Amateur game designer seeking help on explaining magic

Discussion in 'SciFi & Fantasy' started by Jadebrain_Prime, Aug 14, 2013.

  1. Jadebrain_Prime Atheist now Registered Senior Member

    Hello! As the title suggests, I'm making my own game. To be more specific, it's a pen-and-paper system set in a fantasy universe. However, I am not content to have an "anything goes" mindset when considering how the universe in the game works; I want it to have a consistent and explained set of physical laws to account for the fantastic elements of the game. That said...

    To explain magic, so far I have the idea that the use of magic involves "arcane energy," a by-product of reactions involving "Qi," or "life energy" (much like how Thermal Energy is given off as waste when other forms of energy are used in real life). This arcane energy is then stored in and around the brain of a creature, where it "receives instructions" in the form of the various processes in the brain. To clarify, these "instructions" can be given by thinking certain thoughts, but the thoughts themselves are not the instructions. The "instructions" are sort of similar to a computer language in function in that they're rather complex and require combination in order to use effectively; for example, where in other settings there is single step to create and throw a fireball, my setting will have an "allocate arcane energy to act as fuel" instruction, followed by an "increase heat" instruction (which would need to produce enough heat to ignite the fuel), followed by a "move fuel to target" instruction, with optional additional instructions for further effects. Also, to use spells effectively, one would have to have knowledge of how things work in a general sense; in other words, magic is merely a tool to apply knowledge of science.

    The problem I'm having, though, is actually determining and visualizing the physical manifestation of the arcane energy itself. For a long time I've struggled to find an explanation of energy beyond variations of "the ability to work," and so I have little idea of what the physical manifestation of energy actually is. Recently, however, I came up with an idea which would hopefully allow me to at least work around my lack of knowledge: that the universe of the setting actually has multiple parallel "layers" of space-time, and these "layers" allow one to work around the physical restriction that two things can't exist in the same location at the same time. With that, there could be a layer which there would be a plasma-like material that would serve to contain the arcane energy (and there'd be another layer for qi as well), and where in the observable layer of space-time there would be the brain of a living person, in that same spot in the "arcane" layer there would be the plasma containing the arcane energy that the creature would use to power a spell. However, given my lack of knowledge I am unsure of the plausibility of such an idea.

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  3. spidergoat Venued Serial Membership Valued Senior Member

    Why not use a special particle? Everything is particles and space. You could use something like Star Trek's "Omega" particle, a perfect structure containing almost unlimited energy.
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  5. Stryder Keeper of "good" ideas. Valued Senior Member

    What you appear to be struggling with is the difference between Fantasy and Science-Fiction. Science Fiction attempts to adopt loosely based adaption's of scientific principles to create a fictional world.

    True scifi fan's will elaborate and explore any "feasibility" of such adaptions, you can see this in the Star Trek vs Star Wars thread (albeit I'd label Star War's more "Fantasy" from the usage of knights, light saber's, "The Force"™ and good vs. bad plotlining)

    "Magic" is usually seen as the Occult, which in turn falls into the "Fantasy" bracket. Magic doesn't need a thorough explanation, after all that is what Magic symbolises, something old and likely not fully understood because to understand it would likely split you asunder.

    (The same method is used to convey fictional ghosts or aliens, explaining too much in a backlog doesn't allow the reader or protagonist to make up their own minds about what they have seen or heard, which also happens to be a major part of the "Horror" genre, after all it's not really about the waterpipe getting water hammer and creating a bump in the night, while the mundane might be used to create a false scene, it's really about the axe murdering psychopath that's recently escaped from the local looney-bin, with the history of breaking and entering in the middle of the night and decapitating the owner(s) of the house while they sleep).

    "Scifi" on the other-hand tries to keep certain Core facts with some distortions based upon pseudo-scientific interpretation. In the case of Star Trek you'll find over the years a number of scientific entries have made their way in, where-by the writers have used pop. science articles to add into the universe or develop plotlines around. A good example here is: The Heisenberg Compensator

    As also quoted on that page:
    As for "Plausibility", was "Harry Potter" plausible? (and if it wasn't "did it matter?")
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  7. Kittamaru Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Adieu, Sciforums. Valued Senior Member

    Well, don't forget Stryder: To an uneducated or "primitive" society, any sufficiently advanced technology could be considered "magic"... imagine if someone from our era arrived in, say, midevil Britain with a Harrier Jump Jet, for instance.
  8. Stryder Keeper of "good" ideas. Valued Senior Member

    Indeed Kittamaru, although it would be a bit of a fad, unless of course you know how to make fuel for a jump jet, otherwise the magic dies :/ (or drops out the sky)
  9. Jadebrain_Prime Atheist now Registered Senior Member

    Granted, my knowledge of particles and how they work is limited to what I learned in the entry-level technical college physics course I actually just finished yesterday... I was kind of thinking that that's what the "plasma" I mentioned in the first post would be like.

