Spaceships and Magic


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


Back in the days of D&D 3.0 there was a game called Dragonstar, a setting for D&D that took place in a globular cluster with star travel, a place with both magic and high technology. A place with some worlds inhabited by a single race, and others by a mix of races...an Empire ruled by Dragons.

Now, I always thought the concept was good, and I think it could be done with Pathfinder, especially if you use the new Technology Guide.

By my thinking though, a scientific culture would not tend to use the Disorganized and Unscientific approach to magic found in most Wizards.

Fortunately Ultimate Magic presented an alternative, the Words of Power System. Now to me, that looks a lot more like a scientific approach to magic, but you still have the problem of Wizards forgetting their spells and sorcerers being unable to learn new spells easily. Neither of these seems like something you would want in an "Imperial Magic Corps".

Well now we have the Arcanist, from the Advanced Class Guide. A class that learns spells like a Wizard, but uses them like a Sorcerer. That seems perfect.

The only problem is, there are still thinks that can not be done with Words of Power. I was wondering a couple of things. Has anyone added any new words of power since Ultimate Magic, and has anyone figured out what kinds of words of power classes that came after Ultimate Magic might have?

Liberty's Edge

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The way I envision Preparation spellcasters, it's not that they "forget" their spells. It's that the spells are actually things that exist independently of the spellcaster. Each spell is actually a metaphysical "construct" of arcane or divine energies that the Preparation spellcaster "builds" during their prep period, upon which they remain with them in a state of quantum semi-existence.

When a Wizard or Cleric casts a spell, they actually trigger the spell construct, causing it to expend itself as it produces the desired effect.

The thaumatological calculations required to construct a spell are so complex, however, that it is next to impossible for most people to memorize them entirely. Thus, Wizards keep their spellbooks around for reference, while Divine spellcasters rely on their divine patrons to do the "heavy lifting" in that respect.

A spontaneous spellcaster, meanwhile, instinctively learns how to manipulate arcane energies to construct spell effects on the fly, but at the cost of reduced versatility due to not actually studying the basic principles of Magic.

And I fail to see how the standard Wizard is "Disorganized and Unscientific". As I've pointed out, if you view Wizard Spellcasting as "creating a spell construct based on established equations and schematics", then the Wizard comes off much more like a magical engineer.


I like the EN Publishing approach to Sci-Fi Pathfinder using the Santiago setting. Although it doesn't have specific rules for space ships and space travel, the way it treats magic as code instead of spells, with wizards essentially being code-writers and tech devices as encoded devices. For all intents and purposes magic items and spells aren't changed at all, rather different perceptions in how they work is the difference.


Just for information, if you should happen to read the Ethshar novels by Lawrence Watts-Evans, their Wizards use magic very similar to D&D magic, and in that setting they consider it CHAOS magic. Sorcerers use LAW magic, but we know little about them except they require a lot of mathematical calculations to do their magic.

The reason I consider Wizard Magic as "Chaotic and Unorganized" could be a leftover from my knowledge of where the magic system originally came from...namely it was based on the magic of Jack Vance's Dying Earth Series.

The idea of having each spell being a construct is not bad, but the time it would take to build a construct spells would, logically, have to grow with the number and complexity of the spells known, rather tan taking a constant time to learn spells for the day.

I might have to look up the Santiago setting.


I liked 2nd Edition's Spelljammer. The Golarion universe doesn't work for it, but I liked the way Spelljammer worked and it was fun to play. It wasn't spaceships and magic, but it was sailing ships and magic.


Pathfinder Companion, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Well, the "construct" notion is actually more or less correct for wizards. To quote the Magic section of the Core Rulebook, under Preparing Wizard Spells...

Core Rulebook wrote:
Prepared Spell Retention: Once a wizard prepares a spell, it remains in his mind as a nearly cast spell until he uses the prescribed components to complete and trigger it or until he abandons it. Certain other events, such as the effects of magic items or special attacks from monsters, can wipe a prepared spell from a character's mind.

So, rather than forgetting spells, as was originally the case, they simply cast most of their spells beforehand, and simply trigger it, completing the spell in a much shorter amount of time.

