The Power of Flavor Text

Discussion in 'Discussions' started by Essence, Dec 15, 2012.

  1. Essence

    Essence Will Mod for Digglebucks

    From here (warning: people on this board cuss alot, are generally dicks, and don't like anyone, especially Omni.)

    I just wanted to talk a little bit about flavor text and why people gripe about stuff like giving a Warrior skill a teleport ability...and then I found this, and I realized that Frank (who I've had long chats with across a few different message boards and who is, for those of you familiar with such things, the guy who created The Word (of The Wish and The Word)) said this far more directly that I could.

    So here it is: flavor text is a crappy reason to prevent anyone from doing anything, but the human brain is wired to object based on it, which sucks. Quid pro quo, dolorum ipsum sed, jacta alea est, quota era demonstratum.
  2. Haldurson

    Haldurson Member

    From a literary standpoint, I tend to absolutely hate magic. The whole point of magic is to create a world where people can do things that are quite literally, against the known rules of science. What some authors do is that they create their own rules, which is fine, except then they don't always consider the consequences of those rules (because any time you create a reality, there's just too many repercussions for a mortal man to be able to fully consider in one lifetime).

    But let's say that you do create a magic system, with the inevitable logic holes and all, and you want to apply it to a game system. The only way to make it all make sense is through willfull blindness. And way back when I played D&D, I could see this quite obviously happening all the time. Willfull blindness is probably the most powerful force in the whole universe. It can make the Phlebtonium-based ray into something powerful enough to destroy a whole continent with just a whisper, or it can limit it to affecting only people who's names start with the letter "H". They both make equal sense because you have not fully delineated exactly how the whole darn universe that you just created from scratch works.

    Furthermore, once you've allowed for Magic, you have to assume that Magic is simply a science that you may not know all the rules of (because, that's exactly waht we call magic). We know there are rules, we just don't know what they are, which is why everything seems to be so mysterious. If magic actually worked, we'd NEVER differentiate it from non-magic. Because it all would be part of the same universe. Just like we don't differentiate in our world between things that happen by science and by non-science (because it's all science -- either science we understand or science we don't). We may say that we don't understand something, but we know that everything doesn't just happen all at once and completely randomly. Glasses shatter when you drop them or they don't depending on very specific factors. But you do know that they will fall down. In a magical universe, if you assume that there ARE no rules, then it's not very interesting and there is no logic, and any question you ask as to if something should or should not happen is moot.

    So to answer your question, in a fantasy universe, it makes just as much sense to go with one side or another in the example given -- between a physical attack and a magical one. Whatever you decide is true, is true by definition. Because the world is made up and can't possibly exist anyway.
    Kazeto, Essence and OmniaNigrum like this.
  3. mining

    mining Member

    ehrmagehrd frank trollman

    Edit: Also, I'd say it's questionable to refer to diplomacy as getting 'push back'. Epic diplomacy (i.e. the jumplomancer) is one of the more broken things around that you can do by level 10.
    Kazeto and OmniaNigrum like this.
  4. OmniaNigrum

    OmniaNigrum Member

    Are you kidding Essence? Those guys *LOVE* me. :D
    mining and Essence like this.
  5. mining

    mining Member

    I just found the thread where they had some Fun with Loving you.
    OmniaNigrum likes this.
  6. OmniaNigrum

    OmniaNigrum Member

    Lol. Those guys only hear what they want to hear. And no amount of repeating the same exact things allows them to hear the part they choose to ignore. I was wrong to expect them to be capable of reason. And it seems they choose to not only be jerks to myself, but also to be jerks to Essence for the awful crime of knowing me. (That part more than anything else pissed me off.)

    But whatever. Let them be that way. They can have the last laugh. I need no boost to my ego like they clearly do. :)
  7. OmniaNigrum

    OmniaNigrum Member

    Back to the topic. Magic is best left unexplainable. It ceases to be magic if you can understand it.

    Things like Radiation were once unknown to science. Back then they were almost magical to the observer. (Usually in a very bad way as radiation tends to accumulate until it kills you painfully.) Once radiation was mostly understood by science, the magic is gone. Poof. It ceases to exist outside of science,

    Likewise once science explains other things they will lack the current aura of unknown quasi-magical status they have.

