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Proven_Paradox
2011-07-19, 10:55 PM
So, I have some friends working on a tabletop gaming system. Specifically a "space western system." Cited references include (the original) Star Wars, Outlaw Star, Cowboy Bebop, and of course, Firefly. Gun combat is supposed to be fast-paced and highly lethal.

Discussing the details of this system in progress, I and one of the designers came to a difference of opinion: should this system include a magic analog? I'm of the opinion that the genre is not served well by its inclusion (leaning more toward the Firefly interpretation of "space western"), where as my friend leans more toward its inclusion (citing Outlaw Star more often than the other sources).

In his own words, "I don't want it being such an integral part of the sci fi world. I want it to be like in Outlaw Star where it existed but only a handful had access to it, and even then it played only a minor role."

So now we're curious. What's the Playground's opinion on this matter?

Curious
2011-07-19, 11:06 PM
Personally, I would love a sci-fi setting where magic was an essential part of every civilization. Kind of like spell-jammer really, but with more industry and less Sigil.

deuxhero
2011-07-19, 11:08 PM
Just don't go the Star Ocean route and stick players on underdeveloped worlds for the majority of your "sci-fi" game.

velwein
2011-07-19, 11:18 PM
Hello my friends! Sorry I didn't make the post myself, but I am the friend aforementioned in this thread. No, you don't need to fear Star Ocean happening. Despite us pulling from sources for inspiration, we are deciding as of this time if Magic would add to the system/story of the game, or if it would detract from the essence of what makes sci-fi "sci fi." I would rather like mages to play a Minor role, where it exists but it is at most very rare (despite knowing that most games will probably have one in them). Thanks!

Anxe
2011-07-19, 11:30 PM
One of my players DMed for a bit with a campaign based off of the Starcraft story. Since psionics are in that story he told us to use psionics if we were going to use magic. It was fun.

The problem you might encounter is using psionics as a weapon instead of using actual weapons. For instance, using a power that deals energy damage is a little over the top if you just want a splash of psionics. A way to limit it is to only allow the Soul Knife and Psionic Warrior classes.

PS: All of this was using D&D 3.5

Jeff the Green
2011-07-20, 06:01 AM
I think it really depends on what sort of space-western you're shooting for. If it's soft (like Star Wars) go ahead--you're basically playing a fantasy game anyway. If it's hard, like Firefly, ditch it.

Eldan
2011-07-20, 06:07 AM
You could do really low-key magic effects. Telekinesis for a +1 bonus to your next combat roll. Precognition gives you a +1 to avoid being hit in combat. (Replace +1 to whatever is a minor bonus in your system). Let psionics do things that could technically have happened without them.

gkathellar
2011-07-20, 06:22 AM
What power scale are you thinking of for these effect? Outlaw Star's magic bullets and Tao powers were crazy strong, it's just that they were also a heavily limited resource and so nobody wanted to use them up without thinking.

They also blended pretty seamlessly into the images of characters using them it looks fine for the futuristic Triad to have superpowers, just like the futuristic gunslinger having cool bullets seems intuitively fine. Whether it helps the setting or not is pretty dependent on whether when it looks right when you visualize the setting.

Firefly did have psychics, anyway. River either had premonitions and telepathy, or a giant computer brain that could basically do the Sherlock Holmes thing well enough to imitate those powers. EDIT: So did Bebop. You remember the Feng Shui episode? The one where the guy could warp hyperspace with meditation and weird diagrams? That.

I also recommend you look into Eclipse Phase for inspiration.

mint
2011-07-20, 06:39 AM
The settings you draw from all posit differing visions of the future. Some of them wildly so. Half fall squarely into space opera territory, the other two: not so much. Star Wars is pulp, the Toward Stars Era setting is built out of a pulp science fiction manga from the 80s.
They both posit visions of the future significantly older than cowboy bebop or firefly. And they both have magic. And that makes the settings mystical, somewhat. In a "there are greater forces at work" kind of way.
It's like the science fiction vs fantasy thing:
At the heart of a science fiction setting lies an answer, at the heart of a fantasy world lies a question.
I guess my point is, magic as an external force can be very defining for a setting.
Psionics are more internal and less mysterious. Often make more sense in science fiction. Protoss space magic being the exception that proves the rule, I hope. Does posit a future where our understanding of the human brain is still so imperfect we can't replicate its functions to reproduce psionic machines maybe?

hamishspence
2011-07-20, 06:55 AM
40K hybridizes magic "sorcery" and psionics somewhat.

And some worlds could certainly have a "space western" flavour- with grox instead of cows. Or, in one case, sauropods imported from the planet Harihowzen :smallbiggrin:

(Ciaphas Cain).

flumphy
2011-07-20, 07:19 AM
No offense, but when I hear "space western", the first things that come to mind aren't exactly "highly-lethal." The examples you cite are far more cinematic than gritty. And really, more advanced technology should lead to things ultimately be less lethal, shouldn't it?