Not that I'm objecting to any of your concepts, I think arcanists fit very well, but that is the way it works. I imagine that the fact that the time it takes to prepare all those spells not increasing with the number of spells is primarily a handwave...it might be more realistic, but given it takes a 1st level wizard an hour to prepare four to six spells (or fifteen minutes to prepare a single spell), it would take a 20th level wizard probably at least eight hours to prepare all their spells, on top of the eight hours of rest necessary. I'm sure you can imagine how this might disrupt play...the Fast Study arcane discovery would go from 'useful' to 'mandatory'. Flavor-wise, you could simply say that wizards can prepare multiple spells simultaneously, even using them to build off of each other, and growing progressively more efficient at doing so...which doesn't change the necessary fifteen minutes beforehand of entering the correct state of mind (barring Fast Study).

I've read the Ethshar books, and like them quite a lot (particularly the varied magic system), but while their version of wizardry is somewhat similar to D&D wizardry, it doesn't follow that D&D wizardry thus works like Ethshar wizardry...cause and effect likely works the other way, I believe. Not that there's anything wrong with choosing it (or, indeed, Jack Vance's original version) as inspiration for your own setting, but it's far from obligatory. AS you noted, in Ethshar, sorcerers are far more like Eberron artificers, working exclusively through clever tools and harnessing the power of order, and theurges work quite differently than clerics do...and I'd say their witches are most like psions or something similar! A very fun setting, in my opinion...

Anyways, back on topic, Paizo themselves haven't supplemented the Words of Power magic system (sadly), but a few third party publishers have, if you're interested.

Book of Magic: 10 Undead Spell Words, by Jon Brazer Enterprises
Words of Power Unleashed, by Interjection Games.

Not a lot, alas. You might also consider Dreamscarred Press' take on psionics for a somewhat more science fiction-ish approach to magic.


If magic existed, and the world or culture in question had adopted the scientific method, magic would be a science. After all, science seeks to explore and categorize nature, and if magic existed, it would be a part of nature.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Dragonstar put Sorcerers above Wizards in the social ladder for the purely political reason that Dragons are sorcerers themselves, and saw Wizards as upstarts looking to master what they were not entitled to by birth. Nevertheless their utility and necessity in adapting magic to bypass the limits of technology, meant that they were tolerated as a necessary evil.

Politics determined many aspects of the Dragon Empire even if logic might suggest another way, much like our own world.


pickin_grinnin wrote:
If magic existed, and the world or culture in question had adopted the scientific method, magic would be a science. After all, science seeks to explore and categorize nature, and if magic existed, it would be a part of nature.

Unless magic isn't a part of nature and/or doesn't work by rational rules that can be understood using the scientific method.


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Getting to space in a world of magic is easy.

Any shmuck with boots of levitate and an amulet of adaptation and a lot of free time can get to space. Re-entry might be more difficult though. There are obviously better ways to get to space, but when one can tell physics to sit down and shut up it's much easier than in our physics-heavy reality.


JoeJ wrote:
pickin_grinnin wrote:
If magic existed, and the world or culture in question had adopted the scientific method, magic would be a science. After all, science seeks to explore and categorize nature, and if magic existed, it would be a part of nature.

Unless magic isn't a part of nature and/or doesn't work by rational rules that can be understood using the scientific method.

That's not how the scientific method works.

An irrational, no-rules paradigm is a fundamentally unreliable paradigm. No one would use magic because it wouldn't work in the first place, things would just happen for no reason and the greatest sorcerer in the land would be a dirt farmer who had never cast a spell before.

Shadow Lodge

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How can you farm dirt, it's everywhere?
If he could survive selling dirt to people he might be a powerful sorcerer indeed!

The Exchange

Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Charter Superscriber

But its not unreliable, barring places like the mama wilds. This person does these things and gets this effect.

Just because you can't see how the cause is creating the effect, doesn't mean you can't draw conclusions based off of it.

And then there are spells like detect magic and arcane sight, that do let you see the magic working, and you can learn what kind of magic it is by observing it.

Maybe with these spells and the right knowledge, you could begin to understand the how and why of magic.


Nathan Nasif wrote:

But its not unreliable, barring places like the mama wilds. This person does these things and gets this effect.

Just because you can't see how the cause is creating the effect, doesn't mean you can't draw conclusions based off of it.

And then there are spells like detect magic and arcane sight, that do let you see the magic working, and you can learn what kind of magic it is by observing it.

Maybe with these spells and the right knowledge, you could begin to understand the how and why of magic.

That's how PF magic works.

It's not universal. Magic from other sources works in different ways, some more or less analyzable by the scientific method. Magic done through intermediaries, such as various capricious spirits or by beseeching deities, who may or may not grant prayers according to their own motives - and may at times act with such prayers. Magic based on will and emotion, making it far less repeatable than that based on saying the correct words and making the correct gestures.

