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    Default Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    How might one go about making a clear thematic distinction between "magical" creatures and effects and "supernatural" creatures and effects?

    I know the line often gets muddled mechanics-wise, what with clerical magics, spiritualists, and abilities that are "extraordinary" rather than strictly magical. What I'm trying to do is make a clear division between the inherently magical and the inherently spiritual or supernatural. Has anyone else had experience in making this distinction? If so, how did you show it, both thematically and mechanically?
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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    This has been one of the ongoing terminology discussions spread out across many threads.

    What do you mean by "magical", and by "supernatural", and where do you draw the line between the two?

    Would "spellcasting" be a better term for "magic" in your setting, or is magic more than just spells and the results?
    Last edited by Max_Killjoy; 2017-12-14 at 01:35 PM.
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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    Depends on a lot of things... like what system you are using.

    But one main thing to do is decide how and why magic actually *works* in your game. Most systems are vague and inconsistent with this, you will need to fix that.

    As you suggested, D&D makes this hard. Sorcerers and Wizards being a good example, clearly using a different approach to access magic. You could pick one and say that the other doesn't exist in your game world... I would suggest removing sorcerers, as they muddy the water far more than wizards.

    Simplify what exists, keep it clean, keep it consistent.

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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    One option is to say that magic is externally powered, while supernatural powers are internally powered. A priest draws power from its deity. A druid draws power from nature. A wizard or sorcerer might draw power from the planes, or from something like Faerun's Weave. But a monk's supernatural abilities are fueled by its own life force. A psion's powers are fueled by its own will.

    Another way is to make magic about the process. In the setting I'm running some M&M games in, pretty much all superpowers are fueled by "spiritual energy", a generally internal power source. Spiritual energy can work as just kinda an energy source that with the right techniques or training can be manipulated to a limited degree - in one set of nations pretty much everyone has at least basic anime/wushu style martial arts and parkour ability because they learn how to feel and control the flow of spiritual energy through their bodies. But actual powers use spiritual energy as not just fuel, but they kinda "shape" it in ways that, when you pass more energy through the shape, it produces a specific reality-altering effect.

    Now, for Dreamer powers, the main type of straight up superpower in the setting, those shapes are just kinda naturally there. A pyrokinetic has the "shape" for fire control naturally just kinda floating within its spiritual energy. But magic also exists in setting, although most mages are Dreamers whose superpower is superhuman, intuitive magical aptitude (much like a super-inventor has a superhuman, intuitive technological aptitude), but it's still something that's technically possible for anyone to learn. Magic then is the skill of shaping spiritual energy. The power effects and spell effects may wind up similar - a pyrokinetic's fire control and a wizard's fire evocation are both shapes (albeit somewhat different ones on a technical level) of spiritual energy that take energy run through them and convert it to fire. But the Dreamer just has that shape naturally hovering there, while the wizard knows how to take its spiritual energy and shape it that way. A Dreamer might train to refine its control over the fire, but it won't be able to say dominate minds no matter how much it trains. But a wizard, with enough training and learning, can theoretically learn how to produce spells of any "shape" (although in practice it takes a lot of effort to branch out beyond your natural aptitudes, so most wizards are still fairly specialized, even if more flexible than your average Dreamer).
    Last edited by Quellian-dyrae; 2017-12-14 at 02:21 PM.
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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    Quote Originally Posted by Khi'Khi View Post
    How might one go about making a clear thematic distinction between "magical" creatures and effects and "supernatural" creatures and effects?

    I know the line often gets muddled mechanics-wise, what with clerical magics, spiritualists, and abilities that are "extraordinary" rather than strictly magical. What I'm trying to do is make a clear division between the inherently magical and the inherently spiritual or supernatural. Has anyone else had experience in making this distinction? If so, how did you show it, both thematically and mechanically?
    Can you either define your version of non-supernatural "magical" (and your version of non-magical "supernatural"), or give a list of examples which would be appropriate for these terms?

    As I usually see the terms, they're largely synonymous.

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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    Quote Originally Posted by Khi'Khi View Post
    How might one go about making a clear thematic distinction between "magical" creatures and effects and "supernatural" creatures and effects?

