Magical crystals are the ultimate panacea whenever you need to put something into your story, but you don’t know how to do it.

About Clichés To Hate
Laid back articles focused on storytelling and most popular and annoying clichés. Many of writers replace their creative ideas with overused threads instead of using them to support new, innovative stories. It will never disappear form AAA industry, but maybe some of the indie developers are going to look at their projects in a slightly different way?

Previous entries in this series:
Spread Diary Entries
Bows Are Easy And Only For Women
Revenge Explains Everything
Medicine For My Sick Mother (quickie)

And now...

Lazy Magical Crystals

Common for: All game genres set in fantasy, steampunk or s-f settings.

Description: Magical crystals are so common you can easily put them next to the swords, elves and fireballs as one of the most used tokens of fantasy adventure fiction. Crystals don’t need realistic logic and you can basically give them more convenient rules, superpowers or historic background whenever you want, since most of them are a sign of The Unknown, a Manifestation of Metaphysical Magnificence.

You want your heroes to fly? Give them a magical crystal. You need an unlimited source of energy to keep your flying fortress in the sky? Well, some magical crystals are pretty big! Laser rings? Sure. You can put them anywhere, in a sword’s hilt, in a lightsaber lookalike, in a space gun or at the end of a cleric’s staff.

You need an ability to speak with the dead? No problem, you may even call the stones of power “echoes of the past souls”. Or put in them some visions/holograms to make a semi-creative exposition scene, during which heroes can watch registered events from the past.

Why it is useful: Many amazing stories use their magical crystals to create fascinating conflicts and to add to the game’s world technologies/abilities that are somewhat “off”, extremely advanced or suspiciously dark. They allow you to jump over hundreds of years of scientific advancement and add something absolutely insane or crazy. There are entire worlds that are based on an idea of “world similar to World X from Y but with magical crystals that allow people to do Z”. Such as “steampunk technology meets magical crystals and uses it as batteries”.

It’s difficult to bite The Element Of The Unknown and demonstrate it in a physical form, what sometimes is very important to our stories. Having it limited to an object allows you to take it away from a character, to deploy it, to find it, to sacrifice it. Very often the crystal’s powers are unclear and yet to be understood, so it may start as a mat, weird trinket, slowly raising in power and representing the path that hero has to complete.

Since magical crystals can have any shape you want them to have, they can be a part of a necklace or, for example, an elastic being that helps you pass obstacles. You can do with them whatever you want, because they are not really a part of our world and as long as they are coherent with the rules you set, players will accept it. You can allow people to craft the gems to create specific shapes or quite the opposite – make them almost indestructible, forcing people to create their civilization around them, not with them. Making them shine when they are “activated” is also a great tool to make your scene more dynamic thanks to changing lights and colors.

Oh, and having a good source of crystals is also a great reason to make one nation overambitious and aggressive while keeping it ahead in field of magic or technology. And they are very valuable, so you can literally turn them into in-game currency! Pretty convenient beasts, huh?

Overall, magical crystals are the ultimate panacea whenever you need to put something into your story, but you don’t know how to do it.

The problem and alternatives: Obviously, not every story Needs to be “smart and deep” and not every fictional world Needs to be masterfully crafted with a great attention to detail. Very often a basic “um, she can do it ‘cause she has this cool crystal” is completely enough to give a player new ability. However, if you actually want the world to be an attractive piece of fiction on its own and you want players to sink in the details you want to show them, you have to answer an important question:

Does this detail add something interesting/magical/immersive/creative/metaphorical to my game, or is this just a shortcut which I took because I didn’t have a better idea to solve it?

There are many good reasons to use magical crystals in your fiction, but there is also a lot of games using it in a lazy, predictable and “meh, nobody cares anyway” way. And trust me, many of players do care – not the majority, but a significant group of people actually wants to be charmed by the setting you made.

Connecting the dots, making the world believable and reasonable (what doesn’t mean “realistic”) can lead you to intriguing places. You may start looking at the details of your world in a new way, stimulate your creativity and inspire yourself to introduce new technologies, cultures or problems.

It requires additional effort and, as I said, using magical crystals can often add impressive ideas to your creation. However, if you want your game to feel more interesting, you may quickly realize that taking an extra mile to make your foundations stronger is sometimes going to help you during the future plot/mechanics/world development.

Thank you for your attention. If you think I’m completely wrong or you would like to discuss this topic, let me know below!

See you next week!

Written by Aureus


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It's nice to see that you don't shun this trope completely. In the end this is just a convenient trope.
Thank you, Chivi! I strongly believe good storytelling is open even for basic tropes, but it requires using them in a wise, aware manner - not just "I'll use it because other people use it and I don't have a better idea" but rather "I'll use it 'cause it's the right path to make my story even better".
I personally never made a story or a game using magical crystals exactly because of this reason (I never made a story that would be Better thanks to them), but if I'll have a good reason to create it, I will. : )
- Aureus
Bludgeon of Inspiration, and Guardian Angel of the Description Thread
I've used crystals twice, myself. Both instances, they were a means of conveyance between town and dungeon. Now that I think more closely on in, both were event-games with time constraints. So, knowing me, I probably thought to myself, "Man, I do not want to make any more maps than is absolutely necessary. I know, let's use crystals!"

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This article should be renamed "Magical Crystals - Cliches to love". You've convinced me that they are a convenient panacea whenever I need one.
I hate RPG Maker because of what it has done to me
Good article.
5/5 crystals
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