A discussion on magic, technology, and their properties and interactions.

Iron Gods

Shadow Lodge

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Time for a discussion on technology and magic and the way things work in the universe as a whole. I want to keep things streamlined if possible for my campaign, but I also want for there to be an overarching sense that this all works under some universal principles. Just answering "because it's magic" seems to be an easy out that makes for more loopholes than it does for actual constructive thought. I don't need a thesis for why things work but an overall sense that they do so I can say when things don't work and point to reasons.

The first conundrum I find is the idea of combining them side by side to make infinite energy. Although expensive permanent magical effects allow for a number of ways of creating an infinite supply of energy. Portals are the biggest offenders here but other permanent effects (especially those that create energy) are just as easily at fault. The skymetal Siccatite also plays a role in this as it's constant output of energy allows for a very similar effect. Abyssium doesn't have this issue simply because it is a radioactive substance and we understand how that works. It decays and eventually ends, Siccatite does not. If Siccatite simply moves energy From cold to hot through some quantum entanglement principle, it is less of a conundrum as it is still technically conserving energy to do so. so what then of portals and spells? The way I am going to resolve this is simply by taking a page out of Final Fantasy 7's book and using mana and ley lines. For the most part we can hand wave magical energy as being like solar energy, nigh infinite and constantly produced and distributed to a planet. This only causes issues when to much is used, or we deal with the what if of space, but more on that a little later.

Next we talk about pure technology mimicking magic, and the opposite. This is a case where I think some help can be given to making technology more important and better in some respects than magic. The first rule is high level tech is more available than magic for use by common folk, this makes technology seem more powerful since it is easier for everyone to use (think a wand versus a gun). The other boost I feel technology needs is a way to make it different than magic in what it can do and how easily it does things. To do this I think we should first look at what magic does that science has a real problem with, teleportation and telekinesis. Magic is able to move objects (either instantaneously or through use of force effects) much easier than technology is. This leads me to believe that magic is an underlying quantum thing that gives access to an energy that is much more efficient and easy to use to manipulate things on a quantum scale to create these effects. So what is science better at? Science is better at divination and calculation. whereas it takes a very large expenditure of energy to determine an objects properties with magic, science expends very little to determine these things. As long as you keep this dichotomy in mind, both magic and technology serve different paths to the same end goal. Both can do things (sometimes in the same way, sometimes different) but have a different method that still fits the world.

The last and possible most powerful situation is a society advanced in both science and magic. A society that has advanced them side by side far enough to integrate the principles of the two is awe inspiring indeed. The scientific principles and understanding here would cause the largest shift of effects as the efficiency of using the better method appropriately for the desired effects would cause them to be able to do things on an even larger scale. Sometimes magic and tech don't have to be different at all, sometimes they become the same thing. This kind of society is unlikely to develop however, as most seem to be drawn towards one end of the spectrum or the other, where Golarion is magic centric and does most of its awe inspiring feats through the use of phenomenal cosmic powers; Earth is technology centric, using science to fuel its growth and expansion. This appears to be an effect of which is discovered first and used more in the beginning as an easier method to do things. When magic is easily available it flourishes and tech falls by the wayside, and when technology is used it is so easily accessible that magic seems like a step backwards as it is harder to use than the simple uses and advancement of science.

As for balance a couple of things to remember.
1. Conserve energy! This is a principle that should be followed so that it all stays equal. If magic is an energy that can be conserved and used, then all the other principles we understand fall in line. Even if it seems like a better if harder to manipulate kind of energy.
2. Don't sweat the little stuff. Sure space is huge and empty and without much magic or energy but what you bring with you, but it also has very little drawing on that energy so magic in space works fine! Don't over complicate the rules; just hand wave it so that it works the way you need it to unless the situation becomes truly extraordinary.
3. Remind your players of how silly they are being when trying to break the rules. They built an infinite enrgy turbine using magic and technology for a huge sum of money and now have infinite free energy. Too bad for a fraction of the cost they could have simply built a dam and a waterwheel and had the money left over to use the energy for something...

That's what I have for now, I hope to get at least a few comments on this and would love to discuss it. I hope it came out in a way that make sense and would love to answer questions about any of the above.

I use a lot of material in my games and as such crashed into the magic-technology interaction dilemma fairly recently. Although I am still working out the finer kinks of how fireballs and lasers are different I came upon an interesting solution in a sourcebook for 3.5 called the Fantastic Science (a great read). Essentially the book offers the concept (and rules) that technology is derived from working within the laws of physics, while meanwhile magic, specifically the arcane, functions by breaking physics for a short time to achieve a flashy effect.

Because of this concept magic suspends the rules that advanced technology runs off of and causes it to malfunction. In my games this makes it rather hard then to merge rather complex technology with magic.

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