What makes magic magical? The sense of wonder, the mystery, the unknown, the knowledge that your character is privy to arcane secrets that few can hope to master. The hero’s journey from that of Luke Skywalker to Neo to Doctor Strange is one where powers and magic items are hard come by. A hero must journey within themselves for inner truth, they must become the bridge between the world of the mundane and the divine; they must be able to see the magical world that passes the rest of us dolts by. Playing a magic using character in 5th Edition is the most fun, exciting journeys that one can take in role play gaming, which begs the question as to why so many players and DMs conspire to throttle magic itself - with the magic shop.
Here’s our list of the top five worst things about having magic shops in role play games.
Shops were invented for convenience, magic should be about inconvenience.
Ever since the birth of mass consumerism, the retailer has had one mission in mind, to make the customer’s purchasing experience as quick, simple and ideally thought free as possible. The existence of the shop or emporium is specifically to take any consideration, tension, uncertainty and drama out of the entire purchasing process. With some RPG purchases (rope, iron rations, boots), arguably the less time spent on roleplaying so much the better, as there is only so much one can gain from discussing the sturdiness of a new pair of archer’s bracers. However, when it comes to magic the acquisition of magic items through the magic shop makes acquiring items of power easy (or at least significantly easier), and drains the game of much of its challenge.
2. Player as entitled fratboy/girl
Imagine if one day, bored trust fund boy Luke Skywalker decided he wanted to buy a lightsabre. His aunt and uncle had left him some money after their unfortunate incineration by the Empire and he thought he’d blow the lot on a cool new gadget. Buying things isn’t always the same as earning them, and in a role play game world, acquiring money can be a short cut that the player can take which has unfortunate outcomes for the game. What does the player learn? How does the character grow? If the answer to the first question is ‘that money really is the most powerful thing in the world and the sooner we all stop complaining and accept that the better’, then it’s probably time to crash a meteorite into your game world and start again. Of course Luke Skywalker, King Arthur and Aragorn didn’t but their swords, they were given them by the force of destiny itself. Thor in Avengers: Infinity War, makes his own magic weapon and to do so travels on a quest, nearly dies and almost avenges his brother. The acquiring of powerful items becomes a key plot device and it means that because the item was hard to acquire, it was valued more.
3.One of a kind?
The closest thing you have in your life to a magic item is your smart phone. It runs using invisible forces (battery power, mobile network, internet) and gives you the ability to do things that would have seemed fantastical only a generation ago. The difference between an extraordinary item like a phone and a magic ring or cloak is partly to do with the uniqueness of the latter. Galadriel’s ring was not mass produced, it was unique and part of a limited edition series created by Sauron. If magic item shops exist, it makes sense to assume that their shelves are full and are replenished periodically by the magic item wholesaler, who in turn gets rings, cloaks, hats and wands from the magic item factory. Objects are shorn of their uniqueness when there are lots of them and of their specialness when they’re easy to get.
4. Magic as part of the everyday
When magical items can be purchased in a shop on a high street, it means that the relationship that people in the fantasy world have with magic has to fundamentally alter. A magic shop has to be as familiar as a butchers, and therefore part of the everyday functioning of a society. In the Harry Potter stories, Harry leaves the mundane world altogether, which is the only place where magic is out of the ordinary and steps into a world where everything is enchanted. Because the reader sees the world through the eyes of a newcomer, we see magic as something to be uncovered and explored. Imagine the book from the perspective of Ron Weasley. When everything is magical, nothing as magical, and enchanted items become another handy technology, which then starts to recreate the world we already live in.
5. Players want magic shops, but they don’t
Giving players exactly what they say they want is a quick way to throttling the game. Players might say they want access to items that will defeat their enemies and solve their problems, all under one roof at competitive prices, but they don’t. Not really. How can we be so sure of this? Because players play D&D for the same reason they watch Avengers: Infinity War, or The Empire Strikes Back, or The Fellowship of the Ring. They play and watch to become immersed in the story, and each story is really the story of the hero’s journey, the quest to overcome adversity and to solve problems. Magic shops are adventure killers, which is why Luke Skywalker, Thor, Aragorn or Jon Snow never go to one.
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