(intelligent) magic

I’ve been reading through one of the Forgotten Realms series– not a particular favorite, but since D&D is a hobby of mine, and because some of the aspects of the books are interesting, I’ve been slogging through them.

One of the things that annoys me is just a little detail. Anyone familiar with the D&D magic system knows that the spells are geared to be balanced game mechanics, and doesn’t really hold a lot of internal consistency, or even any economic sense. I can accept fireballs, I can accept bolts of lightening flying from wands, teleportation, shadow-stepping, slow-falls, ect.

But I can’t accept an enchanted whip.

Not just any whip, either. This whip is fashioned to have snake-creatures instead of lashes, which will occasionally speak to their wielder, warning of poison, eavesdropping, ect. And when she uses this whip, the snake heads will sink their fangs into the victim, poisoning them.

I’ve seen this whip in action for three books now. And every time the snake heads bite down, they inject poison. So you have long, extended battles with this weapon in use, and all I can think of is ‘where do they get all that poison from?’.

Since the snakes never eat, never drink, never diminish, I can only assume that they somehow repeatedly conjure poison up from nothing, expending no energy or resources to do so: a never-ending supply of venom, by nature of the design. Nothing else in the book does this. I don’t see good, cheap poison readily available. It’s a ridiculous mental image, but I keep picturing the characters getting into financial straights and trying to figure out how to milk this amazing whip.

CHARACTER: “Here, you guys each grab a head. Now, whip, when I say ‘go’, start squirting poison.”
WHIP: “F*** you.”
CHARACTER: “Hey, you always contributed this stuff before…!”
WHIP: “I demand death first. It turns me on.”
CHARACTER: “Hmm. So you’d say that you’re rather ‘limp’ right now?”
WHIP: *attempts to murder the character*
CHARACTER: *holds up the vial, tries to hide behind it* “The tube, not me, the glass tube!”

Please, fellow fantasy writers. Do not do this. Please think carefully about your magic/magical items/magical effects.

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4 thoughts on “(intelligent) magic

  1. Run this by me. You’re complaining about the magic system because elements of it strike you as impossible?

    On the other hand, I suppose we should at least consider the consequences of these things. As a rule, I tend to go with ‘magic works in whatever way I happen to think suits the story best’. I also have some sort of bizarre dislike of using the word when I’m writing, perhaps because it seems to discourage a sense of wonder in it.

  2. Ahh, yes…that series. I put it in that box labeled “gift of the goddess” and forgot about it, except to seriously hope every character would chop all the snake heads off the silly thing. I’d really like to “see” one of those whips without a single snake head left!

  3. As a writer, I have to go with magic that makes logical sense in reality, were magic itself a reality. I agree with Stu about not using the word “magic” – I too try to keep from using it as much as possible. Something about it for me makes it seem to associate in my mind with stupid things like the inconsistencies of Forgotten Realms magic and even more simply put that magic seems to have lost what made it “magical” in the first place. At one point I even tried to replace the word “magic” with another word derived from celtic, but it never sounded right in my mind. It didn’t fit. I might still replace it, but I have yet to find that one word that sounds like magic used to sound.

  4. I like my magic to be internally consistent with itself. What’s more, I always had the thought that a stable magic should be hard to distinguish from a scientific event.

    As for magic… I don’t mind using the term, but only in a very broad sense, or for the superstitious. If you have a very in-depth magical system, there are words like ‘divination’ or ‘conjuration’, things to more specifically describe the effects. Calling every mystical effect ‘magic’ is like calling all meals, snacks, and beverages ‘food’. Correct, but…

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