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Past and Future

The problem with Sufficiently Advanced Technology[1] (and this is something I expect razorsmile to at least pick up on) is that nomenclature makes such a difference. Hell, it'd be reasonably trivial to remake, say, Accelerando as a high-fantasy novel purely by changing some of the nomenclature — the story, function, and even forms remain the same.

All that you need to change is the style[2] and the manner of description depending on who you're trying to sell the idea to. Generic fantasy stories are typically early Rennaisance-era with magic on the side. SF stories are the future with hypertech. The problem is, once the Californian school of shite trilogies had thoroughly battered Fantasy around the head, the historical bits were only there as scenery. This just makes things easier.

Example:

Otoba grabbed her jacket. The supercomputing exocortex within started beaming ideas, extermalising queries, and otherwise upgrading her intelligence to a level where she could function among what had become of human society.

Elandriel gathered her Thoughtstones close. The jewels whispered ideas into her mind, the intelligence and experience of a thousand sorcerers talking in a way only she could understand. Without them she was naked, alone, stammering through social interactions. With them, nothing could stand in her way.

Not the best of examples, but you get the idea.

This of course leads on to my latest train of thought. Why do fantasy RPGs limit themselves to predictable, base ideas for magic items? Why do SF RPGs never bother going further? Why do so few games, fantasy or SF, have a projectile-stopping gravity well? Why can I not enchant a suit of armour to do something a powersuit would find easy?

I'm probably just thinking about this so I can ignore being back at work.

[1]: Yes, wrt the quote.
[2]: Have I posted about that yet? I can't remember...

Comments

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purplerabbits
Sep. 14th, 2006 03:44 pm (UTC)
Because magical and technological items have a different narrative shape. We have an intuitive/cultural understanding of what is 'easy' magically and it's different to what is easy technologically. Many authors break this, but it often feels wrong. For instance the blurring suits in A Scanner Darkly are much more magical items as they effect people's perceptions, which magically is seen as easy (unless they are concentrating), whereas a suit that would actually make you look different would have to closely cover the curves of your body and would suck. Similarly a projectile stopping gravity well would be big magic, because magic has a hard time dealing with heavy weights (ask any ghost) whereas gravity walks it...
digitalraven
Sep. 14th, 2006 06:59 pm (UTC)
Because magical and technological items have a different narrative shape.

I agree. I just have no blasted clue why I agree, as my quasi-rational thought-experiments tell me otherwise.

To explain things: I'm mentioning this as an SF-thinker working on a fantasy RPG. Hence, I have to come up with things like magica suits of armour. And my first thought was "Why isn't there any decent magical armour in other FRPGs?" I mean, from the superheroes and SF side, we have fucking Iron Man. D&D? Nothing. Not even anything about adding a pistol-bow to the forearm, let alone having the whole thing hide in a backpack or be flight-capable.

For instance the blurring suits in A Scanner Darkly are much more magical items as they effect people's perceptions, which magically is seen as easy (unless they are concentrating), whereas a suit that would actually make you look different would have to closely cover the curves of your body and would suck.

I didn't like those blur-suits, because they were old tech. Current example: the suit displays patterns that generate a minor seizure in the pattern-recognition part of the brain, but only when focused upon. Infomantic invisibility.

Similarly a projectile stopping gravity well would be big magic, because magic has a hard time dealing with heavy weights (ask any ghost) whereas gravity walks it...

The silly thing there is that the Gravity Well is effectively just a Fail Weapons spell (at least for ranged weapons). SFly it's harder to justify.

There's a narrative shape to magic and a narrative shape to tech. I just don't know why they have those shapes, and I don't know how much damage I'd be doing to have a modern fantasy RPG where you can have a suit of superheavy plate suitable for re-entry...
purplerabbits
Sep. 14th, 2006 10:17 pm (UTC)
I don't know about magical armour, but magically you could easily turn a suit of platemail into a golem like creature, which would be super strong. Of course you wouldn't want to be in it at the time...


This is a topic we should discuss in a pub at some point.
ebon_phoenix
Sep. 14th, 2006 04:12 pm (UTC)
There was a rather interesting issue of Dragon Magazine about 4 years ago that featured combined technology/magical items.

It had some really horrifying ideas for a jump jet with invisibility, and cannons that included portals to close orbits of the nearest sun. The cannons fired the ammo, which then vaporized into molton slag and increased to high velocity, and then emerged from another gate at the end of the barrel.

It's not always that such inventions are uncommon, it's just that they seem to be copied quite quickly by everyone under the sun :/
digitalraven
Sep. 14th, 2006 07:01 pm (UTC)
You don't need ammo if you can open portals to the photosphere of a star. Just let the stellar atmosphere do what it does best: being really fucking hot.

For more, see Charlie Stross' Glasshouse.

But see my post in reply to purplerabbits for more about what I was really meaning.
mythdude
Sep. 14th, 2006 11:14 pm (UTC)
YOur icon is awesome. :)
mythdude
Sep. 14th, 2006 11:13 pm (UTC)
Well, one problem with creating more powerful objects is that you create the God effect, where the game becomes more extreme. If you only have a suit of armor that is tougher than should physically be possible (+1 or whatever), then that is still something that can be breached. The game does not become impossible when you face someone wearing it, nor does it become ludicrously easy as if someone cna't hurt you.

