Thursday, April 16, 2009

A magical reality...

A few years ago, I made the attempt to create a game world (for the GURPS system) that would include the existence of magic in a logical and consistent manner. I eventually gave up after inflicting one too many headaches upon myself. One of the biggest issues I have had in the past with standard fantasy worlds is that many (if not most) of them make magic an accessible force and then imagine a world that's more or less identical to medieval Europe... only with wizards.


Now to be sure, the mere existence of magic doesn't necessarily mandate an entirely different lifestyle for the common man. After all, nuclear weapons exist, but for the vast majority of people, the mere existence of nuclear weapons means little to their daily lifestyles (thank goodness). Likewise, real magic users could be as vanishingly rare as the people who control nuclear weapons, with about as much effect upon the lives of the common folk. Of course, this analogy starts to break down when one envisions a world in which there are enough magi for them to organize themselves into fraternal orders, in which priests are invested with more than just inscrutable spiritual powers, and in which magical items are common enough that not every single one is the legendary heirloom of some royal family.

Of course, I do realize that, as much as anything, the setting of a fantasy world is a thing of convenience for its creators and participants. The idea that a fantasy setting needs to be realistic can get in the way of having fun with it as often as not. Fantasy worlds are by definition unreal places, and agonizing over whether or not these places are entirely logically-consistent does not necessarily ultimately enhance one's experience of the world. Even so, it's still pretty interesting to wonder how a culture in which magic actually existed would actually evolve, rather than simply taking a random Earth culture (preferably something medieval European) and grafting on ancient orders of wizards and other magical goodies.

Take, for example, the idea that there are materials that can be either manufactured or mined that are drastically stronger and/or lighter than iron. Of course, we live in a world like that now -- we've got mass-produced steel, aluminum, and all variety of other materials -- and those materials have revolutionized the world. Likewise, the evolution of agriculture and its mechanization has allowed modern cities to grow (imagine what could be done if humanity could literally command rain to fall somewhere)... Simply put, make magic common and allow it to accomplish things that could not otherwise be done in a medieval culture, and it follows that the culture would stop resembling a medieval one rather abruptly. Once things like teleportation and a cure disease spell are factored in, the world that emerges starts to make modernity look quite like the Dark Ages.

Anyhow, I don't mean to ramble too long, since this post really does have little to do with Lost Souls in particular, and is more of a commentary on the fantasy genre as a whole. It's just an interesting thing to ponder.

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