Sunday, July 04, 2010

Magic Realm

I remember a college friend buying Magic Realm back in 1983. All of us D&D folks were thoroughly impressed, but completely baffled. I don't think anyone even attempted to understand this beast. I recently stumbled across it again on BGG, and have decided to make at least a minimal effort to understand it, despite the game being 24 years old (as of the 1986 second edition), obviously out of print, and used copies going for high prices (ripped boxes, missing pieces, $90).

The unofficial third edition rules--rewritten by dedicated fans--are only 122 pages long. There are some excellent teaching videos at Book Shelf Games, along with many full examples of the various characters playing solo games.

I don't even understand a tenth of what I need to know in order to play the simplest game of Magic Realm, but I am still amazed by it. I tend to think of my hobby as being in its heyday, but perhaps that is just a reflection of my own sense of discovery within it. The 70's and 80's also seem to be brimming with gaming design creativity.

Take this one example. Many rolls in Magic Realm are 2d6, taking the higher of the 2. Think about what this simple mechanism does. Out of the 36 possible rolls: 1 results in a 1, 3 result in a 2, 5 in a 3, 7 in a 4, 9 in a 5, and 11 in a 6. If you want something to occur very infrequently, set it to the 1 result on the table (1/36 = 2.78%). If you want something to occur half the time, set it to the 4 and 6 results (7 + 11 = 18, 18/36 = 50%). You can get just about any rough statistical breakdown using this method provided you have, at most, 6 outcomes. Brilliant!

I've never played any game that uses this system, yet it is 32 years old. Maybe it's time for a reincarnation.