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Old 02-26-2021, 11:43 AM   #1
Greg 1
 
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Default Making science magic feel like science, not magic

How do you make magic-like abilities feel more like applied science and less like magic?

I'm toying with a setting idea in which a society rejects magic as the instrument of the Devil, but develops magic-like abilities through scientific study. Their technology level, leaving magic-like abilities aside, is at about the 17th century. Not many people can use these magic-like abilities as it takes much scholarly study.

Such scholars ("natural philosophers") are intended to be good PC types, able to contribute to an adventuring party. They will, save in very rare cases, be the only source of magic-like support for a PC party.

There are at least two questions here.

What sort of magic-like effects would come most easily to such scholars and which would be more difficult?

How would the scholar go about achieving these magic-like effects, so that they feel more like science and less like magic?

Last edited by Greg 1; 02-26-2021 at 11:49 AM.
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Old 02-26-2021, 07:17 PM   #2
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Default Re: Making science magic feel like science, not magic

Quote:
Originally Posted by Greg 1 View Post
How do you make magic-like abilities feel more like applied science and less like magic?

I'm toying with a setting idea in which a society rejects magic as the instrument of the Devil, but develops magic-like abilities through scientific study. Their technology level, leaving magic-like abilities aside, is at about the 17th century. Not many people can use these magic-like abilities as it takes much scholarly study.

Such scholars ("natural philosophers") are intended to be good PC types, able to contribute to an adventuring party. They will, save in very rare cases, be the only source of magic-like support for a PC party.

There are at least two questions here.

What sort of magic-like effects would come most easily to such scholars and which would be more difficult?
That is largely up to you as the creator. Personally, I would favor divinatory and augmentation stuff, and maybe some blasty-type magic ("prime gunpowder")

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How would the scholar go about achieving these magic-like effects, so that they feel more like science and less like magic?
My mind immediately leaps to clockpunk devices and (al)chemical solutions. All of the magic is mediated through material means; you can never just wave a wand or speak a magic word to get the effect, you have to use a machine or a substance. Basically, look at Girl Genius - sure, it's "Mad Science" but the difference between that and magic is style. You might also go the magic-as-mathematics route; if you know the right equations, God bends the universe to your will. I understand this is a popular interpretation of Cthulhu Mythos-style magic.

Some key points to make it scientific are that it is materialist, repeatable, and predictable (once you understand the causes). Game magic strongly tends to be like this anyway, so you're already halfway there.
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Old 02-27-2021, 03:10 AM   #3
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Default Re: Making science magic feel like science, not magic

Did a similar setting awhile ago set in early 20th century like fantasy world, went with structuring what i called scientific magic on actual science.

There where magic which stored energies from nature that they could release as spells like electricity, heat, kinetic energy but needed to get that energy from somewhere such as a fire or a moving object. Storing the energy in any way portable equipment was tough.

Others did interesting things around phase transformations and atomic numbers in materials basically very limited but useful forms of alchemy, also quite explosive in some cases.

There where emerging fields in medical magic and more abstract scientific areas but these where considered experimental at best.

Mages didn't really do spells they where just able to manipulate what was there in different ways than regular people. They often had to use machines and gadgets to get any use of their gifts, doing on the fly magic was considered rather dangerous since that mostly left them with using themselves to power their sorcery.

Last edited by exalted; 02-27-2021 at 03:18 AM.
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Old 02-27-2021, 08:25 AM   #4
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Default Re: Making science magic feel like science, not magic

Take a look at what Thaumatology calls "Effect Shaping" Path/Book magic rather than "Energy Accumulating".

Effect Shaping is about achieving the effect over the duration of a (relatively) long process (ritual), rather than (in fluff) grabbing throwing energy at something and shaping it with your mind. Rituals are fixed in form, and learned, either as "Paths" (magic with a related theme/specialty) or "Books" (collections of rituals found in, of course, books, which may or may not be related depending on the whim of the author. In this case, think of that either as the favored research directions of the natural philosopher, or the books from the old masters like Aristotle or Paracelsus that he studies.

That gets you in the neighborhood, game mechanics-wise. After that, it's just descriptive details and color. Don't call it "a magic ritual", call it a "philosophical investigation" or "scientific experiment" or "crafting project". Don't say "mana", say "vital, elastic and igneous fluids" or "aether" or other alchemical or archaic scientific terminology.

