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Getting "Magic" right

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  • Jefferson
    commented on 's reply
    All of which makes this one tricky. Less so with the political tightrope of offensiveness and religious squabbles, really, but more the level of artfulness needed to address all this and pull it off. My biggest concern of this entire concept is to keep it on the rails and not let it get either mawkish or cheesy. We are digging in a rich mine, but it is one prone to cave-ins.

  • Le_Wang
    I've seen too much religion bashing in my community to indulge in that kind of shit, but to just ... dip a nail into the cesspit that is "religion: fact vs. fiction" debate; "Faith" is attributing unlikely/unexplained/unexplainable/uncontrollable things that happen in the natural world (and everything else, but those things are usually a starting point) to a higher power. So, to take the example of the Sister character i proposed, when i say "she has a hypnotic voice".
    Thing is, I'm not actually saying she casts Cleric Command spells every time she speaks. I mean, "hypnotic" (or terms to that effect) is a term that has been used throughout human history to describe compelling public speakers and artists.
    So it's "hypnotic" in the sense that there is something compelling about it that's difficult to pin down. Maybe it's strangely melodious, maybe she has an art for finding the right words... however, the practical reality is that she communicates in a way that makes her way more persuasive than your average joe. I wrote down that she hears voices; children talk with imaginary friends all the time... and their imaginary friends will usually be a product of their surroundings and upbringing. How difficult is to imagine that a precocious child with a (natural) gift for oratory growing up in a conservative christian environment would become convinced that her "imaginary" friends are in fact the holy spirit, bringing the word of baby jesus?
    What if she is surrounded by people who, by virtue of their religious beliefs, were inclined to come a similar conclusion, and see her voice as yet more evidence of divine blessing? Is it hard to imagine her growing up to embrace the identity people want her to take?
    For the purposes of our fiction, does it matter whether or not she was actually blessed by a cosmic entity? The truth is, just like reality, it is entirely irrelevant whether she's just a freak of nature with an overactive imagination or a blessed child of god. She believes the latter to be true, and she is surrounded by who believe it to be true. And there will be leaders who believe the former, and are surrounded by people who share that view, and will be looking to bring her down. There is no need for us to take an explicit stand in the fiction as where the actual truth lies. In fact, taking that stand would be counterproductive imo, because it makes one side potentially right or wrong in their beliefs, and detracts from the nuance that leaving it ambiguous gives.

    Re: Sympathetic magic
    You know, while I admire the work done by historians to preserve and explain the past, some terms are too wretched in meaning and definition to be admitted into the English language. Faith is what's left when you run out of objective reasons to believe in something strongly, yet still believe strongly in anyway. There's no need to come with fancy "politically correct" and/or "religiously neutral" expressions to describe something people already understand. Did God actually bring plagues on Egypt, or is that just a metaphorical interpretation for the waves of disasters suffered naturally by egypt during the centuries that Israelite tribes were slaves to the Pharaoh? Fuck if i know man, but i can tell you is that roughly 50% of humanity (christians, jews and muslims) believe the former, and 50% (everyone else) believe the latter, and that conviction (either way) has shaped the course of human history.
    That's more or less what i'm proposing we create; a narrative what people believe is the most important thing, and the underlying fact is a distant consideration when it is not outright forgotten or irrelevant. E.g. A relic could be "It is said to cry every time a saint dies, and is considered a lynchpin of the Church". Does it matter whether it cries or not? Do we even have to show it crying? To both questions, i'd answer no, because the important thing is not whether or not it actually cries every time a saint dies, but that people believe it does.

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  • Jefferson
    commented on 's reply
    When you say MYSTICAL rather than MAGICAL, would a fair example be deeply religious Christians who see signs and miracles in everything, like crying statues or images of Christ in food? People whoa re just convinced some shit is magic from God? Belief that intercessionary prayer works – what anthropologists call “sympathetic magic”?

