If you can read this, either the style sheet didn't load or you have an older browser that doesn't support style sheets. Try clearing your browser cache and refreshing the page.

(io9)   Why does magic need so many rules? Well obviously, without rules it could be used to instantly solve any problem like....uh...magic   (io9.com) divider line 114
    More: Interesting, fictional world, Larry Niven, Arthur C. Clarke, Ursula K. Le Guin  
•       •       •

5609 clicks; posted to Geek » on 18 Jun 2012 at 3:07 PM (2 years ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



114 Comments   (+0 »)
   
View Voting Results: Smartest and Funniest

Archived thread

First | « | 1 | 2 | 3 | » | Last | Show all
 
2012-06-18 11:26:26 AM
Only io9 could write an article about magic in literature as if it is a scientific system and not simply a storytelling convention (which, ironically, sometimes results in magic being presented as a "scientific" system).

/but it's Gawker, so meh
 
2012-06-18 11:45:24 AM
Magic that can do anything the author wants it to at any time without the need for explanation is incredibly boring, and often becomes a way to paper over bad writing. Not every detail of the way magic works needs to be explained (although I think Sanderson, for example, did an excellent job of creating and steadily unveiling a more mechanistic magic system in the Mistborn books), but a good author places clear limitations on it, even if it's only in his or her mind. I don't know how magic works in the Song of Ice and Fire books, but Martin has done a good job of establishing that it's always a dangerous and costly proposition.
 
2012-06-18 11:56:30 AM
Because while 'magic' exists as formless and boundless possibility and unformed potential, mortal creatures can't access that sort of power without having some sort of framework. we need an interface of some sort.
 
2012-06-18 11:57:36 AM
Slightly worse than the "J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter world is full of sexual assault and abuse" article from a while back.
 
2012-06-18 11:59:32 AM

Sybarite: Magic that can do anything the author wants it to at any time without the need for explanation is incredibly boring, and often becomes a way to paper over bad writing. Not every detail of the way magic works needs to be explained (although I think Sanderson, for example, did an excellent job of creating and steadily unveiling a more mechanistic magic system in the Mistborn books), but a good author places clear limitations on it, even if it's only in his or her mind. I don't know how magic works in the Song of Ice and Fire books, but Martin has done a good job of establishing that it's always a dangerous and costly proposition.


Yeah, exactly. If magic is easy, safe, unlimited, and has no chance of failure, that completely destroys any dramatic tension in the plot.
 
2012-06-18 12:03:11 PM

jake_lex: Yeah, exactly. If magic is easy, safe, unlimited, and has no chance of failure, that completely destroys any dramatic tension in the plot.


Reminds me of how they ruined Heroes.

When you start giving everyone super healing and time travel it becomes kind of stupid.
 
2012-06-18 12:05:01 PM
Here's what I think happened between Tolkien/Le Guin and now: Dungeons and Dragons. D&D has a lot to answer for re the modern fantasy audience (and I say this as a fan of D&D). I blame D&D for systematizing so many things that don't need to be or shouldn't be systematized:

I noticed the author didn't mention Michael Moorcock and/or the 'magic' system inherent to the warhammer 40k universe. Sure, magic works. and Chaos can literally do anything you want it to do....but it is power without morality and power without limits. plus it tends to reflect the absolute worst elements of the human soul. so while you could try to use chaos to help you make a paradise on earth...it might end up lobotomizing everyone you ever loved or warping them into soul sucking pleasure daemons. Or it might turn you into a petunia. with Chaos, you can only generally set the course, never the details of the journey.
 
2012-06-18 12:05:49 PM

Quasar: jake_lex: Yeah, exactly. If magic is easy, safe, unlimited, and has no chance of failure, that completely destroys any dramatic tension in the plot.

Reminds me of how they ruined Heroes.

When you start giving everyone super healing and time travel it becomes kind of stupid.


Try digging up an old copy of Aberrent. now THAT was a superhero RPG that went some interesting places.
 