Edit: For a high tech and high magic game, I'd opt for one or the other extreme: Either merge magic and tech, so that magic works by reproducible and analyzable means and have technomancy and magitech all intertwined, or have magic work differently and resist scientific analysis.

As another afterthought, there are also paradigms where the two are directly incompatible. Where magic makes high technology malfunction or the tech drives out the magic.

Liberty's Edge

thejeff wrote:

That's how PF magic works.

It's not universal. Magic from other sources works in different ways, some more or less analyzable by the scientific method. Magic done through intermediaries, such as various capricious spirits or by beseeching deities, who may or may not grant prayers according to their own motives - and may at times act with such prayers. Magic based on will and emotion, making it far less repeatable than that based on saying the correct words and making the correct gestures.

Every Magic system, barring Chaos Magic, tends to operate by a set of consistent, immutable rules. In the case of PF Vancian Arcane Magic, it's simply "Prepare a spell construct according to this formula, then activate it with these Components, and you produce the desired effect."

A Fireball spell remains a Fireball spell, whether it is produced by a Cheliax Academic Wizard, an Orc War Shaman, or an Elven High Enchanter. The only difference being their respective levels, representing how much mastery they have of their art, allowing them to produced improved versions of the spell effect.

Even Sorcerors, despite their innate gifts, find themselves mimicking Wizards when it comes to actually using their spells.


lonewolf23k wrote:
thejeff wrote:

That's how PF magic works.

It's not universal. Magic from other sources works in different ways, some more or less analyzable by the scientific method. Magic done through intermediaries, such as various capricious spirits or by beseeching deities, who may or may not grant prayers according to their own motives - and may at times act with such prayers. Magic based on will and emotion, making it far less repeatable than that based on saying the correct words and making the correct gestures.

Every Magic system, barring Chaos Magic, tends to operate by a set of consistent, immutable rules. In the case of PF Vancian Arcane Magic, it's simply "Prepare a spell construct according to this formula, then activate it with these Components, and you produce the desired effect."

A Fireball spell remains a Fireball spell, whether it is produced by a Cheliax Academic Wizard, an Orc War Shaman, or an Elven High Enchanter. The only difference being their respective levels, representing how much mastery they have of their art, allowing them to produced improved versions of the spell effect.

Even Sorcerors, despite their innate gifts, find themselves mimicking Wizards when it comes to actually using their spells.

Every Pathfinder Magic System. Every D&D magic system. Even most RPG magic systems, certainly all rules heavy RPG magic systems.

Not all conceivable magic systems. Not all magic systems in fantasy genre works or in myth and legend. Not even all RPG magic systems.


"Science is a way of talking about the universe in words that bind it to a common reality. Magic is a method of talking to the universe in words that it cannot ignore. The two are rarely compatible." - Neil Gaiman, The Books of Magic.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
JoeJ wrote:

"Science is a way of talking about the universe in words that bind it to a common reality. Magic is a method of talking to the universe in words that it cannot ignore. The two are rarely compatible." - Neil Gaiman, The Books of Magic.

What most people forget to realize is that D+D magic is not really written in a classic fantasy style, which puts far more whimsy and/or horror into magic itself. They take D20's miniature war-gaming process of magic, and assume that it's built on a fantasy tradition, when in truth, that couldn't be farther from it. D+D and Pathfinder magic is based on affecting counters in a miniature war-game. While some of that magic does vary from the paradigm, that paradigm is the foundation of D+D magic. It's Vancian nature is merely the means of execution.


LazarX wrote:
JoeJ wrote:

"Science is a way of talking about the universe in words that bind it to a common reality. Magic is a method of talking to the universe in words that it cannot ignore. The two are rarely compatible." - Neil Gaiman, The Books of Magic.

What most people forget to realize is that D+D magic is not really written in a classic fantasy style, which puts far more whimsy and/or horror into magic itself. They take D20's miniature war-gaming process of magic, and assume that it's built on a fantasy tradition, when in truth, that couldn't be farther from it. D+D and Pathfinder magic is based on affecting counters in a miniature war-game. While some of that magic does vary from the paradigm, that paradigm is the foundation of D+D magic. It's Vancian nature is merely the means of execution.

