And no, I don't mean "real magic" like the Viagra commercials claim they'll put "real magic" back in your marriage. I'm talking John Dee, Aleister Crowley, The True Art, Witchcraft, yadda yadda yadda. And I'm not talking about trying to actually practice magic while gaming, either. I'm talking about taking the proposed tenants and practices of "real magic" and applying them to your campaign setting's take on magic and the supernatural.
Magic in RPGs has mostly been about pzazz. Fireballs, invisibility, walking through walls, illusions, mind-control, fun stuff like that. Even in games that try to treat it a little more seriously, magic is something that can, in certain situations, create the 'big boom". It's Hollywood's version of magic, pulp fiction's version of magic; sorcerers casting spells and making Big Things Happen Right Now with relatively little preparation.
I've got a modest but decent collection of reference books on the subject of the occult and "modern magic". Some of them are pretty benign; back-country farmer's magic, magical herbs, that sort of thing. But some of them have really creepy stuff in there - rituals for conjuring demons and spirits and all the stereotypical trappings of "black magic". While I'm not a "believer" or a practitioner in any way with regards to this stuff, it does make for fascinating reading and being able to draw from some of it for the purposes of descriptions within games can be really helpful.
However, I know that RPGs, and especially D&D, have fought long and hard against the perception that they are somehow tied in to "devil worship" or the occult, and I can see the backlash any RPG might get if it actually tried to draw on "real" magical ritual and the like to build its rules and guidelines for magic. Also, as much as we don't want to admit it, many of us are still just a leeeeeetle bit superstitious, and the thought of "messing around" with "real" occult practices gives a lot of people the creeps.
Of course, taking the idea out of the realm of published RPGs and into the back room of real players gaming and creating on their own, I can completely see someone either writing their own home-brew or retro-fitting into another RPG rules that involve PCs practicing what would essentially be "real world" black magic or a more benign form of historical magic. It would actually put magic firmly in the hands of most any PC with some occult knowledge, because a lot of these little spells and charms and rituals would be something that anyone could do (since they originate from a lot of peasant beliefs and the wardings used to drive off witches and spirits and the like).
Furthermore, to put a much darker, edgier cast to it all, when we're talking about "scaring the PC by scaring the player", incorporating into your campaign setting rituals and practices that actually "creep out" the player, as long as they are ultimately comfortable with being creeped out, may add that element of edginess some players and GMs look for. I'm not advocating you bring occult practices to your gaming table and try to re-enact them live, but if you can work enough of "the real thing" into what happens in-game to make the hairs on the backs of your player's necks stand up a little bit...
So my day-before-Halloween question for all of you is, would this idea appeal to you as a player, or you as a GM, or does this concept totally weird you out? Even if you have no belief in the powers of the occult or real-world "magic", would it bother you if your in-game PCs were practicing what would in the real world be considered Crowley-an occult magic? What about more benign things like peasant spells and practices, real-world magical herbalism, alchemy, divination, and the like? During my aborted experience playing Harnmaster, my Dwarf PC did have some skill at divination and rune-reading (on paper) and to represent this, I actually went out and bought a set of runic stones and a guide to interpreting them, and I would actually "read the runes" during our sessions when my character made a roll. I thought it was fun and everyone liked the idea, but that's a far step from cracking open some real-world book on the occult and having my PC sorcerer go through the rituals within.
Comments, questions, protestations?
And happy early Halloween salutations, everybody! Some time tomorrow morning I'll announce the winner of the Halloween One-Shot Adventure Contest. If you haven't submitted yet and still wish to, get it to me before midnight tonight and you can still enter the contest.