Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Retrospective: Authentic Thaumtaurgy

In yesterday's post on the article "Realistic Vital Statistics," reader Joe Nuttall rightly notes that "the desire for 'realism' ... didn't start in the Silver Age." I completely agree with his statement. The desire for greater "realism" is a tendency as old as the hobby itself. Indeed, I'd suggest it predates it and is in fact a strand of DNA retained from roleplaying's wargaming roots. What's interesting is that some of what we call "realism" isn't actually about realism at all; rather, it's about "properly" translating something into game mechanical form. This could be falling damage or heights and weights or it could be, as it so often was in the Silver Age, the "laws" of drama. But back in the Golden Age, there was a quite (in)famous example of attempting to promote "realism" so understood when dealing with magic.

First published in 1978 (and revised and expanded two decades later), Authentic Thaumaturgy was written by Isaac Bonewits and published by Chaosium with the provocative subtitle of "a professional occulist on improving the realism of magic systems used in fantasy simulation games." Bonewits is usually touted as "the only person ever to earn a degree in Magic from the University of California," a statement that's always baffled me. In the late '60s and throughout the 1970s, he was an important and influential figure in various occult organizations, including the Reformed Druids of North America, where he acted as a priest, and the Church of Satan, though his association with the latter was short-lived due to differences of opinion with its founder, Anton LaVey. I mention all of this background because it's now commonplace to mock the "Satanic panic" of the 1980s as being wholly without foundation, especially when it came to our hobby. But the fact is that, from the first, fantasy roleplaying did attract people with genuine interest in the occult, many of whom infused their gaming with ideas derived from their esoteric beliefs. Authentic Thaumaturgy is one of the more famous examples of this.

 I didn't see Authentic Thaumaturgy back in the day, but I knew of its existence. It was one of those books, like Arduin, that older gamers of my acquaintance spoke about in hushed tones. I got the sense back then that Authentic Thaumaturgy was viewed as a book of "real" magic and thus to be avoided. But, like so many such things, the reality was quite different. When I finally got a chance to see a copy, I have to admit that I was disappointed by what a slight and banal thing it was. This was no black grimoire but a rather amateurishly put together bit of theorizing that took itself very seriously, as so many of us are wont to do. I don't mean that as a criticism of Authentic Thaumaturgy, which for all its faults, is an intriguing book. I mention it mostly to put the book's reputation and reality into context, at least as I experienced it in the early '80s.

Though published by Chaosium, Authentic Thaumaturgy was not written with RuneQuest or any flavor of Basic Roleplaying in mind. Indeed, the book isn't really written with any RPG in mind. Instead, Bonewits devotes himself to providing theories of magic for use in gaming, whatever game you happen to be playing. His goal is not specifically to "convert" anyone to his own beliefs but rather to show how one can take a "realistic" approach to magic and use it as a basis for presenting magic in a roleplaying game. To do this, Bonewits presents various "laws" of magic, along with discussions of the essence and limitations of magic, all of its written in a rather dry, almost academic tone. Bonewits himself clearly believed in much of what he was presenting in Authentic Thaumaturgy but he wrote like a professor rather than an evangelist.

Unfortunately, it's this dryness that, in my opinion, limits the book's utility as a gaming supplement. Don't get me wrong: it's fascinating reading, both as a historical document and as an exploration of a contentious topic, but most of it is not immediately useful in bringing magical "realism" to one's games, or at least it didn't seem so to me. And, like all types of realism, I'll admit that I don't see the point. Bonewits, for example, takes Gary Gygax to task for his presentation of magic in D&D and, while his points undoubtedly have validity from a certain perspective, they also miss the point that, while D&D magic may not be "realistic," especially to an occultist, it is eminently playable. Like the much derided abstractions of D&D's combat system, D&D's magic system has survived because it works, despite the efforts of generations of game designers who think otherwise. 

51 comments:

  1. "Bonewits is usually touted as 'the only person ever to earn a degree in Magic from the University of California,' a statement that's always baffled me."