  • Le_Wang
    Further Clarification
    a lot of what i've been doing in the design discussion has been taking things which are explicitly "magical" and then saying, "here's a non-magical way of achieving something similar, and it has the advantage of not being magical". Just for the record, magic is just bad in general; it isn't an accident that the most era defining fantasy fiction of our time - A song of Ice and Fire - is held up not by its magical components, but by the far more mundane "game of thrones" elements of it. If that story was just about undead, drakes, red priestesses, i can assure you it would just have been a fantasy fiction story among many. To be clear, there are NO instances where magic doesn't "break" the sense of immersion. However, that can be justified if magic opens up narrative possibilities that wouldn't exist before. The best fiction involving dragons, for example, will generally just to have dragons and nothing else.
    This helps you create worlds where entire societies built around the existence of dragons exist. It's when people get fancy with that shit that it starts to go down the drain. Eragon is a good example; we don't just have dragons, which are inherently fantastical beings, there's something magical in the way they are hatched, there's bloody elves, there's prophetic bullshit, spirits of nature... at some point, you just tap out and say "you're just making shit up". And sure, you might make the argument that "it's a children's story", but when you look at actually classics that have crossed the centuries, most of them have one or two magical elements, and then they exploit the shit out of that; Little red riding hood is a good example of this; there's this magical wolf... and that's all there is, and the entire story is built around that wolf.
    As rules of thumb
    (1) Magic should be sparing; too much of it just breaks the world past any point of believability
    (2) If magic exists, it should be world defining, and exploited from proverbial high heavens to the depths of narrative hell.

    Would i support explicit "magic" here... no.
    Because this world already has magic; as Jefferson points out, it's called Selectacorp. I'm gonna be honest, the first time i encountered Hornical, i almost turned off the game. My thought was "this story is good enough without including magical slut water". It cheapens everything you've done up until that point in the fiction. Jefferson asked about why we didn't roll a d20 in to spank Jennifer in January. I'd ask; why didn't i throw slut water at the boss-lady target person on day 1? It's expensive? Really? According to SotU, it's so easy to make, we literally put it in drinkable water so people can it off the tap. It's only effective in strong doses? Well, if cost isn't an object just give me those strong doses... For me, hornical is easily the weakest part of the SC fiction. Whenever i play SC games, i just enjoy it, until i get to the point where "ok here comes the hornical, guess i'm just gonna use it and go back to pretending it doesn't exist".
    By contrast, I think ML does a much better job working its "magic" into the fiction; First of all; it doesn't explicitly define how exactly it works, only that there is a means through which triggers are implanted in the psyche of these Women. Yes its explicitly magical, but it isn't a "potion of slutiness +10" (which is what hornical is, btw), it's a world defining feature; here's AN ENTIRE TOWN of people with hypnotic triggers, which makes any single person with hypnotic triggers easy to believe. But i digress. Point is, i'm with Jefferson; besides the problems inherent to getting magic right, the problem with including "outright magic" in this world is that you'd be including magic in a world that already stretches the limits of disbelief with its Shadowrun-esque quasi-divine (they satisfy the requirements of quasi-omniscience and quasi-omnipotence, js) corporate entities.

    What would I support?

    (1)Lovecraftian narrative
    Lovecraft is one of the more misunderstood authors in history, and some many people have taken his name in so many ways most people don't know what the original looks like anymore.
    One of the defining features of lovecraftian fiction isn't that old gods exist. It's that they may exist. The only thing you know for certain is that there are crazy people who believe they exist. And these crazy people do crazy things because they believe these old gods exist. To break it down in the simplest possible terms
    1) Insane people who believe in "things"
    2) There is a protagonist who is starts off nominally "sane", and has his sanity gradually eroded as the story progresses
    3) This is usually as a result of interaction with insane people and their dark deeds
    This what makes lovecraftian fiction compelling; when the old gods and their ilk finally appear, did they "really" appear, or has the protagonist's sanity deteriorated to the point where he thinks they did? And what we do know is that the human mind is a powerful thing; if you believe something is real, it can cause you to experience real sensations, whether or not it actually is there (one of the foundations of applied IRL hypnosis, btw). The moral of lovecraft is that reason is only defense man has from his own imagination.
    That is essentially the narrative angle I propose we work from; the NPC isn't trying to convince them to believe in a real cosmic thing, but rather, erode their sanity to the point where they'll believe such a thing CAN exist in the first place. From there, it's a hop, skip and a jump to a full blown cult.