ZAZ [TotalFark]
2012-06-18 12:15:55 PM
It's appropriate to quote Niven. Niven's fantasy, and to a lesser extent Lawrence Watt Evans', tries to be rational and the result is much different than a typical fantasy author's work.
 
2012-06-18 12:25:11 PM
the author says that magic shouldn't have rules, then goes on to descibe a world by LeGuin that seems to have some fairly solid rules for magic, in that it is risky, prone to failure, dependent of the caster and a bit of a crapshoot. Just because the rules say it doesn't always work (or work the same twice) doesn't mean it doesn't have rules
 
2012-06-18 12:25:21 PM
TL;DR

But, my two cents:

Some authors have this terrible habit of simply pulling deus ex machina magical solutions out of the air at the last minute from their poorly defined magical systems, without any foreshadowing or possibility of guessing that it would happen. If you've spent the last however many chapters trying to anticipate how X is going to accomplish Y, and then it's "oh, he just waves his hand and *boom* it happens", it kind of ruins the story.

Imagine a non-fantasy story set in 500 AD. After an epic battle, the good guys have nearly lost, and have been beaten back, and are on the brink of having to surrender to the evil overlord. Suddenly, one of the heroes inexplicably produces a .50 caliber sniper rifle from nowhere and shoots the evil overlord from a mile away, winning the battle. Now replace the gun with "magic". That's what having a poorly defined magic system often equivalently does to a plot.
 
2012-06-18 12:39:47 PM

Metalupis: the author says that magic shouldn't have rules, then goes on to descibe a world by LeGuin that seems to have some fairly solid rules for magic, in that it is risky, prone to failure, dependent of the caster and a bit of a crapshoot. Just because the rules say it doesn't always work (or work the same twice) doesn't mean it doesn't have rules


welcome_to_gawker.gif
 
2012-06-18 12:42:04 PM

ZAZ: It's appropriate to quote Niven. Niven's fantasy, and to a lesser extent Lawrence Watt Evans', tries to be rational and the result is much different than a typical fantasy author's work.


Yeah, those 4 chapters he wrote when he was not talking about alien sex
 
2012-06-18 12:46:30 PM
I think if you could get past all the rape and how Communism is bad in the Sword of Truth series, it had some good rules for magic.
 
2012-06-18 12:49:13 PM
As a powerful sussurator myself, allow me to cast my famous subvocalurgy spell:

article was long and whiny

Hm... nothing seems to have happened.
 
2012-06-18 01:03:25 PM
I likewise notice that they didn't mention White Wolf's Mage system, which really played around with systems of magic, not based on inherent rules, but rules imposed by belief. Belief of the observer and the practitioner. That consensual reality helped cement the rules, and that in order to overcome those inherent rules, one had to work at it, fuel it, or make such occurrences be a coincidence that could be explained, and barring that, the consensus might just pimp slap the magus, not because of inherent rules, but by dint of the belief around him or her.

Belief and one's own limitations, and one's own expectations limited their scope, reinforced by the rules that everyone around you believes in. It made for a very open system, that made crazy Taoist mystics and wizards who based their magics in the Greek and European traditions equal to Navaho medicine men or African mystics, and each bound by their own traditions, and really, those traditions and those systems imposed their own rules, because of the belief in those systems. Less about order and chaos, but belief and will's impact on reality. Desire and will to actualize and create reality, limited by understanding and imagination. It was the ultimate exercise in subjective reality.
 
2012-06-18 01:03:33 PM
The same reason Superman is at his best fighting some super powered creep from outers space. Compared to us puny mortals he is an all powerful God who we are powerless against.

Or to paraphrase Syndrome

and when everyone is Super, no one will be.
 
2012-06-18 01:42:17 PM
img135.imageshack.us

It's easy, all you have to do is speck backwards!
 
2012-06-18 01:44:22 PM
Uh, blaming Gygax for giving magic rules and limitations is D&D is absurd. Unrestrained magic in the game unbalances play and makes magic users the only character to be. So, let's not beat up Gary for doing something necessary and clever.
 
