When Mike Mearls and I were writing the outline for d20 Magic (by AEG), we had a conversation about the lack of mystery in fantasy gaming. Magic, in order to be useful, could have no deleterious results, nor could a spell be fickle, lest a wizard not spend 80 years studying how to use it. Sadly, even though it should have, magic could not be something "beyond the realms of man," because it had to have clearly written rules, so PCs knew exactly how it could operate. Magic also couldn't be hard science and fact (which it presently is), or you couldn't call it magic. Knowing exactly what a spell can do in every instance, robbed it of its "splendor."
Somewhere in the middle of the abstraction and the vaguery laid the true potential for fantasy gaming magic. There was something in there that would make magic magical, but sadly, in 2002 when we released Magic, we failed to deliver it.
Instead, the book was just another in a long line of "new news" that came out in rush to mug the consumer of his d20 spending allowance. While some of what we made was great -- and in fact, I think Jeff Ibach's original chronomancer was better than the edited one we published -- most of the book was transparently exploitive. We failed to do what we should have done with the product, which was re-invent the magic system. And because we made it "just like the others" it got lost in the shuffle and we opened the door to make all future books the same way (Good, Guilds, Wilds)... all clones of each other, offering nothing new.
But I played it safe, because I didn't want to make a book that would make other books obsolete. This was always a driving philosophy behind my design principles and it sometimes served us... wrongly.
Mercenaries, Gods, Monsters, Feats, Toolbox, Relics, and Secrets would be the only books in the line that I would laud as successes. The rest would just be fluff, to fill in our product schedule. Adventure I and II were also excellent products, providing vital edits and improvements to the previously anemic Adventure Keep products, but adventures never sell as well as source material and we knew that going in.
I should add, that Peter Gallagher did an excellent job writing the final chapter of Magic, bringing spontaneous magic and other new concepts into the d20 fold. But, in general, I think we failed to make the book as cool as we could have.
All that said, I want to try to tackle, in the next few posts, each of the colleges of magic (I've been putting this off long enough), with some new ideas on magic.
I'm going to mention an RPG by better games by Barony a lot. It's maybe one of the cleanest magic systems I've ever seen, but it requires far too much interpretation.
If you have anything you want to say about D&D magic, post it here, or e-mail me. And I'll try to address it as soon as I can.
Abjuration first and so on, until we're done.
Disclaimer: This is not an attempt to slight AEG in anyway or damage their sales. I am merely commenting on MY ROLE in creating what are, in my opinion, inferior books.