    This is a true statement, as the University of California had a "create your own degree" program at the time. I've been told - perhaps by the late Bonewits himself, I don't recall - that it was the granting of this degree that might have brought the program to a close. Perhaps others closer to the events would know better.

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  2. Once upon a time I bought [I]Authentic Thaumaturgy[/I] (the Steve Jackson Games edition), read it, then put it away until I sold it. IIRC his version of "authentic" used psionics as a model, which sounds sciencey but ludicrous once one realizes the shaky foundations of modern psychic and paranormal research. His screeds on "scientism" and superstitious avoidance of real gods' names did not help.

    An exploration of religious beliefs and mystical traditions would have been more on-point, and far more useful. Imagine, say, a "GURPS Traditional Magic" sourcebook that drew from Mircea Eliade's work, _The Golden Bough_, and other anthropological accounts to present a smorgasbord of religious, mystical, and magical traditions across the world. Perhaps that's a tall order, but I've yet to get through _The Golden Bough_ or Eliade's _Shamanism_ without falling asleep. Some enterprising game designer needs to take one (or several) for the team.

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  3. "I mention all of this background because it's now commonplace to mock the "Satanic panic" of the 1980s as being wholly without foundation, especially when it came to our hobby. But the fact is that, from the first, fantasy roleplaying did attract people with genuine interest in the occult, many of whom infused their gaming with ideas derived from their esoteric beliefs. Authentic Thaumaturgy is one of the more famous examples of this."

    Are you saying that fact that some gamers were into Satanism or at least occultism, and brought this to their games, somehow provides a 'foundation' for the claims of the promoters of the 'Satanic panic?' If so, exactly which of their claims -- that D&D is a tool of the Devil, that playing RPGs is sinful, that D&D was designed to recruit young people to Satanism, that gaming is a cult? I ask because saying that the mere existence of a rare and barely-read book on designing games magic systems on real occult beliefs provides a "foundation" for the Satanic Panic, implies that some of their concerns or claims were based on evidence and facts. What exactly do you mean when you say something provides a 'foundation' for those sorts of fanatic claims?!?

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  4. It's a dry for sure, but it certainly worth taking a look if you want to get an idea how so- called "real" magic work from the perspective of someone who practice this stuff. Bonewits also was friends with both Greg Stafford and David Hargrave, so it's fair to say his ideas certainly had influence on their own RPG's

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  5. What exactly do you mean when you say something provides a 'foundation' for those sorts of fanatic claims?!?
    I mean that panics don't happen in a vacuum; they aren't just conjured into existence by busybodies. To get any traction, they have to have some basis in reality. And let's be clear: the 1960s and 1970s saw a huge upswing in the interest in the occult, paganism, and other esoteric beliefs, a lot of which trickled down into popular culture, including gaming.

    Authentic Thaumaturgy might not have been in every Waldenbooks or B. Dalton in 1978 but it was read and it had influence and the fact that its author was a self-professed occultist likely added to its mystique. I'm not trying to defend the actions of anyone who tarred all gaming with the same Satanic brush, but I also think it does no one a service to suggest that "fanatics" just made up the connections between the hobby and beliefs they thought dangerous and unwholesome.

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  6. "a rather amateurishly put together bit of theorizing that took itself very seriously"

    That is true of everything Bonewits ever wrote.

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  7. I was very surprised when SJG reprinted this; having seena copy in the late 70s or early 80s, I just couldn't see a use for gaming. I bought the SJG copy on some now-inexplicable whim. Might be worth reading again.

    What I was hoping for, and Bonewits' book didn't deliver, was a game version of the ceremonial magic practiced by 19th-century occultists (say, from Barrett on), which itself was based on Renaissance occultism. That would have been much more fun for me.

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  8. For an extra level of realism, great necromancers or evil villains in my campaigns usually understand and follow the rituals in A.E. Waite's "The Book of Black Magic" (AKA The Book of Ceremonial Magic), which allows me to integrate what I know about the occult into my games.
    I once had an idea to integrate one of my tarot decks into my games, creating a story based on the cards that I drew. It was interesting, but didn't always add up to a coherent story. I did, however, come up with an idea based on that which I hope to get around to making in the near future.