    (2) Plausible explainability
    There should be enough narrative hints in the fiction that that players can who WANT to rationalize what's happening CAN. Part of the I want a Selectacorp branch explicitly in the game is to be able to handwave shit on account of their corporate magic. For example, if you've played SotU, is it unreasonable to assume that, in response to rising social tensions, the local branch resorted to drugging water supply in certain hot spots to keep things calm and "protect their investments" as it were. A side-effect of this drug, however, would be higher suggestability, and rare hallucination episodes. This would be a mechanical feature in the game world that, once the PC controls SC, they might be able to leverage for significant wealth to weaken entire areas. This isn't JUST a cool feature, but also gives people who are playing them the game an "AHA" moment.
    In the case of my "temple" scene, plausible explainability would be asking the SC people to investigate the following and find a unique microscopic spore in the cave that enhances the effect of alchohol from a mild intoxicant. Looking at say, the Nun with a "hypnotic" voice, the same has been said about the performance of many an artist; this is why i've included converting her into an actual singer as a possibility, thereby feeding into that sense of "plausible explainability"
    Note: The emphasis is on 'plausible' not 'complete'. This wouldn't for example, explain the part where a statue seemingly came to life, but there's just enough to go by to support people on either side of the magic vs. science fence. It wouldn't explain the fact, even by the standards of singers, this nun is still EXCEPTIONALLY persuasive, etc.

    To summarize
    On the whole, if we do (1) and (2) diligently, we will end up with something that looks and feels MYSTICAL, rather than MAGICAL... which incidentally is the defines religious experiences from magical ones. E.g. experience near-death event, see guardian angel, survive. Because of plausible explainability, you can't EXPLICITLY and DEFINITELY say it was "divine intervention", but most people who go through these episodes emerge from it... with their faith... "renewed" for want of a better term. Because of this, is it difficult to imagine a society whereby people who've experienced this convince themselves (or are convinced) that this is the only way to make 'true' believers out of their peers, and have them go about "almost killing" the "normal" followers of the faith?

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  • Jefferson
    commented on 's reply
    Christopher Stasheff’s WONDERFUL “Warlock” series is based entirely on ESP simulating magic in an advanced technological universe. Great fun, very punny, and highly recommended.

  • Jefferson
    This leaves me with a few thoughts and questions. Everything produced so far in the SC universe is compatible with the overall fantasy world, which I’ve always seen as a take-off on modern America. If this new cult game [We are calling it CoS, yes?] suddenly features any form of supernatural or deific power – OTHER than technological simulations! – we immediately have a compatibility problem unless COS is a standalone, non-canon game. Lemme ‘splain Lucy…

    The tapped wrist bands and Hornical make-girl-horny juice from prior games were kiiiiiiinda believable technological stand-ins for magic. We also had the huge money bags and shadowy background capabilities that Batman-esque-ly allowed our hero to bring forces to bear that wouldn’t be open to most mortals. However, at least these were within the realm of possibility. Even the laws of the nation are so manipulated in our games, that we can blackmail girls to be slaves and leave them with no real recourse. In reality, we’d all be in jail in about a month. In short, we can dream up vaguely realistic technology that tips the roulette wheel in our favor. Any and all of these plot devices can feature in any game we create and keep the whole thing within the SC universe.

    If the new game suddenly features functional psionics, a supernatural corporeal force or god, or actually manipulable magic [I fire a magic missile at Debbie – rolls d20 – and knocks her to her knees in front of me] then at the very least this game has to be non-canon SC since none of that stuff has shown up before. If it had, I would have been spanking Jennifer in January. All of this is true whether or not including ‘magic’ is even a good literary idea or game mechanic for COS. So let’s cover THAT…

    From what I’ve gleaned scanning through the dozens of game posts this past week, we are debating a number of choices. A religion themed game featuring some sex, or a sex game that uses religion. How much to base it on real religions or at least real-world religious archetypes. And finally, if the game should have any ‘real’ magic, and if so, how to use that.

    My limited-imagination-having, highly negative ass is yelling NO, but I’m trying to choke that back to hear people out. The way this game is coalescing in my mind, it sounds like any ‘real’ magic use would be a substantial problem at the very least. WANG’s work above is fantastically well done, but I honestly don’t see how we can do this and not make it…well, stupid. Or canon. Tech we can use. Drugs we can use. Hypnosis and blackmail we can use. Godly powers, actual magical artifacts and spellcasting ability? You’re gonna have to prove that one to me.

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  • MaxDS
    commented on 's reply
    Le_Wang yes, I'm wary of using a term with a new definition (alternative facts?) without context. If we want to use it in the context SC describes, we should use a new name and acronym.

