So I’m writing this at the Magic: The Gathering 2011 pre-release tournament. I do one of these every three months or so, with a Launch Party tournament the week after. For those very few nerds unfamiliar with the game, Magic: The Gathering is what happens when you take a D&D-style fantasy game and turn it into a card game. The same people who make Dungeons & Dragons make Magic: The Gathering.
This is a pretty important point to me. The same people who make Dungeons & Dragons make Magic: The Gathering. This might not seem like a big deal, but in an age of cross-marketing, it seems completely ludicrous to me that Magic: The Gathering is not yet a role-playing game. I’m not saying that it should be a campaign setting for D&D, necessarily. But Wizards of the Coast has one of the most powerful research and development teams in the role-playing game sector. And they’ve been fitting Magic into other sectors with some success: there’s already an online version of the game, and an X-box game that includes much of the card game’s functionality and characters.
And for a card game, Magic has a rich world, full of interesting locations, (relatively) interesting characters, multiple planes of existence, powerful magic, over-the-top monsters, intrigue, betrayal, romance, war, allies, enemies (and people whose loyalties are… questionable), politics, religion, paranoia, world-destroying threats and plane-shifting action scenes. The card game manages to express a surprising amount of these things, given the medium, but fails to adequately explore any of the more intricate themes. That isn’t a failing of the game, but more a failing of card games in general. They simply cannot delve into complex narrative themes in the same way that role-playing games (or, y’know, books) can.
And there are books. Oh so many books. Most of them are poorly written, but the people who like them like them a lot. A quick look at Wizards of the Coast’s forum on the topic shows some 28,000 posts on the flavor and storylines of the game. And there are other places to find storyline and flavor elements, as well. And while not all of the storylines have been gold, there is more than enough information in these threads alone to create a setting for a damned fine role-playing game.
And there are systems that can handle the sort of ridiculous power without breaking. A good example would be Nobilis, which was capable of mediating godlike powers as it’s premise. Ars Magica had one of the most incredible magic systems ever created, and could handle world-shattering spells of devastating power. Plane-jumping has been a time-honored tradition, and even has games based on the concept (Spelljammer, for instance).
I honestly can’t think of a good reason that this intellectual property shouldn’t be a role-playing game…