Joseph Erwin – Freelance Dungeon Master

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Magic Tech and The Overlap

Something which pops up a lot in my games: technology so advanced and powerful that it appears as magic. And yet, the players or the characters (or both) know that it is more than just “magic sparkles and earth energy.”

We’ve all heard the Arthur C. Clarke quote that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” At this point its a little overused as a concept, but it can still create a feeling of awe and excitement when used properly.

Because here’s the thing; I think that being able to impose a sense of order on the world is very helpful for people! We seem to forget that the reason why the civilizations we base fantasy off of used “magic,” “witchcraft,” and “deities” because they fit inside the frameworks of prior understanding. It is a form of empirical reasoning, though certainly based more on culture, religion and personal belief than objective reasoning.

Therefore, I see no real problem with letting magic “systems” exist, or frameworks of understanding which allow magic to be understood as a form of “science.” Science, and the idea that parts of the world can be explained logically, is part of our world, just as spirituality is part of other cultures’ conception of the world. It makes the magic feel more like something we can understand.

Not to say that there is anything inferior about having magic which makes no sense or cannot be explained. For as much as there are things which can be explained in our world, there are just as many which cannot, or not fully.

But we can still experiment, observe results, and make assumptions based on what we have observed. In Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic, the terrifying alien tech, which borders on impossible magic, still can have predicable effects, we just have no idea how it works. We know there are patches of air which crush people to death, just not how the work or what they are. In the end, even the explainable is at least observable.

The worst magic systems are ones which have no logic or meaning at all, no sense of power or effort involved, and which value all effects equally arbitrarily. A world where seemingly anything can be done with magic is one where there is no consistency. It invites open-ended questions of the lore and story (“why don’t they just ‘magic’ themselves a solution?”) which prevent immersion in the narrative, and when you deal a death blow to immersion, the story, no matter its form, falls apart.

So let magic and tech overlap! This argument of “magic vs tech” is based more on old Tolkien-fantasy value systems anyway. Yes, LOTR is great, but it is a very specific setting, and it idealizes returns to simple living rather than using technology to make life better. Magic, like technology, can be used in countless ways to improve live and create diverse aesthetics beyond the dreams of anyone who has come before!

Published by Joe Erwin

I am an independent creator and GM with a deep love of storytelling and adventure! I desire most to share these things with others, and I hope to do that through my work and my writing.

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