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  9. I had the SJG version for a few years. I found it a refreshing perspective to infuse into a hobby that had grown hugely self-referential. I did not find it particularly playable. Now I kind of wish I'd kept a copy, because I think the mechanical skeleton could make a good foundation for a psionic system, as long as one ignored the intricate formulas Bonewits provides for translating psychic energy into physical force.

    Bonewits does provide an interesting backdoor for tying this book's perspective in with Vancian magic, though. By this system, a magician can get more elaborate and reliable results by developing lengthy rituals to layer the magician's various psychic talents together. Such rituals would require hours or days normally, but Bonewits suggests that a magician could more or less astrally project to perform these rituals on a higher plane (which for some reason compresses the time into a reasonable span on the material plane)and leave them in a suspended, nearly-complete state until the final incantation is spoken. Sounds like spell memorization in fancy dress to me.

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  10. "Bonewits devotes himself to providing theories of magic for use in gaming, whatever game you happen to be playing."

    you mean no spell list, no magic playable rules?
    ewww

    "D&D's magic system has survived because it works, despite the efforts of generations of game designers who think otherwise"

    nahh I definetly prefer Runequest magic system or something like gurps magic (skill test and mana expence)
    I never liked "memory slots" spells.

    bye!

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  11. An exploration of religious beliefs and mystical traditions would have been more on-point, and far more useful. Imagine, say, a "GURPS Traditional Magic" sourcebook that drew from Mircea Eliade's work, _The Golden Bough_, and other anthropological accounts to present a smorgasbord of religious, mystical, and magical traditions across the world. Perhaps that's a tall order, but I've yet to get through _The Golden Bough_ or Eliade's _Shamanism_ without falling asleep. Some enterprising game designer needs to take one (or several) for the team.

    The GURPS 4e magic books (Magic and especially Thaumatology) both offer collections of alternate magic systems, though with a lot less flavour than their source materials (a problem with all the GURPS 4e pick'n'choose approach to the woolly and far-flung 3e material, I think).

    There are plenty of anthologies and primers on 'magic systems' drawn from real-world cultures; they're just not usually gamer-facing. As always, you're better off leafing through the lunatic primary sources and building on inspiration than just borrowing a pre-written system. That said, if you're not worrying about 'balance' in the D&D 4e sense anyway, it's not that hard to port ideas about magic from e.g. Ars Magica or Wild Talents or the like, right?

    BTW, Eliade has other, shorter books which bring home some of the material from his big 'Shamanism' text; it's all cheap on half.com, of course.

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  12. (Heck, you can find a smorgasbord of magical ideas in a single Tim Powers novel, presented without even a whiff of academicism or pedantry, with plenty of examples of characters using magic in game situations. That might be a better bet than relying on history; for one thing, magic actually works in novels, whereas...)

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  13. bonnewits 'real magic' is a great book

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  14. I seem to remember some crowing -- proper authenticity, see? -- about about Shadowrun's magic system being designed by a practising shaman, but I don't know where I saw or heard that assertion.

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  15. "I'm not trying to defend the actions of anyone who tarred all gaming with the same Satanic brush, but I also think it does no one a service to suggest that "fanatics" just made up the connections between the hobby and beliefs they thought dangerous and unwholesome."

    I don't want to hijack this discussion. But who said they 'just made up' the connections? My understanding is: The satanic panic focused on RPGs because RPGs were a popular secular form of entertainment among youths at the time, and many of them mention or include magic, non-Christian religion, demons, etc. I think that if you consider *any mention* of these tihngs as *inherently unwholesome or sinful*, you are in fact a fantatic. Just to be clear, the people behind the satanic panic were (and are) more than willing to find the mere mention of these things as evidence of satanism. It's interesting that we can dig up a few 'real' connections, but this had zero impact on the formation of the panic.

    None of the literature of the 'satanic panic' I've read -- and I have done a fair amount of reading over the years -- ever mentioned Authentic Thaumaturgy or Fantasy Wargaming (which includes astrology and attempts some fairly 'authentic' magic in its rules). They focus on the popular games -- principally D&D, with some mention perhaps of other TSR games, WarhammerFRP, and a random selection of other games like Powers & Perils, Stormbringer, and similar.

