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    Default Do Robots Dream of Casting Spells?

    An Essayed Response
    So this idea was inspired in no small part by a Youtube video I watched yesterday concerning Writing "Hard" magic in fiction. I feel like I just want to write an essay on this, so I'll try to be concise, but I'll also format this post to help keep the progression of thought easy to track.

    Let me start by saying I don't feel the content or conclusions are particularly new, but that the method of reaching them seems cleaner and more streamlined, framing the topic in a question that renders relatively quick solutions.

    Spoilered is a link to the video below. I wouldn't consider watching it essential to the points I'd like to discuss as my thoughts are derivative from this video, but not directly discussed in its content, but you might still like to hear the thoughts that got me thinking along these lines. The video is about 13 minutes long.
    Spoiler: On Writing: hard magic systems in fantasy
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    I know this general topic is frequently discussed around here, but I had a thought that changed how I look at the question.

    "Could you program a Robot to cast spells?"
    This seems to be the breaking point (to me) of where most magic systems seem to fall into "hard" or "soft" mechanics. Can you do magic, if you remove the Wizard?

    Logisimilitude: We (May) Need to Go Deeper

    The video spoilered above seems to boil down to the idea that creating a "hard" magic system is more or less a matter of making your magic system logical and self-consistent, defined slightly more by its limitations than its powers (not that "soft" magic need be whimsical, he has a separate video talking about how to do "soft" magic well).

    It makes me want to use a new word. Not Verisimilitude (the sense that something could be true), but Logisimilitude (the sense that something could be logical or self-consistent). Let's not get hung up on this as I know some people won't find this distinction meaningful, but I'm trying to say that it makes *me* feel like there's a new element I hadn't seen before (so I'm probably not the only person ever who might find this distinction meaningful). Verisimilitude to me feels more to say that a scenario described feels like it is acting coherently with characters making consistent decisions based on events and motivations that they are aware of and magic powers continuing to be justified by the world's design. Logisimilitude (if you permit my saying) feels like it speaks to a coherency of design itself, that the manner in which a world is designed is itself justified, not only used to justify events and decisions in the narrative.

    In short, I'm getting an idea that Verisimilitude (to me) is "a wizard can do X because Magic," while a new concept (maybe Logisimilitude) says, "Magic allows Wizard to do X because Magic is Z."

    Disclaimer: The Problem of Magical Definitions

    This takes us straight into the dreaded Bermuda Triangle of "Magic Purists vs 'Sufficiently Advanced' Scientists," because it involves explaining magic to SOME degree. As High Wizard Schrodinger taught us, Magic cannot remain in the same state once you open the box to look inside (yet you can't justify magic to create Logisimilitude if you DON'T look inside). So before we get lost in that neverending storm, let's draw this back to my original thought:

    "Could you program a Robot to cast spells?"
    What is forming in my mind as a sort of, "Robot Limit" to magic is a simple test to define whether what we're dealing with is absolutely Magic, or just Sufficiently Advanced Science. If a Robot can do it, then it is clearly Science and the limits of Magic are primarily a matter of human skill and understanding. If a Robot is simply unable, it can be a strong indicator that "Being a Wizard" is an intrinsic component of spellcasting, which often takes us a few steps further from the concept of a Scientifically reproducible concept.

    Spoiler: Let's not get hung up on genetics
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    Sure, you could say, "magic requires a biological component," but then you just make a bio-technological robot (aka, a clone) and repeat the question. At this point, we're essentially dissecting a Wizard and saying, "where are the magical bits? In their soul? Brain? Blood? Medichlorian Count?" Then you can start talking about genetically engineering or modifying people to "add magic" to their genetic structure. I feel this level of nit-picking to be more confusing than helpful and if we can accept the conceit that the original question of a Robot Spellcaster as valid, then we can probably fairly easily extrapolate the exceptions that arise from specific problems like involving genetic-specific powers.

    If we can get a "yes/no" answer to whether a Robot would ever be able to cast magic spells, from there we can clarify any outstanding exceptions that become relevant (such as biological spell components).