Projectile-stopping gravity wells would require an equal level of technology to beat. That sort of thing can make the game into Star Trek, which a lot of people might not be a fan of. Since most people aren't used to it, the idea of playing a game with super technology might seem too far out there.

This might not be what you're talking about, but have you read the graphic novel Red Star? :) It combines a modern society with high magic. Floating battleships with weaponry powered by kasters converting their own bodies into massive energy bursts and back again.
digitalraven
Sep. 15th, 2006 12:11 pm (UTC)
Projectile-stopping gravity wells would require an equal level of technology to beat.

In the context I'm talking about, an arms race isn't a bad/worst case outcome.

Fuck the high-tech. Why do we see fantasy races (Dark Elves in Warhammer) with both magical armour (equiv. of power armour) and equiv. machine guns (repeater crossbows), yet nobody's had the brainstorm of mounting one to the other? In SF, anyone who doesn't do that is considered silly, it's an obvious next step. The wearer can carry a ranged weapon while having full manipulatory appendage use from both arms. In fantasy, where holding swords/spears/glaives is more important, the thing that would make it easier is thought to be impossible.

Maybe fantasy's just written by dicks.
mythdude
Sep. 15th, 2006 02:33 pm (UTC)
Hmm, Iron Kingdom is similar to that, where some people mount on weapons to their armors. (Although we're talking the more heavily armored people like the Man o War's, which are rare.)

I wouldn't call fantasy writers dicks though. Like I said before, most people dream about stuff that theyy like and have seen before. It only makes sense that some people would repeat the same thing over and over.

I'm really interested though, in whether you're going to build up on this idea. I think it would have definite potential.
coaldustcanary
Sep. 15th, 2006 01:23 am (UTC)
This of course leads on to my latest train of thought. Why do fantasy RPGs limit themselves to predictable, base ideas for magic items?

I think of all the various fiction genres, fantasy readers demand the most in terms of Sticking To The Script. The fantasy story narrative was basically set with Tolkein and, quite frankly, all of the most successful fantasy stories have basically copied that formula, drawing on the same early European mythologies with the same rough ideas about what's possible with magic and why, how, and when magic is used.

And really, when I pick up an epic fantasy novel (or trilogy, really) I don't expect anything other than The Lord of the Rings with a slightly different spin. And hence you get Dragonlance and the Wheel of Time and A Song of Ice and Fire - all incredibly popular variations of roughly the same story, not just in terms of plot but in all of the trappings as well.

The answer to "why" is because "it is what sells", when it comes down to it. Comfort in familiarity.
digitalraven
Sep. 15th, 2006 12:15 pm (UTC)
Your reasonings work for fantasy fiction, but fantasy RPGs already trash that trend.

Fiction generally involves one-five Bigass Magical Items. By Leven 10 or so, D&D characters are likely to have more magical items, all of which show about the same level of imagination that we normally observe in a slime-mold. Armour of Safety +4 and stupid shit like that.

Fuckit. I've got a race born from the development of technologies. If I can't break FRPG conventions I ain't doing things right.
coaldustcanary
Sep. 16th, 2006 06:32 am (UTC)
You're right, I didn't phrase that very well for this particular discussion, as I was thinking more of my own mix of preferences and peeves. But I still believe the general chain of non-logic applies.

Replace "fantasy story" with "fantasy RPG" and "Tolkien" with "Dungeons & Dragons" and it still basically holds true. Look at MMOs - same deal. You'd think with the many fascinating possibilities available the games would look different from one another, but when it comes down to it, the mechanics of EQ, WoW, Lineage, and all the rest are nearly identical. Levels, armor with "points", magic items of gradually increasing powers, yadda fucking yadda. It took me 6 years to become thoroughly bored with those games, and I'm not stupid. I know people cleverer than me who still enjoy them thoroughly. So there must be something appealing about the forumula.
razorsmile
Oct. 16th, 2006 12:52 am (UTC)
First off, I'm trying to figure how I missed this post; it's not just right up my alley, it practically is my alley.

Otoba and Elandriel

Nomenclature is extremely important, but it's more than that. What it comes down to is a question of mentality and attitude. Fantasy (with the rare exception of the Wiz Zumwalt series) appears to treat magic as a black box. It is grand and numinous and "beyond mortal ken." Yet, paradoxically, it is intensely individual.
Learn the Crimson Bands of Cytorrak, do the Crimson Bands of Cytorrak. There's no option for stripping it down to component parts, figuring out how it works (and why), reassembling it in a more energy-efficient or inverse-functioning manner and so forth.

Science fiction (even the pre/post-singularity kind) treats nature and (super)tech as solveable, manipulable and replicable.

Why do fantasy RPGs limit themselves to predictable, base ideas for magic items? Why do SF RPGs never bother going further? Why do so few games, fantasy or SF, have a projectile-stopping gravity well? Why can I not enchant a suit of armour to do something a powersuit would find easy?

A gravity well strong enough to divert bullets or even arrows would be extremely costly power-wise, if we're using scifi. On the magic front, it simply never seems to occur to them - the characters or the writers - for the same reasons as above.
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