# “Magus” is a bad tag - let's fix it!

the tag is described as "Pathfinder class that blends martial prowess with spell casting, from the book Ultimate Magic.", yet that is very very system centric. The term magus/maga is also used in RPGs (among others!):

• as a generic term for Mage in
• as a term for any male guild mage in
• as the title of an hungarian RPG: M.A.G.U.S. (TVTROPES!)
• as the german title of is Magus die Erleuchtung
• several other RPGs use magus as a synonymous term for mage or magican

Because of this, I believe the tag istself is misleading and needs to either burn, or get changed radically!

I've updated the tag wiki from this old text:

Pathfinder class that blends martial prowess with spell casting, from the book Ultimate Magic.

to this new text:

A type of magic user or spellcaster in various systems, or a Pathfinder martial/spellcaster class. Use this when the thing you're asking about in your game system is called a Magus.

(looks I didn't save it properly yesterday, whoops. Now the tag wiki's updated.)

This is more in line with tag wikis of e.g.:

• for questions about a game's Fighter class or character archetype. Typically a skilled martial warrior.

(I've updated this tag's description, since "used for games that have..." is a very weird and sort of incorrect line to see used in the tag guidance.)

• :

A character who learns and casts arcane magic through study.

• :

A character class that is stealthy and dextrous. Often capable of finding and disarming many traps and picking locks. Some even have the ability to sneak attack.

None of those are defined in terms of just D&D or just Pathfinder or just this one version of this one RPG, we leave the door open for the tag to be used in describing similar concepts in other RPGs as well.

If the tag was describing exclusively only the Pathfinder Magus in exclusion from any other form of magus, we'd probably more rightly make a tag. We haven't needed to do that before though because a general tag like has been good enough.

I agree that we should have a tag, though tags can't exist before there's a question to apply them to, so we'll gain that tag whenever someone asks a question about the M.A.G.U.S. RPG.

• Unfortunately, unlike fighter, rogue, and wizard, which has commonalities across many systems, “magus” is a very generic term that means a specific thing in Pathfinder, but the same term could mean something entirely different in another. That is a very awkward situation. – KRyan Jun 4 '18 at 15:47
• @KRyan Yeah. I'm fine with that though. Magus has always been "some sort of magic user", just like Wizards and Sorcerors. Pathfinder, Ars Magica, and others just have different answers to what sort of magic users those are. Within the context of any given system the tags make sense. (Just like how "fighter" also means something quite different depending on whether you mean D&D 4e vs D&D anything-but-4e, but they're still roughly "people who do fighting".) – doppelgreener Jun 4 '18 at 15:52
• In general, I would say that a tag should refer to a concept, not a word. If we go with this definition, we’re saying the tag is used for “whatever your system uses that word for!” which makes it a pretty poor tag. For one thing, it’s basically impossible to use alone, which is generally-speaking a gigantic red flag so far as I know. – KRyan Jun 4 '18 at 15:53
• @KRyan On precedent we accept that most tags can't be used alone, and must be used beside a system tag where the system tag provides actual important context for the concept. Yes, I consider this to be "use this when your system uses this word for that thing." I do not consider that to be a significant problem; it looks like it is working OK. The alternative would be to build up an abstract conceptual taxonomy which nobody understands unless they're experts in both the RPG landscape and our tag taxonomy, and which has no SEO. – doppelgreener Jun 4 '18 at 15:55
• Agreed that we can do no better. Not agreed that this situation is fine and without flaws or problems. It perturbs me somewhat that you’re so cavalier about it, to be honest. – KRyan Jun 4 '18 at 16:08
• @KRyan I guess you mean cavalier as in unconcerned? I'm aware of potential issues we can run into here, but I'll be concerned when we actually reach that point. We do our best resolving taxonomy issues once they actually start coming up. They're not yet, so we have no pressing problem to resolve. – doppelgreener Jun 4 '18 at 19:16
• @KRyan For context, and speaking for myself and only extrapolating that into how I'm reading doppel's words, not being perturbed by the current state of affairs is likely more to do with “is something on fire? is searching very broken? is this a common-use situation that needs a fix ASAP?” being answered “no” than with everything being perfect. Tagging is rarely perfect—usually it just needs to be good enough. (There are many little tag issues I find less than fine, but it's “fine” that they're not fine because they're working well enough.) Which is not to say this doesn't need considering. – SevenSidedDie Jun 4 '18 at 19:19
• @SevenSidedDie That's an accurate summary of where I'm coming from. – doppelgreener Jun 4 '18 at 19:59
• Magus in most systems has nothing to do with fighting... – Trish Jun 4 '18 at 21:28
• @Trish I agree, in 3 of the 5 systems you mentioned it just means a magic user. Should we add one of those examples to the tag wiki? – doppelgreener Jun 4 '18 at 22:37
• clearly! and also... I vote for putting the "battle mage" stuff behind the notion that magus is a generic term for a spellcaster. – Trish Jun 5 '18 at 1:23