    Let's Play: Testing the Concept (with a few standardized examples)

    Plug this scenario into Harry Potter. Give a Robot a wand, have them swish, flick, and chant, "Wingardium Leviosa" (I apologize if I misspelled it, it isn't important) and suppose the Robot performs all the necessary verbal and somatic spell components flawlessly. Does the spell go into effect? If yes, then what we have seems to be Sufficiently Advanced Science. If no, then what we have is truly Magic, because there was lacking one particular component: the Wizard. Now, in Harry Potter, I think we know that a Robot couldn't cast spells because a Muggle likewise could flawlessly perform the spell components and fail to cast the spell. This is where Harry Potter Magic gets very soft: what makes a Wizard a Wizard? There is some indication that genetics likely comes into play somewhere, but there's no actual answer to this question of what makes Wizards able to do magic (and thus, no means by which we could hope to make a machine capable of "doing magic").

    The X-Men series is actually the inverse of this. They are very clear about what makes Mutants able to use magic: the X Gene. They are far Softer on how the X Gene grants magic powers, but we can be certain that no Robot could use a Mutant Power unless you somehow built one that was able to manipulate or replicate X Gene effects.

    It's actually canon in Star Wars that Droids cannot use or feel the Force (unless you stretch the definition to include Iron Knights, etc). Despite the Force flowing equally through living and inanimate objects, Droids have no capacity to feel the Force (although this may depend on how canonical you accept Lucas' Medichlorian concept to be, since that might imply that a Droid could be engineered to interact with Medichlorians, which could theoretically enable them to sense the Force and interact with it). Then again, magic in Star Wars has been traditionally very "soft" to begin with, so it isn't a tremendously effective measurement.

    I haven't seen Full Metal Alchemist (in any of its iterations), so I can't speak to how it would rate under this experiment, despite its deservingness of inclusion. Maybe some of you guys can help me in that regard. It seems like the likeliest candidate for allowing an Alchemist to build a machine that performs the rituals automatically when provided the necessary materials to satisfy the Equivalent Exchange.

    In Avatar, Bending seems to involve some interaction of Soul Energy through the Medium of Physical Chakra connections. There also seems to be some genetic predisposition to Bending that is almost Mutation level of random, while also the possibility of negating a person's bending by attacking their Chakras. Essentially, in that universe, it seems clear that you could never build a robot that could bend the elements (though you might be able to produce a Golem possessed by a powerful, ancient Spirit that had the ability to bend).

    We can go on and I would love to hear some other applications of this test to other fictional universes that I haven't thought of, but for now, I want to move on to my conclusion based on my findings.

    In Application to RPGs
    One of the most critical questions that this puzzle poses is the relationship between non-magical characters and magical characters. Can the Fighter pick up the Wizard's staff and blast off a spell? (I realize not all RPGs use Class based mechanics at all, but this still applies to the idea that many characters develop particular archetypes even if there are no formalized rules dictating such roles).

    Essentially, it makes us ask if the power of a Wizard lies in what they have learned, or what they are made of. If a Fighter, traveling along with a Wizard long enough, sees and hears them casting a spell enough times, can they simply learn the spell through exposure and proximity? Is Magic all about the Components being Invoked, or does it require a Wizard's Touch? Similarly, what is so different between a Barbarian putting ranks in Perform and a Bard casting Bardic Music? Is the Bard actually playing differently to invoke supernatural effects (are they simultaneously Casting and Performing), or are they merely sufficiently better at performing that their music naturally produced supernatural effects?

    I feel the essential question highlights that either there are "special ones" who have an innate connection with magic that can't simply be replicated (without a special process), or magic must be universally accessible or inaccessible. Since we have magic users, it can't be universally inaccessible, so magic must either be universally accessible (though it may be restricted by some level of skill required to successfully invoke it), or we can't really have Fighters "multiclassing" (or whatever equivalent structure in classless RPGs: don't take magic powers if you're just a beatstick) into Wizard (because they don't have the special connection) without some special justification ("oh, you had it all along and you're just now discovering you're a Wizard, Harry").

    It feels the neatest and best system design (to me) to say, "everyone's a wizard by birth, but not everyone learns how to exploit that potential." This is most important for the sake of keeping options open to players over the course of their character's career (even in classless, level-less systems, you might still have a non-magical character want to use a magic device at some point).

    Or maybe it's better said that, "magic system design often works better in writing novels to make magic based around the special-ness of wizards, because novels are about the exploration of character traits, while RPGs are better to use magic ubiquitously because games require a greater degree of fairness of accessibility to powers such as magic."

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    Default Re: Do Robots Dream of Casting Spells?