    So what you're saying is that my setting is, going strictly by definition alone, a sci-fi setting? That'd be hard to explain to players...

    "Yeah, it's a sci-fi game... No, it takes place on only one planet where most people still fight with swords, spells and the like, but it's not fantasy, it's sci-fi... What's so hard to understand? Why are you sighing so heavily?"

    Granted, there is a part of the world that has developed steampunk-type technology, and in that part of the world, there's a much smaller faction with significantly more advanced technology (albeit still with steampunk style), but they developed their technology mostly because, due to an atmospheric anomaly using up most of the energy, magic use is significantly weakened, and technology was a good (albeit expensive to use) substitute.

    As for the rest of the world, use of magic is limited because of the sheer amount of effort and education required to learn how to use it. There is a form of "untrained" magic called Sorcery (as opposed to Wizardry, the "trained" magic), but even that is merely trading most of the effort going into education for the effort required to develop a hardy body, since sorcery is quite dangerous to the user (it's basically "think some magic thoughts and hope the thing you don't like explodes")

    And yes, I know that science-based magic is, by definition, a form of technology, but I'll still refer to them with the terms I've already used out of convenience.
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2013
  10. kwhilborn Banned Banned

    My favorite is Robert Jordans version where the gifted few (Aes Sedai who have levels of attunement) can take create strands of invisible magic and create different weaves for varying purposes. One person with these abilities could teach another how to create a "eavesdropping" weave or some such thing. They could see the weaves in the air.

    Better description here

    I am not sure if this idea was original with him, but it is interesting.

  11. Jadebrain_Prime Atheist now Registered Senior Member

    It doesn't look like this is quite what I was going for. See, I'm trying to make a system of magic that is defined by the natural physical laws of the universe in my game's setting; that is, I'm looking to define how and why the magic works, rather than merely explain what it does.

    I'm assuming you didn't bother reading my original post; to summarize, magic is manifested in the form of Arcane Energy, which reacts to certain types of processes in our brain (the physical manifestations of some of our thoughts) in a way that produces an effect. Certain thoughts trigger certain effects, though to use magic effectively, you have to know what to order the Arcane Energy to do. For example, you can't just "make fire," you have to make the conditions necessary for a fire to exist naturally.

    What I'm having trouble with is actually determining things such as the medium that Arcane Energy is stored in, as well as any other details relevant to the nature of Arcane Energy.
  12. kwhilborn Banned Banned

    Maybe your arcane energy could be as simple as electricity in the air, but altering it from electricity. Maybe the energy needs fresh air sources? With Fantasy/Sci-Fi you can make up a lot.

    Two things can exist in the same spot in a way. Certain solid metals can absorb certain gases, but I understand your point.

    If you want it to appear as part of nature than it should have a cycle. From its absorption, heating, and use of the fireball to its destruction and return to a depleted power and a description of how your energy renews. Like a cycle of Photosynthesis, or rain cycle.

    good luck.

    You are dealing with magic that does not exist, so you obviously must go outside of facts.
  13. Balerion Banned Banned

    I don't know why you're bothering. Avoiding the "anything goes" dilemma is as simple as setting clear limits to the magic usage. Besides, keeping the origins of magic mysterious makes it fun for the people following the lore.
  14. Jadebrain_Prime Atheist now Registered Senior Member

    Well, I did have an idea for an energy called "ether," which is basically energy in its purest, most useless form, and which turns into different forms of energy under certain circumstances. After a sufficiently long time of those circumstances no longer being in place, other forms of energy would "decay" back into ether.

    I want a setting wherein the universe has an internally consistent set of natural laws. If that's not good enough, then defining the laws regarding magic will help me define those limits to what magic can do, so there's that.
  15. kwhilborn Banned Banned

    One last quick idea. You can rename it or bend the concepts a bit, but the Qi/Prana (life force) energies have well established rules that fit within our accepted realities. I doubt many on sciforums will admit there is Qi/Prana Energy though so suggest you look elsewhere for its operating systems. The idea of inhaling through the nose is good in meditation as it provides oxygen directly to the brain, etc.

    I think you could use all the descriptive laws surrounding Chi itself (Qi) and be pretty much on your way.
  16. sjwt Registered Member

    All I can suggest is one of the biggest tips I've read around was from Larry Niven and it was the most important part of any such system is not the clear definition of what it can do, but rather a clear definition of what it can't do, its limits.
  17. Jadebrain_Prime Atheist now Registered Senior Member

    Well, the purpose of this thread wasn't to help me do either of those things. The purpose of this thread was to help me define how and why magic would work at all; only after that would the capabilities and limits of magic be defined.

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