    I know the line often gets muddled mechanics-wise, what with clerical magics, spiritualists, and abilities that are "extraordinary" rather than strictly magical. What I'm trying to do is make a clear division between the inherently magical and the inherently spiritual or supernatural. Has anyone else had experience in making this distinction? If so, how did you show it, both thematically and mechanically?
    I don't distinguish magical from supernatural--magical is a type of supernatural. Instead, I distinguish "fantastical" from "magic."

    Note 1: The system for this post is 5e D&D.
    Note 2: All terms like "supernatural", "extraordinary", etc refer to real life. For people in the setting, they're (relatively) normal life, at least in principle.

    My distinction rests on a couple of assumptions:

    1) The fantastic is everywhere. It's part of everyday life and reality, not an exception to the rules.
    2) Not all fantastic things are magical. Magic refers to a particular set of effects--those created and maintained by resonances within the ambient energy field. At their core, magical things always have as their source a self-aware creature.

    It's the distinction between "are magic" and "do magic." A dragon's flight is fantastical, but that dragon also may do magic (cast spells). A wizard generally does magic, but may or may not be fantastical himself. A barbarian's rage is fantastical (shrugging off weapons because you're really really angry?), as is a rogues evasion, but they're not magical. Another distinction is what happens with counter-magic (antimagic fields, dispel magic, etc). These only affect magic, because they disrupt the resonance effect that creates the magical effect. They don't somehow remove all of the underlying energy--that's incoherent (and stupidly destructive).

    Generally, fantastical creatures are the "normally produced" creatures. They live, grow, reproduce, etc. Just not by laws that are available here on Earth. Magical creatures are those that are produced by (or are otherwise directly dependent on) spells--golems, summoned fiends, a wizard's familiar, a paladin's summoned steed. Undead are a special case--they are most commonly created by magic, but can spontaneously arise. In my setting, the first members of most playable races (except elves, dwarves, and goblins, really) were created through magic. Since then they have become "naturalized" and are no longer being produced artificially.
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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    If magic is a well understood scientific theory then magic can't relly be part of the supernatural.


    Supernatural is something that defies scientific explanation. So in a world with well understood magic, the supernatural would be something that magic or science can't explain.
    Last edited by RazorChain; 2017-12-14 at 03:27 PM.

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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    Quote Originally Posted by RazorChain View Post
    If magic is a well understood scientific theory then magic can't relly be part of the supernatural.


    Supernatural is something that defies scientific explanation. So in a world with well understood magic, the supernatural would be something that magic or science can't explain.
    That's a good take on the subject... I like that.

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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    "Magic" does not exist in real life.

    "Supernatural," by definition, does not exist in real life.

    "Spiritual" implies to me that something comes from spirits, which is believed by some and not by others, depending on culture and religion.

    So if you believe in spirits, then simply explain what you believe in to the others at your table. If you don't believe in spirits, then spirits are like "supernatural," and by definition does not exist.

    So in the case that you have things not in real life, that is the GM's domain to fill in for their setting, unless the setting book already specifies (like how Dark Sun specifies that magic comes from tapping ambient life force or something). I think in D&D, most settings define spiritual stuff as coming from the gods who are established to exist and to intervene in the lives of mortals.

    Magic is popularly distinguished like a science - saying the right words while performing the right gestures and thinking the right thoughts cause magic to happen -, like also coming from spirits or gods, from the caster's directed willpower or "mana" or "chi." The supernatural is popularly distinguished by working just like nature, but something that is impossible in our world is known to exist in the setting - like a dragon beathes fire because it has a fire-breathing organ located in its throat that cannot exist in the real world. Spiritual pretty much is always harnessing divine intervention as far as I have seen.

    I like to not distinguish between magic, supernatural, and spiritual. They are simply phenomena in the game world that occur. No mechanics discriminate between them and any characters who try to make these distinctions are simply theorizing.
    It always amazes me how often people on forums would rather accuse you of misreading their posts with malice than re-explain their ideas with clarity.

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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    Quote Originally Posted by Vitruviansquid View Post
    I like to not distinguish between magic, supernatural, and spiritual. They are simply phenomena in the game world that occur. No mechanics discriminate between them and any characters who try to make these distinctions are simply theorizing.
    On rare occasion the difference can be important in your examples. For instance it's vitally important for determining if a dragon breathe fire within an anti-magic field. By your definition in the previous paragraph it should be able to.

