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"Is our Magic really Technology?" Topic


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18 Jan 2016 3:51 p.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

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1,465 hits since 9 Jul 2015
©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP10 Jul 2015 9:53 a.m. PST

So to answer the question, we would have to know definitively (or discuss in this thread!) the nature of magic and technolgy. What distinguishes "magic" from "technology".

For me, technology is an understood (at least by someone) domain with well-defined trade-offs and limits on capability. Magic, by contrast, is a creative and disruptive force that, while it may be countered, doesn't have limitations and certainly not well-defined trade-offs.

A couple practical examples of what I mean:

* Fireballs. Or, pretty much any tactical combat magic are handled the exact same way we would a sci fi plasma ball rifle. You have specific ranges, to-hit, and damage parameters.

* Summoning. Again, this type and rank of mage has exactly these odds of summoning these categories of creature which will have those specific statistics.

* Enhancement. Blessing a suit of armour is pretty much the same thing as adding a tech level to the construction of your battle armour. +1 or +2. Congratulations!

* Evocation. Even big, sweeping magic like curses, scrying, and weather control have long lists of specific material elements, and well-defined casting times and effect ranges.

* Abjuration. Even when we have "random" effects they come from a pre-published (and read by every player everywhere) list of effects with assigned probabilities.

I'm not saying there is anything wrong with this; I play lots of games that implement magic this way and enjoy them. And it does have the benefit of expectation management and consistency that is very important for certain types of game play (especially tournaments).

I'm just asking is this "magic" or just technology in other clothes?

[I have opinions on whether some of our technology is too magic-esque, also, but those are reserved for a different discussion.]

28mm Fanatik10 Jul 2015 10:03 a.m. PST

In game terms magic and technology share the same characteristics and effects. It's the colorful descriptions and "fluff" that's different.

So I guess the differences are mostly cosmetic.

Dynaman878910 Jul 2015 10:09 a.m. PST

Magic is something you do not understand, once you understand it, it becomes technology

Weasel10 Jul 2015 10:14 a.m. PST

In a game-context, they are all there primarily to create a game effect.

The source of that effect is often not relevant.

As an example, D&D 4th edition gave everyone "spells" but for many characters, they represented skills, talents or other natural abilities.

TNE230010 Jul 2015 10:26 a.m. PST

all summed up nicely here:
link
and here:
link

pzivh43 Supporting Member of TMP10 Jul 2015 10:49 a.m. PST

I believe it was Arthur C. Clarke who said, "Any technology, sufficiently advanced, is indistinguishable from magic."

Ditto Tango 2 3 Inactive Member10 Jul 2015 11:26 a.m. PST

DELETED

28mm Fanatik10 Jul 2015 11:36 a.m. PST

I have no problem believing in magic and unicorns when I play fantasy😃

Garand10 Jul 2015 12:54 p.m. PST

I always wanted to run a D&D campaign where the players slowly discover they are actually on a Ringworld, and their "magic" and/or supernatural abilities were thanks to the fact that they are all virtual post-humans, and spells and the like are due to the manipulation of nanites that saturate the environment, with many of the monsters also being post-humans, aliens, or bio-constructs specifically for this setting…

Damon.

tberry7403 Inactive Member10 Jul 2015 1:05 p.m. PST

The Matrix?

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP10 Jul 2015 1:30 p.m. PST

Does magic give you reproduceable results? Are there Laws?
Then it's no different than science.

Btw, Star Wars is fantasy. Not science fiction.

Mute Bystander Inactive Member10 Jul 2015 1:50 p.m. PST

No, but it too often plays out that way on the game table…

28mm Fanatik10 Jul 2015 1:54 p.m. PST

Btw, Star Wars is fantasy. Not science fiction.

It's actually "science fantasy," like the popular 40K universe. It's a hybrid genre or mash-up of the two. And why not? Book stores don't have separate sections for the two.

Dan 055 Inactive Member10 Jul 2015 8:33 p.m. PST

I agree with Weasel.

