Tuesday, March 16, 2010

populist magic

Once upon a time in 1982 Doctor Strange travelled back in time to Fantastic Four issue 19, which was set in Egypt back in the days when pharoahs ruled the land with laser beams.

Along the way Doc encounters a slave girl who sees him throw down some patented Sorcerer Supreme mojo. She reaches the logical conclusion.

Doctor Strange, being a smooth operator, plays down his magical badassitude.

The line "These forces are within us all!" made an impression on me as a youth. Magic surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together. It is available to all. This simple concept haunts me to this day. Magic-users may need special educations and expensive/rare material requirements for their enchantments, but they are not the elect. They're closer to Batman than the X-Men in this regard. Anyone with sufficient desire and dedication can make magic happen; there's no special gift the lack of which prevents someone from joining the fellowship of the arcane. A wizard isn't automatically a Chosen One.

Credit: I couldn't find my copy of Doctor Strange #53 yesterday, so I swiped all the images above from Bully's treatment of this issue. My buddy Pat made sure I saw yesterday's awesome Bully post and you should check it out too.


  1. But more importantly, did Stephen tap that?

  2. Not in that issue. Maybe he hooked up with her modern reincarnation in a later issue.

  3. An excellent point, but the thing to take from this, for me, is that Marvel comics up to around 1990 are an absolute gold mine of game ideas. Time travelling pharoahs with laser beams? Yes please!

  4. I've always liked the idea that there is a "gift," but that the gift is actually a kind of throwback flaw. The cosmological reasoning goes like this:

    * A long time ago, magic was everywhere and crazy-go-nuts
    * This resulted in a lot of messy death and misery
    * The ability to use magic is founded on the ability to perceive it.
    * People who perceived it more clearly gradually evolved themselves out of the gene pool, the hard way. The evolutionary fittest were those who instinctively block that crazy stuff out.
    * These days, the ability to perceive magic clearly is a rare throwback defect, like being born without eyelids.
    * Training and discipline can overcome the natural-perception hurdle.

    Or in other words, to use your X-Men/Batman comparison, wizards can be either, but there are definitely those with a mutant "talent" for it, but the talent is really more of a birth defect ... and (discreetly) a fundamental part of wizard training for the talented ones is to learn how NOT to see magic now and then, to grow those missing eyelids. This, to bring it full circle, was inspired directly by early-80s flashback scenes involving young Professor X needing to learn to shut out all the psychic stuff he's hearing.

  5. Seems like a concept that is also present in Vance's novels. For example - Cugel learns spells from Icounu's boks.

  6. That's the way it is in RuneQuest where everybody knows a spell or two but you have to become a Rune Priest to be a magical badass.

  7. While I have played and run games with both views, S. John Ross expertly describes my prefered take on the subject (as he often does on many subjects - Thx S. John).

  8. For me, arcane magic always was something like the forgotten science of a better age. Everyone with an average intelligence could probably become a magic - user or wizard, though most neither dare nor care for. Why?

    Because a)it takes a considerable amount of time and money to even become a 1st - level spellcaster (excluding 99,9% of your typical medieval population)and

    b)to become better at sorcery, you'll have to visit dangerous places with unfriendly inhabitants and unhealthy mechanical or mechanical devices, haggle with rival, envious and possibly treacherous users of magic, and possibly even selling your soul in the process, and finally you'll have to avoid being burned at the stake by a superstitious village mob or church inquisitor for real or imagined devilry.

    WV: barili. As a wizard with a penchant for cooking, he was mostly known for the 1st-Level MU - Spell "Summon Peppers" which he used for combat and cuisine.

  9. I generally prefer the idea that magicians and sorcerers and such have to do something "special" to gain access to magical powers. That said, I think Doctor Strange is talking about psionics. :D