    But yeah, throw my name on the pile of people who don't quite know what the OP is referring to.
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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    Quote Originally Posted by Tinkerer View Post
    On rare occasion the difference can be important in your examples. For instance it's vitally important for determining if a dragon breathe fire within an anti-magic field. By your definition in the previous paragraph it should be able to.

    But yeah, throw my name on the pile of people who don't quite know what the OP is referring to.
    Ah, to clarify: The paragraph you quoted is about what I do as GM. The previous paragraph is about what I see others like to do. Ultimately, I think it is up to the GM to decide, so there could be as many different takes on this as there are GMs.

    In the games I GM, anti-magic fields do not exist, so that problem is skirted. Magic also tends to be very limited in nature and operate in very specific ways, so I have not experienced any unexpected interactions that may cause contradictions.
    Last edited by Vitruviansquid; 2017-12-14 at 06:11 PM.
    It always amazes me how often people on forums would rather accuse you of misreading their posts with malice than re-explain their ideas with clarity.

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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    I would tend to treat it like the difference between, say, a robotic cat and a cat. In a setting where magic works, there is a supernatural element that is just part of how the world is, much like how in a setting where engineering works I'd expect there to be natural laws which the engineers are learning and exploiting to make their constructions.

    So a supernatural creature or effect is then something that exists because those underlying forces tend to self-organize in a particular way. Fire elementals exist because that is what supernatural fire does, it's just part of what it is - you'd get them spontaneously without any. external intervention required. That means that at some level, supernatural creatures or effects are blatant signals about how things are without much artifice or deception. The existence of fire elementals directly implies stuff about how fire works in that universe.

    On the other hand, something like a golem is the product of artifice, of taking a palette of those natural laws and combining them in very specific and invented ways. That, to my mind, is a good distinction for 'magic' - magic is the utilization of the supernatural to achieve effects which it would not normally produce. Magic, in contrast to the supernatural, is a strong sign of purposeful action, and as a result it cannot generally be taken to, at face value, inform one about the nature of the universe, because it says as much about how the magician's mind works as it does about any particular natural law (though if one looks closely enough, it would always be built out of fundamental supernatural building blocks at some level).

    The thing that complicates the matter is if you have e.g. supernatural creatures which reproduce and inherit traits like biological creatures, in which case you could in essence end up with 'magical' creatures invented by nature rather than by the hand of a magician. So the line can still get blurred in this way of thinking.

    So in this framing, if you had an 'anti-magic field', you could posit different ways in which it works. If for example there is a particular keystone force which allows other supernatural forces to be shaped by the mind or words of a practitioner, suppressing or interfering with that force would prevent a spell from being formed, but wouldn't e.g. cause a fire elemental to fall apart. Even without suppressing the force, injecting a lot of static or instability into it might cause spellworking to become impossible within the area - those constructions of artifice having much finer tolerances than natural phenomena.
    Last edited by NichG; 2017-12-14 at 06:24 PM.

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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    I would tend to treat it like the difference between, say, a robotic cat and a cat. In a setting where magic works, there is a supernatural element that is just part of how the world is, much like how in a setting where engineering works I'd expect there to be natural laws which the engineers are learning and exploiting to make their constructions.

    So a supernatural creature or effect is then something that exists because those underlying forces tend to self-organize in a particular way. Fire elementals exist because that is what supernatural fire does, it's just part of what it is - you'd get them spontaneously without any. external intervention required. That means that at some level, supernatural creatures or effects are blatant signals about how things are without much artifice or deception. The existence of fire elementals directly implies stuff about how fire works in that universe.

    On the other hand, something like a golem is the product of artifice, of taking a palette of those natural laws and combining them in very specific and invented ways. That, to my mind, is a good distinction for 'magic' - magic is the utilization of the supernatural to achieve effects which it would not normally produce. Magic, in contrast to the supernatural, is a strong sign of purposeful action, and as a result it cannot generally be taken to, at face value, inform one about the nature of the universe, because it says as much about how the magician's mind works as it does about any particular natural law (though if one looks closely enough, it would always be built out of fundamental supernatural building blocks at some level).

    The thing that complicates the matter is if you have e.g. supernatural creatures which reproduce and inherit traits like biological creatures, in which case you could in essence end up with 'magical' creatures invented by nature rather than by the hand of a magician. So the line can still get blurred in this way of thinking.

