ViO#9rlKQ|^ T>tF=U\w0% $I!F<ۛ)蚹^1E!P*5Ӕl%qL7D2'THl.>UA]!Ɍ >^B~J:i-ο +tWOa0{ˋ Xh!c۳MǦ9+"+c7z̍JIY#oKWT$~ p++nSp )(̛*Yu@FSo!'w&>qFx u+ 3QB=Č,ŧQJ=3S: |8!,lc}&.5ҩcV^ڵF"³:< ur+_0 C FYF& OZS `ƸFꖵ,9Ybh4eBMkѴ2_cmB[N-$LM>7SNcXB69T^2%i¨jYpgK\2.JҪei b z·,p̡zyZK}L$;1h^NKAz]; RL!8ChV|>&@C 9RwEBoCF K5)нbʲPȉ65N9urH?dy@N*!OVݩ¬Xd3QtMKg^(@}9>/1F^\7Tql5Yπ{6LZQ[3cm2nVrl`ʦ4XZC" QZ!q˥>:9+j4뒵oy?p\xbD!Ż>1e{^&eiWIo]VzYze1jާؑiQkUtSpC*Mb:sh6(8Krz1>ܤkY';E/cSQ&;;DL{ ?L6x98v@Q_rw IO=|v8a݆*^z\WsU|-ʈE^Ͱ{XZyLvX&mȦZ^Shpe)n3{\4T?)];}\gWl+hP

Bag o' Nifties: Tricks for GMs

Scientifical Magic - Running Less Magical Spellcasters

by Dan Bayn
Jan 08,2003

 

Scientifical Magic - Running Less Magical Spellcasters

The Problem

I've heard many a' gamer pondering ways to make magic more like science, whether it's for a space fantasy game, some flavor of steampunk, or anything in-between. Most of the solutions I've seen have just slapped the trappings of technology onto otherwise standard magic; they usually replace magic spells with magic devices. That is certainly a reasonable and workable course of action, but it may miss the point a tiny bit.

The difference between science and magic is more fundamental than spells vs. machines. It's about mystery vs. predictability, uniqueness vs. repeatability, the mind vs. the hand. Standard principle systems like those found in Mage and Ars Magica come close, but they both still assert that the mage imposes his will on the universe. (Which is fine, since neither game is designed to solve this problem.) What we need are some nice, mindless Laws of Magic and a technological approach to manipulating them.

The Solution: Scientifical Magic

In the broadest of terms, technology works by manipulating the scientifically determined relationships between objects and forces. If we know, for example, that electrical current creates magnetic fields, and that certain metals respond to magnetism, then we can use that relationship to build electric motors. (And electrical generators, for that matter.) It takes no force of will or mystical birthright; if the objects and forces are in the correct arrangement, it just works. We want our scientifical spells to behave the same way.

First, we'll need to describe the laws that will govern our spells. We want something simple, so it doesn't require a degree in physics or philosophy to understand, but open-ended enough to create a variety of magical effects. Fortunately, real world magical traditions can provide some inspiration, as can the laws of physics. What follows are two examples of the former, and one of the latter, not in that order.

One of the most versatile, not to mention common, real-world magical principles is the Law of Sympathy. Usually summarized as "Like Produces Like," it posits that one can influence people, objects, and events by creating and manipulating models of them. The Law of Sympathy covers more than so-called voodoo dolls, however. Anything from symbolic runes to totemic masks to astrology can be explained as Like Producing Like.

Something I've been working on for my Erebus setting is the Law of Intropy. It states that all things tend towards a state of order, and that chaotic objects and forces are more similar to each other than orderly objects and forces. This means that Ereban alchemists can turn one substance into another by increasing its chaos until it is indistinguishable the desired substance, then allowing it to return to order. It also allows Ereban magicians to create illusions by injecting enough chaos into a situation to make it confusing to observers, then guiding their perceptions towards the desired effect. (Okay, so that one's a little bit harder to explain. For a more illuminating treatment, take a look at this article on the Erebus website.)

One more, and then we'll move on. The Law of Sacrifice makes a good catch-all; it states that one must give up one thing in order to get something else. Universes that follow this law operate on a karmic principle that usually applies only on very large scales. Individual events don't balance themselves out, but the ebb and flow of history always does. Magi create rituals in which the Law of Sacrifice does apply to individual events. They might blind themselves to gain clairvoyance, or obtain supernatural prowess in battle by giving up their self-control. The important point is that you can't get something for nothing.

Now that we know how the universe works, we have to figure out how to twist it to suit our petty, human desires. Unlike wiz-bang fantasy spellslinging, scientifical magic requires more preparation than looking at a spellbook or making some arcane gestures. It requires laboratory work.

To build a bomb, one has to arrange a number of volatile forces into a delicate balance. As long as that balance is maintained, nothing gets blown up. Then, a new force is introduced (like the push of a button or a spark of electricity), and all those bound up forces return explosively to their natural states. Balance... unbalance... balance. Whether it's bombs, drugs, computers, or whatever, creating that initial state of balance takes time, effort, and the right tools.

Scientifical spells should follow a similar pattern. The magus sets mystical forces in opposition, then releases them to do their work in accordance with (super)natural laws. Instead of constructing a bomb, a magus could level a building by making a scale model. Once the Sympathetic relationship is established (balance), the magus could shake the model until it crumbles (unbalance). After the spell is cast, the link is broken and everything returns to normal (balance). In this case, the "lab" would include artist's tools, for sculpting and painting, and possibly raw materials from the building itself, to strengthen the sympathetic link.

The Law of Sacrifice is a bit different in that it can create situations that never return to a natural balance. In the blindness example, the magus has plucked out their own eyes to gain supernatural senses (precognition, second sight, etc.). Once made, such a sacrifice is rarely reversed. This creates an unbalanced, but stable situation that generates its magical effects continuously. (Lesser sacrifices, with shorter-lived effects, follow the normal pattern.)

A final point to keep in mind... First, the laws of scientifical magic are impersonal, mindless forces. Anyone with a solid grasp of their workings can cast spells. The blood of dragons doesn't need to course through your veins, and you don't have to speak the secret language of the spirits. You just have to understand how the universe works, and be clever enough to exploit it.

To sum up, you can make your magic feel more like science by 1) basing it on one or more standard Laws of Magic, 2) requiring prep work of some kind, and 3) keeping the universe nice and impersonal. Using these principles, any kind of spells can feel scientifical, not just those that involve enchanted devices.

A Note on Laws of Science and Magic

I've used the laws of sympathy and sacrifice, plus a few others, to create a wide variety of magic and technology for a cross-genre RPG called All Worldz . It involves an interdimensional civilization where people can literally walk through a dozen worlds on their way to the local pub. It needed a system players could use to quickly and easily determine what works on any given world. I called it the Pillars of Science , and it has stood up to quite a bit of playtesting.

Next Time: A narrative structure for modern pulp action!

Bayn.org - Loath Your Fellow Man TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

What do you think?

Go to forum!\n"; $file = "http://www.rpg.net/$subdir/list2.php?f=$num"; if (readfile($file) == 0) { echo "(0 messages so far)
"; } ?>

Bag o' Nifties by Dan Pond