2012-06-18 02:05:29 PM

Ennuipoet: Uh, blaming Gygax for giving magic rules and limitations is D&D is absurd. Unrestrained magic in the game unbalances play and makes magic users the only character to be. So, let's not beat up Gary for doing something necessary and clever.


Magic generally has rules, in most traditions, be that Wicca, be that the Hermetic magics, various forms of shamanism, Taoist mysticism, Kabbla, Santeria or dozens of others. The powers invoked always have rules--which explains why we aren't over run with the spirits of the dead, wild creatures of the Fae, or ancient gods and demons rampaging on the streets. Powers are held in check by one another. Rules are invoked in any of the traditions, be that less about "magic" than "religious devotion in traditions that aren't considered mainstream" or "traditions of faith that aren't common in the US but accepted elsewhere."

Whatever you call them, these traditions have always had rules, to explain why there aren't powers just rampaging around destroying cities, driving men and women mad, or folks just killing their neighbors with powers. Even when a sorcerer or power was rampaging around, there were rules built into the mythos to explain how they might be checked--sometimes gruesome enough to keep folks from just going about it willy nilly to keep their neighbors from bashing skulls in of suspected witches and warlocks.

Some of which, we still use today, to ward off bad luck. Knocking on wood, a pinch of salt over the shoulder--actually, salt is a ward in a lot of traditions--the American traditions have a lot of ways to ward off the evil eye. Latin America is rife with ways to ward of mal de ojo. Simple ways to throw the Debbil off the scent, or at least keep bad luck at bay.

The ways that folks ward off evil tell a lot about a society. The desire for "free magic" tells you a lot about our Dear Author...
 
2012-06-18 02:17:06 PM
Once upon a time, there was a young boy named Harry. On his 11th birthday, a giant showed up and brought him to Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry. Harry learned how to do magic that had no rules and no limits.

Then one day, the evil Lord Voldemort showed up and wanted to kill Harry. So Harry cast a magic spell that changed the world so that Voldemort had never been born, and everyone lived happily ever after, and there was no book 2.

That's why.
 
2012-06-18 02:53:49 PM
I feel that what she is saying is there should be a happy middle ground. Magic should still be mysterious, but the author should know it's limits. All powerful magic is boring. At least that's what I gathered.
 
2012-06-18 02:58:41 PM

Ennuipoet: Uh, blaming Gygax for giving magic rules and limitations is D&D is absurd. Unrestrained magic in the game unbalances play and makes magic users the only character to be. So, let's not beat up Gary for doing something necessary and clever.


Out of all the table top RPG games I've played over the years, the magic system I liked best was in 2nd edition Mage: the Ascension rules. sure, you could do almost anything you wanted...but paradox backlash was a cast iron biatch.
 
2012-06-18 03:00:11 PM

FloydA: Then one day, the evil Lord Voldemort showed up and wanted to kill Harry. So Harry cast a magic spell that changed the world so that Voldemort had never been born, and everyone lived happily ever after, and there was no book 2.

That's why.



Are you saying that as a bad thing??
 
2012-06-18 03:13:53 PM
I honestly thought TFA would be talking about Magic: the Gathering, and was disappointed to find out it's about magic as an element to fictional stories. Still, I enjoyed the rant even if I disagreed with a good bit of it.
 
2012-06-18 03:16:01 PM
How do you kill a vampire? However the fark you want to, because they don't farking exist.

If constraint helps the story, then constrain. If mystery helps the story then keep your mouth shut. If limitless power helps the story... limitless power NEVER helps the story.
 
2012-06-18 03:16:15 PM
"Any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from SCIENCE!"

Genius.
 
2012-06-18 03:19:57 PM
I remember tvtropes had a pretty good page on different conventions regarding treatment of magic in literature. Not going to try to find that while I'm at work though. Here's an example though, for those who have time on their hands: Link
 
2012-06-18 03:20:43 PM
Paging Harry Dresden...