    So in this framing, if you had an 'anti-magic field', you could posit different ways in which it works. If for example there is a particular keystone force which allows other supernatural forces to be shaped by the mind or words of a practitioner, suppressing or interfering with that force would prevent a spell from being formed, but wouldn't e.g. cause a fire elemental to fall apart. Even without suppressing the force, injecting a lot of static or instability into it might cause spellworking to become impossible within the area - those constructions of artifice having much finer tolerances than natural phenomena.
    This is the distinction I was trying to make, but you made it better.

    I still think that it's better to think of terms like "supernatural" as referring to the baseline of our universe, not the fictional one. Basically, the fictional world is composed of three parts:

    1) The baseline that works (at least on the surface) just like ours. The underlying physics may vary, but the surface level is very similar.
    2) The "natural" supernatural layer--this cannot/does not exist in our universe but is a naturally-occurring part of the fictional reality.
    3) The "artificial" magical layer--this also cannot exist in our universe but is created by the actions and beliefs of thinking creatures.
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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    I would tend to treat it like the difference between, say, a robotic cat and a cat. In a setting where magic works, there is a supernatural element that is just part of how the world is, much like how in a setting where engineering works I'd expect there to be natural laws which the engineers are learning and exploiting to make their constructions.

    So a supernatural creature or effect is then something that exists because those underlying forces tend to self-organize in a particular way. Fire elementals exist because that is what supernatural fire does, it's just part of what it is - you'd get them spontaneously without any. external intervention required. That means that at some level, supernatural creatures or effects are blatant signals about how things are without much artifice or deception. The existence of fire elementals directly implies stuff about how fire works in that universe.

    On the other hand, something like a golem is the product of artifice, of taking a palette of those natural laws and combining them in very specific and invented ways. That, to my mind, is a good distinction for 'magic' - magic is the utilization of the supernatural to achieve effects which it would not normally produce. Magic, in contrast to the supernatural, is a strong sign of purposeful action, and as a result it cannot generally be taken to, at face value, inform one about the nature of the universe, because it says as much about how the magician's mind works as it does about any particular natural law (though if one looks closely enough, it would always be built out of fundamental supernatural building blocks at some level).

    The thing that complicates the matter is if you have e.g. supernatural creatures which reproduce and inherit traits like biological creatures, in which case you could in essence end up with 'magical' creatures invented by nature rather than by the hand of a magician. So the line can still get blurred in this way of thinking.

    So in this framing, if you had an 'anti-magic field', you could posit different ways in which it works. If for example there is a particular keystone force which allows other supernatural forces to be shaped by the mind or words of a practitioner, suppressing or interfering with that force would prevent a spell from being formed, but wouldn't e.g. cause a fire elemental to fall apart. Even without suppressing the force, injecting a lot of static or instability into it might cause spellworking to become impossible within the area - those constructions of artifice having much finer tolerances than natural phenomena.
    Quote Originally Posted by PhoenixPhyre View Post
    This is the distinction I was trying to make, but you made it better.

    I still think that it's better to think of terms like "supernatural" as referring to the baseline of our universe, not the fictional one. Basically, the fictional world is composed of three parts:

    1) The baseline that works (at least on the surface) just like ours. The underlying physics may vary, but the surface level is very similar.
    2) The "natural" supernatural layer--this cannot/does not exist in our universe but is a naturally-occurring part of the fictional reality.
    3) The "artificial" magical layer--this also cannot exist in our universe but is created by the actions and beliefs of thinking creatures.
    That's close to how I approach it as well, terminology and exact borders aside.
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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    Quote Originally Posted by Max_Killjoy View Post
    That's close to how I approach it as well, terminology and exact borders aside.
    Yeah, I was trying to match the OP's terminology. I haven't settled on an exact "perfect" set of words either...
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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    Magic is the art or practice of using spells, charms and rituals to invoke supernatural forces or to control nature.

    Supernatural is that which goes beyond or above the natural world and natural explanations.

    The former is an action. The latter is a phenomena. The exact implications of this depend on how you define functional magic.

    Here is an example of rules of magic.

    So, in context of those rules, how would I distinquish supernatural from magical? Since magic is an action that requires intent, I would try to eliminate intentfull actors as an explaining factor. Since magic is impermanent, I would try to eliminate factors that could maintain magic and see if the thing still exists. Then, I would try to see if I could explain that thing naturally.

