Magic and Sci-Fi

Discuss the Traveller RPG and its many settings
Tom Kalbfus
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Re: Magic and Sci-Fi

Postby Tom Kalbfus » Wed Jul 23, 2014 4:21 pm

Should people be turned into frogs in a sci fi setting? how about Demonic possession?
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Re: Magic and Sci-Fi

Postby Ataraxzy » Wed Jul 23, 2014 5:50 pm

I use psi-like capabilities in high-tech locations, the higher the tech level the more effects are available.

Only two interpretations need be made: What 'distance' means and what Psi points mean.

Just map 'Distance' to 'Openness' and 'Temporal distance' in most cases.
  1. Openness: Public data would be Personal, all the way up to Hardened military and habitat life support systems; which would be Continental. With your average citizen being Close and the onboard neural interface systems of TL15 battle armor being Distant.
  2. Temporal distance: Current data? Personal. Last hour? Short. Last month? Long. Last year? Continental.
Psi points, on the other hand, measure Friction, or how much noise/bandwidth and general ruffian-like info-destructiveness you can accomplish before your pan-web access starts to degrade, whether from internal heating, standard routing overload protection protocols, ICE or whatever; when you run out of psi strength, your access has been degraded to the point where you're going to have to experience some combination of your eButler running some Reputation Repair protocols and habitat Routing system's overload protocols timing out and the ICE you awakened to stop pounding your firewalls. (i.e. your points recover).

Telepathy? That's just a hack into another person's web implants/portable computer. So, it might be a quick interrogation of the victim's eButler or a rapid access of the systems brought online by the victim's volitional-enhancement aids.
  • Life Detection: scan for the presence of Web links. Filter by some slice of data that excludes non-sentients.
  • Telempathy: Hack the victim's eButler, force-download a Stim program and run it.
  • Read Surface Thoughts: interrogate the victim's eButler with an code-injection hack.
  • Send Thoughts: You need an explanation for this? :P
  • Probe: A massively invasive hack of the victim's neural/web interface allowing direct imaging.
  • Assault: Send a Hunter/Killer into the victim's interface, watch their brains melt.
  • Shield: an eButler can shut off pan-web access, but at the expense of any information that might be gained through it.
Clairvoyance? The eyes of the Panopticon look in BOTH directions. You can get a video/audio feed from just about anywhere.
  • Sense: "Bob (the eButler), using the habitat's sensor data, give me an estimate of the next room: the CEO's office of Final Solutions, LLC."
  • Tactical Awareness: "Bob, link with the rest of the team and start a threat map based off of our combined feeds."
  • Clairvoyance: "Bob, consolidate all video feeds available outside the Temple of Resolute Humaniti."
  • Clairaudience: "Bob, quick, hack into the pub's sensorium and get me an audio feed that captures the table in the NW corner!"
  • Clairsentience: "Give me all sensory data related to that NW corner table from the past 6 hours."
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Re: Magic and Sci-Fi

Postby simonh » Wed Jul 23, 2014 6:09 pm

sideranautae wrote:
Prime_Evil wrote:
Whether psionics or magic are appropriate for other settings really depends upon the assumptions that they are based upon - don't forget that many SF authors often wrote fantasy as well and freely mixed concepts from what we would consider to be two separate genres...
I completely agree. In Trav there are no tech/sci assumptions given for humans (like you and I) to be able to levitate or whatever. It is totally divorced from scientific or tech development. Some setting are different and link to scientific advances and therefore it should be considered sci-fi. Star Wars universe is another where it is pure magic and not tech or science.

I agree with you that in star wars there is no explicitly technological or scientific aspect to The Force. There are no force magi-tech, no weapons that use the force, nobody studying it using the scientific method.

What does interest me though is the way it's framed in scientific terms. The very name 'The Force' is taken from scientific terminology. It's described as being 'an energy field'. There are no spells, incantations, magical sigils, demons, spirits, or any other occult or traditionally supernatural trappings. It's treated in as abstract and mechanical a way as possible. Everything you see done could theoretically also be done using electrical or gravitational fields - moving objects, shooting lightning, transmitting and receiving signals. Even the appearance of dead Jedi is very similar to the holographic projectors we see in Star Wars. There's no shape shifting, summoning, or anything else that couldn't be explained technologically. The only real exception is the disappearance of Obi Wan. Even that could be explained as converting matter into energy. The greatest secret of the Force is really E=sq(MC).