That's certainly true. And is probably almost a necessary part of having a hard codified set of rules. If the game has a codified set of rules that predicts what will happen, magic within the game must also have a hard codified set of rules that predicts what will happen. It will however not necessarily be complete.


I mentioned EN Publishing's Santiago setting and AP, but what I like most about it is neither the setting, nor the AP, but the simple idea that everything "magic" in Pathfinder is reskinned as technology.

From the Santiago Players Guide:
It is Pathfinder “reskinned” - there’s nothing new, it’s exactly the same rules you’re used to (well, some updated classes and feats), but with a sci-fi flavor attached. Here are a few examples: Magic Items are referred to as tech-enhanced items, or simply technology. Arcane and Divine spells are referred to as technical procedures. Potions are replaced by injections and pills which have the same effect. Common items such as sunrods become plasma rods. Some skills are renamed – For example, Knowledge (Arcana) is called Knowledge (Technology) and Knowledge (Planes) is called Knowledge (Astronomy), etc.

Heal spells become injected releases of nanobots that repair your physical damage, or does the job of restoration. You might need to add tech-enhanced rifles and pistols, with less dependancy on melee combat (but that doesn't have to go away either.) This way you don't have to invent technology as something different than magic. This just replaces magic with technology, but all the existing magic mechanics are kept as is, you simply look at it differently.

Then if you really need magic as well as technology, just import Dreamscarred Press Psionics and have that fill the magic niche, since magic is now technology. It really simplifies things and works solidly as a true Sci-Fi PF game, without getting overly complex.


gamer-printer wrote:

I mentioned EN Publishing's Santiago setting and AP, but what I like most about it is neither the setting, nor the AP, but the simple idea that everything "magic" in Pathfinder is reskinned as technology.

From the Santiago Players Guide:
It is Pathfinder “reskinned” - there’s nothing new, it’s exactly the same rules you’re used to (well, some updated classes and feats), but with a sci-fi flavor attached. Here are a few examples: Magic Items are referred to as tech-enhanced items, or simply technology. Arcane and Divine spells are referred to as technical procedures. Potions are replaced by injections and pills which have the same effect. Common items such as sunrods become plasma rods. Some skills are renamed – For example, Knowledge (Arcana) is called Knowledge (Technology) and Knowledge (Planes) is called Knowledge (Astronomy), etc.

This way you don't have to invent technology as something different than magic. This just replaces magic with technology, but all the existing magic mechanics are kept as is, you simply look at it differently.

Then if you really need magic as well as technology, just import Dreamscarred Press Psionics and have that fill the magic niche, since magic is now technology. It really simplifies things and works solidly as a true Sci-Fi PF game.

I haven't read it, but how is that even justified. What's the "technical procedure" that lets me wave my hands and say a few words and make someone grow to twice their size from across the room or zap them with lighting? But only once, or a couple of times a day.

Magic items, I can see. Spells and other personal abilities less so. Flavor matters and the flavor of most fantasy is quite different from most SF.


You don't wave your hands and say a few words. You type code into a device in place of a holy symbol or bonded item, and when you execute the code, the effect occurs instead of "casting a spell", even though its the same end result. Spellcasters become code-writers essentially using computers and smart phones to make things happen. Your components become mirrors, memory cells, batteries, diodes and programming knowledge. I think the Santiago setting Wizard is called Engineer. (If you have a holographic touchscreen and voice to text conversion software, I suppose you could "wave your hands and say a few words" and it would fit the concept too!)

Though it isn't specifically called out as so, but think of your bonded item/IPOD has enough charge (thru whatever level of Engineer you are) to use your daily allotment. When you go up a level, you learn new tricks to up the power of the battery to accomodate more "spells/procedures". Once your battery is spent its going to take 8 hours on the recharger, so you can do procedures tomorrow. I don't think it takes a big mental leap to see "magic/tech" working that way.


Perhaps an aerosol mutagen is produced that those you spray double in size, or maybe they are nanobots that when enhaled attack the thyroid gland and force a target to double in size. By sonically aligning the magnetite left by meteor bombardment in the ground around you, you can cause electrical charge to build and discharge as lightening bolt, or using your IPOD you cause the transformer in the wall behind the lighting system to not drop in power so a lightening bolt is discharged from the lighting system - you explain the science behind the "spell effect" how ever you want.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic - take that to heart as to how to apply magic as technology. There's plenty enough existing science plus whatever scientific discoveries made in the future that can make teleportation, time-travel, even make wishes a possibility.

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