So my objection to a number of suggestions here is that they focus on the word—magus—rather than any particular concept behind it, which is due no doubt to the fact that it’s a really generic word that games turn to when they need yet-another synonym of “wizard.” Unlike “wizard,” or even “sorcerer,” whose D&D definitions have largely been exported to other systems and are fairly consistently used (at least, in my experience), “magus” hasn’t had nearly that level of penetration.

This kind of gets to a fundamental question about what tags, particularly class tags, should refer to—a word, or a concept? We’ve kind of been lazy about addressing this question because to date we have largely relied on the D&D definitions to be more-or-less global and there haven’t been any conflicts raised about it.

### The case for concept-based tags

I’ll state up front that I want tags to refer to concepts, to be usable—and mean more-or-less the same thing—regardless of other tags applied to the question. The motivation for this desire is quite simple: it’s what tags are supposed to be for, and it is how they are most powerful. For example, say I am interested in designing my own system that has a kind of fighter–mage hybrid, and I want to look up all the questions that come up about them so I can try to avoid pitfalls from previous games—what is my search?

### The problems with trying to do so here

In this case, we have a word, “magus,” that is most-often used (on this site anyway) for a Pathfinder class. From that class, we also have a concept, a kind of fighter–mage hybrid, and that concept is pretty common—found in many systems—but there is no consistent term for it. Pathfinder uses “magus,” D&D 5e uses “eldritch knight,” D&D 4e uses “swordmage,” D&D 3.5e’s got at least a dozen different classes that do something like that, and that’s just one lineage of games.

So unless I’m familiar with Pathfinder, my search is probably not “magus.” And unless we apply the Pathfinder term to all kinds of other systems that don’t use it (or use it to mean something entirely different), even if I know to use “magus,” my search isn’t going to turn up the right data. We could synonymize all of those classes, but that’s a mess and then we’d still have to pick just one as the “main” tag.

For this particular case, I might suggest as our main tag, and synonymizing all these other classes to that. It’s a somewhat common term as a catch-all for the concept of fighter–mage hybrids. In certain circles, at least, it would be the emergent-folksonomy term for this concept. But it’s jargon-y as hell, the game system it came from is pretty old (and there it was a specific thing, not generalized to all fighter–mage hybrids), and we already have a question wondering where on earth it came from. None of the game-systems discussed above use the word at all. And on top of that, the term is very likely to run afoul of Wizards of the Coast’s claims to the gith as product identity, so any non-D&D game using the term would be in very troubled legal waters. So not only do most games not use the term, but non-D&D games largely can’t use it.

### The even-greater problems with trying to do so generally

Even ignoring all the problems with that approach for the sake of “gish,” it doesn’t necessarily generalize outward. For one thing, other conceptual spaces may not have any term used anywhere for the concept, making any suggestion even worse than “gish” is for fighter–mage hybrids.