    My position would be the moral panic about D&D is exactly as well-founded as the moral panic about He-Man and the Care Bears. (And yes, the same people who were decrying satanic D&D tended to be up in arms about Saturday morning cartoons.) It simply had nothing to do with "real" occultism, even if there some overlap in the audiences of D&D and occultism in the 70s, and even if there turns out to be some 'real' occultism behind some of the game elements.
    I guess I just don't see how anyone is being done a service by being told that the Satanic panic arose because of real connections between Satanists and D&D. That's revisionism.

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  16. The years after the 'panic' were probably the most fertile for 'authentic' occultism in gaming.

    Nephilim, another Chaosium game, also boasted that the magic system had the seal of approval of some Druid or other...but it was published several years after Bonewits' death so probably not him. I didn't find the game all that compelling.

    And the GURPS Voodoo supplement included fairly specific information on Vodun, examples of vever symbols, and a system intended to simulate real Vodun rituals and ceremonial magic.

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    1. Nephilim, another Chaosium game, also boasted that the magic system had the seal of approval of some Druid or other...but it was published several years after Bonewits' death so probably not him. I didn't find the game all that compelling.

      That seems unlikely given that it's only been a year and a half since he died.

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    2. Doh ... somehow I thought he'd died in the 90s. Nephilim was mid-to late 90s, so maybe it was Bonewits who endorsed it?

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    3. Satanism -> Druids in a couple of steps... no surprise there. Typical for Paganism to be linked to Satanic cults (Christian propaganda at work again) when the very idea of Satan is a Christian one and not a Pagan one.

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    4. Can't find my copy of Liber Ka to confirm, but from memory (which admittedly is getting holes in it), it was a Wiccan priestess. It definitely wasn't Isaac.

      It's interesting to note that the French and US editions of Nephilim are actually quite different. After the core book, the rules diverged, often quite heavily. One of the biggest pieces of divergence was an attempt to add greater "authenticity" to the magic system.

      I actually prefer the French version. They have a better understanding of what the game was about and a different approach to the occult.

      There was a lot of wish-fulfillment in the US rules (as in "I [the host] want to become a powerful sorceror") which wasn't in the original (where sorcery are tools used by the nephilim). However this was needed, as most Americans objected quite heartily to the essential premise of the game, so something needed to be done to alleviate this.

      It would have been interesting to see what might have developed - Liber Ka was the rewrite for sorcery, which was the simplest (and most D&D) of the Nephilim magics). The more interesting magics were never revised.

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    5. Satanism -> Druids in a couple of steps... no surprise there. Typical for Paganism to be linked to Satanic cults (Christian propaganda at work again) when the very idea of Satan is a Christian one and not a Pagan one.

      It's not only typical, it's in fact doctrinal. Since the Christian theology states that only Christianity is true religion that correctly describes the nature of god, pagan religions are therefore wrong, and therefore tools--either overt or subtle--of Satan. Blowing off this key doctrinal viewpoint as merely propoganda means that you completely miss the point, and are therefore talking past rather than with any Christians who espouse that view.

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    6. That's the Christian perspective, which sought to demonise any view points that it found conflicting, and burn those who followed them, because it's an exercise in social control. "Believe this or die." Now contrast and compare the dogma of monotheism with the peacesful coexistence of beliefs in polytheism. For example in India, where there are over a thousand deities, and yet people live in peace. So much for some kind of ultimate evil being as the source of those religions. They are tolerant of others, respectful, are not invading foreign countries and yet demonised just the same as the peaceful wise men and women of the past and look what happened to them as a consequence. And look at the world today and the state its in without their guidance.

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    7. That's the Christian perspective, which sought to demonise any view points that it found conflicting, and burn those who followed them, because it's an exercise in social control. "Believe this or die." Now contrast and compare the dogma of monotheism with the peacesful coexistence of beliefs in polytheism. For example in India, where there are over a thousand deities, and yet people live in peace. So much for some kind of ultimate evil being as the source of those religions. They are tolerant of others, respectful, are not invading foreign countries and yet demonised just the same as the peaceful wise men and women of the past and look what happened to them as a consequence. And look at the world today and the state its in without their guidance.