Anyway, on topic, if you actually are going for "fast-paced and highly lethal", then nix the magic. And I say this as someone who would prefer to play a game with magic in place. Magic (or psionics, if you prefer to flavor it that way) will A) slow things down with additional rules and checks and whatnot and B) make things feel less gritty by leaving the possibility of a magical deus ex machina open.

Another thing to consider is that even if you choose to make magic very limited in your world, that restriction will be very difficult to apply to PCs. PCs are supposed to be the exception, and as a result you'll likely end up with the majority of the players at the table choosing some sort of magical power. That alone kind of ruins the low magic flavor, just as with homebrew "low magic" D&D settings where the DM allows spellcasting PCs.

This is not to say that supernatural powers cannot be done well in sci-fi, even hard sci-fi. Just that it doesn't necessarily mesh with what you're going for in your RPG.

hamishspence
2011-07-20, 08:06 AM
The Dark Heresy setting is one where gunplay is fairly lethal.

As to magic- depends how powerful the mage is- but psionicists and sorcerers are very rare. But still important. And their powers weak, and risky to use, at first.

Mark Hall
2011-07-20, 11:50 AM
It really depends on what you want, as others have said. Personally, if Firefly is a big influence, I'd look at the "psychics" you see in Firefly... basically, they're usually pretty crazy, and their "powers" may or may not be.

River, for example, is completely nuts. Thus, she turns a bit Cassandra, with her ability to read minds and predict events discounted because anything she says is random. Is "The human body can be drained of blood in 8.6 seconds given adequate vacuuming systems" a predictive statement, something she pulled from Simon's head, or just the random babbling of a genius with no conscious control of her language? Is she a super-ninja because she's psychic, because they trained her to be an assassin, or because she's just that talented?

Personally, I always thought of Jubal Early as being similar to River in that respect... is he crazy, psychic, or some combination thereof?

The next level up from Firefly is Babylon 5; psychics are a real and acknowledged phenomenon, but they're usually subtle (i.e. TK is a big deal), and they're usually somewhat controlled (i.e. Psi-Corps).

Above that, you're usually looking at Star Wars level... paranormal powers are an accepted part of the world and can be pretty dramatic.

Figure out where you want it to be, and stick it there. Personally, for a space cowboy game, I'd prefer the first, maybe the second.

Suicidal Charge
2011-07-20, 12:40 PM
And really, more advanced technology should lead to things ultimately be less lethal, shouldn't it?

Not quite. Because while medicine advances, so does weaponry. Turning off brains, liquidating bodies, and simply bigger explosions, with enormous range to them. I can guarantee you that if we colonize Mars, we'll soon enough develop weaponry that [can] hit Mars from Earth.

Eric Tolle
2011-07-20, 12:52 PM
Why not use the modern SF equivalent of magic?

You could always do something along the lines of the Venturi Knights setting, where the "magic" is actually the ability to control (through implants or a neurological quirk) the advanced nanotech "utility fog" left behind by an advanced civilization. This can give users a variety of abilities ranging from the ability to create objects, to mental communication, to physical or energy attacks. There's a lot you can do with sufficiently magical nanotech, but it can be easily limited if it requires the presence of the utility fog.

Mark Hall
2011-07-20, 12:53 PM
Not quite. Because while medicine advances, so does weaponry. Turning off brains, liquidating bodies, and simply bigger explosions, with enormous range to them. I can guarantee you that if we colonize Mars, we'll soon enough develop weaponry that [can] hit Mars from Earth.

We have it now. The problem is transit time.

Right now, we can strap 140 tonnes of nuclear explosives to the top of a rocket and send it on a one-way trip to Mars. Many things on Mars go boom. The problem is that it would take about six months to get there.

Of course, we could've been on Mars by now, but NOoooooo....

(Sorry. Been reading the '96 version of "The Case For Mars". Sore topic.)

Suicidal Charge
2011-07-20, 01:03 PM
We have it now. The problem is transit time.

Right now, we can strap 140 tonnes of nuclear explosives to the top of a rocket and send it on a one-way trip to Mars. Many things on Mars go boom. The problem is that it would take about six months to get there.

Of course, we could've been on Mars by now, but NOoooooo....

(Sorry. Been reading the '96 version of "The Case For Mars". Sore topic.)

What I meant was them getting there within a reasonable period of time.

That book any good? [Haven't heard of it.]

gkathellar
2011-07-20, 01:26 PM
What I meant was them getting there within a reasonable period of time.

In that case you don't even need the nukes. Relativistic weaponry ftw.

Fhaolan
2011-07-20, 01:53 PM
If you don't want psionics to 'take over' the setting, which it is wont to do in the same way PC magic tends to take over fantasy settings, I recommend putting some serious restrictions on it. Otherwise, psionics becomes the automatic short-cut that replaces all other interaction, like the magic Tippyverse writ sci-fi.