    In a game system magic is broken the moment it is explained, or even explainable. For it to work as designed, it must be a mystery.
    Kazeto and Haldurson like this.
  8. Haldurson

    Haldurson Member

    Reading Omni's comment, it came into my mind that there is an alternate definition of magic, and that is, you can label anything as magic if it contradicts REAL WORLD science. In that case, you are callilng it magic as an outsider of that universe. In that case, magic MAY be explainable within that universe (just not within the context of the real world). If you choose to go by that definition of magic, then you CAN, as the GM, or player, label things as magic. And in character, you could label ANYTHING as magic that you don't understand (which could include anything -- gravity, tides, starllight, etc. even if you propose as part of the background story, that they work the same way in that fictional universe as they do in our own). That also can have some interesting implications, such as encountering a wizard armed with magic wand that shoots projectiles (ie. bullets).

    I once ran a short-lived rpg (system loosely based on GURPS, but my own world). In it, I had both magic and science as separate entities (This is before I thought about the subject the way I've been discussing it here). I did this mostly as a convention to players who liked fantasy better than I did. HOWEVER, I purposefully mad magic something kind of out of the past, that has faded away to a great extent. I had laws of conservation of magic, I had magic work kind of like electric current, where some substances were better conductors than others. I even came up with a reason as to why magic had gone away. There were cycles that lasted many hundreds of years, and whenever the world would go from a high magic to a low magic period, and eventually reverse itself (slowly), empires would fall, there would be great chaos. What I didn't say was that there were hidden movers in the world who would use these cycles and even try to drive them, or slow them (oftentimes leading to even more chaos).

    Anyway, as part of the technology, I decided that during times of magic, that technology would not go away, but would be augmented by magic. So, for example, at the time the players are in the world, you could get magelock guns and rifles. They are easier to use than bows and more resistant to bad weather than totally non-magical firearms. You could even bottle magic, or store it in a battery, though a bottle of pure mana (in those times) would be priceless (and very few would know what to do with it if they could get one).

    BTW, that's the primary reason why guns were superior to bows in colonial times -- anyone could learn to use a gun pretty quickly, but it took years to learn to use a bow well. So despite all of the issues with guns (the noise, the loading, the jamming, the wet powder, etc.) you could train just about anyone to use one and he'd be deadly with it with llittle or no effort.
    Kazeto, Essence, mining and 1 other person like this.
  9. Wolg

    Wolg Member

    This does remind me of a discussion piece for people running World of Darkness games I read a while back; the précis for it is "are your mechanics in service to the plot, or vice versa?"
    Kazeto and OmniaNigrum like this.
  10. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    See, what Frank fails to appreciate is the whole idea of phlebotinum (and I'm assuming that he means the TV Tropes concept, although he spells it differently). Phlebotinum is not a substance that you add to make something work- that's unobtanium. Phlebotinum is a concept that you apply to help the willing suspension of disbelief along. The whole point of it is to make something that wouldn't normally seem possible more plausible.

    Charles Atlas powers, on the other hand, are introduced to make a character powerful, but limited. The very idea is that this guy brushes up on the limits of human potential, without stepping outside it- in otherwords, without needing applications of phlebotinum theory.

    Now game balance is often introduced by making these two things exactly the same, mechanically. The haste spell and the adrenaline burst ability work exactly the same, to use a random example that I just made up. That's all fine and dandy. After all, game balance is an important part of fun, sacrificing reality to it is perfectly acceptable so long as you realize the bounds of that change are limited to within the game board or roleplay (otherwise you might need some kind of professional help.)

    But in reality, things are quite different. For example, in the Rifts RPG system, the Juicer, a steroid driven superman, is the equal of a nuclear powered Cyborg, physically speaking. In fact, they're frequently stronger in terms of raw statistics. However, there's really no way that simple chemical enhancement is making a human stronger than nuclear powered cybernetics, assuming such a thing could exist. You find similar contradictions in RPG systems with powered armor or worlds where hackers should really be able to rule the world or worlds with magic and the supernatural. The phlebotinum aspects are meant to make the impossible possible, and as soon as you want a more narrative, cause and effect feel to your system, as opposed to a strictly mechanical, because the rules say so feel, you run into that problem.

