Sorry, long post about a subject that bothers me since years about D&D. And sorry about the bad english, but I can't see where it is bad to correct it
Edit : And sorry about not having given a true title to the thread !
Edit : A kind hearted person has repaired my mistake, thank you !
In the past, fiction was accepted as something that didn’t need any strong root.
In Science Fiction, you could claim that being really precise in your perception of the world could render you able to teleport across galaxies, or that the earth was hollow with big dinosaur in it.
In Heroic Fantasy, you could take incredible liberties with biology and sociology, and having a long living fantasy race reasoning like humans and rewriting their racial characteristics.
A private detective could do things on a regular basis that would have resulted in death or jail for any normal people before the tenth chapter of the first novel.
It has changed a lot. In fantasy, the better known agent of this change is Michael Moorcock, particularly with the Elric saga.
It was willingly made as anti-Tolkien and anti-Conan as possible.
And what it changed the most, is the fantasy world itself. It has its own “logic”.
Even if it’s not easy to tell what are the rules of supernatural in the saga, it’s clear that they have their own logic and rules, and magic is not just a justification to do anything, like an elf deciding that the next day, she will stop being immortal to espouse a human. Magic with Moorcock, like everything, have an origin and needs means to use it, before having consequences.
All the good modern stories follow the new rules followed by Moorcock. No more endless quivers for bows or endless magazines for handguns. You want magic, you sell your soul or find another way to gain it. No more “I was lucky to find this [thing]”, or “I was lucky that you arrived in time with the right tool, my friend”. When these things happen, now, the story is no more considered as good (except for the last Batman with pocket motorbikes, night/day incoherence, or armored guy not breaking the ice when the light ones break it, but I personally don’t consider it a good story).
The Lost series is good example. There were causes and consequences, and we were waiting for the revelation of the nature of the causes. And everything was okay, even when the causes stayed unanswered, because we felt the mysteries followed rules. The fanbase exploded in the end, because the story ended with : it’s mystic, there nothing more to know, the solution to all these mystery was it’s mystic.
The end would have been accepted by everyone if the answer had been : you learnt more than most people, but the mystery remains. Because it works like science, each solution brings more questions, it’s a kind of rule in itself.
Answering with : You should stop asking question, because the origins and consequence are just beyond our comprehension, so everything is justified when the storyteller needs it doesn’t work anymore with a lot of people.
And D&D is just doing that with supernatural.
D&D, with the 70’s/80’s spirit, mixed an awful lot of concepts, like mixing the Law/Chaos opposite forces with the classic Good/evil angle, even when Moorcock had developed the Law/Chaos concept in direct opposition to the old fantasy clichés, or mixing new ages concepts with mainstream theology.
It was a mess.
Magic using astral plane or travel, which are directly derived from new age, and ended different from psionics.
Psionics were using a modern paranormal terminology (which was new age influenced) about concepts predating religions.
Monks being different than psionics, but clearly based on oriental concepts… just like psionics that even used the mind, body and soul trope.
And today, even after the “power sources” attempt to clarify things a little, D&D has not evolved at all.
What is magic in D&D ?
First, we have arcane magic and divine magic. The term magic, and the mechanics, means they have something in common. What is this thing ?
Are arcane and divine two tags put on something just called “magic” ?
Nowhere in D&D is explained why there are references to magic as an unified element.
There are arcane spells, divine spells, but no “magic” spells.
Magic in D&D has no origin or cause, it seems to be a generic term to refer to two different concepts with just some mechanical things in common. Game mechanics.
And then we have the way “magic” enter in existence.
We still don’t know what is magic before this state, as divine and arcane are not the same things, but if someone do the right sequence of gestures and words, a spell is cast.
Is there a specific mental process in top of having to handle complicate gestures and speech ?
Is magic mobilized through language ? Then each gesture and word means something and then is understood by something. Maybe the true name mechanic encountered in some spells are based on this option ?
Then, D&D has to determine how this language interact with the world, and why divine is not the same as arcane regarding this language. And if there are more than one language, who or what answers it and why. And if there are different languages, we should talk about magics, not magic as a singular thing.
It’s too easy to leave the situation as it is and saying that DMs will decide for their worlds.
Why a warlock arcane magic, obtained through another entity, is still tagged arcane when a cleric just do the same thing and is tagged divine ? Why a paladin divine magic doesn’t express itself the same way as an armored clerics with the same mindset and stats ?
What is magic in D&D ?
The current answer is “what you want it to be”.
But the problem is that we can’t build a coherent story on incoherent elements, so the stories in D&D have to stay away from revolving around the nature of magic. Almost all the D&D novels centerd on the spellcasting and the nature of magic are crap, the exceptions being Dragonlance and Dark Sun. In Dragonlance, all magic was divine, so there was just magic with specialties. But as a campaign setting, the crap returned immediately. In Dark Sun, the problem is zapped, as Divine is a thing of the past.
4th edition tried something with power sources, but then the answer was “everything”. Which could also be the answer if the question was “what is science ?”
I really think that D&D could stop a lot of its obsolescence by really streamlining its supernatural aspect and giving it a logic we could find in how we talk about it and how we play with it.
Magic : why the singular term ? there are at least two magics in D&D since the start.
Arcane and Divine : what is the nature of the difference, and how can they be the same thing (magic) ? If psionics are not magic, what is the nature of the difference with arcane and divine magics ?
Psionics : Why a “scientific” approach of the psychic powers when it’s not the case for magics ?
Where do the term psionics come from in a fantasy setting ?
How can psionics affect atom or molecular level in worlds with physics based on four elements ? The powers or spells references should come from alchemy, not modern science.
D&D + supernatural = Obsolete + Absurd.