Like some of you, I imagine, I’m rather a sucker for a good fantasy novel. There are terrific books out there full of wild imagination that have gone beyond the Tolkein tropes and done their own thing while still giving us alternate worlds, epic journeys, and terrifying creatures. What I’m always on the lookout for in these books are creative magic systems. It seems like modern authors actually pride themselves on bucking generic systems and embracing inventive notions. Brandon Sanderson is pretty good at this, but he’s not the only writer who’s been doing this.
In these hands, magic can actually be as fascinating as the tales in which they take a part. Learning the ins and outs of these systems, the rules, the boundaries, the application is part of the fun of reading books. When I was a kid I loved the Xanth novels, and in particular how each character in the entire country would get a magic talent — although some of these were low-grade duds and some were powerful tools indeed. I couldn’t wait to see what talents the author thought of next.
One of my long-standing gripes with MMOs is how lazy most of them are in regards to magic. If the fantasy novel genre is on the cutting edge of thinking up new systems, MMOs are stuck in the ancient past, all playing off the same rulebook. I think it’s high past time that devs stopped dipping into the shallow trope well for magic and instead realized what a boon it could be for their games.
Fire. Water. Earth. Air. Heart. C’mon people, how many times have we seen the same-old elemental mages? I’m sure there are those out there who can’t get enough of flinging fireballs and snowballs at foes, but why a “mage” always has to hew to this limited elemental framework is beyond me. I mean, if you HAVE to do elements, surely there are more than just these to work with. But why do elements at all?
And you know what else bugs me? How there’s no journey to becoming magicians and wizards in these games. The second you create a character, poof, you’ve inherited some sort of infallible magical ability to consistently sling spells with no prior training that we’ve seen, no quest to attain magic, no study of what these systems entail. It’s just a DPS number wrapped up in a different type of particle effect, not true magic.
Magic systems could be so, so much more. It could be rare, requiring an epic amount of effort and deduction to attain. It could be — and follow me closely here — not always combat-related. Why couldn’t magic be used more for crafting, or exploring, or movement, or even RP-type social stuff?
Magic systems could involve alignments, taking players down paths that could be both beneficial and harmful. Do enough blood magic, and you might start earning a terrible reputation and be shunned in some communities. Touch on planes of existence that you were never meant to broach, and your character might start to go a little insane and babble from time to time. Use your magic to help others enough and you might gain the ability to perform cantrips without any preparation or cost.
What about spells that you can make yourself by mix-and-matching ingredients or features together? What about allowing players to mold their own type of magic classes instead of shoehorning them into a narrow path? What about resources that go beyond mana, perhaps making every spell used done so at a significant cost? What if magic was used to enhance other classes but not be the core of them? What if you could learn enough magic to become a mentor to other players, able to teach adventurers simple spells as you go about your way?
Harry Potter isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but look how much magic was used in those books outside of pure combat purposes? Wouldn’t it be awesome to play a game where magic was used just as much as a storytelling and puzzle-solving tool as it was to fight others?
I don’t have any definite answers, and maybe it’s all for naught considering how combat-centric fantasy MMOs tend to be, but I’m just throwing my cry out there that magic can be… well, magical if studios would only take a minute to stop doing the same thing as everyone else and try a different approach.