    Wise GMs either apply the Inverse Law of Power and Utility or simply let Charles Atlas be it's own phlebotinum theory. Either one works just fine, IMO, but different people want different things, play styles, the rest of this post has been written better a dozen times in other places...
    Kazeto, Essence and OmniaNigrum like this.
  11. Kazeto

    Kazeto Member

    Well, it all depends on whether the mechanics were created to fit the setting and story or if the story and the setting itself were just a "convenient" excuse to explain the mechanics.

    A fine example is comparing "Dungeons and Dragons" with "Mage: The Ascension".
    In the first one, magic was supposed to be something rare and be limited by this or that, but in reality it was only a flavour text added to make it fit the story, and after you play you find yourself asking "why isn't magic used for everything if it's that simple and that effective?" because you don't really see its rarity nor its alleged limitations. Sure, it is not the most powerful force in the whole setting (gods and their priests can be more powerful, depending on the situation, though here I assume we don't go to level 20 because that breaks every possible calculation), but if we make a comparison of power and versatility to cost and rarity, it goes off the scales up; it is an example of a setting created to fit the mechanics.
    In the latter, magic is common, so common that everyone has the potential to use it if they open to its existence and "awaken", and it is the most powerful thing in the whole setting; but it comes for a price, and the price is really there, so if you ask yourself "why isn't magic used for everything if it's that simple and that effective?" it takes about three seconds to find the answer, just one of many answers that could've been given - because it's not stable due to Sleepers, because overusing it strains the Arete, because using a mundane tool would make covering the whole thing easier, because it might backfire and create Paradox, etc.. Yes, if you are feeling like showing off and have the correct schools of magic, there's nothing stopping you from shaping fire into a blade or making an anvil out of nothing to drop on your enemy's head; but as you play you find that you, as a player, don't really want to use magic unless it becomes absolutely necessary to; it is an example of mechanics themselves created to fit the setting.

    When I started working on a tabletop RPG system some time ago (at the request of my friend, who wanted to work with someone who would know what to do and who would take the whole thing seriously), we had an image of what we wanted to have there, game mechanics-wise and setting-wise, and we started to work on it. Some time later, and the world itself saw two total rewrites, history of it four major rewrites, and the system of game mechanics as many as nine. All of these because after reading our work there was a point where we asked ourselves "why" something was there and could not find the answer. The end result is that most things we made don't even resemble anything from our first vision of the game, but that is fine because now we have something that can answer all the "why" questions ever asked by people given our texts to read without us having to look for some old notes. Heck, we started with something rather D&Dish in its approach to magic, and now are somewhere between Mage: The Ascension and Crystalicum (which is also an example of a game where the mechanics are created to fit the setting rather than the other way around), and we are proud of getting that far even if that means we had to scrap most of our past work a few times.

    That being said, nowadays I find myself disliking (outside of the moments when I just want to fool around) settings where the concept of "phlebotinum" is used as a convenient answer for "why can't this or that be done?" or "why isn't this working in a certain way?" when there's nothing in the setting that would provide an answer. But that is just a matter of preference, after all.
    Essence and OmniaNigrum like this.
  12. Loerwyn

    Loerwyn Member

    And magic would have a real-world value that depends on its rarity and view in society, and perhaps even on its scope.

    If a lot of people can use magic, then it's going to largely have no great value. If a lot of people can use magic and can create food with it, then both magic and food are going to be of limited value. But if only a few people can use magic, it might be highly valued, or it might be the complete opposite and a hated attribute that someone has to hide (though it would still be a valuable thing, just to a different group of people).
    Kazeto and OmniaNigrum like this.
  13. Wolg

    Wolg Member

    The D&D setting Eberron explored that notion, with the Magewright NPC class -- individuals who could cast one or two spells only, but could cast those in such a way as to make them viable for employment.

    The setting's take was that magic was indeed commonplace enough to treat as technology... apart from player characters, as the capabilities of PC spellcasters were exceptional in comparison (versatility and power).
    OmniaNigrum likes this.