Focusing on the Arte Magical as a practice and profession, we study various facets of magic through the lens of both classical and modern perspective. From ancient myth to urban legend to fiction and philosophy, all viewed through the eyes of a very practical magician.
Turning the Tabletop
So I'm curious- how many of you are tabletop gamers? You know, pen-and-paper RPGs, dice, maybe some figurines or what-have-you?
Because I'm a HUGE gamer. As in four times a week, in some cases. If you haven't realized that from my blog, then I'm telling you now.
Around here at Grimoire of Geek, we talk a lot about various kinds of fandoms and how they can become part of your magical practice. We also like to talk about other geeky subjects, controversial subjects to do with our gods and how we relate to them, and where your magic comes from. We're geeks- we dissect and analyze things, and then we geek out over the details. It's a thing.
However, one of the things geeks and nerds and analytical types love to do is reverse-engineer. And that's what today's mental experiment is about.
When I was about 8 or 9 years old, I first encountered Dungeons & Dragons books, and found them boring. Now, primarily this was because I didn't like the suggested content- wizards and clerics and paladins were cool and all, but I thought I could do better than that, and so I started to create character classes with more interesting flavors to them- the alchemist, the treedancer, the djinn-summoner...
Yes, at 8 years old. So they probably weren't all THAT great. But I did have a lot of fun with them, and I still remember doing that fondly.
Later, around 11, I actually started playing with some friends. It didn't last long, but it did create one of my more memorable characters, a former kender-thief-gone-wild-mage who also unfortunately wore the form of a 4'6" pink rabbit humanoid with glowing gold eyes and a blue mage robe. The less said about Fury Funnbunn, the better.
Now the thing was, my grandparents were raising me at this time, and they were heavily Mormon. They thought of D&D as devil-worship in disguise. They didn't even believe me when I told them that one of the Dragonlance authors was also LDS. It made things awkward and unhappy for me, to say the least.
But when I reached the age of 18, I discovered White Wolf RPGs. Vampire: the Masquerade, where you could pretend to be an immortal and tragic creature of the night with superhuman powers and deadly enemies. Werewolf: the Apocalypse, where you were one of Gaia's protectors and a friend to all goodly spirits, with the unfortunate side effect of a monthly furry transformation.
And finally, and most important to me... Mage: the Ascension.
What possibly could be cooler than playing a character whose very nature allowed him to bend reality to his will? In a world centered around magic?
Discovering that game was like Christmas and my birthday all at once- I had always lived and breathed magic as a kid, and wanted nothing more than to become a powerful witch or wizard or shaman. I had scrupulously written down spells from every novel and television show I ever encountered, trying them out in my own time. I had, of course, very sparse results, and was often discouraged.
But here! Here was a book full of magic, that even let you work with science as a magical paradigm! And they had mages who used the Internet! And spirit-talkers! I was thrilled!
Until I read the Disclaimer.
"THIS BOOK IS NOT REAL. IT IS JUST A GAME. NOTHING IN THIS BOOK IS INTENDED TO BE TAKEN LITERALLY, NOR WILL THIS BOOK TEACH YOU ANYTHING ABOUT MAGIC. IF YOU WANT TO USE THIS BOOK TO DO REAL MAGIC, YOU SHOULD SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP."
And suddenly the magic is sucked out of the experience...
At first, I ignored the disclaimer, because I was a stubborn teen- "no magic in it, huh? Well I'll show you! I'll MAKE it be real!"
That actually worked in some ways, as I have described in previous posts on magical gaming. Gaming is a ritual, and magicians use rituals for magic. Naturally, there were results.
Later, the disclaimer just annoyed me- having met some of the authors of those books and had actual occult discussions with them, I'm aware that they weren't entirely being truthful. They were putting magic in the game, just not for the purpose of teaching people to cast spells. Essentially, they were playing "the wizard's game," as mentioned in Cast the Circle.
But soon enough, I began to have an interesting problem...
See, a lot of the problems these books have is that they actually do include magical elements which are authentic. D&D books have polytheism and instructions on potion and object enchantment which aren't terribly inaccurate- they even make sigils and rune inscriptions which are pretty true-to-form.
White Wolf books teach what are essentially very small tidbits of occult traditions- tarot, astrology, blood magic, demonology... they teach just enough to get people interested.
Mind you, I don't believe Vampire: the Requiem or Changeling: the Dreaming is going to teach a person how to summon spirits or sell their soul to Satan. Quite the opposite- if you're playing the game, you're likely to learn all the important lessons we teach each other through faery tales and myths. Chief among them- be careful what you wish for, and don't make bargains with untrustworthy spirits. So, I can't really object to that at all, especially not in this day and age, where such knowledge has become commonplace due to pop culture references like Once Upon a Time and Charmed.
But the books and movies and such do expose us to the gnosis. And the gnosis is what inspires real magic.
And I am a magician. A witch, a sorcerer, and a handful of other things not really worth mentioning at the moment. But chiefly, I am a magician, and I improve the use of magic where I find it. Competency is my primary concern.
And these books aren't doing it right. *chuckles*
Specifically, it's because they're supposed to be a "game." Not a method of real magical instruction, just an entertaining pastime. Unfortunately, I don't have pastimes- I have gnosis fonts and experiments and semi-religious experiences.
So... I started tweaking the systems. A little change of definition here, a few new rules there, maybe an entire overhaul of these rules over here... and voila! A Mage: the Awakening system which actually works as a spellcasting system! Or perhaps an Amber Diceless variant which works perfectly for awakening new magical abilities in players. Or maybe a d20 variation that relies upon tarot rather than a d20, with interesting results.
For me, now those disclaimers are not only untrue in subtle ways, they're completely fallacious. I have to warn kids not to play with my gaming books in the same way as I keep my grimoires out of their hands.
This has also given me an interesting and unique new trick-
I tend to create characters with real-world occult abilities, or real-life-based powers. Consequently, these characters seem to be able to cheat the system I'm playing them in, and not in the "godmode" or "munchkin" way either.
They just... seem to roll better on certain things. Or, because I gave them a skill at intuition, I seem to be able to figure out plot twists faster than normal. Or my character's powers with Fate actually seem to have an impact on the DM's dice.
It's curious. It's also often very entertaining- I love watching magic in action.
How about any of you? Any of you out there who like to actually put real magic into your games, not for the purpose of making real life magic happen, but more for the purpose of making the game itself more interesting and strange?
Leave a comment below! :)
Oh, and don't worry: for those of you interested in the second part of my Wands article, it's coming.
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