Will on Magic Systems
Hardness is generally held to be a measure of how detailed and strict the magic of a world is, most often it's a way of knowing just how scientific the understanding of "magic" in a universe is. I've never seen it viewed as being able to predict how a character will utilize their skills.
Actually, that is exactly what a “hard” magic system is (according to Brandon Sanderson, who popularized the concept). It’s how clearly the reader understands the limits of the characters’ supernatural abilities and how they can be used to solve problems, not how scientifically understood magic is in the universe.
If you haven’t read Sanderson’s articles about his Three Laws of Magic, they’re a fascinating read.
I personally would put Cradle toward the harder end of the scale, but there definitely are soft elements (at least as the system has been presented thus far). E.g. what can a Monarch not do?
As for LitRPG, there’s nothing wrong with there being soft LitRPG magic systems. That’s okay! You can have a soft system with numbers, and there’s nothing wrong with softer systems. LotR and ASoIaF both have soft systems. But a lot of times people expect LitRPG to scratch the itch for hard, consistent, numerically calculated systems, and they often don’t. Even some of the really good ones!
I don’t follow that.
I highly recommend Brandon Sanderson’s essays on the difference between hard and soft magic systems; he makes it very clear!
Sanderson certainly doesn’t write anything of the sort.
From his First Law essay:
“We generally know exactly which powers Spider-man has and what they do. He 1) Can Sense danger 2) has superhuman strength and endurance 3) Can shoot webs from his hands and 4) Can cling to walls. While in the comics, he does sometimes gain other strange powers (making the system softer), he does generally stick to these abilities in the movies. Therefore, we’re not surprised when Spider-man shoots a web in a bad guy’s face. We’ve established that he can do that, and it makes sense to us when he does it. It is narratively a Hard Magic system, rather than a Soft Magic system.”
Since we know Spider-Man can shoot webs, we can predict that he will solve problems by shooting webs. Whereas Gandalf might do anything with magic. We can’t predict what he can or can’t or will or won’t do magically.
That’s all that “predict” means in this context.
I do agree with you that what OP is describing is a story flaw more than a soft magic system. The author making up a solution to a plot problem without introducing that solution earlier or defining its limitations is bad writing, it’s not a hallmark of a well-written soft magic system.
But that was effectively his point, wasn’t it? “I enjoy Cradle more than most LitRPG because Cradle is more consistent with the way its magic is used in combat.”
Also, when I said what I did about it being okay for LitRPGs to have soft magic systems, I was really trying to be polite to LitRPG as a whole and not say “Yeah, a lot of LitRPG magic systems are just really poorly constructed.”
And now I’ve said it anyway. Look what we’ve done.
Totally agree. One of the reasons I keep reading LitRPG despite it not being to my personal taste is that I feel like it should be. I love video games and I love progressive magic systems, so it should be a perfect match, so I feel like there's probably that LitRPG out there that I'll just fall in love with one day.