What you are describing is not "magic". It's how magic is portrayed in wargames once it's converted into a game mechanic.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP11 Jul 2015 3:58 a.m. PST

Well, effect-based one approach to converting it into a wargame mechanic. I am positing that it is the most frequently used one, and it is fundamentally no different than the way we approach implementing technology in wargames.

Weasel posits that

The source of that effect is often not relevant.

Well, if you're using the type of effect-based approach as discussed above, it isn't. But if the mechanics of magic were fundamentally different than those for technology (effect-based or not), then it would.

DS6151 Inactive Member11 Jul 2015 7:36 a.m. PST

Btw, Star Wars is fantasy. Not science fiction.

No. It's not. It's science fiction. Spending time trying to describe the technology with poorly understood real world science isn't required.

The OP is not consistent.
You ask to discuss magic/science, but then go into game mechanics. So what you're asking is "is magic just a technology in games?"

The answer is no.
As you point out, tech has set limits and effects. Do this, that happens.
If you're using dice/cards in your game, that tech characteristic doesn't exist.

So no, Magic is not a Technology in games.
Technology is used as Magic in games.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP11 Jul 2015 8:48 a.m. PST

So what you're asking is "is magic just a technology in games?"

Yes, that is exactly what the OP is about.

The answer is no.
As you point out, tech has set limits and effects. Do this, that happens.
If you're using dice/cards in your game, that tech characteristic doesn't exist.

Outcomes in science are not absolutely deterministic. Even in a laboratory, under controlled conditions, experiments are initiated with a stimuli of bounded characteristics and result in outcomes with bounded measurements on the observable phenomena.

If you shoot two bullets in a climate controlled range, under the same conditions, including resetting the condition of the gun to a cleaned, "non-fired state". They will impact in slightly different places.

In the field, if you fire two bullets over long range without cleaning your weapon from the "same spot" as well as you can tell it with what you perceive to be the same aim point, and close together in time so the environmentals don't change much, at a target that doesn't move (from your point of view), I don't think its "magic" to say that one hits and the other doesn't. Let alone in typical combat conditions.

Snipers train long and hard to exert fine control over their shots, and they will tell you there is still randomness (that is, things outside their control) in what they do.

The existence of randomness in the mechanic is not enough for me to characterize it as randomness.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP11 Jul 2015 12:33 p.m. PST

The existence of randomness in the mechanic is not enough for me to characterize it as

… err … magic.

Now how that happened in completely inexplicable!

TNE230011 Jul 2015 4:14 p.m. PST

"Outcomes in science are not absolutely deterministic"

technology and randomness / magic

TBBT Penny Quantum Mechanics Joke
YouTube link

(Phil Dutre) Inactive Member12 Jul 2015 1:32 a.m. PST

Create a new creature out of nowhere in a fantasy setting, call it a summon spell, that's magic.
Create a new creature out of nowhere in a scifi setting, call it teleportation, that's technology.

The discussion is meaningless in a wargaming mechanics context, especially when you are comparing non-existing magic effects to non-existing technology.

The discussion might have some meaning if you look at what people throughout history thought what was magic, and is now understood as science or tech.
Perhaps you could also compare how magic or tech are portrayed differently in scifi/fantasy literature, which is the prime source for these effects.

But comparing wargaming mechanics and drawing conclusions from that can only learn you something about wargaming mechanics …

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP12 Jul 2015 1:59 p.m. PST

But comparing wargaming mechanics and drawing conclusions from that can only learn you something about wargaming mechanics …

Hence crossposting to the Game Design board.

The discussion is meaningless in a wargaming mechanics context, especially when you are comparing non-existing magic effects to non-existing technology.

Actually, a lot of the non-existing magic in wargames (tactical combat stuff) equates to currently existing technology.

But the point WRT mechanics was do we treat magic and technology the same in our games. There is no reason we would have to treat them the same. We could have (and some games do have) mechanics that don't treat magic like tech, but by and large we do and seem happy to do it.

Coelacanth15 Jul 2015 7:20 p.m. PST

For me, technology is an understood (at least by someone) domain with well-defined trade-offs and limits on capability. Magic, by contrast, is a creative and disruptive force that, while it may be countered, doesn't have limitations and certainly not well-defined trade-offs.

