Page 1649 - Dungeons & Ponies, Part 24

8th Feb 2022, 6:00 AM in Intermission 15
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Dungeons & Ponies, Part 24
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Author Notes:

Newbiespud 8th Feb 2022, 6:00 AM edit delete
Author: GreatDinn

Guest Author's Note: "I don't know if it's just the circle I talk with/play RPGs with, or if it's a more widespread thing, but I find it funny how often magic gets conflated with science. I know the classic adage is 'any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,' but so often I find magic gets an entire scientific method applied to it, as though it makes total sense that you can make a certain series of gestures or say a few words and have the firmament bend to your will. It's never the same either. Depending on the world/game/Dungeon Master, magic will function completely differently. It always has rules (sometimes literally because game), but from my experience we seem to have a very profound inability to just leave it at 'magic works because it shouldn't.'"

Notice: Guest comic submissions are open! Guidelines here. Deadline: January 27th, 2023.



ANW 8th Feb 2022, 6:06 AM edit delete reply
You can win the battle
You can win the war
When it comes to D&D, there is no winning.
Just succeeding.
Guest 9th Feb 2022, 10:11 PM edit delete reply
Made me think of the scene from E.T.

Mom: "So how do you win this game anyway huh?"
Steve: "There’s no winning, it’s like life, you don’t win at life."

Taken from here:
Jennifer 8th Feb 2022, 6:53 AM edit delete reply
The Lord Darcy mystery series by Randall Garrett is all about turning magic into a science. It's an alternate history where science never became a thing but magic did. There are theoretical laws of magic, and they work to the extent that one can be a "forensic wizard" and assist the equivalent of Sherlock Holmes to solve mysteries. And none of the solutions turn on "a wizard did it."
tipusar85 8th Feb 2022, 7:25 AM edit delete reply
Randall Garret wasn't the only one to do that for his time. We also have a forgotten pair of books by Poul Anderson, yes the same one that shows up in Appendix N/E, Called Operation Chaos and Operation Luna. In that universe, magic came back out of the physics search for the unified theory of everything with Einstein and Bohr working together. The funniest part about the influence is that you can easily tell where both the Artificer and the Alchemist classes that are in modern day worldbuilding came from. And then there's Robert Heinlein's "Waldo Inc." short story...
Guest 8th Feb 2022, 4:31 PM edit delete reply
The "magic" in Lord Darcy's world, though they believe literally in the existence of God and Satan, is clearly "psychic powers". Garrett was writing to sell to John W Campbell and he was bonkers on the subject.
Only certain people have the Talent and, therefore, experiments are not always reproducible. Science is based upon the idea that anyone can duplicate published results if they follow the procedure exactly. "Some people have it and some don't" is used in our world as an "explanation" why ESPers can't prove their claims. In fact, the mere presence of skeptics may be sufficient to screw things up.

Personally, I believe Heinlein's dictum "One Man's Magic is another Man's Engineering". Magic (and gods) are just what you don't understand. The more we know, the less need we have for them. Aside from roleplaying games, of course.
Jennifer 8th Feb 2022, 9:03 PM edit delete reply
They may be psychic powers, but their results ARE reproducible. The same spell cast by different sorcerers, under the same circumstances, will have the same effect. Magic is reproducible enough to have named spells, tests, and even businesses built around specific magicks. And even under the control of a "class" of people, magic works in specific ways - or doesn't, in the sense that it can be taken away. It has elements of the Cleric as well, in that it seems to require a soul, and that sorcerers must be licensed by the Church.
Chakat Firepaw 15th Feb 2022, 5:14 PM edit delete reply
The existence of people without legs does not preclude the scientific study of how humans walk.
FieryVictoryStar 8th Feb 2022, 7:06 AM edit delete reply
Well the thing is that magic being opposed to or separated of science doesn't really work outside of fiction except in settings where magic is explicitly opposed to being figured out.
Because in the end science is just the word for our best methods to figure stuff out and make them public knowdelenge.
So like the more you take a setting seriously the more it makes sense to apply science.
Out of character "because the DM /rulebook said so" works and allows you to not worry too much about about things thar don't habe an answer cause the DM haven't though about it but in character not really.
Like if suddently people started being able to summon fireballs Irl by making certain gestures we would try to run experiments, figure out which gestures cause fireballs, in wich conditions, what are the fireballs made of etc.
We wouldn't be like welp, I guess reality doesn't make sense, let's stop trying to figure out (although some people would).

Theres no in universe reason to see magic as something in a different metaphysical category than for example electricity, even if they are diferent "genres" in story terms.

And wizards aren't like sorcerers, wizards are themathically supposed to know what they are doing to some extent, get their powers in part from reading books and being smart, so clearly it's not some thing where doing magic well is completely unrelated to knowdelenge about magic, or where magic is basically imposible to figure out.

And maybe it's basically like Irl alchemy and they don't really know what they are doing but they are still trying to figure out magic and have a nonzero amount of knowdelenge about it even if their theories and models are completely wrong.