Last edited by Anaraxes; 02-27-2021 at 09:02 AM.
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Old 02-28-2021, 12:40 PM   #5
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Default Re: Making science magic feel like science, not magic

Tools and theory.

No spellcaster would be without their instruments and gizmos - and these might not work if they haven't been properly calibrated or knocked about and dropped. Or maybe you can still work your mojo, just at reduced effect.

If you've got a body of scholars that correspond frequently, they may have working theory on the limits of what can be done. "A coherent light attack of that magnitude (a d8 fireball) is impossible. No one has ever achieved greater than magnitude 6 (a d6 fireball) before!"

Whether or not the limits can be exceeded, well that sounds like a good plot hook to me.
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Old 03-01-2021, 12:00 AM   #6
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Default Re: Making science magic feel like science, not magic

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How do you make magic-like abilities feel more like applied science and less like magic?
My first response to that is "I question the premise of your query". A scientist recently was asked "when does your science stop feeling like magic?" and his response was "I take this dropper, I put a drop on this leaf, the leaf turns blue, I just saved thousands of lives. I know exactly how that happened and it is complete witchcraft." Science, especially now at the tail end of TL8, feels like magic. Even go back a few TLs and you're telling people they are getting sick because of near-incorporeal, near-invisible beings that can largely be avoided by washing your hands and general cleanliness in 'disease'. And if your go forward TLs, there's not much difference between 'magic" and 'science'. Further, 'psionics' actually has a lot of science and exactness put into it, so if by 'magic' you mean 'supernatural powers', then I feel psionics already is science magic.

As for an actual answer, the big difference between 'mundane science' and 'magic' I've seen from a conceptual point is that mundane is extremely inconvenient. Magic can enchant a carpet to fly, but a car has a ton of moving parts that must be maintained, fuel that has to be added to actually drive anywhere, someone with skill to actually pilot it, and all sorts of small things that can go wrong or must be accounted for (like waiting for a car to heat up in winter or having to worry about how strong your shocks are versus the environment you're on).

Secondarily, 'science' in IRL is 'tools' (like Saint said above). It's building yourself tools for more and more situations on the course to progress through theory. If 'magic' must come from tools, theory, and slow progress, then at a certain point it's not even magic anymore and merely science in fantasy physics. We might find it unrealistic that someone might have an automatic crossbow with sun-hot tips while they might go "What is gunpowder?"
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Old 03-02-2021, 09:05 PM   #7
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Default Re: Making science magic feel like science, not magic

In your worldbuilding, I think it will come down to the answers to two questions:

1) What is the source of power? Traditional fantasy magic systems answer "ley lines" or "connection to the gods" or "internal strength" or something like that. To make it more scientific, draw power from "aether" or "coriolis forces" or "redistributing tectonic movement" or "crystal harmonics" or... something else.

2) Why would a casting fail? Traditional magic might say that your faith is weak or your mana was low or the stars were misaligned. Insufficient skill works for both cases. Insufficient understanding as well. You could also use insufficient materials or that the ambient energy is exhausted or was incorrect to begin with.

From those fluff answers, design your crunch. Are we drawing big sigils with crystals to channel aether? Are we creating resonance in elements? Are we forced to specialize because nobody can possibly learn more than one narrow branch of alchemy? Are all effects "cast" ahead of time in precise laboratory conditions and frozen in expensive crystals?

Consider Fullmetal Alchemist. The magic was very scienc-ey. The source of energy was eventually revealed. People failed due to misunderstanding or due to not having proper resources. The limit on transmutation was also very much front-and-center. Yet, you still had fireballs, healing, secrets, and everything else you could want.
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Old 03-11-2021, 12:31 PM   #8
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Default Re: Making science magic feel like science, not magic

I'd expect science-magic to be largely in the form of superscience, making it generally tool-based. However, you can still have effects that aren't reliant on the use of tools, although some of these will have some overlap with chi and/or psi. A scientist with the appropriate knowledge may be able to heal someone with acupressure - or make use of the same to paralyze or kill someone (a la Xena). Similarly, close analysis of a thick wall might reveal a weak point the scientist can use to break down the wall with a simple tap. Something like the clap trick from Assassination Classroom could serve in place of a stunning/knockout spell (for reference, in that setting you can throw your enemy off guard by dropping your weapon(s) and doing a well-timed handclap or similar in front of their face, surprising them and opening them to a sneak attack; extremely skilled users can time it with their foe's mental cycle such that it renders them outright unconscious).
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