You have articulated something that has been in the back of my mind for some time. Most magic in games neither matches the magical beliefs of pre-industrial peoples, nor the magic familiar to us from most fantasy fiction. To a large extent,that is inevitable; games are played within a framework of specific rules, and players like to have an idea what will happen when they cast a spell. That doesn't change the fact that game magic usually lacks glamour. I have been working on a side effects rule to add some unpredictable qualitries to spell casting, but it hasn't quite come into focus yet.

Ron

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP17 Jul 2015 2:14 a.m. PST

I'm not so sure that the way we treat magic is necessary because we are wargaming.

You can add side effects or even variability to main effects. You could eliminate tactical magic and focus only on long-term type magics like in Conan. You could implement magic entirely with non-combat system effects.

I don't mind players having an idea of what will happen, but when they have the same understanding of what will happen that they do if they shoot a laser pistol, I think that is something different.

And honestly, we could steal a lot of rules from some high-tech games. There are a lot of sci-fi "future technologies" that end up not being handled like other game effects. They happen and they have pretty much no regular bounds, trade-offs, or consequences. But, as I said, that is a discussion for a different thread…

Full Disclosure: In my own QILS system, tactical magic is handled exactly like combat capability, unless you are fighting against someone else with magic. And in scenarios I have used the magic system to implement certain types of technology effects. I am not saying it is inherently inferior to do so, just that it is interesting that we do.

(Phil Dutre) Inactive Member18 Jul 2015 1:45 a.m. PST

I am still not sure what the OP hinted at with differences between magic and tech in wargames.

When playing a game, all effects are somehow translated into rules within the gaming engine. So, sooner or later, a fireball or a cannonshot might end up being the same effect.

Some mentioned the creative aspect of magic. Some rpg have done this, in which you could design your own spells. That sounds very nice, but looks impractical during a game. Perhaps as a pregame sequence?

Another aspect is the unpredictability. Wizards summons powerful demon, but might get sucked up in the void instead. No demon, no wizard. Not too many players like that sort of randomness ;-)

Or the scale of magic? IIRC early versions of Warhammer had spells like wind of death: ALL figures on the table took a hit. Yes, great fun! But doesn't give a good game.

Or prehaps prebattle magic? Raise morale of selected units, stuff like that. Cfr. priests giving blessings before the battle in medieval times.

So, I feel the discussion is a bit abstract unless some more specific examples are given.

Last Hussar19 Jul 2015 1:57 a.m. PST

Magic often requires some form of access to a 'force' – Mana/Spirit etc outside normal interaction.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP19 Jul 2015 5:25 p.m. PST

So, I feel the discussion is a bit abstract unless some more specific examples are given.

In the OP, I gave five examples of magic that is implemented in the game the same way as technology, i.e., using the same game mechanisms for magic and technology. So, here are five of the other ones …

Blessing an Army – Instead of manipulating combat mechanics (+1 here, -1 there), implement a meta-game mechanic, such as re-rolling or re-rolling under certain conditions (your guys reroll critical misses or the enemy rerolls critical hits, maybe everybody rerolls prime numbers).

The Jinx – A jinx that misses a roll gets a bonus just enough to make the roll. Now that figure must allocate an equivalent magnitude of penalties to other allied figures.

Gremlins – A force cursed with gremlins suffers critical miss effects when rolling certain types of number (evens, primes, high half of the die, etc.), but does not affect the outcome of the roll for the gremlin infected force.

Summoning – Each round of summoning, each summoner rolls a die, the results of which are summed. When a certain condition is reached (sum divisible by five, sum is prime, etc.), the "points" are randomly distributed amoung monster characteristics.

Precognition – Before your turn, your opponent must place a marker on the board for where his forces will move and/or attack on his next turn.

Not that any of these mechanisms couldn't be used to implement technological effects, but just that these (and many others) are typically not what we use to implement magic in wargames. We tend to default back to the standard mechanics that we use for technology.

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