      I know it's the Christian perspective. That was my whole point.

      That wasn't an invitation to start a Christian bash. Most Christians I have met in my life--many thousands of such--are extremely tolerant, and don't really have much of a problem with the notion that there are people out there who believe something different than they do.

      Trying to paint all Christians with the Jack Chick brush hardly contributes to your implicit thesis that Christians are dogmatic and intolerant and non-Christians are not.

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    8. And how does that work, this intolerance idea of yours? Are you saying that pointing out what Christians have done in the past is the equivalent of actually doing those things? That is a vast jump over a very dark chasm. Historians who talk about the persecution and death by horrific execution that the Spanish Inquisition inflicted, for example, according to yourself, are somehow being as intolerant as those whose morals were so loose that they actually did these things to other people. None of which had done anything wrong.

      I think you might be able to see, just possibly there is a sliver of a chance, that I am not being intolerant. Those things happened and they are facts. If I contrast those with a truly peaceful culture and highlight the difference between them because it is relevent, it is not my fault if it makes you feel uncomfortable.

      To pass this off as 'bashing Christians' is to lose the thread of the conversation anyway. From Satanism (a Christian concept) to Druidism (a Pagan religion) and the misconceptions of Christians that this is the devil worship happens exactly because they cannot tolerate other religions, so lets get this the right way around. If they really want to live in peace with other religions, and not convert them, they would have to drop the idea that everybody else is a worshipper of devils. What are the odds of that, do you think? Zero.

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    9. Just noticed my copy of Liber Ka. Couldn't find any recommendation. Although I did think there was one somewhere. Oh well.

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    10. the peacesful coexistence of beliefs in polytheism. For example in India, where there are over a thousand deities, and yet people live in peace

      I think you are idealizing Hinduism. Perhaps you should read some of the history. Just for one example, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh used to all be one country. They did not separate peacefully. For an example avoiding monotheism, look at the history of Sri Lanka. Hinduism also perpetuates a tremendously repressive caste system. For another example, do a web search for "conflict between buddhism and hinduism" and see what you find.

      This is not meant to bash India in any way. I could find similar examples in most (all?) cultures.

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  17. I guess I just don't see how anyone is being done a service by being told that the Satanic panic arose because of real connections between Satanists and D&D. That's revisionism.

    I think maybe you misunderstand me. My point isn't that there the panic arose because of real connections, but that it was abetted by the fact that there were real connections, even if they were only tangential. Those connections made it easier to paint the hobby as if it really were a den of iniquity leading unsuspecting kids down the path to the dark side.

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    1. My issue is that I find no evidence that the panickers, or the wide-eyed journalists who abetted them, were aware of these "real connections." I am misunderstanding you if you did not mean that they were!
      If your point was: Ironically enough, there was some occult influence on certain RPGs (albeit not necessarily the ones they targeted) -- well, I guess that's so.

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  18. @Kelvin - The Shadowrun Grimoire was written by Paul Hume, a practicing Thelemic occultist.

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  19. I haven't read the original Authentic Thaumaturgy, just the SJG reprint, but I seem to recall Bonewits touting it as mostly being Chivalry & Sorcery-compatible. And to answer the question of LuciusLudicus, it's a percentile-based skill system based on the conception of psionic magic presented in his book, Real Magic.

    I didn't meet Bonewits in the early days, only much later when he was forming Ar nDraiocht Fein, but he was definitely not the "satanic" type and was pretty critical even of borderline satanists like the author of all those rune magic books. I get the impression that his "satanic" period was in his teens and was more a brief flirtation; the way he told the story, he was a member of the Church of Satanic for one week before being kicked out, but was in it long enough to figure out it was a front for drugs and fascist politics.