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Re: Magic and Sci-Fi

Postby alex_greene » Wed Jul 23, 2014 6:26 pm

Tom Kalbfus wrote:Should people be turned into frogs in a sci fi setting? how about Demonic possession?
Diehard science fiction fans can't get past the whole conservation of mass thing when it comes to turning somebody into a frog. I still can't get where that comes from even in literature, outside of "Baleful Polymorph" in D&D.

As for demonic possession, one could have any number of types of alien possession by bodiless incorporeal energy being types, Puppet Master types straight out of Heinlein, even sentient nanoprobe infections.

The question ought to be, against such infiltrations, would exorcism be effective or ineffective?
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Re: Magic and Sci-Fi

Postby sideranautae » Wed Jul 23, 2014 6:40 pm

simonh wrote:
What does interest me though is the way it's framed in scientific terms. The very name 'The Force' is taken from scientific terminology. It's described as being 'an energy field'. There are no spells, incantations, magical sigils, demons, spirits, or any other occult or traditionally supernatural trappings. It's treated in as abstract and mechanical a way as possible. Everything you see done could theoretically also be done using electrical or gravitational fields - moving objects, shooting lightning, transmitting and receiving signals. Even the appearance of dead Jedi is very similar to the holographic projectors we see in Star Wars. There's no shape shifting, summoning, or anything else that couldn't be explained technologically. The only real exception is the disappearance of Obi Wan. Even that could be explained as converting matter into energy. The greatest secret of the Force is really E=sq(MC).

Simon Hibbs
Yes. While "the force" is used as a scientific term. Its use is by mystical thinking thoughts by those predisposed. That isn't a scientific proposition really. (Or it wasn't at all put that way in Lucas' movies, but could well have been his intention if the after market books are an indication as they mention genetics and control of the force)

The dying and turning into spirits is in no way connected to holograms. Holograms are a light projection from a machine of a physical object. That wasn't the premise of Yoda, Obi Wan & Vader appearing to Luke after death. Even if the visual effects was similar. That is pure magic/religion/spirits/demons/etc.

But, it might be closer than what Marc wrote into Trav
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Re: Magic and Sci-Fi

Postby sideranautae » Wed Jul 23, 2014 6:43 pm

Tom Kalbfus wrote:Should people be turned into frogs in a sci fi setting? how about Demonic possession?

Matter transmuters in Star Trek could take a person and change into anything physical. Don't know if it would be alive. If you mean D&D demons, no. If you mean body possession by an alien intelligence that has some type of plausible telepathic ability, could be.
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Re: Magic and Sci-Fi

Postby Nerroth » Wed Jul 23, 2014 7:59 pm

One example of the use of "indistinguishable from magic" and "actual magic-magic" in the same setting (or, at least, where the lines between the two can be somewhat blurred) could be the Fading Suns universe, as had been portrayed until relatively recently by Mongoose over in A Call to Arms: Noble Armada. (The current developers of the FS RPG are FASA Games, who have plans to come up with a new edition of the original NA game at some point.)
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Re: Magic and Sci-Fi

Postby alex_greene » Wed Jul 23, 2014 10:41 pm

For something to continue to the Far Future and not be sidelined to the ancient history books, it has to evolve to account for new technologies and the cultural changes those technologies bring.

Sightings of the likes of Bigfoot, UFOs, fairies and Loch Ness Monsters dropped like a stone when everybody had a video camera in their pocket; why bother with telepathy when you have a decent social media infrastructure; telekinesis is destructively energy-wasteful when you have gravitics, and so on.

And so stories of ghosts and spirits, monsters lurking in shadows, demons from Hell would more than likely find themselves stuck in some historical book somewhere in a deep vault beneath the Vatican in Rome, forgotten practically forever by a humaniti expanding ever further away from such mediaeval thinking.

What, then, for magic? What would magic in the Far Future look like?

If it's evolved to head out to the stars along with Humaniti, chances are you would not recognise its form, the things magicians do - or even what they look like.

They wouldn't look like Aleister Crowley or Merlin, all embroidered robes and conical caps. Indeed, they might look like Naval Officers, scientists, cops or just ordinary people. But deep down, there would be four pillars to their practice which are key to the profession.

Noscere - To Know; magicians seek out and apply knowledge in all its forms.
Audere - To Dare; everything must be questioned. Take nothing for granted.
Velle - To Will; in the pursuit of your goals, learn to focus the mind.
Tacere - To Keep Silent; share your secrets with great reluctance.

And whatever else a magician does, however the trappings of his profession, they'd be focused on helping people, seeing the things nobody else is even looking for, and generally doing their bit to intervene lightly and subtly to make the world a better place.

