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Author Topic: Magic treasures  (Read 2699 times)

Offline Yora

Magic treasures
« on: March 17, 2015, 06:33:20 PM »
Long before I even started to consider serious fiction writing, I've been running roleplaying games for years. And in most games, things like magic swords, magic boots, and flying carpets are a pretty big deal. And when you look at many classic "proto-fantasy" stories and the Lord of the Rings, magic items are everywhere. Every halfway decent god or hero had two or three magic items he acquired over his many adventures by stealing them from villains he defeated.

I am not terribly well read in contemporary fantasy books, but it seems to me that magic items are almost absent these days. And in the Sword & Sorcery of Howard and Leiber they appear to be almost nonexistent. (Moorcock being an exception here, with a prominent magic sword being almost a character in its own right.)

Like monsters, I like magic items, as unfashionable they may be right now. But unlike monsters, I don't really see how I would include magic items in my stories. So this made me thought that it might be an interesting topic to talk about. Just to share some thoughts and preferences and see what other people are thinking about it.

It's not that I can't get magic items to fit into the world, but that with all my characters and villains, I just don't see any actual use for them. A normal sword, a normal armor is good enough; as is a normal rope with a grappling hook and you can sneak around just fine without boots of sneakiness or an obscuring cloak.
The one point where I really do like "magic items" is when it comes to alchemy. Potions, poisons, smoke bombs and the like are wonderful stuff. These are quite different from regular magic items in two ways: They can be made by craftsmen and may only be borderline magical, and they are also used up once you use them. After that, you need to get new ones if you want to use them again. Which, again, isn't that particularly difficult as they are relatively easy to make.
But I think it's not primarily the "mundanity" of potions and bombs that makes them so much more interesting to me, but rather that they actively do something in a noticable way that makes a lot of difference. Take our default example for half of all fantasy discussions: Frodo Baggins. Frodo has a lot of magic items. A magic sword, magic armor, a magic cloak, a magic light, and of course a magic ring. The armors special ability comes into play only once in the entire story, when Frodo gets hit by a troll. But everything Frodo did was "not die". His sword is a magic sword, but its most interesting ability is not that it's super durable, super sharp, and super harmful to monsters or anything like that, but that it glows when orcs are nearby. That this magic item of orc detection is shaped like a sword is really just coincidence that doesn't actually affect its usefulness. The one time Frodo uses his magic stuff actively is his light. And this is not the item that makes him fight harder, survive longer, and hide better, but the one item that he turns on and aims at an enemy. It's a much more interesting weapon than his sword really.
And that's what I like about alchemical items. Any time a character uses one, you really see something dramatic happen. In a story, you probably wouldn't mention a character taking a sip from a magic potion to heal some bruises and small cuts. Healing potions are for when the character would die without it. Smoke bombs, flash powder, liguid fire, and metal eating acid are things that really change the situation a lot. A potion that protects against fire or cold allows a character to survive in otherwise deadly conditions. They don't just improve the odds, they enable the character to do completely new things he couldn't normally do.

Those few ideas I have for genuinely enchanted items go into a similar direction. A magic lantern that shows the way to a magically hidden place for example, or a magic gem that glows in the dark. These are also items that you turn on when you need them to do their thing, but don't keep running the whole time. I think making a magic item being active makes it a lot more interesting than the item just being sligtly better manufactured than mundane gear.
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Offline Raptori

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Re: Magic treasures
« Reply #1 on: March 17, 2015, 07:13:01 PM »
I like magic items too, and definitely prefer active ones. Alchemy is definitely one of my favourite approaches. We have a few ideas for more traditional magic items in our world, and potential in our magic system for a load more. They'll be of varying importance in world-building terms, but will rarely be much of a plot point I think.

For example, there are magic objects which alter maps when placed on top of them. When a regular one is placed on a map a set of accurate rhumb lines centered on your current location appears, so you can pinpoint your location and choose a heading extremely easily. More powerful ones have other abilities, for example the most powerful ones (of which there will probably be only one or two in existence) convert an accurate map into a real-time bird's eye depiction of the area, kind of like a satellite feed of an area.

I think the reason magical objects aren't as popular these days is that they often turn into some kind of mcguffin that the characters need to add to their inventory to complete their quest. I think they can add a lot to the world if they're treated more as part of the world-building or magic system than as a quest item :)
« Last Edit: March 17, 2015, 07:14:51 PM by Raptori »
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Offline JMack

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Re: Magic treasures
« Reply #2 on: March 17, 2015, 11:52:36 PM »
I'm glad you started this one.