    I always saw Bonewits as more of an ex-hippie with serious scholarly interests in occultism instead of a New Ager or satanist. Of course, that's enough for hardcore fundamentalist Christians to lump him in with baby-killing satanic conspiracies, but that's a matter of their perception, rather than reality. He was actually pretty friendly and not as egotistical as some people present him.

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  20. Bonewits, Greg Stafford, Herbie Brennan, Paul Hume… there's a pretty long line of occultists-and-related involved in gaming. And that's just people who are "out and proud", as it were, about their occult/esoteric predilections. It's absurd to assume that, because there are demons to fight in D&D, so it must be "Satanic". But once that assumption is made, there is the evidence of circumstance to reinforce and buttress that view beyond the ability of reason to counter it.

    There was something of a debate in IF: Interactive Fantasy (a short-lived journal which tried to create a peer-reviewed format for articles about gaming) regarding this issue during the waning days of the Panic. One writer claimed that Nephilim, specifically (along with other games like Vampire: The Masquerade and Timeship), "crossed the line" and made the argument that "gaming is not occultism" more difficult. And yet here we are, and gaming is still not occultism, and hardly anyone gives the claim that it is any credence these days.

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  21. But once that assumption is made, there is the evidence of circumstance to reinforce and buttress that view beyond the ability of reason to counter it.

    Thank you for saying more clearly what I was apparently unable to. :)

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    1. Not a problem. Seemed obvious to me.

      But what happened to my response? Blogger problems, I guess.

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  22. Of course, it was wanting better magic systems that drove some of us to go find real grimoires...:)

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    1. Ha! It was wanting better combat systems that drove some of us to go find real fechtbucher...;)

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  23. Marcie, get out of here. YOU'RE DEAD! You don't exist anymore.

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  24. " Indeed, I'd suggest it predates it and is in fact a strand of DNA retained from roleplaying's wargaming roots."

    As I read the earliest Dragon magazines, I often see the word "simulation" in reference to the hobby. This does not refer to a computer program, but rather the set of rules a game follows.

    This is fascinating to read on its own, but it suggests that much of war gaming was about simulation and modeling the "correct" aspects of engagement to train officers (when used in military settings).

    The idea of simulating magic, to me, is a non-starter. Magic is an irrational mechanism of explaining effects without known causes.

    Magic, in D&D, is just another form of artillery fire. But I may be too reductionist for some.

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    1. No no, magic is not an attempt to explain something that has _already_ happened, that's the domain of science, religion and philosophy; it's an attempt to _cause_ something to happen. Divination is the seeing of things that are _going_ to happen, which is different again.

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    2. Divination implies a linearity to time and a pre-existing future path, all of which are irrational. It is a fun narrative element, though.

      I think we are splitting hairs on the causality issue. A magic user produces a fire ball. How is this done? Magic. But how does that work? Magic works like Magic, etc. Magic is almost a pronoun standing in for a process we do not understand.

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  25. The Golden Bough is great for accumulations of stories and ideas, but unfortunately it's not exactly reliable. A lot of misrepresentation of the primary sources, basically to forward the author's theory that Christianity (in general) and Catholicism (in particular) were basically some kind of pagan grain and sacrifice cult, along with every other religion except Buddhism.

    Victorians were much given to generalization, so usually every hero is a "solar figure" or "a dying grain god", and every goddess gets mishmashed into "the Goddess who is also every woman ever." Cabell, Eddison, Graves, Campbell, and many neopagan movements share these assumptions of generality. Sort of monotheistic, really.

    This isn't to say there's not useful folklore stuff. But you have to research the primary sources if you want good info (ie, decipher the footnotes and go see if they actually say what the author says), and you will probably have to search for secondary sources that come from a variety of academic viewpoints if you want more than a caricature of what people who believed this stuff were thinking.

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    1. Except Attis. If you don't want to invest in brain bleach, you're much safer not knowing anything about Attis, much less looking up the footnotes.

      Hint: nothing at all like Mithra, Adonis, Christ, or anybody else. Seriously, not a pretty mythological story. Ew ew ew.