  • Le_Wang
    commented on 's reply
    Depends on whether or not you're using ESP in its IRL sense (literally Extrasensory Perception). This describes a scientifically proven ability to "beat the odds" when it comes to guessing things you have no way of knowing. A lot of people exhibit this to varying degrees, but very few can do it consistently enough to make practical use of it, and even fewer are willing to put themselves through the motions of having the ability scientifically tested.
    The issue is that SC used the term "ESP-like", and THEN applied "spiritual" to qualify it in a game about influence. As to what ESP means, i don't think there's any objective way to know unless SC specifically explains what he means with a practical example of sorts.

  • MaxDS
    Nothing is real, everything is permitted...

    Anyways, I like the idea of moving my story blurb moved to a mid or late game action point (invoking "magic" is very game changing and committing to a path)

    ESP I thought was passive/semi active perception, not a will/mind bending skill....? Maybe we've just labeled this wrong?

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  • Selectacorp
    Nice outline of your take on this. My position isn't that 'magic' or 'ESP' are literally at play. I used ESP as short hand to connote spiritual power-- not actual mind reading or somesuch.

    My thought was more that 'visions' would be more like received wisdom-- epiphanies more than supernatural beings appearing.

    I'd stipulate that there is a difference between the perception of supernatural powers/effects versus the definitive reality and that we ought to avoid some ind of X rated D&D thing!

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  • Le_Wang
    started a topic Getting "Magic" right

    Getting "Magic" right

    Warning LOONNNNNG context setting, skip ahead if you want my proposals only

    While "magic" is a contentious word, it bears mentioning that discussion on the nature of this game has been very polarized in terms of how "spirituality" should be expressed in the game.

    On one hand, there's Selectacorp himself, who proposed divine visions for the PC/magical girls to be controlled and MaxDS, who proposed an introduction that featured an introduction that featured a pact with "god" (well a force that may or may be interested in the PC's immortal soul, he did leave that part vague). On the other hand, you have Jefferson, who explicitly stated he don't want none of that D&D bullshit to go with his slice of religious corruption (those weren't his exact words, Jefferson wouldn't use no double negatives, but you get the idea)... what about me? I did "thumbs down the pseudo magical bullshit". Clearly on the Jefferson side then? Well, you'd be surprised, i'm not against having interactions that "bend" the rules of reality.
    Even though i'm increasingly hard set in my Atheistic ways, I do recognize that "faith" can lead to moments of an... "otherwordly" quality, for want of a better term. Not representing this in game about religion... well it wouldn't be a game about religion if such events were not featured in it. The reason i've been less than enthusiastic with most proposals so far is because... they have generally felt too ham-fisted from a narrative standpoint. But Wang, you say, isn't it extremely difficult to get the balance right when it comes to writing about magic... No, it isn't. This 2017, and writing theory has evolved to the point where we've figured out how to consistently do magic in fiction right. For those of you who are interested, here's somebody that gives you the lowdown (you can follow up on his links if you want more) -

    The TLDR (well, Too Long Didn't Watch would be more appropriate) of that is:
    "Magic" or things are implicitly magical in nature (Superpowers, acts of god, etc) can be made to feel satisfying and organic if you follow a few clear rules
    1) Magic should have well defined mechanics (rules) that it can't break
    2) Magic shouldn't be used as a deus-ex-machina (i.e. fix-all narrative device)
    3) Magic should be used sparingly

    Why these rules work is a discussion in and off itself, but a simple run-down is
    1) It's easier to suspend disbelief when there are clear rules, regardless of how fantastical these rules are. I mean, when you think about it, a lot of people accept that
    explains why the earth orbits the sun, even most of them have, at best, only a pedestrian understanding of what the formula means, and that's a scientifically proven theory based on which we've put men on the moon. Well, a good many people don't accept it and attribute the astral motions to god instead, but that's a different story.
    2) "...because magic" is the least convincing argument one can make in fiction, because that's you being narratively lazy and expecting the audience to just roll with it.
    3) What makes magic... magical is that it's a rare instance where the laws of nature are suspended/don't apply/are bent. Make it too common however, and it quickly loses the sense of surprise and wonder that makes "magic" in fiction compelling in the first place.