    Somewhat related thread:

    http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?544612-Hard-Fantasy
    It is one thing to suspend your disbelief. It is another thing entirely to hang it by the neck until dead.

    Verisimilitude -- n, the appearance or semblance of truth, likelihood, or probability.

    The concern is not realism in speculative fiction, but rather the sense that a setting or story could be real, fostered by internal consistency and coherence.

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    Default Re: Do Robots Dream of Casting Spells?

    Some related reading, from a fantasy writer well know for his magic systems and world building: https://brandonsanderson.com/sandersons-first-law/
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    Default Re: Do Robots Dream of Casting Spells?

    I presume we are limiting discussion to arcane magic, instead of divine magic?

    D&D seems to be mostly in the Magic as Science, as all editions (except Basic/BX/BECMI) allow the option of adding a magical class to a non-magical character. Plus, warforged can be priests and/or wizards

    Shadowrun seems to be more in the Magic is Truly Magic, as you determine at Character Creation whether you have any access to magic. Similarly to X-Men, you need a Magic Something in your genetic makeup (no magic gene has been discovered in the lore I've read) makes it possible for you to use magic. (How about Technomancers? Can they make drones that can then use Technomancy? Or is it limited just to the Technomancer?)
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    Default Re: Do Robots Dream of Casting Spells?

    It can still be a hard magic system even if there's "something special" about the wizard vs. non-wizards. Having "natural magic talent" is necessary in Harry Potter. What causes that talent does seem to be in part genetic, at the least, given that wizards often have wizard kids, and muggles mostly have muggle kids. But there's obviously "something" about them that lets them do it and others not.

    To play with this concept, let's equate it to having sighted and blind people. Blind people are the "norm." They fumble around in the dark and use hearing to try to perceive at a distance. Sighted people have the magical power of reading, of navigating without sound, of precise location of objects by "looking" at them. And the difference, it turns out, is that the sighted have these mystical organs called "eyes" that allow them to perceive specific wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum, far weaker than those which even the blind can only feel when they get shocked.

    So, then, perhaps wizards have a special magical organ that lets them interact with the energies that create magic.

    Whether it's an organ or some other physical property, there is something in their makeup that interacts with "magical energy." Can a robot do this? Well, just as we had to design cameras for the robot to mimic the human quality of "seeing," and servo motors and robotic limbs for it to do that "grasping" thing, or "walking," and we're still working on good haptic sensors, the magic-using robot would need to have constructed for it a mechanical version of whatever enables wizards to do magic.

    In a hard-magic setting, this is theoretically possible, though it might be ludicrously difficult. It's a matter of figuring out WHAT allows wizards to do it, and copying that.

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    Default Re: Do Robots Dream of Casting Spells?

    Regarding Full Metal Alchemist... from my limited knowledge, I would add that there are magical things that can only be done if the user has performed the prerequisite actions at some point in their existence. Kinda a "you must have X feat to perform Y" kinda thing.

    Not sure how that affects the final outcome, though.

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    Default Re: Do Robots Dream of Casting Spells?

    As so often, I point out Splittermond as an example. Itīs a skill-based point-buy system that models each "school" of magic as a skill. Special abilities, combat maneuvers and spells come in a format similar to "feats" and can be bought when meeting the right skill prerequisites.
    In this system, "magic" and "mundane" have a high synergy and support each other. A serious frontline knight will be well trained at weapons and armor skills, as well as magic and spells that will support frontline fighting, while a serious elementalist will be trained in ranged combat and movement skills, to be able to aim that fireball or lightning bolt or steer his teleport.

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    Default Re: Do Robots Dream of Casting Spells?

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    Regarding Full Metal Alchemist... from my limited knowledge, I would add that there are magical things that can only be done if the user has performed the prerequisite actions at some point in their existence. Kinda a "you must have X feat to perform Y" kinda thing.

    Not sure how that affects the final outcome, though.
    When that "thing" that you must have done is clearly defined, it's a hallmark of it being a hard magic system. The whole point of hard magic is that you can point to the rules of it and predict outcomes based thereon, at least to a reasonable degree.

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    Default Re: Do Robots Dream of Casting Spells?

    In FMA (brotherhood at least), there is an essential distinction between alchemists and non alchemists. Alchemists have a Gate of Truth. CF the finale of that anime, where that's a major plot point--losing that gate makes you unable to use alchemy even if you know the details and motions.
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    Default Re: Do Robots Dream of Casting Spells?