    Only if neither magic nor known natural laws could offer an explanation, would I consider the thing to be supernatural.

    Approached from another direction, supernatural is that which breaks natural laws on its own without having to engage in practice of magic. A ghost, for example, can move through walls because it is not of physical matter. It does not need a symbol, nor specific material component, nor specific intent, to do so. It does not become material when it stops paying attention to itself, nor does it cease to exist when no-one believes in it. Yet, I have no clue whatsoever how a ghost's existence could be explained naturally, so it is supernatural. Even if it is not doing magic.

    Whether to explain various fantastic things via magic or via other means is your decision. For example, a dragon might be flying because it has the right body shape and big enough wings (= natural explanation), or because its wings are symbols of flight and it believes it can fly (=magical explanation), or because it is a dragon-shaped hole in reality where physics of another world are intruding on this one (=supernatural explanation).
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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    Quote Originally Posted by Khi'Khi View Post
    How might one go about making a clear thematic distinction between "magical" creatures and effects and "supernatural" creatures and effects?

    I know the line often gets muddled mechanics-wise, what with clerical magics, spiritualists, and abilities that are "extraordinary" rather than strictly magical. What I'm trying to do is make a clear division between the inherently magical and the inherently spiritual or supernatural. Has anyone else had experience in making this distinction? If so, how did you show it, both thematically and mechanically?
    Tolkien observed that "supernatural" could mean "very natural" and saw this as a way to describe creatures that weren't human, nor diabolical or angelic, and whose powers were an unusually strong version of stuff you find within nature. He was however also clear that this was a different meaning from "supernatural" as "external and above nature". This second definition is the one by far more widespread.

    I am not sure that a clear division would add something to the game, however. I mean, the point of many rpgs is that you can hack things up with a sword. In the end, it's hard to make such a distinction different from just a subtype. Just in d&d there's arcane/divine/spelllike/natural...

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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    Quote Originally Posted by PhoenixPhyre View Post
    This is the distinction I was trying to make, but you made it better.

    I still think that it's better to think of terms like "supernatural" as referring to the baseline of our universe, not the fictional one. Basically, the fictional world is composed of three parts:

    1) The baseline that works (at least on the surface) just like ours. The underlying physics may vary, but the surface level is very similar.
    2) The "natural" supernatural layer--this cannot/does not exist in our universe but is a naturally-occurring part of the fictional reality.
    3) The "artificial" magical layer--this also cannot exist in our universe but is created by the actions and beliefs of thinking creatures.
    There are thematic aspects to what makes for a good 'supernatural' which go a bit beyond 'its different from our world' IMO. Generally, the conception of the supernatural involves some kind of aspect of personal power, be it the existence of intrinsically powerful entities or organizations, or the ability for a practitioner (e.g. a magician) to personally call forth those forces. As part of that, supernatural laws tend to be relatable to some aspect of human experience, so we can conceive of being able to figure them out and use them without too much stuff acting as interface.

    For example, things like mind-affecting abilities or even abilities responsive or driven by state of mind are a common trope for supernatural or magical stories. Emotions, bonds, and personal meaning are often taken to be literal sources of power.

    Maybe a way to put it would be, supernatural laws of nature are what happens when you try to construct a model of the world assuming the predominance of subjective primitives to build reality rather than using objective primitives. For example, a supernatural formulation of the idea of gravity might be that things fall towards the Earth because the Earth 'wants' them, not just because matter attracts matter. Magic is then a process of taking that set of actual subjective laws of nature and projecting them successfully into an objective framework - how do you take the fact that the Earth is greedy, that the Sky wishes to be empty, and that Nature literally abhors a vacuum in order to make a device or spell which puts those desires in tension so as to achieve a predictable outcome?

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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    There are thematic aspects to what makes for a good 'supernatural' which go a bit beyond 'its different from our world' IMO. Generally, the conception of the supernatural involves some kind of aspect of personal power, be it the existence of intrinsically powerful entities or organizations, or the ability for a practitioner (e.g. a magician) to personally call forth those forces. As part of that, supernatural laws tend to be relatable to some aspect of human experience, so we can conceive of being able to figure them out and use them without too much stuff acting as interface.