Something like that.
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Re: Magic and Sci-Fi

Postby Jame Rowe » Wed Jul 23, 2014 11:35 pm

sideranautae wrote:
alex_greene wrote:Right ... so let's get back to the wand waving, shall we?
Exactly. So, who uses fantasy magic [like psionicists or D&D type wizards] in their Trav campaign?

I for one keep it to just science & sci-fi. No fantasy magic.
If I run a Traveller campaign I will allow for the possibility of fantasy magic, probably using stuff inspired by Flynn's Guide to Magic, but limit it to certain places.

Though my fiancée uses a race from the D&D book of erotic fantasy, the felids, and I expect I'd port them over.
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Re: Magic and Sci-Fi

Postby sideranautae » Thu Jul 24, 2014 1:00 am

Jame Rowe wrote:
sideranautae wrote:
alex_greene wrote:Right ... so let's get back to the wand waving, shall we?
Exactly. So, who uses fantasy magic [like psionicists or D&D type wizards] in their Trav campaign?

I for one keep it to just science & sci-fi. No fantasy magic.
If I run a Traveller campaign I will allow for the possibility of fantasy magic, probably using stuff inspired by Flynn's Guide to Magic, but limit it to certain places.

Though my fiancée uses a race from the D&D book of erotic fantasy, the felids, and I expect I'd port them over.
I remember that P Anthony's Incarnation of Immortality series had magic only working at the planetary level and not into outer space. Technology space. Magic was powerful planet side. Maybe have it tied to something existing on only certain planets...
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Re: Magic and Sci-Fi

Postby simonh » Fri Jul 25, 2014 10:19 am

You know, with a bit of knowledge about how real world stage magic works and some ingenuity, you could probably come up with some knockout effects and abilities for a far future stage magician taking advantage of advanced miniaturization, holographics, gravitics, computers, etc. It'd probably take far more work and research than most people can put into an RPG and would requires some pretty decent working knowledge of stage magic techniques.

Does anyone know of any SF literature along those lines? Advanced tech applied to stage magic and trickstering, to complement Harry Harrison's application of advanced technology to crime in the Stainless Steel Rat books.

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Re: Magic and Sci-Fi

Postby alex_greene » Fri Jul 25, 2014 11:13 am

I would love the idea of playing some TL 3 character lost in a world of "electrickery" and "telling bones," where even the workings of a TL 7 society would seem wild enough for him, let alone the wonders of a world where the tech level is advanced enough to permit flying Air/Rafts, holographic displays, autodocs and grav belts, and where his knowledge of herbal medicine would seem touchingly archaic at best.

(Air/Raft bearing down upon the group)
Team Leader: Thought you were a magician.
Magician: Back home, I could summon up a storm or command eagles. But here, far from my beloved Castle Saburac ... in this wild place, my magic does not work any more.
(throws juju pouch at Air/Raft)
(Air/Raft guidance system and grav plate power distribution manifold explode in a shower of sparks)
(Air/Raft ploughs into trees two hundred metres short of target at 95 km/h)
Magician: ... or perhaps it does ...

A lot of the "magic" in Traveller should be written off as coincidental: grav vehicles brought low by malfunctions caused by poor maintenance, or a random birdstrike; the magician's guesses about which way the dice or cards will fall proving far more often than not to be accurate; rolls of credits just happening to be lying on the street in front of the magician, and so on.

Once you get that magicians merely manipulated luck by being incredibly perspicacious, with a talent for prestidigitation and misdirection, and an unusual flair for serendipity, the trappings of magic - wands, robes, chants - become mere stage props concealing Animals-0, Art-0, Deception-5, Engineering-0, Life Science-0, Mechanic-0 and Physical Science-0, and J-o-T-3 to cover the rest.
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Re: Magic and Sci-Fi

Postby Jame Rowe » Fri Jul 25, 2014 9:20 pm

sideranautae wrote:If I run a Traveller campaign I will allow for the possibility of fantasy magic, probably using stuff inspired by Flynn's Guide to Magic, but limit it to certain places.

Though my fiancée uses a race from the D&D book of erotic fantasy, the felids, and I expect I'd port them over.
I remember that P Anthony's Incarnation of Immortality series had magic only working at the planetary level and not into outer space. Technology space. Magic was powerful planet side. Maybe have it tied to something existing on only certain planets...[/quote]

This is pretty much what I was thinking. Though I would allow some effects in space, aboard a ship or station, but mostly psionic/psionic-like.
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