DMing 101 – Non-Magic Magic

Happy new year! Here’s a mini DMing 101 for the first ever Thursday of the 2015!

Roleplay is – let’s be honest – a form of escapism. We want to leave the day-to-day and enter a world of our own creation, being new people with different problems, not our own. While some of us can enjoy a game filled with the worldly and normal, most of us would rather fantastical or alien worlds of wonder and impossibility.

D&D being the first, most popular, and my favourite RPG, most of us tend towards playing fantasy games, which draw a great deal of their wondrous content from magic, the mysterious multi-use energy interpreted a thousand different ways by those who write about it or design it’s various ways, schools and systems. Not every genre can depend on magic, but they find a way nonetheless. So here are a few examples of non-magic magic:



Staple of sci-fi and various “tech-punk” universes, technology of futuristic or alien cultures can achieve anything we like, or anything we need to fit our story-needs. So long as you can justify the science with suitable gibberish and keep a certain degree of consistency you can get away with pretty much anything.


Technology majorly differs from magic because it usually requires items, where magic tends to be an ever-present force that is shaped by people. Gadgets, weapons, cybernetic implants can all be substitutes for rituals and spells in worlds where magic just doesn’t fit.

Psychic Powers

The half-way point between magic and technology, psychic powers is a somewhat reasonable extension of human evolution that expands on the power of our highly developed minds. They are frequently taken to overly-optimistic extents however, beyond mere mind-reading to mind control, and even creating physical forces on the world around us.

There are usually excepted limitations on what the mind can achieve. Control over extremes of energy, like temperature, electricity or light are typically extremes of psychic power (where magic tends to start there). Typical functions of the mind are usually the first on the list, such as emotions, senses and memories.

Miscellaneous Energy

Spirits, cosmic energy, raw “elemental” power or anything else that might fit your world makes a cheap and easy substitute for actual magic. Take the series Avatar: The Last Airbender as an example, it’s basically magic, we all know it’s basically magic but it’s never actually said aloud, and it makes for a perfectly unique and interesting world (and a really cool show too).

There’s a lot of options for alternative power-sources and different themes or names for non-magic magic. Anime has some fantastic examples, variations on the theme of “power of the soul” more often than not, very similar to the Ki (or Chi) used by D&D Monks. If you’re looking to create a unique world, why not try and replace magic with a version of your own?

Magic is the classic, the standard from which a thousand fantasy worlds have been based, but look at other stories and other worlds. How much “magic” gets used without it ever being called as such? George R. R. Martin himself said that science fiction is just fantasy with a change of vocabulary, but I’ll come to that in a later article.

Happy new year everybody.

6 thoughts on “DMing 101 – Non-Magic Magic”

  1. A good example of non-magic magic is in Mass Effect. First you have Medi-Gel, a cure-all solution for every wound and negative condition. Then you have Biotics, the ability to create mass-effect fields and manipulate them.

    Star Wars has a lot of this too, from Jedi powers which are mostly Psychic in nature, to alter the world around them by effort of will alone (and the mysterious energy aka The Force), and who can forget Bacta, the super-healing element that cures pretty much anything, an elixir of life as it were.

    Loved the article :)


  2. Very good point. I also lump “Hacking” in television, movies, and games in with sorcery. Because I’m pretty sure opening a vault or bankrupting someone with a laptop is possible IRL, but for me it might as well be a conjuration spell.


    1. I’d argue conjuration, but hey, that’s just nitpicking. The lesson here is never write tired, I forgot so many great examples, hacking is definitely way up there under the Tech section


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