We could go even farther afield—one comment suggested , for example, or we could use as I have repeatedly used in my prose—but then, what? do we ditch the already-more-or-less-working and and ? Surely not—this leads to a very-poor situation that doppelgreener warns of in a comment,

an abstract conceptual taxonomy which nobody understands unless they're experts in both the RPG landscape and our tag taxonomy, and which has no SEO.

But really, even this isn’t the worst of it.

As a thought experiment, suppose a system decides to make their “wizard” class the passionate, spontaneous one, and their “sorcerer” class as the studied, bookish version. Probably done literally out of a desire to challenge the expectations that D&D exports.1 How should we tag questions about these classes for that system? Should refer to what that system calls “wizard,” even though that contradicts the description and example in that tag? Or should they be tagged , matching concepts but completely inverting the usage expected in that system?

# Conclusion

Concepts simply may not have any useful term that can be widely applied consistently to them. In fact, it’s entirely plausible for a game to re-use words in ways that directly contradict convention, quite possibly expressly for the purpose of contradicting convention.

That makes it impossible for us to really tag based on concept and keep tags for classes consistent across different systems. Ultimately, we are probably forced to just tag based on words and accepting that those tags become totally system-dependent. But it’s not a good situation, and I, for one, am not happy with it.

1. I am not aware of any RPG that does this, but it’s not totally hypothetical—the world of the Diablo games certainly has sorcerers as the more erudite and respected spellcasters, as compared to the radical upstarts who call themselves “wizard.”
• would a tag like martial-spellcaster be a suitable replacement for gish? – A Very Large Bear Jun 4 '18 at 16:31
• @AVeryLargeBear We could, but that gets even further from the source material, is really arbitrary, and has terrible discoverability. That’s exactly the kind of “abstract conceptual taxonomy which nobody understands unless they're experts in both the RPG landscape and our tag taxonomy, and which has no SEO,” that doppelgreener warns of in his comment. And he’s absolutely right, that’s even worse than “word-based” tagging. Which is what my final paragraph is intended to get at. – KRyan Jun 4 '18 at 16:41
• These are good points. I'm still mulling this difficulty you bring up. One thing I'm considering it relative to is how we've traditionally handled these kinds of sorta-system-depenedent tags, where we use the name & consider the other tags to provide the context (e.g., “[pathfinder][magus]”, or “[dresden-files-rpg][wizard]” (who are more like D&D sorcerers)). That's always kinda-worked, but totally compromises the concept portion of a tag, and makes the tag's contents all by itself, without contextual neighbour tags, a bunch of disparate concepts. I don't know if/how to reconcile those two… – SevenSidedDie Jun 4 '18 at 19:14
• I agree(?) [gish] won't work. I'm very much against an idea of synonymising these tags. They're not the same concept in all systems (like Mage the Awakening) so a synonym isn't appropriate. I want users to be able to type in the word that exists in their game system and get back a tag that makes sense to them. The synonym means they get back a different tag with no relation, based solely on decisions related to a couple of systems. People coming to our site for help aren't experts either in our tag taxonomy or necessarily in any game other than their own — I want a minimum barrier to entry. – doppelgreener Jun 4 '18 at 19:20
• @doppelgreener Then you don’t disagree with me; I conclude the same. I was merely mulling over what an alternative might look like, before addressing its flaws and why it’s unworkable. – KRyan Jun 4 '18 at 19:22
• @KRyan We definitely agree on that then. – doppelgreener Jun 4 '18 at 19:31
• @doppelgreener I have reorganized to to try to make it clearer that I am rejecting the suggestions that I raise. – KRyan Jun 4 '18 at 19:53
• @KRyan Thanks, that reads a lot more clearly to me about where you're coming from on this. – doppelgreener Jun 4 '18 at 20:15
• I contend that in most cases the term magus is used in all RPGs, it is not the pathfinder class but a generic synonym for mage or magican – Trish Jun 4 '18 at 21:30
• @Trish Of course. The only reason magus has meant the Pathfinder class on this site is because this site has such a high concentration of Pathfinder questions, and other systems either don’t use the word (various D&D editions), use the word but not as a class that needs questions answered (Ars Magicka), or simply don’t have any representation here (M.A.G.U.S.). – KRyan Jun 5 '18 at 3:55
• +1 there is not a fixable problem here. And in the end, a question tagged “pathfinder magus” is clear what it’s talking about and one tagged “other-rpg magus” will similarly be clear. Most “uses of a word” will never come up in a tag. This issue is entirely hypothetical and as such is not an issue in an emergent folksonomy like our tagging system. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Jun 5 '18 at 13:41
• KRyan you may be amused to discover that WoTC now has used the word gish officially in the text of the latest supplement, Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, in its lore discussions of the githyanki/githzeri creatures ... in re this point you make likely to run afoul of Wizards of the Coast’s claims to the gith as product identity – KorvinStarmast Jun 6 '18 at 18:37

