Agamemnon wrote:I think you and I are on the same track, in a lot of ways. I'm definitely more fond of magic being taboo, if not illegal (either by secular or church law). I'm very much attracted to the idea that even learning it is a forbidden and dangerous act - making the search for that knowledge a conscious choice that goes back to the premise of the game itself: how far are you willing to go to get what you want?
Daeruin wrote:About magic being evil. Historically, magic has been seen as both evil and good, never just one. Every culture has both sides. Take voodoo, for example. The stereotyped version of voodoo we know from popular culture is always bad. But in reality, voodoo is a huge spectrum of beliefs and powers, and it includes both white or good magic and black or evil magic. Naturally, the magic that YOU practice is generally good magic, and the magic that the neighboring tribe or rival ethnic group uses is almost always black magic. It's the same in Christianity. Prayers are basically spells, priests had spell books that contained good magic, they carried magical talismans (the cross, the bones of saints, holy water, etc.) and the main difference between all of that and black magic was whether or not it happened to be approved by the church or not. So if you're going for anything remotely historical in feel, you would want to keep that in mind.
My apologies. You actually said something about magic being taboo, and I took it further. But the same point applies. If you want magic to be historical, just recognize that there will always be some kind of magic that's morally approved along with some that's taboo. The line between approved and taboo is largely cultural.Agamemnon wrote:I never actually advocated magic being evil. I advocating it being dangerous, which is an entirely different thing. Ideally, I would like to see it be entirely morally neutral (despite what the church might say), but with the mechanics as such that the path to power is easier through nefarious means than to stay on the more moral path. The question should always be "what are you willing to sacrifice? How far are you willing to go?"
The reason I was harping on and on about magic fitting into the setting is because I think that has a huge impact on the cost of magic. If you want the effects of magic to be subtle, then the cost has to be equally subtle. No less dangerous perhaps, but subtle enough that you could never be sure if it was just coincidence. That would fit pretty well into a quasi-historical setting. But if the cost of magic is immediate and terrifying, then that will have a much bigger effect on your setting and how people view magic, and it will take your setting further away from historicity.
Something else to be aware of with subtle magic is its effect on the playability of characters. There needs to be a certain level of reliability to my character's abilities if I'm going to invest in them at all. If I have a priest who dabbles in magic but I'm never sure if anything he does actually works, then I probably won't enjoy playing that character—especially if it takes a lot of time, effort, and/or XP to learn magic. If the magic stuff isn't costing me much and is more part of the atmosphere, that might be different.
I just realized that I'm kind of restating Sanderson's First Law of Magic:
In other words, if the reader doesn't understand the magic and you use it to solve a problem, then you've just resorted to deus ex machina—which is really annoying to readers. Likewise, if my priest can't rely on his magic abilities, then the results of magic will be based too much on randomness or GM fiat, and that's annoying.An author's ability to solve conflict satisfactorily with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.