    For example, things like mind-affecting abilities or even abilities responsive or driven by state of mind are a common trope for supernatural or magical stories. Emotions, bonds, and personal meaning are often taken to be literal sources of power.

    Maybe a way to put it would be, supernatural laws of nature are what happens when you try to construct a model of the world assuming the predominance of subjective primitives to build reality rather than using objective primitives. For example, a supernatural formulation of the idea of gravity might be that things fall towards the Earth because the Earth 'wants' them, not just because matter attracts matter. Magic is then a process of taking that set of actual subjective laws of nature and projecting them successfully into an objective framework - how do you take the fact that the Earth is greedy, that the Sky wishes to be empty, and that Nature literally abhors a vacuum in order to make a device or spell which puts those desires in tension so as to achieve a predictable outcome?
    I'm not sure what you're trying to say here?

    For me, it all comes down to whose perspective are you viewing it from? The people in the story or that of the reader? That distinction makes a huge difference, and it differs based on setting, theme, and genre.

    As a few (non-exclusive) examples:

    * Take a world like that of most shounen anime (I was just watching One Piece). People who can survive absurd amounts of damage are, while not exactly commonplace, not unknown or even that rare. To them, that's natural. It's certainly not magic--it's just how they are. To us, it's super-natural (in the "beyond what is naturally possible" sense).
    * Or, consider the past. Say 1 CE, just to give a time frame. An armored column from the modern era would be entirely supernatural to the people there, despite it being "normal" to us.
    * Or, consider the Cthulhu mythos. The beings encountered there are supernatural to everyone, but in a very different way than a D&D dragon is supernatural. The "worst" of the Cthulhu beings are alien to reality-as-we-know-it itself, causing SAN loss in those mortals that come in contact with them.

    Thus, it seems to me that the "supernatural" status of something is entirely dependent on your point of view, whether in-universe or as an outside observer (or reader). Since I can't really be in the stories, the only perspective that's accessible to me is that of a reader.
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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    Quote Originally Posted by PhoenixPhyre View Post
    I'm not sure what you're trying to say here?

    For me, it all comes down to whose perspective are you viewing it from? The people in the story or that of the reader? That distinction makes a huge difference, and it differs based on setting, theme, and genre.

    As a few (non-exclusive) examples:

    * Take a world like that of most shounen anime (I was just watching One Piece). People who can survive absurd amounts of damage are, while not exactly commonplace, not unknown or even that rare. To them, that's natural. It's certainly not magic--it's just how they are. To us, it's super-natural (in the "beyond what is naturally possible" sense).
    * Or, consider the past. Say 1 CE, just to give a time frame. An armored column from the modern era would be entirely supernatural to the people there, despite it being "normal" to us.
    * Or, consider the Cthulhu mythos. The beings encountered there are supernatural to everyone, but in a very different way than a D&D dragon is supernatural. The "worst" of the Cthulhu beings are alien to reality-as-we-know-it itself, causing SAN loss in those mortals that come in contact with them.

    Thus, it seems to me that the "supernatural" status of something is entirely dependent on your point of view, whether in-universe or as an outside observer (or reader). Since I can't really be in the stories, the only perspective that's accessible to me is that of a reader.
    I guess I'm saying that 'different from our world's baseline' isn't a very useful definition of supernatural when there's more structure than that in the mythological and narrative traditions that we generally take to be e.g. 'supernatural fiction'. For example, if I want to contrast the feeling of soft sci-fi like Star Trek and the feeling of something like One Piece or Lord of the Rings or Cthulhu, in large part it has to do with how personal or impersonal the relevant forces in the narrative tend to be. It's ironic actually that Lovecraft, in trying to communicate the idea of an impersonal universe, actually made things feel even more personal by tying them to stuff like the activities of cultists, personal transformation (in the Innsmoth story), very humanist grudges such as the story about the vengeance of cats, and so on.

    Whereas in fiction like Star Trek, a phaser works because of some new bit of physics, not because someone reached an altered state of mind where they could channel 'phaser energy' or because of someone's own personal mastery or expanded consciousness. Star Trek's technology is different than our laws of physics, but its intrinsically impersonal in a way that doesn't really match how stories of the supernatural tend to be structured.

