Here is something that I don't think fiction has ever really come to terms with-- magic. & to cut directly to the point, so-called "systems of magic." & how I don't think it is really magic, if they have a system. Or anyhow, I do, but that is the magic of science! I might not be making sense, so let me try to explain a little bit better. Lets look at Dungeons & Dragons, exempli gratia. The so-called "Vancian system" of magic is that you memorize your spells-- chosen from a book, both in- & out-of-game-- & when you cast them, the effect happens immediately, & then is gone from your mind until you re-memorize it. Alright, but at some point, rote repetition & reliability take the mystique out of it, rendering the action mundane. "Oh, yeah, our first level wizard makes a pocket dimension that we climb up a rope into to sleep at night." Now, you can be like Eberron & turn into the skid, embracing magic as a kind of technology-- the "dungeon-punk" setting-- but that just serves to underscore the point. "Magic" as a superpower loses a sense of wonder-- I know, I was just making fun of a book for saying cheesy things about "wonder"-- & stops really being...well, magical. I mean, compare the Black Lodge from Twin Peaks to Hogwarts from Harry Potter; which really seems more supernatural?
Which is the terminology I'd like to start adapting-- Paranormal & Supernatural. Things that are outside of the scope of believability in our world, but still make sense in the framework of the fictional world are paranormal. Bitten by a radioactive spider, & then getting spider powers? Paranormal; in the language of the comic book medium, that is fantastic, but it is a set of paranormal powers. The supernatural is something that is bigger than the framework of the story, something slippery that doesn't follow safe rules. The Fantastic Four can stretch, ignite on fire, turn invisible-- but when Galactus shows up, that is a whole different ball of wax. He breaks the rules of the narrative; he is a god, not a villain. Galactus is supernatural, is something outside of comic book logic-- but he appeals to some deeper mythical structure, something resonant. What character class is Galadriel? What spells does she have memorized? No, Galadriel is supernatural, not paranormal; trying to pin her down like that doesn't work. How many hit points does Yog-Sothoth have? The issue is one of fantasy versus phantasmagory.
I've been thinking about it in terms of "Weird Fiction," primarily because my current Oubliette campaign has a lot of fantastic elements. Things that you could describe as "high fantasy"-- chimerical creatures, clockwork wonders, diabolical architecture-- but that work in the context of the story. That are "normal" for the world-- perhaps exceptional but not impossible. The actual supernatural, however, is in short supply. Who cares if a character has a steampunk arm, if the world contains the ability to have a anachronistic prosthetic? I mean-- it is still "magical," of a sort-- Sam's Character Curie Firstlight is an amazing inventor, a necromancer, an alchemist-- but it doesn't trigger a full on cascade to the supernatural. It is paranormal, liminal, in the grey twilight marchlands of plausibility. The paranormal can act as a signifier for the supernatural, can act as a gateway, but it doesn't automatically lead from one to the other. Some games have tried to give rules for the supernatural, but I am starting to think that you can't have a rules system for it; if you do, you've failed. The supernatural, when it intrudes into a roleplaying story, is the element you don't have rules for, the part you didn't give statistics.