    Quote Originally Posted by PhoenixPhyre View Post
    In FMA (brotherhood at least), there is an essential distinction between alchemists and non alchemists. Alchemists have a Gate of Truth. CF the finale of that anime, where that's a major plot point--losing that gate makes you unable to use alchemy even if you know the details and motions.
    I think literally everybody has one if they haven't somehow given it up. Most just don't know how to use it. Opening it gives you clap-Alchemy. And costs...a lot.

    I've kind-of wondered if you could use a Philosopher's Stone to get clap alchemy without a personal cost.

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    Default Re: Do Robots Dream of Casting Spells?

    Quote Originally Posted by Segev View Post
    I think literally everybody has one if they haven't somehow given it up. Most just don't know how to use it. Opening it gives you clap-Alchemy. And costs...a lot.

    I've kind-of wondered if you could use a Philosopher's Stone to get clap alchemy without a personal cost.
    No. Opening it gives you enhanced alchemy, but most alchemists don't have that. I'll avoid spoilers, but the distinction is a major plot point. As is the consequences of losing said gate.

    So for these purposes, being able to give one up is the key factor. A construct (without a soul) couldn't do alchemy, even if anyone with one could do alchemy if they learned how. Same as someone with no gate.
    Last edited by PhoenixPhyre; 2018-02-14 at 04:15 PM.

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    Default Re: Do Robots Dream of Casting Spells?

    Quote Originally Posted by Lord Torath View Post
    I presume we are limiting discussion to arcane magic, instead of divine magic?
    Yeah, Divine Magic almost needs its own discussion. I've never really cared for the transparency D&D used between arcane and divine. I like how Dark Souls differentiates "spells" with "miracles" to kind of imply that they essentially function differently.

    It even gets slightly weirder when you consider that Nature is divine as well. Just when you thought you could safely say, "divine isn't science because it draws on a sapient cosmic being for power," druids come in and muck everything up with their Ecology Worship.

    I have trouble feeling that this segment of D&D has much coherency at all.

    Quote Originally Posted by Segev View Post
    Whether it's an organ or some other physical property, there is something in their makeup that interacts with "magical energy." Can a robot do this? Well, just as we had to design cameras for the robot to mimic the human quality of "seeing," and servo motors and robotic limbs for it to do that "grasping" thing, or "walking," and we're still working on good haptic sensors, the magic-using robot would need to have constructed for it a mechanical version of whatever enables wizards to do magic.

    In a hard-magic setting, this is theoretically possible, though it might be ludicrously difficult. It's a matter of figuring out WHAT allows wizards to do it, and copying that.
    Good point, though I feel it mostly shifts the goalposts I was aiming for rather than essentially changing the game.

    What I mean is, now the question is, "is the wizard element something that is possible to copy?"

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    Default Re: Do Robots Dream of Casting Spells?

    Quote Originally Posted by Pleh View Post
    Yeah, Divine Magic almost needs its own discussion. I've never really cared for the transparency D&D used between arcane and divine. I like how Dark Souls differentiates "spells" with "miracles" to kind of imply that they essentially function differently.

    It even gets slightly weirder when you consider that Nature is divine as well. Just when you thought you could safely say, "divine isn't science because it draws on a sapient cosmic being for power," druids come in and muck everything up with their Ecology Worship.

    I have trouble feeling that this segment of D&D has much coherency at all.
    The distinction I draw is that divine magic is intermediated through an extraplanar being, nature magic through spirits of the natural realm, and arcane magic is not intermediated at all. Clerics call on Gods, druids on the smaller spirits of animals, plants, and locations, while wizards mess with the system directly.
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    Default Re: Do Robots Dream of Casting Spells?

    Quote Originally Posted by Pleh View Post
    Good point, though I feel it mostly shifts the goalposts I was aiming for rather than essentially changing the game.

    What I mean is, now the question is, "is the wizard element something that is possible to copy?"
    Well, we already have UMD in some editions.

    For funsies, look up the PF Clockwork Mage. Name says it all and it does exactly what your earlier HP example is all about: Equip it with a wand and it will repeat the same spell over and over again.

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    Default Re: Do Robots Dream of Casting Spells?