    So what issues do i have with the proposals made so far; Case by case

    1)MaxDS's prologue proposal
    I like the proposal from a Rule 1 perspective. There is a "thing" the PC possesses that will grow in power over time. These powers are well defined, and the way you improve them is by performing specific actions. 10/10.
    From a Rule 2 perspective, however, we're literally kicking things off with a LITERAL Deus Ex Machina, (assuming this "thing" you talk with can be believed, and it's not Diabolus Ex Machina). 0/10
    From a Rule 3 perspective, the narrative implies that magic (leveraging your divine influence) is going to be the ONLY thing you're doing this game. 0/10
    In other words, this is essentially an erotic D&D campaign where you roleplay a Cleric with Request Guidance, Lesser Command, Entrall, Greater Command, etc. as your spell slots. Hence, my comment "pseudo-magical bullshit"
    2)Selectacorp's vision proposal
    While there is no problem with this proposal from a Rule 1 or 2 PoV, the fact that it happens EVERY time is what I have an issue with. The first time you get a Vision as player, it's gonna be impressive. The tenth time you get a vision scene however, all you'll be looking at is a half-naked model reading out a campy line, probably with average acting skills. As such, i spoke against it because i couldn't condone spending money on a feature that, imo, would quickly outstay its welcome.
    3)Girls with "ESP-like" powers
    1) How do we "mechanize" this in terms of giving the PC real in-game mechanical rewards? Or is this purely cosmetic
    2) The girls having ESP is you saying the main reason for wanting them is "...because they are magic", which is only one step removed from "...because magic". To put that into context; how does the "angel incarnate" increase your influence? Oh, she just walks naked into the middle of a crowd and they just kind of fall to their knees in awe of her booty/booby-licious magnificence... let's be honest here, some people will be able to accept that at face value. Others won't.
    3) So there's five of them in one country in the back-end of nowhere... is this X-Women, christian edition?

    How does the Wang think we should do this, if at all?
    I'm all for having magic in the game. In fact, I don't think we should half-ass "magical" scenes. However, in keeping the three rules, i think that
    a) We should strive to ground most of the game in "non-magical" features (hence my proposals, which tend to look for very practical, real world ways in which faith can be spread and justified)
    b) Magical scenes should exist in the game, but they should be rare instances
    c) In keeping with b), above, scenes with a "magical" slant should therefore occur at the end of certain quest chains, the idea being that you need to work for them
    d) They should be things that people can opt in and out of.
    Looking at Max's Idea
    Getting a "divine brand of persuasiveness" carved into your body in a near-death encounter isn't a bad concept, however, it shouldn't occur at the beginning of the game, and it shouldn't be the entire gameplay, in and of itself. This could actually be the "ritual" that you perform in the "Old Faith" Icon route, for example. In terms of opting in and out, say you are treated to a pay-off scene and after that, she reaches, trance-like, for the ritual dagger. The player is then offered to take the knife away from her, resolving the event with one kind of mechanical bonus, or letting her have her way with him, getting a magic brand carved into him and another kind mechanical bonus.
    The vision proposal
    A naked woman spouting pseudo-religious spiels every few minutes isn't very compelling. A woman stepping out in public, naked as the day she was born to reveal the will of god to a half-crazed adulating mass of blood-thirsty onlookers at the end of a demanding quest-line leading up to that event... very different story.
    Girls with ESP
    Many girls with ESP? Feels like a marvel comic. One girl with ESP? She's special. I'm thinking that, as part of Sister Beatrice's plotline, you'll ultimately get to decide what she does with her "hypnotic voice"; Whip the masses into a homicidal frenzy? Make you millions performing christian sexually risque alt-rock in front of live audiences? Or do you have plans for her mouth that involve not speaking at all?
    An Idea of my own: The dig site
    An international archeological team is in the process of excavating an ancient temple with a clear Grecian flair. You can get involved with this dig site; you could get it closed down, with the archeologists getting thrown out of the country in varying states of rape and undress. If you help them finish unmolested however, they excavate a disturbingly life-like statue of a naked greek deity, believed to be Hercules. To celebrate the completion of the dig, a party is held, and the PC is naturally invited. That day, the wine proves to have an almost irresistible and incredibly potent quality; you can either call the whole thing off, or let things happen. If you go with the flow, the statue comes to life with a glorious erection, and the event becomes a drunken free for all. Turns out it wasn't hercules, but Bacchus. The next day, people wake up with bad hangovers, and the statue is back to its place.

    Edit: For those of you who've been keeping up with the other threads... (wow, really?), the scenes i'm proposing for the Icons wouldn't be mutually exclusive with the mechanical bonuses i'm proposing; i'd posit that you get those anyway. However, the special bonuses would be tied to how you resolve specific scenes, where things can get weird.