Seriously, though, pretty much everyone here has touched on why magic in literature has all these rules: stories would suck without them. The thing is, writing rules of magic into a storyline is never an easy thing, and very few have gotten it right, IMO. Jim Butcher did and does, as did the GW/WW/D&D guys, and I'll give Myke Cole a definite bonus for how he set up his magic system. The thing about rules, though, is they are made to be broken, and that can definitely work in a storyline...

Hmmm... Probably been done before, but I'll need a storyline to write after I finish the one I'm working on now.


The Stealth Hippopotamus


2012-06-18 03:00:11 PM

FloydA: Then one day, the evil Lord Voldemort showed up and wanted to kill Harry. So Harry cast a magic spell that changed the world so that Voldemort had never been born, and everyone lived happily ever after, and there was no book 2.

That's why.


Are you saying that as a bad thing??

*snrk* This. Oh so very much this.
 
2012-06-18 03:21:03 PM

salvador.hardin: How do you kill a vampire? However the fark you want to, because they don't farking exist.

If constraint helps the story, then constrain. If mystery helps the story then keep your mouth shut. If limitless power helps the story... limitless power NEVER helps the story.


www.mtgmintcard.com
 
2012-06-18 03:23:22 PM
I know many can't stand the SoT series, but I do enjoy the rules. Link


1) "People are stupid, they will believe something because they want it to be true; or because they're afraid it might be true."

2) "The greatest harm can result from the best intentions."

3) "Passion rules reason, for better or for worse."

4) "There is magic in sincere forgiveness; in the forgiveness you give, but more so in the forgiveness you receive."

5) "Mind what people do, not only what they say, for deeds will betray a lie."

6) "The only sovereign you can allow to rule you is reason."

7) "Life is the future, not the past."

8) "Talga Vassternich." for "Deserve Victory".

9) "A contradiction can not exist in reality. Not in part, nor in whole."

10) "Willfully turning aside from the truth is treason to one's self."

/Wizards rules but I think they can apply to this.
//Of course, wiccans only have 1 rule. "An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will"
 
2012-06-18 03:25:42 PM
I like storytelling where problems can be solved by pulling something totally new out of your ass.
 
2012-06-18 03:27:34 PM
I figure a lot of the various ways of systematizing of magic is akin to the systematizing futuristic technologies in various sci-fi series. To just take the most basic and well-known examples, the Star Trek series' spent an inordinate amount of time explaining their technology because doing so allows them to address their problems in a way that doesn't feel like a deus ex machina, whereas the Star Wars movies spend next to no time explaining how anything works in their universe - including the Force, except for a few throwaway lines in Empire, Return, and Phantom - because it just was there to help move the story along to the next scene. The story of Star Trek was very much driven by their technological abilities, while the story of Star Wars simply used fantastic elements as a backdrop for very archetypal narratives.

Why should stories that involve magic be any different? Some people enjoy a series where magic is just a background element to move the story along, while others enjoy a series that is driven by that element, and some people enjoy both.
 
2012-06-18 03:27:50 PM

Weaver95: Ennuipoet: Uh, blaming Gygax for giving magic rules and limitations is D&D is absurd. Unrestrained magic in the game unbalances play and makes magic users the only character to be. So, let's not beat up Gary for doing something necessary and clever.

Out of all the table top RPG games I've played over the years, the magic system I liked best was in 2nd edition Mage: the Ascension rules. sure, you could do almost anything you wanted...but paradox backlash was a cast iron biatch.


Mage 2ed was lots of fun. Problem with paradox was you had smartasses like me who would contrive completely believable "coincidences" to pull effects off. I actually drove my storyteller to drink when I "proved" it was possible to electrocute someone with static electricity in the right circumstances. Those were the days...
 
2012-06-18 03:28:42 PM

DeltaPunch: As a powerful sussurator myself, allow me to cast my famous subvocalurgy spell:

article was long and whiny

Hm... nothing seems to have happened.


Well, yeah. Sussuration only works on one person at a time, and we all saw you type that.