The secondary restriction is energy expenditure. Any psionic effect needs to expend the same amount of energy as it would to produce that effect via technological means. For example, a telekinetic picking up a car should expend the same amount of energy as a forklift doing the same thing. Otherwise the PCs can produce 'infinite energy' situations that will break the game economy. I call this secondary because while it's a big one, it's more easily restricted than the next one.

The primary restriction is control. Fine control should be difficult. Technically any telekinetic with fine enough control is also a pyrokinetic/cryokinetic. Any teleporter with fine enough control can teleport a heart out of a victims chest. Any telepath who can project is also capable of turning anyone they meet into a meat puppet. The disadvantage to psionics/freeform magic as normally presented in games is that they usually attempt to follow understandable rules that you can use the extrapolate and produce effects unintended by the game designer.

Mark Hall
2011-07-21, 09:47 AM
In that case you don't even need the nukes. Relativistic weaponry ftw.

Example used nukes because I was talking about things we can do right now. If we can get foil cones accelerated to a reasonable fraction of c, then we can probably get something bigger going slower.

Actually ad res, however, decide what you want psionics to do. If you've got a player who just HAS to be the magic man, every time, then figure out what parameters you're going to allow it to work in, and maybe its theoretical framework.

hamishspence
2011-07-21, 10:11 AM
The important part of fast interplanetary travel is acceleration. And it doesn't have to be high- 1G (9.8 m/s/s) acceleration, whatever's actually doing it, will take the ship anywhere in the system within a few days.

The hard part is getting enough acceleration out of the engine. Which might require thousands of mini-nukes.

And the ship has to turn around, and decelerate. And if it's a return trip, the required fuel volume scales up fast.

Prime32
2011-07-21, 01:20 PM
You could have a lot of the action take place in cyberspace, with magic only functioning there? (i.e. it's hacking)

Ravens_cry
2011-07-21, 01:53 PM
In the hard settings, I would keep psionics to a minimum, if used at all. Things like telepathy over short distances and line of sight and not from inside a Faraday cage, maybe. No telekinesis and derivations of it though, that breaks too many known physical laws. It would also be something exclusive to aliens, to them it's just another sense, or engineered in; it won't be a natural thing for humans nor *gah* the next stage in human evolution.

Mark Hall
2011-07-21, 01:58 PM
You could have a lot of the action take place in cyberspace, with magic only functioning there? (i.e. it's hacking)

Sim-sim-alla-bim! :smallbiggrin:

Ravens_cry
2011-07-21, 02:32 PM
You could have a lot of the action take place in cyberspace, with magic only functioning there? (i.e. it's hacking)

That's not really magic, now is it though? It just the skin, a shell, the MUI (iMmersive User Interface). One might as well call Windows 7 'magic'.

a_humble_lich
2011-07-21, 04:39 PM
One might as well call Windows 7 'magic'.

Dark magic maybe :smallsmile:

A game where much of the action took place in cyberspace could be interesting. I'm thinking everyone basically has two characters, one in the real world with very realistic rules, and one in cyberspace which is ultra cinematic.
Hell, use two different game systems for the different worlds.....

Trekkin
2011-07-21, 05:00 PM
Dark magic maybe :smallsmile:

A game where much of the action took place in cyberspace could be interesting. I'm thinking everyone basically has two characters, one in the real world with very realistic rules, and one in cyberspace which is ultra cinematic.
Hell, use two different game systems for the different worlds.....

This is kind of what Shadowrun does, and as much as I love the setting to death the system integrates them about as seamlessly as the San Andreas Fault (although that's dependent on which version of the Matrix rules you use).

I actually support the idea of "magic" being either in cyberspace or requiring heavy computer hardware to affect realspace. A lot of what I like about sci-fi settings is the attempt made at justifying the contents technologically and thus scientifically, and that's easier to do if you're working with information. For instance, maybe magicians in this setting work with ridiculously specialized direct neural interfaces and have the necessary hereditary mutations in brain structure to parse the data fed to them by that system and feed it back machine-readable code, and they can therefore process ridiculous quantities of data and hack/secure networks in ways not otherwise possible by organically processing machine code. That's the best line of technobabble I can come up with on one cup of coffee.

The other thing you can do is to restrict magic to relatively small-scale effects such that it's useless in space.

Prime32
2011-07-21, 05:13 PM
A game where much of the action took place in cyberspace could be interesting. I'm thinking everyone basically has two characters, one in the real world with very realistic rules, and one in cyberspace which is ultra cinematic.
Hell, use two different game systems for the different worlds.....Not much need for something that complicated. Combat skills transfer over, and the "magic" parts of your character simply don't function half the time. (though you can still contribute with things like lockpicking and information-gathering)

randomhero00
2011-07-21, 05:28 PM
Shrug, I *always* like magic. And I like scifi. The two have always fit IMO. As things of the future would seem like magic.

Ravens_cry
2011-07-22, 09:56 AM
Shrug, I *always* like magic. And I like scifi. The two have always fit IMO. As things of the future would seem like magic.

Yes, but will it be magic to contemporary users, i.e. most characters?