotely interesting about adding zombies to Pride & Prejudice.

    Anyway basically your opinion turned up to 11.

  20. < ![CDATA[Mark Delsing tbh I feel the same way about an Austen rpg as I do about an Earthsea rpg. Some things are better left alone. In that particular case I do think it shows a remarkable lack of judgement, though. But then I’m the person that wonders what anybody could find remotely interesting about adding zombies to Pride & Prejudice. Anyway basically your opinion turned up to 11.]]>

  21. “I guess I’m gonna call bullshit.”

    What do you mean by “call bullshit” — are you saying that my explanation is wrong, or that I’ve accurately described a phenomenon you hate?

    “And, really, if gamers can invest literal man-weeks in learning these detailed settings, why can’t they read a couple of Wikipedia articles about 19th-century literary realism?”

    They can. But they don’t. So creators chasing an audience frequently take the easier path.

  22. < ![CDATA[“I guess I’m gonna call bullshit.”
    What do you mean by “call bullshit” — are you saying that my explanation is wrong, or that I’ve accurately described a phenomenon you hate?
    “And, really, if gamers can invest literal man-weeks in learning these detailed settings, why can’t they read a couple of Wikipedia articles about 19th-century literary realism?”
    They can. But they don’t. So creators chasing an audience frequently take the easier path.]]>

  23. So I don’t want to seem argumentative, I’m just trying to understand: but I don’t see the difference, really. How is Durance not “colonial Australia, but with space ships and shit?”

  24. < ![CDATA[So I don't want to seem argumentative, I'm just trying to understand: but I don't see the difference, really. How is Durance not “colonial Australia, but with space ships and shit?”]]>

  25. Isn’t “xp” basically magic? I mean if I suddenly got healthier because I’d figure out to deploy a multi-server git repository that autoupdates from the latest fork… that’s not that different from getting more HP …

  26. < ![CDATA[Isn't "xp" basically magic? I mean if I suddenly got healthier because I'd figure out to deploy a multi-server git repository that autoupdates from the latest fork... that's not that different from getting more HP ...]]>

  27. Robert Bohl I think what Mark’s talking about is not “it’s this but different” or even “magic is an allegory for this difficult topic” but rather magic (and only magic–not technological extrapolation) present solely because there’s a market for XYZ + magic. It’s like adding zombies.

  28. < ![CDATA[Robert Bohl I think what Mark's talking about is not "it's this but different" or even "magic is an allegory for this difficult topic" but rather magic (and only magic--not technological extrapolation) present solely because there's a market for XYZ + magic. It's like adding zombies.]]>

  29. < ![CDATA[John Powell When people ask me if there's wizards in MG, I say nope, it's not about that! If they want their character to FEEL like a wizard, I tell them to be a weather-watcher.]]>

  30. Robert Bohl Brad basically explains it, but…

    Durance uses a science fiction setting to present a game about what it was like to live in colonial Australia. That’s pretty cool.

    The flip side of that would be using colonial Australia to present a game about spaceships and shit. That’s stock gamer stupidity, IMO.

    Do you see the difference?

    Good ol’ vaporware Far West is a great example of what I’m talking about. It takes the very interesting and politically loaded topic of the American West and basically jettisons everything — including the First Nations people in entirety — to present fanboy steampunk Firefly cosplay bullshit. It’s totally tone-deaf.

    That’s how I feel right now, at least.

  31. < ![CDATA[Robert Bohl Brad basically explains it, but... Durance uses a science fiction setting to present a game about what it was like to live in colonial Australia. That’s pretty cool.
    The flip side of that would be using colonial Australia to present a game about spaceships and shit. That’s stock gamer stupidity, IMO.
    Do you see the difference?
    Good ol’ vaporware Far West is a great example of what I’m talking about. It takes the very interesting and politically loaded topic of the American West and basically jettisons everything — including the First Nations people in entirety — to present fanboy steampunk Firefly cosplay bullshit. It’s totally tone-deaf.
    That’s how I feel right now, at least.]]>

  32. “…And there’s magic” feels like it’s serving the same demand as “…and there’s guns.” It’s there to give players an obvious tool to make things happen how they want, and to ensure them they still get to use the same simple satisfying tactics of force. Most gamers just want to manfully kill monsters, so that activity at the least gets allowed, more often encouraged.

    Case in point: I’m currently participating in a Fading Suns campaign. The referee is all about the detailed setting and interplay of social factions. But about half the players show up to game night asking “do we get to kill stuff tonight?” So … in practice its basically every other game they’ve played, just with different costuming.