Nyw I wyll pyt a "y" ynto yvery wyrd, ynd claym yts mysterious ynglish.

Actually, China Mieville does a pretty good job at keeping his magic mysterious. That was one of my favorite parts about "Kraken", when Billy figures out how magic works. And it still didn't explain anything.
 
2012-06-18 03:28:53 PM
It doesn't need "rules"... but any good book needs a plot with confinements, conflict, and all that good stuff.

If your character had "infinite magical powers"... then there would be no plot.
 
2012-06-18 03:29:23 PM
to keep people from stacking the decks when they play in tournaments
 
Skr
2012-06-18 03:31:53 PM
Without some sort of restrictions, it becomes a Deus Ex Machina wank fest. But if you properly structure it, even the fantastic seems fitting for the story. Often times what the characters can accomplish, within the boundaries given, ends up having more meaning due to their ingenuity pushing the limits.
 
2012-06-18 03:33:07 PM

Kome: I figure a lot of the various ways of systematizing of magic is akin to the systematizing futuristic technologies in various sci-fi series. To just take the most basic and well-known examples, the Star Trek series' spent an inordinate amount of time explaining their technology because doing so allows them to address their problems in a way that doesn't feel like a deus ex machina, whereas the Star Wars movies spend next to no time explaining how anything works in their universe - including the Force, except for a few throwaway lines in Empire, Return, and Phantom - because it just was there to help move the story along to the next scene. The story of Star Trek was very much driven by their technological abilities, while the story of Star Wars simply used fantastic elements as a backdrop for very archetypal narratives.

Why should stories that involve magic be any different? Some people enjoy a series where magic is just a background element to move the story along, while others enjoy a series that is driven by that element, and some people enjoy both.


The biggest problem with it is when you have different writers who focus more on one aspect than another, explaining tech or magic too much in one season then pushing the explanations to the backburner for a few shows until the cycle begins anew. Star Trek was famous for that and it never really recovered, at least series-wise.
 
2012-06-18 03:34:14 PM

The Stealth Hippopotamus: FloydA: Then one day, the evil Lord Voldemort showed up and wanted to kill Harry. So Harry cast a magic spell that changed the world so that Voldemort had never been born, and everyone lived happily ever after, and there was no book 2.

That's why.


Are you saying that as a bad thing??



That depends. Are you Rowlings' accountant?
 
2012-06-18 03:36:18 PM

HairBolus: I like storytelling where problems can be solved by pulling something totally new out of your ass.


I've seen that video. I didn't think the storytelling was very good, actually.
 
2012-06-18 03:36:51 PM
Also, if you don't want your readers picking over the details of your magic system, fantasy novels are not what you should be writing. I've never read a fantasy novel, and never seen any movies in the genre... but I know that the geeks love to pick this stuff apart. And you *WANT* people geeking out on your work.

Dude, get over it. Its part of the genre.

Sci Fi writers damn well better adhere to the laws of science, or come up with a good explaination on how our current knowledge of the "laws" was able to be violated in the future (time travel, going faster than the speed of light.)

Crime novelists better know the laws of the nation and the area(s) their plot takes place. Or, have a good reason for breaking free of that.

"You have to know the rules to break them".
 
2012-06-18 03:42:16 PM

PirateKing: Actually, China Mieville does a pretty good job at keeping his magic mysterious.


Its just that he is so bad at pretty much everything else that it would likely be more of his patented sloppy writing than an actual thing.

wait let me get out my word of the day calendar and translate malaprop it into Mievillian:

"The existentialized fact is that he is so ingenuous in the eldritch and arete art of scribery that any obfuscation as to the nature of thaumaturgy would be as attributable to the pococurante nature of his opera than any other attributable source."

/crap forgot to fit in the words "pulsing" "ichor" "gibbering" and "bile"
 
2012-06-18 03:45:07 PM

FloydA: HairBolus: I like storytelling where problems can be solved by pulling something totally new out of your ass.