    Quote Originally Posted by PhoenixPhyre View Post
    The distinction I draw is that divine magic is intermediated through an extraplanar being, nature magic through spirits of the natural realm, and arcane magic is not intermediated at all. Clerics call on Gods, druids on the smaller spirits of animals, plants, and locations, while wizards mess with the system directly.
    See, I do have a problem with the cohesion of this explanation. It never really becomes a problem when playing, because I don't need all that much help suspending disbelief, but it certainly feels like an area that has room for improvement.

    My problem is that whenever you specifically compare Do-It-Yourself magic and Magic-By-Proxy, you need to make that distinction truly meaningful or else why did we ever bother to begin with?

    I see it as similar to programmers when they choose whether to write all their own software or purchase 3rd party support and work around it. Wizards write their own software from scratch, scavenging any useful lines of code wherever they can find them and plugging them into custom built programs. Clerics bought the 3rd party software, which is guaranteed stable and effective, but comes with terms of service. And if using 3rd party involves no extra special hurdles or involves the same amount of individual effort being put out, how is it any different than doing it all yourself? If doing it all yourself still means submitting to the rules of an organization you don't belong to or paying them special dues, why not just buy in anyway?

    In my mind, if Clerics have power because they ask a Deity very nicely, then we are left with either the Deity has the power to say, "no" at any time (thus meaning that Cleric Spells now have a chance to fail upon the Cleric's Deity's whim, which is a poor game mechanic no matter how useful it can be for writing stories) or Divine magic is a matter of psychologically manipulating the nature of a deity rather than scientifically manipulating the laws of the universe. [Sidenote: to be fair, in D&D, Deities often DO retain a Veto power, even if they only use it to prohibit preparing spells of opposing alignment, but I feel this is a bit wishy-washy for a sapient being that has a personal agenda.]

    If a Cleric spell doesn't have the potential for the Proxy Magic Maker to discriminate in the use of their power, then it isn't really a Proxy Magic Maker, it's just Science Magic under YET ANOTHER different name, because you're just manipulating mindless rules and principles that can't or won't say "no" when you ask in a specific formulaic manner.

    In 3.5, the best representation for how I'd expect a Proxy Magic system to work was the Binder Class where you make Binding Checks to see how much control over the relationship you have today and failing doesn't mean you can't use the magic, but it does mean you suffer a stronger portion of mental backwash from the Proxy Magic Source.

    I hate taking this control away from players, making it not the best RPG mechanic I have seen, but while it might not be the best GAME mechanic, it certainly possesses better NARRATIVE COHESION in my mind.

    This is what I mean what I say I've yet to see Divine Magic offer much coherency. Game makers have wisely opted to prioritize fun mechanics that offer better agency than narrative coherency that would turn most Divine Casters into seven flavors of Paladin Code of Conduct nonsense (which they still are in name, I suppose, though few people I've seen really harass their players about it).

    Now, I freely admit part of my problem could be lack of experience outside of D&D. Maybe other systems handle Divine Magic System Design better? I should hope so.

    It does all bring me back to the essential question, though. Would a Deity answer a prayer made by a Robot, if it were programmed to conduct the prayer flawlessly?

    Quote Originally Posted by Florian View Post
    Well, we already have UMD in some editions.

    For funsies, look up the PF Clockwork Mage. Name says it all and it does exactly what your earlier HP example is all about: Equip it with a wand and it will repeat the same spell over and over again.
    Yes, I thought about Magic Items in this context, but I left them out because I'm not quite sure where I'd place them yet. Most of them seem to be items that only function once interacted with, not active casters.

    Harry Potter Wands don't typically cast spells spontaneously. The philosopher's stone is happy just being a rock until a wizard starts messing with it. The Goblet of Fire just filters through a list of inputs. Protective or Warding magic items might generate a constant field effect, but they seem to obey Newton's Law: an object in motion stays in motion until acted upon by an outside source.

    Certain items in Avatar may have a Spiritual Significance, especially if they are very old, but they can only take actions if they possess a special relationship with an external Spirit that might choose to act on their behalf (getting back into Divine Magic).

    Magic Swords in The Lord of the Ring can't swing themselves, even though they can actively work to help or hinder their wielder in attacking certain creatures they don't like. The One Ring can't move itself, but it can slightly change its size at will and control its motion slightly if it finds itself to already be moving.

    So it seems clear that a Wizard can certainly hand a Robot a Spell and say, "Hold this for me until I get back" and the Robot can help perpetuate the spell's effect. What is less clear is if the Robot can be simply instructed in how to cast its own spells like a Wizard.

