Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Putting the Magic back in D&D

I sympathize with JB over at B/X Blackrazor. He laments I hate the lack of magic in the D&D game.

It is all too easy to distill magic and monsters down to their meta-value. I think one of the reasons we so fondly recall the first days we ever walked down the twisting passageways of our first dungeon adventure is because we didn't fully grasp the mechanics of the game. When faced with a monster, we didn't have a list of memorized stats. When we found a glowing sword, we didn't wonder if it was merely a +1, or something better.

We can't exactly "un-eat" the fruit of gaming knowledge. We've lost our innocence. It happened the first time we peeked in the Monster Manual, even though we weren't the DM. It happened when we cast "identify", and were told that our sword was +1, +2 against goblinkind. It happened when we chose to play a magic user, and began to read through pages and pages of spell descriptions.

What then is the solution to the problem? I believe part of the solution is how you treat magic in your campaign setting. One of my first posts on this blog touched on that subject.

The basic gist of the post is that you can help to preserve the feeling of magic being "magical" by making it rare.

Another way is to keep the meta-game information from your players. In order to do this, you have to have the right players. Folks who would be on board with such shenanigans. People who would be ok with secret dice rolls by the GM. People who don't want to know each and every rule of the game. They just want to say what their character does, and find out from the GM if it works.

I won't touch on the "Old School" relevance of such an approach. Such an effort would be futile anyway, I think. People have ALWAYS taken different approaches to play. As for me, I never enjoyed the game so much as when I didn't fully grasp the rules.


  1. Nice post! I agree so much about keeping metagame info from your players. As I said on the B/X Blackrazor post, I've found it's more fun to not use anything from the Monster Manual or DMG. At least with new monsters & magic items, it retains the mystery. Keep up the good posting!

  2. Hi George,

    I read your post, and while I won't go quite that far, I do agree with the sentiment.

    If you look at my Shatterworld entries on Goblins, Orcs, and such, I've tried to make them unique to my setting. Basically, I've taken each main monster group (dragons, giants, goblins) and said that they are each subdivided into five elemental groups, earth, air, fire, water, and time. This allows me to give them some unique campaign setting abilities, which I don't want to share until my players are confronted with them. I've resisted saying too much, but it is tempting!

    -Arthur (Niccodaemus)

  3. Fantastic post, right on point.