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Saturday 16 April 2016

Real Magick In RPGs: What Can Magicians Actually do in a "Low-Mana" Game?

So over on theRPGsite megathread that collects the archives to this series, someone asked me just what I think would be the benefits of being a magician in a contemporary RPG setting that isn't otherwise overtly 'fantasy'.  Because obviously, you can extrapolate a lot of what I wrote about this series to provide very fantastical 'power' for a serious magician in a game where fantasy is really intensely obvious and powerful in that horror/modern-fantasy style.  But what about in a game where Occultism is supposed to be as close to real life as possible in terms of what benefits it actually offers?

One might be tempted to say something like "it's all subjective" or "it would be really hard to quantify", but to me, those are really typical fake/incompetent occultist cop-out answers.

Magick is a system. Its main purpose is the Great Work, Enlightenment, whatever you want to call it. But along the way it works with particular components, and in fact those components are remarkably similar whether you're talking about a Western wizard, a Chinese wizard, an Arab wizard, or something else. Outer imagery is different, the 'recipe' of magick as a system of self-transformation is largely the same throughout all cultures and time periods; with the only notable detail being that not unlike technology, what cultures do with magick evolves as cultures become more advanced and complex. 

Saying "oh you can't really answer a question like this" is probably only true if you personally can't answer it due to a lack of investigation or experience. And/or if you're involvement in magick is really a type of LARPing or fantasy-based wishful-thinking. 

Neo-pagans, for example, tend to treat magick (along with their entire religion) as one big Ren-Faire LARP. They want to pretend they're powerful wizards in some fantasy world and try to convince themselves that any day now they'll be casting 'fly' or 'fireball'; while at the same time thinking that spells can just be whatever they like at the time, because 'you can't know stuff, man'.

New Agers treat magick like it was a mix of "the power of positive thinking" and a Victorian reverse-Lovecraft story, full of 'ascended masters' and 'atlanteans' and the 'galactic high council' all watching over them and that you can just make 'anything' happen if you can only think of enough white-light brightly enough. 

These people then balk at defining magick or what magick is and is not capable of because a realistic definition of what it can do would ruin the fantasy novel that's going on in their heads. 

Which is crazy to me, because what it can do if you actually apply yourself to it is pretty freaking awesome.

So I would say that the benefits, for someone who could navigate the various hazards and practiced with enough time and discipline to become skilled, would include some of the following:

-enhanced general perception of reality, including the enhancement of one's mental and physical faculties (within the limits of how one applies discipline to this).

-perception of reality at other dimensional levels (weird trips on other planes)

-a quality, as one becomes more connected to one's own true Will, to see through the 'masks' or false personas people wear, including those they may not be aware of themselves.

-enhanced perception of Time, including the ability to intuit the probable course of events as they unfold. This usually requires the assistance of divination techniques until one is quite advanced.

-The ability to 'invoke' archetypal forces that temporarily enhance one's abilities related to the particular area that archetype governs for the purpose of making specific achievements.

-the ability to 'evoke' forces of what Jung calls the "shadow side" to transform obstacles into solutions, to resolve specific problems.

-The ability to use ritual and symbol to affect probability (as Moore once said, "Magick is the science of coincidence").

-Also, a variety of 'cheap tricks' relating to things like health/endurance, influencing people, intimidation, not being seen, being highly noticed in very specific ways, and other such very-short-term reality changes.


Currently Smoking:  Lorenzetti Quiete + Gawith's Commonwealth


  1. Low-magic settings also have the advantage that the GM can assume most people won't expect magic or have countermeasures in place. This lets the low-power mage be more effective in that world than a high-level wizard in a magic-heavy standard fantasy setting.

    Low-power magic also encourages players to be creative. If you can't throw fireballs, but can ignite a small fire anywhere within your line of sight, that means the players have to make use of the environment, and think.

    1. That's about right. I certainly have had great advantages from people not knowing a damn thing about magick or thinking it's a real thing.