Of course nothing forces you to think like that and you can just suspend your disbelief arround magic completely and diferent people play and enjoy fiction in diferent ways which are all valid.
But people who try to apply science to magic and like think a lot about the in universe implications of certain rules aren't doing something silly or nonsensical, just thinking about and enjoying stories in a different and perfectly coherent way.
GD 8th Feb 2022, 12:05 PM edit delete reply
I don't think it's nonsensical or wrong or anything. As I said, I'm prone to this way of thinking, too! I just find it funny to take a step back and go, "I'm really concerned for the mechanics behind turning a man into a frog."
King Marth 8th Feb 2022, 12:16 PM edit delete reply
To really do magic as something opposed to science, it would need to be a force that rejects being learned. I'm reminded of the Proton and Phase books where you can never cast the same spell twice, but even that is a consistent rule.

Take the old stories explaining lightning as divine wrath, and make a world where that's true. Magical forces act on their own whims, and wizards lock themselves away in hopes that peasants never figure out that the fireball was an accident that can't be produced on demand.
Chakat Firepaw 15th Feb 2022, 5:19 PM edit delete reply
One setting where "you can't really apply scientific study to magic" works is the webcomic El Goonish Shive. In there, Magic is itself an intelligent actor that has actively changed how things work in order to prevent too many people from using it.

(This has recently changed as Magic has been convinced that it would have to change constantly given advancements in technology.)
Digo 8th Feb 2022, 7:25 AM edit delete reply
There has to be some sort of magitific method to go on, or else how do spells get created?
rmsgrey 8th Feb 2022, 7:57 AM edit delete reply
One of the standard variations on Clarke's Third Law is "any sufficiently analysed magic is indistinguishable from technology". The more reliably magic works, and the more the setting/characters lean toward a scientific/industrial perspective, the more likely magic is to be treated as another technology rather than as something strange and wonderful.

While the series is, tragically, never going to be finished, I'd recommend checking out the Wizardry series by Rick Cook, starting with The Wiz Biz (an omnibus edition of the first two books, Wizards' Bane and The Wizardry Compiled) - the basic premise of the series is a world where magic works, with simple spells requiring little more than intention, but generally being almost useless, while spells that actually do something meaningful are finicky and require a natural attention to detail to stand a chance of casting successfully. With the evil wizards having gotten organised (thanks to one of their number having control of a near-unstoppable demon assassin), the responsible wizards are at a fatal disadvantage (having to account for side effects, they're more limited in what they can do, meaning their one advantage was that they were organised). As a desperation gambit, a wizard sacrifices his life to summon help from outside the world - getting a 90s Silicon Valley programmer with no discernable talent for magic, who realises that if you can arrange to cast a lot of weak, but robust, spells, their combined effect is going to equal a powerful spell without the same sensitivity to precise conditions - and that magic in this world allows the creation of what amounts to a programming language for a simple virtual machine.
Philadelphus 8th Feb 2022, 10:35 AM edit delete reply
I've read those books, they're great. Admittedly I haven't read further so I can't say if the "side effects" thing comes into play later, but in the first two books at least it's more that magic works like a programming language in this other world, but everybody there has basically only found out how to use it by the equivalent of someone who's never used a computer before figuring how things work. (They essentially know "Oh, if I press this button on this device attached to the computer, things happen on the screen!" and have worked out specific things, without the benefit of understanding the theory of what's happening behind it.) Once Wiz (the programmer protagonist of the first book) comes in, he's able to see what the inhabitants of the worlds cannot: the magic system as a whole because of his experience in computer programming (though to be fair it still takes him months and a ton of trial and error to get any sort of reliable spells working, it's just that he has the benefit of an underlying theory to work with).

I did like the pun that demons in the other world are essentially daemons.
Guest 8th Feb 2022, 4:42 PM edit delete reply
Yes, in the Wiz books, there's a spell for squeezing things. Compressing them. Applied to a glass of water, by someone from "our" world who knows physics, you get cheap, simple hydrogen fusion!
I never understood why Celestia worried about Equestria being invaded by foreign armies or magically powerful beings. Being able to drop the Sun onto an enemy qualifies you as a Nuclear Power.

I also recall a story in which an Amerindian tribe lands a US government contract to supply extremely sophisticated microchips. Their medicine man explains the secret: "Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology."
Guest 9th Feb 2022, 8:59 PM edit delete reply
"Being able to drop the Sun onto an enemy qualifies you as a Nuclear Power."

Are you familiar with the term 'Pyrrhic Victory'?
Guest 10th Feb 2022, 5:34 AM edit delete reply
Ruling alicorns seem to have extremely precise control. A brief exposure is all it takes to win. Doesn't "cost" anything and is no more disruptive elsewhere than the target area than a solar eclipse in "our" world, a few minutes of unexpected darkness. (Maybe psychologically rough since eclipses don't seem to occur in Equestria. See Asimov's "Nightfall".)
But I don't see any "pyrrhic" in that.
Sun and Moon are not just tiny lights in the sky. They're large, physical bodies. After all, Luna spent 1000 years exiled on one.