For starters, M.A.G.U.S. should probably have it's own tag: probably .

Differentiating between and is difficult, since in several of the examples above, as well as in the dictionary, they are synonymous. So we have to differentiate it based on it being different in the system, rather than in definition or usage.

The usage guidance provides us a nice framework for a new usage guidance:

Used for games that feature a Fighter class or character archetype. Typically a skilled martial warrior.

Taking cues from that, I would suggest changing the tag usage guidelines to:

Used for games that feature a Magus class or character archetype. Typically a learned spell caster.

This makes it clear that it is similar to a wizard in that a magus is a spell caster who is not an innate caster, but at the same time lets it be a separate class/tag from wizard.

• More typical we’d use -rpg to disambiguate a tag for a game, so it would most likely be [magus-rpg]. (The dots wouldn’t work well: makes it hard for anyone to ever type it without already knowing the tag exists.) – SevenSidedDie Jun 4 '18 at 15:05

The description should be updated to be more generally about the concept of a magus. The Pathfinder-specific language should be kept as an important example of what the tag represents, since it is still and likely for a long time going to be the primary, and perhaps only, use of the tag.

It shouldn’t be burned or radically changed.

(Tags that have demonstrated usefulness don’t get burned just for conflicting with another idea that could use its name or a similar name.)

As a general rule of thumb, tags should have one distinct concept they represent. When there are multiple concepts that could use the same name, which concept gets to use that name as that concept’s tag, depends on what is the least surprising to the average RPG.se user. The other concepts that might claim that name have to use slightly but clearly different names as their tags.

In this case, the concept of a character type is the predominant usage, so that concept should get to use the name “magus” for its tag. The RPG should get to have a modified name for its tag — I would use , going with our standard way of disambiguating tags. All the other suggested usages fit the existing tag, once its description is gently adjusted to be less Pathfinder-exclusive. I wouldn’t actually expect many of those other uses to actually use the tag on a question, but after adjusting it, then it wouldn’t be wrong or confusing if they did.

Whether people use or is something I don’t think we need to worry about: on questions, people will usually use whichever is most fitting. If there’s an obviously misused tag (like using on a AD&D 2e question instead of ), more experienced editors can/will fix that.

• When you say the concept of a magus should be the tag definition, that sounds great, but what concept would that be? – Miniman Jun 4 '18 at 21:38
• @Miniman That’s a great question that KRyan’s answer is making me (re)consider. There’s a nuance I can almost see but haven’t grasped yet well enough for an edit here. – SevenSidedDie Jun 4 '18 at 21:46
• @Miniman One who uses magic is the concept, if we go back far enough (like almost back to pre-Nicene Christianity ... (Acts, book 8, Simon Magus) ... see also magic user, warlock, sorcerer, wizard, etc. – KorvinStarmast Jun 6 '18 at 18:40