I've seen that video. I didn't think the storytelling was very good, actually.


(Bullwinkle) Hey, Rockie, watch me pull something out of my ass!
(Rocky) Aw, Bullwinkle, that trick always works.


/bored in the last 45 minutes of work
 
2012-06-18 03:46:25 PM

PirateKing: DeltaPunch: As a powerful sussurator myself, allow me to cast my famous subvocalurgy spell:

article was long and whiny

Hm... nothing seems to have happened.

Well, yeah. Sussuration only works on one person at a time, and we all saw you type that.

Nyw I wyll pyt a "y" ynto yvery wyrd, ynd claym yts mysterious ynglish.

Actually, China Mieville does a pretty good job at keeping his magic mysterious. That was one of my favorite parts about "Kraken", when Billy figures out how magic works. And it still didn't explain anything.


Agreed! The whole Bas-Lag trilogy is awesome. From the thaumaturgy used on Remades to Crisis Theory... he does an awesome job classifying the types of magic (somaturgy, karcism, biothaumaturgy, elemental, etc.) while keeping it utterly mysterious and awesome.
 
2012-06-18 03:50:40 PM
That's actually exactly why, subby. If you could just instantly solve any problem by magic, then there's no story. Stories require problems to solve and conflicts to resolve.
 
2012-06-18 03:50:41 PM
Because without summoning sickness, the first player could really mess with his defenseless opposition.
 
2012-06-18 03:53:09 PM
It's funny to see a fantasy author rating about this, as I've been recently reading The Name of The Wind, and that book is just wonderfully set with a very detailed and easy to grasp magic system. Actually make that two magic systems and then a third "this is real magic and we don't gotta explain shiat" system. Plus on top of that you get mythological creatures that are scientifically explainable (probably one of the more original interpretations of dragon's I've seen), as well as mythological creatures that are completely inexplicable (farking Chandrian...).

I've found that it's just modern human instinct to try and build systems for stuff like magic in fantasy. We live in a world where a lot of things have been explained and cataloged neatly by scientists and doctors, and it is becoming increasingly harder to just shrug your shoulders and just accept anything in the universe as supernatural. We've come to demand more than just the common deus ex.
 
2012-06-18 04:02:45 PM

Teiritzamna: PirateKing: Actually, China Mieville does a pretty good job at keeping his magic mysterious.

Its just that he is so bad at pretty much everything else that it would likely be more of his patented sloppy writing than an actual thing.

wait let me get out my word of the day calendar and translate malaprop it into Mievillian:

"The existentialized fact is that he is so ingenuous in the eldritch and arete art of scribery that any obfuscation as to the nature of thaumaturgy would be as attributable to the pococurante nature of his opera than any other attributable source."

/crap forgot to fit in the words "pulsing" "ichor" "gibbering" and "bile"


You take that back! You take that back and you die!

*ahem* Apologies. Do I occasionally need to look up a word when reading Mieville? Sure, but then I'm happy that I learned a new word. He's not nearly as pretentious as you make it seem. You're free to criticize him, but the way you do it makes it seem like you have a beef with any writer that dares to go beyond your limited vocabulary.

(Also, you forgot to add "palimpsest".)
 
2012-06-18 04:05:14 PM

Joe Six-Keg: FloydA: HairBolus: I like storytelling where problems can be solved by pulling something totally new out of your ass.

I've seen that video. I didn't think the storytelling was very good, actually.

(Bullwinkle) Hey, Rockie, watch me pull something out of my ass!
(Rocky) Aw, Bullwinkle, that trick always works.


/bored in the last 45 minutes of work


The thing about magic is yes, it can be used too much as a way to solve all problems, thats why authors put limitations on it in the first place. Then the usage of magic becomes more interesting as has been mentioned above, if it is a crapshoot.
 
Displayed 50 of 114 comments

First | « | 1 | 2 | 3 | » | Last | Show all

View Voting Results: Smartest and Funniest


This thread is archived, and closed to new comments.

Continue Farking
Submit a Link »






Report