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    2. Good points here. Academics really don't seem to understand the source material. A classic example is how the try and mishmash Freya and Frigg together from the Norse pantheon even though they are completely different (quick example: one cries tears of goldfor her lost husband and wanders the world searching for him, while one is happily married to Odin!). But don't let the details get in the way of a good theory, academia ;-)

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    3. those academics are all secret satanists anyway.

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    4. Hmm, dying grain gods. That sounds like an cool basis for a campaign. I need to check out The Golden Bough. I don't mind dry writing one bit.

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  26. Religious/mystical/occult beliefs can sometimes rise to the level of bad fantasy fiction.

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  27. If you want a nice game treatment of ritual magic I do recommend Ken Hite's GURPS Cabal. His adaption of Nephilim for the US market also has a lot to recommend it, and it would have been interesting to see what would have developed if the game actually sold.

    Furry Pirates also captures nicely the feel of 18th Century magic belief, although that is mostly the setting's effects. I suspect, in play, that Victoriana, with it's Guild/Society sanctions and the licensing of black magic would have a similar effect.

    And I really like how Torg treated ritual magic (which is presented in the Orrosh sourcebook). Captures the feel of such magical practice brilliantly, and yet integrates smoothly into the very powerful engine that drove the game. ["Orrosh has few recorded spells. Occult spells are built around the desired effect, the occultist, and the object of effect."]

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  28. I'd also argue that the D&D system is not only playable, it is very difficult to successfully modify, and that has also contributed to its longevity.

    One of the more popular revisions to the system is to introduce a system of mana points (which used to be all the rage). But it's also extremely difficult to balance such a system, as you just can't say nth level spells cost N magic points.*

    One thing I found interesting is that we almost never used to use "studying spellbooks" as a method of controlling magic-users. If you had written your spell down on your character sheet you had learned the spell and could cast it. Spellcasters generally regained their spells at a set time - usually midnight for magic-users ("the witching hour"). Sometimes this varied (sunrise, sunset, noon) for poetic effect. {This was a legacy of playing from Original D&D, but it was maintained even in AD&D games because it was simpler and easier.]

    Other people have tried the Champions approach and tried to reduce the spells to base effects, that are then built up, with the final total determining the level of the spell. Quite possible, and I've seen some excellent analysis based on this, but in the end it's simpler to say "does this feel like a nth level spell" and "how does it compare to it's neighbours."

    But to fundamentally change the system means you are no longer playing D&D, since you'll have to introduce some other metric to the game (such as skills), which violate the KISS principle.

    And besides, it's an awful lot of work to rewrite a complete magic system. Or write one.

    [* I should disclose use a magic point system in my games because I like the effects it has on my game, and ties in better to my campaign world's philosophy of magic (which was actually mostly created in play by magic-users exploring how magic actually worked). And I like the play effects of magic users being able to casually do minor magics, but finding the really serious magics quite difficult to do.]

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  29. I am really surprised that no one has mentioned Greg Stafford and RuneQuest in the conjunction of role-playing and the occult. Stafford has been a bigwig in American shamanism and pagan circles, having been the publisher of magazines on those topics, in addition to his work on so many RPGs over the decades.

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    1. I did (and also Herbie Brennan and Paul Hume), but my comment - the one that James M. quoted from - vanished into the æther.

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  30. Point of fact: Christianity did not identify any and all other non-Christian viewpoints as demonic, just some of them. Other were taken up as not only true, but as propaedeutic and even prophetic of the Christian dispensation.

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  31. we should have a proper discussion of Nephilim some time. Interesting stuff, although the whole "consulted with a realio trulio occultist" thing in the intro looked an awful lot like a "ms. found in a coffin" type claim to me - that is, not even a hoax but a literary allusion/bit of genre emulation.

    Eliade's interesting but Durkheim argues that for analytical purposes there's no sociologically defensible line to be drawn between magic and religion, and I'm afraid I've internalized this idea so thoroughly that I find it hard now to imagine why clerics and MUs should be separate, except for tradition.

    ...and now that's enough flamebaiting for me. I reckon occultism stands in relation to RPGs much as heavy metal does; they're bedfellows, even though there's no very good reason behind it.

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