Wednesday, October 7, 2015

I Like My Magic Mundane Thanks

I've seen a lot of "weird" style gaming lately , Into the Odd , Middenmurk and of course Lamentation of the Flame Princess on my sidebar and you know there is nothing wrong with it if you are finding it fun.

What I don't get though is why some many people think magic ought to be weird, "mystical" or outright incomprehensible or that magic used to solve mundane problems is somehow "dull or pedestrian"

Not to put too fine a point on it but magic isn't very magical, its historically and in folklore  been nothing but a non linear means of solving mundane problems.


Let me give you two examples.

First up is the Hávamál,

This is a gnomic instructional poem kind of advice for Vikings and others from Odin. What makes this so germane is that it had eighteen spells listed and what they are for.

Let me go over the list from my favorite online version here

 #1 a blessing, #2 healing #3 protection from weapons #4 unbinding limbs for escape #5 Stop arrows

#6 counter curse #7 stop a fire in the hall #8 calm hatred #9 sooth storms at sea #10 stun witches , this one is a bit enigmatic but my understanding is its counters soul travel #11 battle blessing 

 #12 speak with dead. This is the only spell that is actually weird since it uses a hanged man  

I know the twelfth:
if I see up in a tree
a hanged corpse swinging,
I carve
and colour the runes
that the man moves
and speaks with me. 

of course if you know Norse myths and a it how sympathetic magic works in folkore, its stops being so strange since the ritual reenacts what happened to Odin on the world tree and very possibly some kind of shamanic ritual as well.

#13 consecrates the young as warriors and #14 is less a spell than a lore chant, like the great art of memory


A fourteenth I know: if I needs must number
the Powers to the people of men,
I know all the nature of gods and of elves
which none can know untaught.


This is again quite practical since such beings as the Land Vettir, Wights, Alfar and in some cases even the gods  can be interacted with, bargained with and negotiated  with . In a pinch such knowledge extremely and pragmatically  useful in the Norse  world view. 

#15 is a craft charm #16 and #17 love charms and #18 Odin isn't saying.

Now I don't know if ordinary folks could learn these either in some fashion in a part of the poem that's lost, from Odin or by dint of practice but even though its a God speaking of them these charms are outright practical, mundane and not very weird. You could make most of them with any edition of D&D , even the love charm (friends in 1st edition or charm person)

and this kind of practicality is not limited to Norse magic but its common in Goetia, Roman Magic and many other traditions.

Also DungeonMastahWieg kind of pointed me in the right direction here so kudos, when we look at it we even see the same practical spirit with the  magic-tech in Ghostbusters   detect ghost and supernatural , capture ghost/supernatural entity, contain ghost or supernatural entity (PKE meter, Proton Pack and Ghost Trap respectively )

Its not terribly different than a "Root Doctor" "Conjure Man" or "White Witch" might do when they weren't handing out herbal remedies.

And yes I'll note that folklore is short combat spells other than curses, if such spells were  thought possible its not doubt in my mind grimoires would be filled with "Lightning Blast, Fire Bolt and Mage Armor" too.


So what does this lead too, well 1st its not a criticism of Weird. Weird can be fun  Weird can be refreshing in small doses but it doesn't need to be an ethos.

Just as I like my armor like real armor, weapons like real weapons I like my magic mundane within the context of the game world and humdrum spells seem more immersive to me.

of course as with anything YMMV and   if there is one universal rule in gaming  its "If everyone is  having fun you are doing it right"


2 comments:

  1. I once read that the majority of Medieval Grimoires spells were either to get rich (talk to ghosts or summon demons to find buried treasure), get laid (find your true love or charm spells), or kill people who annoyed you (curses and poisonings).

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    1. Exactly, Practical magic. Also D&D wizards were basically war game artillery when conceived so D&D is a bit short on these types of spells though they are in there.

      Historically there is also quite a bit of hedge magic for fertility and general luck too, much in the oral tradition as Medieval and later Grimoires were for rich people.

      I wanted to focus on the Hávamál since it doesn't touch of the cosmological side issues of the Medieval Catholic worldview plus though the Hávamál is said to be the word of Odin , its very much a secular practical advice text.

      Plus I'm kind of into ancient Scandinavian and Migration era cultures right now though oddly I don't watch the Vikings TV show

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