I've been hesitant to to include magic items because of the sense that readers don't buy it when something external to the hero wins the day. So I like the examples in the OP, where the items are fun/mysterious and help or hinder, but don't solve the Problem.

There's a wonderful YA series, The Chronicles of Prydain, with super magic items that help/hinder and only one that solves the Problem.
> Gurgi's bag of never ending food (bland, but filling)
> Flewder Flamm's golden harp (plays exquisitely, but the strings break if he exaggerates his own prowess too much)
> Eilonwy's "bauble" (for 4.5 books, a little girl's glowing toy, then much more)
> Hen Wen, the oracluar pig (who communicates via oracular sticks that are thrown and she points to with her snout)
> The Horn of the Elves (will summon the elves once per owner, but Taran uses it too late)
> the evil Black Cauldron (which is only destroyed through great personal sacrifice)
> and finally, the great sword Dyrnwyn (which solves the Cosmic Problem)

That's my kind of magic treasure list!

Now I'm thinking about all kinds of ways to put magic stuff into my WIP  ;D

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Offline Elfy

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Re: Magic treasures
« Reply #3 on: March 18, 2015, 12:04:22 AM »
If you like alchemical type stuff try Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastards series, he doesn't do a lot of magic, but alchemy does appear in all the books so far. Its also fairly obvious that The Lies of Locke Lamora was very heavily influenced by Fritz Lieber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories, a number of reviews refer to it as picaresque in the style of Lieber. Magical items in fantasy these days tend to be looked at the same way exploding pens are in the Daniel Craig era Bond films. We don't really go in for those anymore.
I will expand your TBR pile.

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Offline jefGoelz

Re: Magic treasures
« Reply #4 on: March 18, 2015, 02:20:09 AM »
The Lies of Locke Lamora was very heavily influenced by Fritz Lieber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories, a number of reviews refer to it as picaresque in the style of Lieber.
imo, the L. o L.L. only satisfies one aspect of picaresque:

picaresque |?pik??resk|
adjective
of or relating to an episodic style of fiction dealing with the adventures of a rough and dishonest but appealing hero.

Offline DRMarvello

Re: Magic treasures
« Reply #5 on: March 20, 2015, 02:48:39 PM »
I love magic items. The characters in my trilogy discover them, use them, and even create them.

Now that I think about it, a magic item plays a significant role in the contemporary fantasy I'm about to release, and my western fantasy has its share of them as well.

To me, magic items are an important element of fantasy. Fantastic creatures, magic spells, and magical artifacts are all part of the package.

I have many more story ideas I'd like to explore that were inspired by my days of fantasy role playing, including an inventory of magic items I created as a dungeon master that may find new life in those future stories.
Daniel R. Marvello
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Books: The Vaetra Chronicles

Offline night_wrtr

Re: Magic treasures
« Reply #6 on: March 27, 2015, 01:08:15 AM »
I have been hesitant about writing a magical artifact. I want to. It feels right and would serve a purpose to the plot, but I keep thinking that they are over used. I don't want to fall into the same old magical sword cliche as it doesn't feel original. If I created the hype of a magical sword/artifact that turned out to be just a plain old sword, would that bore the reader?  Would they feel cheated?
« Last Edit: March 27, 2015, 01:09:58 AM by night_wrtr »

Offline JMack

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Re: Magic treasures
« Reply #7 on: March 27, 2015, 01:31:50 AM »
I have been hesitant about writing a magical artifact. I want to. It feels right and would serve a purpose to the plot, but I keep thinking that they are over used. I don't want to fall into the same old magical sword cliche as it doesn't feel original. If I created the hype of a magical sword/artifact that turned out to be just a plain old sword, would that bore the reader?  Would they feel cheated?
I think it could be done to good effect.  Gets one thinking...
Quote
Harald had always hoped he'd be able to even touch his brother's sword one day, the one the Kylian had brought back from the wars and said was imbued with powerful magicks. But Harald had never expected to be using it to dig his brother's grave.  And where was the power? What good had it done when the Mordrogs had attacked their village?
:)
« Last Edit: March 27, 2015, 05:15:18 PM by Jmacyk »
Change, when it comes, will step lightly before it kicks like thunder. (GRMatthews)
You are being naive if you think that any sweet and light theme cannot be strangled and force fed it's own flesh. (Nora)
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