One of the funniest MLP cartoons I ever saw was of Applejack and Twilight arguing about the nature of the heavens. Their speech balloons contained only pictograms but the gist was clear. Applejack supported Newtonian mechanics, inverse-square gravitation, etc. Twilight ascribed it all to the whims of the Royal Sisters.
Guest 8th Feb 2022, 8:30 AM edit delete reply
"When at a late period the distinction between religion and superstition has emerged, we find that sacrifice and prayer are the resource of the pious and enlightened portion of the community, while magic is the refuge of the superstitious and ignorant. But when, still later, the conception of the elemental forces as personal agents is giving way to the recognition of natural law; then magic, based as it implicitly is on the idea of a necessary and invariable sequence of cause and effect, independent of personal will, reappears from the obscurity and discredit into which it had fallen, and by investigating the causal sequences in nature, directly prepares the way for science. Alchemy leads up to chemistry."

Frazer, _The_Golden_Bough_
Winged Cat 8th Feb 2022, 9:55 AM edit delete reply
Winged Cat
There exist games that are also lessons, Dash. Some of them can even be fun, if conducted well (though this is easy enough to fumble that some people incorrectly come to believe that learning can only be unfun).
Newbiespud 8th Feb 2022, 12:07 PM edit delete reply
My take is that, when you drill down to its core, quantifying magic is basically a nerdy power fantasy. It's an idea that this mystical, unknowable property of the universe can be understood and, more importantly, mastered. It'll give the one who understands best the most power and dominance over all, rendering all challengers pale before the magnificence and potency of their intellect.

Relying on a power you don't fully understand more than everyone else just isn't "alpha" enough. It sounds like asking for help, which - as we all know - is the ultimate form of weakness.
Guest 9th Feb 2022, 9:00 PM edit delete reply
The Virgin Cleric vs. the Chad Wizard
Eroraf 8th Feb 2022, 12:50 PM edit delete reply
Any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from science.

Unfortunately, as a scientist, I can confirm that even "sufficient analysis" still leaves more questions and uncertainties than I'm comfortable with. Hanle effect hurts my brain.
Anvildude 8th Feb 2022, 4:06 PM edit delete reply
See, to me, Magic's got LAWS, but it doesn't have RULES. (Well, sorta. It's got rules, too, but they're not that sort of rules.)

You've got the Law of Similarity. The Law of Contagion. The Law of Requirement. The Law of Precedent. And the Law of Expectation.

Similarity- Commonality is a mystical property that can be utilized or created.

Contagion- If two things should touch, forevermore shall they be linked.

Precedence- If magic has done something before, it is easier for it to do it again.

Expectation- the will of the caster affects the outcome of the spell.

Requirement- Everything has a cost.

These are things that I've determined based on in-universe and out-of-universe... I mean, it sounds weird to say 'studies of magic', but that's what it is. They seem to apply (broadly) to both real-world historical magical traditions, and to all of the fictional magical traditions and systems that I've found, in one way or another. Different systems have different focuses- FMA's Alchemy is very heavy on Requirement, for example, while D&D seems to rely on Precedence, and real-world magic tends to be about Contagion and Similarity- but they all seem to share those five Laws in one way or another.

Then you've got the Arithmatic Rules, which are perhaps not as universal but seem to be getting there.

One is Strong, Two Share, Three are Stable, Five have Power, Seven are Magical, Eleven Obfuscates, Thirteen is Unlucky.

But even then these aren't hard-and-fast formulas. There's no number crunching or whatnot. You're not measuring things in Thaums (usually) and solving for the thermal output of a Fireball. But there is a framework that needs to be accounted for,and I think that's what people are latching on to, even if they don't realize it.

Also, SCIENCE! is a process that can be applied to ANYTHING, magic included. So nyeh.
CHeighlund 8th Feb 2022, 6:34 PM edit delete reply
Based on where I've seen it invoked, I'm fairly sure that 'SCIENCE!' is just magic wearing a lab coat and goggles so it'll blend in better.
albedoequals1 8th Feb 2022, 6:41 PM edit delete reply
Wizards are just people who heard "knowledge is power" and decided to learn their way to world domination
Draxynnic 9th Feb 2022, 2:31 AM edit delete reply
Ultimately, it depends on how hard or soft your magic system is (and that's from the perspective of the setting, not the audience). In a hard magic setting, magic is essentially part of the (meta)physics of the setting, and could be studied like any other force: whether it feels like an art or a science is just a matter of how much knowledge the practitioners have. Think of the difference between an archer who has developed from experience a feel of what angle to fire at so the arrow reaches a specific distance and how to correct for wind, versus a computer on a modern artillery piece that collects meteorological data and calculates the precise angle to fire to hit the desired target. Both have the same underlying physics, but one is underpinned by genuine understanding, while the other is mostly repeating what worked before without really being able to express why.

Ian Irvine's Three World's series makes for an interesting scenario of magic going from mysticism to the power source of advanced technology.

However, if magic has irreproducible results, possibly because it has some sentience that chooses how to respond to invocations or because it's just so chaotic that results can't be repeated however carefully you reproduce the procedure, then it can't be analysed by scientific means.