  33. < ![CDATA["...And there's magic" feels like it's serving the same demand as "...and there's guns." It's there to give players an obvious tool to make things happen how they want, and to ensure them they still get to use the same simple satisfying tactics of force. Most gamers just want to manfully kill monsters, so that activity at the least gets allowed, more often encouraged. Case in point: I'm currently participating in a Fading Suns campaign. The referee is all about the detailed setting and interplay of social factions. But about half the players show up to game night asking “do we get to kill stuff tonight?” So … in practice its basically every other game they’ve played, just with different costuming.]]>

  34. Yup. I’ve been out of the RPG scene for too long and wandering around the trade stands of Warpcon came across the sci-fi version of Pathfinder… “Oh, that could be interesting! Sci-fi D20-ish from a company regularly putting out stuff that I’ve heard good things ab- oh, wait – it’s just D&D in space…”

  35. < ![CDATA[Yup. I've been out of the RPG scene for too long and wandering around the trade stands of Warpcon came across the sci-fi version of Pathfinder… “Oh, that could be interesting! Sci-fi D20-ish from a company regularly putting out stuff that I’ve heard good things ab- oh, wait – it’s just D&D in space…”]]>

  36. I added magic to my game, but that’s because the comic that came before it had elemental magic inspired by JRPGs. I was like why is water based magic always so shitty?! ILL SHOW YOU!!! ILL SHOW EVERYONE…and it all went downhill from there.

  37. < ![CDATA[I added magic to my game, but that's because the comic that came before it had elemental magic inspired by JRPGs. I was like why is water based magic always so shitty?! ILL SHOW YOU!!! ILL SHOW EVERYONE...and it all went downhill from there.]]>

  38. I like magic, just not the way most games deal with it. Like, you could totally do Jane Austin with Magical Realism type magic. I’d love a historical game that has visions and visitations from spirits – that’d fit a lot of things. But: “here’s a list of powers taped on the side”, not so much.

  39. < ![CDATA[I like magic, just not the way most games deal with it. Like, you could totally do Jane Austin with Magical Realism type magic. I'd love a historical game that has visions and visitations from spirits - that'd fit a lot of things. But: "here's a list of powers taped on the side", not so much.]]>

  40. Mark, you’ve somehow tuned in to an inside joke among me and my friends that has been going on since… 1989 I guess? Whenever Shadowrun came out.

    My friends and I dug cyberpunk (a friend of mine ran a cyberpunk game using the Traveller rules before R.Talisorian made Cyberpunk, and we thought that the R Talisorian game was awesome.) Then Shadowrun came out…. and it was cyberpunk, BUT WITH MAGIC. and …BUT WITH MAGIC became a catchphrase for anything that engaged in that particular kind of lily-gilding. (You say the “but with magic” with something inbetween wide-eyed fanboyism and a thousand yard stare.)

    It’s Jane Austen…BUT WITH MAGIC is a perfect example.

    In the last decade or so BUT WITH MAGIC lost ground to BUT WITH ZOMBIES. I guess it’s making a comeback?

    (note: because of the precedent established by Shadowrun, BUT WITH MAGIC is understood to include BUT WITH ELVES DWARVES AND ORCS)

  41. < ![CDATA[Mark, you’ve somehow tuned in to an inside joke among me and my friends that has been going on since... 1989 I guess? Whenever Shadowrun came out. My friends and I dug cyberpunk (a friend of mine ran a cyberpunk game using the Traveller rules before R.Talisorian made Cyberpunk, and we thought that the R Talisorian game was awesome.) Then Shadowrun came out.... and it was cyberpunk, BUT WITH MAGIC. and ...BUT WITH MAGIC became a catchphrase for anything that engaged in that particular kind of lily-gilding. (You say the “but with magic” with something inbetween wide-eyed fanboyism and a thousand yard stare.) It’s Jane Austen...BUT WITH MAGIC is a perfect example. In the last decade or so BUT WITH MAGIC lost ground to BUT WITH ZOMBIES. I guess it’s making a comeback? (note: because of the precedent established by Shadowrun, BUT WITH MAGIC is understood to include BUT WITH ELVES DWARVES AND ORCS)]]>

  42. Corollary: Even if a game includes magic and it the supernatural, why does that automatically mean the PCs must have access to it.

    I’m running an occult mystery game right now in which the PCs have no ability to fully understand or effectively wield what they are dealing with and it is fantastic.

    “Oh there are werewolves? Can I play one?”
    NO!

  43. < ![CDATA[Corollary: Even if a game includes magic and it the supernatural, why does that automatically mean the PCs must have access to it. I’m running an occult mystery game right now in which the PCs have no ability to fully understand or effectively wield what they are dealing with and it is fantastic. “Oh there are werewolves? Can I play one?” NO!]]>