    In that sense I would say that calling a modern military unit in 1CE supernatural would be a dilution of the term. It's not that I can say 'you can't use the term that way', but it feels wasteful of something which tends to be a more precise narrative genre (and for good reason - living in a world powered by things that are personally relatable leads to very different tensions than living in an intrinsically impersonal world).
    Last edited by NichG; 2017-12-14 at 09:09 PM.

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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    I guess I'm saying that 'different from our world's baseline' isn't a very useful definition of supernatural when there's more structure than that in the mythological and narrative traditions that we generally take to be e.g. 'supernatural fiction'. For example, if I want to contrast the feeling of soft sci-fi like Star Trek and the feeling of something like One Piece or Lord of the Rings or Cthulhu, in large part it has to do with how personal or impersonal the relevant forces in the narrative tend to be. It's ironic actually that Lovecraft, in trying to communicate the idea of an impersonal universe, actually made things feel even more personal by tying them to stuff like the activities of cultists, personal transformation (in the Innsmoth story), very humanist grudges such as the story about the vengeance of cats, and so on.

    Whereas in fiction like Star Trek, a phaser works because of some new bit of physics, not because someone reached an altered state of mind where they could channel 'phaser energy' or because of someone's own personal mastery or expanded consciousness. Star Trek's technology is different than our laws of physics, but its intrinsically impersonal in a way that doesn't really match how stories of the supernatural tend to be structured.
    I guess I see too much variation in what each author (speaking broadly) sees as supernatural to tie it down very much beyond "not of our reality." I'd put Star Trek's phasers/warp drive as supernatural--they're only connected to real-world physics by a hand-wave and technobabble anyway. I guess I just don't see a hard border between sci-fi and fantasy anyway, with most "soft" sci-fi being just as fantastical as some of the less out-there fantasy. If I had to put more of a distinction on it anyway, I'd probably draw the line based on how controllable and how "technological" (for lack of a better word) the fantastical element is.

    That is, I'll provisionally define the following terms:

    Fantastical--what I was calling supernatural before. Those things that are beyond the world as we know it.
    Supernatural--something fantastical whose origin or nature seems to go beyond the pre-established setting elements in a mystical or unknowable way. Perception is what's important here--things are supernatural if most of the observers see them as unknowable/mystical rather than simply unknown. Things man was not meant to know.
    Alt-science--something fantastical whose origin or nature is well understood (or considered to be understandable, just unknown) or controlled in-setting. This could be seen as exoteric science (but of a sort that cannot coexist with our known reality), leading to various sci-fi branches. Or it could be esoteric science, leading to magitech and similar setting elements (Full Metal Alchemist's alchemy falls into this category). The distinction between the two (to me) boils down to whether anyone can use/create a "technological" artifact ("exoteric") or whether you need a specialist ("esoteric").

    In the limit where the and the setting approaches reality, exoteric science ==> "regular" science and esoteric science goes away--there's no need for a special (pseudo-genetic) talent to program a computer (although a certain talent helps make it easier).

    I don't know if this makes any sense to anyone else or if I'm just babbling here...
    Last edited by PhoenixPhyre; 2017-12-14 at 09:26 PM.
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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    I don't think you can separate spiritual or supernatural from magic, as for the most part, depending on how you define things it is all under the same umbrella.

    For Magic you get tow broad choices:

    1.Magic is something strange and unknown that does not follow the normal laws of reality. It should not exist, but it does and makes no sense.

    2.Magic is just effects that while amazing, do follow all the normal rules of reality. Though it might follow rules unknown.

    And Supernatural is just anything beyond normal nature like we find on Earth. Except nature is not exactly all that normal. Like humans have more bacteria than cells in our bodies, Reindeer can see UV light(and are the only animal that can do so), and on and on.

    And spritual does not have anything to do with magic, unless you talk about ''real'' spirits.

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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    Easy: Magic could exist, while the supernatural, by definition, either cannot exist, or their existence is irrelevant.
    A world that has different laws in its natural world than our own could allow for a fantastic array of magical affects possible in that one, while impossible in ours (due to aforementioned differences in physical laws). The results of these different laws would be magic, but they'd be part of the natural world (for that world, at least).
    Supernatural affects, on the other hand, by definition, are beyond the laws of nature and scientific reasoning. In order for this to be true, they'd have to not interact with the natural world. Otherwise, it's interactions would be part of the laws of nature, and you could apply scientific reasoning to discern about it based on its interactions with the natural world, ergo its not supernatural. So, the supernatural either doesn't exist, or they do exist, but they can't impact anything, and are thus irrelevant. It's impossible to differentiate the two, so you can go hog wild with speculation.
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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    Quote Originally Posted by RazorChain View Post
    If magic is a well understood scientific theory then magic can't relly be part of the supernatural.

    Supernatural is something that defies scientific explanation. So in a world with well understood magic, the supernatural would be something that magic or science can't explain.
    This is basically the distinction I'd use.

    Something is "supernatural" relative to some "natural". In a world with an extension of real-life physics, this "magic" is natural, and the supernatural is that which you cannot do with "magic".

    You can always imagine potentia plus ultra (power further beyond), but that is a property of language and our ability to reason. The supernatural is made-up; it's a stop-gap explanation of the as-of-yet uncharted machinations of the laws of nature.

    Unless you have a universe which defies consistent description altogether, but that's problematic as well, because it's hard to play it right (same problem you get with the Great Old Ones or whatever--it doesn't use human logic, so how's a human DM to determine how to play it?).
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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    I've been playing 3.5/PF for so long the terms magical and supernatural are ingrained in me as follows:

    Magical - requires concentration, always requires activation, or physical creation (for items), or casting, and is consciously brought about.
    Supernatural - doesn't require concentration, is usually innate (although it might only manifest at certain times, such as during barbarian rage), and occurs regardless of conscious intent.

    In other words one is man-made (in the loosest sense of the term man) and the other is part of the world (but stranger and less understood than normal nature).

    Other systems do exist

    Edit: technically the system refers to Spells and Spell-like abilities rather than 'magical' above. In the loosest sense magical covers everything that's not mundane, but then there's no difference whatsoever. I was thinking Magic-user, magic items and magic spells, vs supernatural.
    Last edited by Sensate8; 2017-12-15 at 10:03 PM.

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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    Quote Originally Posted by Khi'Khi View Post
    How might one go about making a clear thematic distinction between "magical" creatures and effects and "supernatural" creatures and effects?
    That can be tricky. I have written stories where there are things that are completely impossible in real life, but are considered natural (juxtaposed with some that are not) only a few of which are considered magic. But generally I use the following:

    Supernatural is "above nature" or "outside of nature", so otherworldly things like gods and inter-dimensional effects. Magic is a, generally personal, manipulation of the unseen forces of the universe, this is often natural unless it goes back to those supernatural beings. Alt-Science (from physics to biology) fills up the rest.

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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    Since there is no actual distinction between the two, you can make the distinction between the two whatever you like.

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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    So, if i'm correct, the distinction you're looking for is that the "supernatural" is stuff that should technically be impossible under normal physical laws, but is possible in setting, whereas magic is an explicit violation of the setting's normal laws, do I have that right? I mean, from a scientific perspective, a law that can't account for all possibilities is usually revised to cover them, but otherwise, I get some of the point. So, for instance, supernatural would be something like how D&D Fighters can tank blows that should break every bone in their body, not via magic, but just via being that good, like how Batman can dodge bullets despite theoretically being nothing but a very well-trained human. Meanwhile, magic would be stuff like the Speed Force or D&D Wizards: They, to quote the comic in the sidebar, are "able to tell the laws of physics to sit down and shut up." at whim, and that's acknowledged as something outside of the ordinary that shouldn't be possible.
    Last edited by woweedd; 2017-12-17 at 04:06 PM.

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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    Quote Originally Posted by Max_Killjoy View Post
    This has been one of the ongoing terminology discussions spread out across many threads.

    What do you mean by "magical", and by "supernatural", and where do you draw the line between the two?
    Going by "What I'm trying to do is make a clear division between the inherently magical and the inherently spiritual or supernatural." it sounds like they mean what D&D would term as arcane magic vs. divine magic

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    Default Re: Seperating the "Magical" from the "Supernatural"

    Quote Originally Posted by Darth Ultron View Post
    I don't think you can separate spiritual or supernatural from magic, as for the most part, depending on how you define things it is all under the same umbrella.

    For Magic you get tow broad choices:

    1.Magic is something strange and unknown that does not follow the normal laws of reality. It should not exist, but it does and makes no sense.

    2.Magic is just effects that while amazing, do follow all the normal rules of reality. Though it might follow rules unknown.
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