    The Clockwork Mage is certainly an interesting point. I will point out that this may be less a case of a Robot that can Use a Wand as much as a Wand that has Arms and legs. I say this because it seems the Clockwork Mage has no ability to just pick up a different wand and cast a different spell. Their magic effects are determined by what school of magic their wand crystal belongs to.

    My main point about Robot Uses Wand = What was more aimed at the Harry Potter magic system. It's one thing to ask if a Mindless Automaton can Use Magic Device. It's another to ask if they can Cast Spells.

    But I concede the point that to really ask, "what is casting" we DO absolutely need to Also ask, "how is it different than just using a magic device?" I suppose in some systems, there may not be any distinction, while in others there would be a very strong one.

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    Default Re: Do Robots Dream of Casting Spells?

    Quote Originally Posted by Pleh View Post
    See, I do have a problem with the cohesion of this explanation. It never really becomes a problem when playing, because I don't need all that much help suspending disbelief, but it certainly feels like an area that has room for improvement.

    My problem is that whenever you specifically compare Do-It-Yourself magic and Magic-By-Proxy, you need to make that distinction truly meaningful or else why did we ever bother to begin with?

    I see it as similar to programmers when they choose whether to write all their own software or purchase 3rd party support and work around it. Wizards write their own software from scratch, scavenging any useful lines of code wherever they can find them and plugging them into custom built programs. Clerics bought the 3rd party software, which is guaranteed stable and effective, but comes with terms of service. And if using 3rd party involves no extra special hurdles or involves the same amount of individual effort being put out, how is it any different than doing it all yourself? If doing it all yourself still means submitting to the rules of an organization you don't belong to or paying them special dues, why not just buy in anyway?

    In my mind, if Clerics have power because they ask a Deity very nicely, then we are left with either the Deity has the power to say, "no" at any time (thus meaning that Cleric Spells now have a chance to fail upon the Cleric's Deity's whim, which is a poor game mechanic no matter how useful it can be for writing stories) or Divine magic is a matter of psychologically manipulating the nature of a deity rather than scientifically manipulating the laws of the universe. [Sidenote: to be fair, in D&D, Deities often DO retain a Veto power, even if they only use it to prohibit preparing spells of opposing alignment, but I feel this is a bit wishy-washy for a sapient being that has a personal agenda.]

    If a Cleric spell doesn't have the potential for the Proxy Magic Maker to discriminate in the use of their power, then it isn't really a Proxy Magic Maker, it's just Science Magic under YET ANOTHER different name, because you're just manipulating mindless rules and principles that can't or won't say "no" when you ask in a specific formulaic manner.

    In 3.5, the best representation for how I'd expect a Proxy Magic system to work was the Binder Class where you make Binding Checks to see how much control over the relationship you have today and failing doesn't mean you can't use the magic, but it does mean you suffer a stronger portion of mental backwash from the Proxy Magic Source.

    I hate taking this control away from players, making it not the best RPG mechanic I have seen, but while it might not be the best GAME mechanic, it certainly possesses better NARRATIVE COHESION in my mind.

    This is what I mean what I say I've yet to see Divine Magic offer much coherency. Game makers have wisely opted to prioritize fun mechanics that offer better agency than narrative coherency that would turn most Divine Casters into seven flavors of Paladin Code of Conduct nonsense (which they still are in name, I suppose, though few people I've seen really harass their players about it).

    Now, I freely admit part of my problem could be lack of experience outside of D&D. Maybe other systems handle Divine Magic System Design better? I should hope so.

    It does all bring me back to the essential question, though. Would a Deity answer a prayer made by a Robot, if it were programmed to conduct the prayer flawlessly?
    I don't know how it would work for D&D-like systems, but in the system I'm starting from scratch to go with the "Greco-Sumerian" setting, I'm not shying away from the implications of magic that comes from bargaining with or serving other entities. Calling on a certain kind of spirit for magic will require that the person has been observing the rituals and taboos of that spirit, or is willing to come to agreement to give something in return.
    It is one thing to suspend your disbelief. It is another thing entirely to hang it by the neck until dead.

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    The concern is not realism in speculative fiction, but rather the sense that a setting or story could be real, fostered by internal consistency and coherence.

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    Default Re: Do Robots Dream of Casting Spells?

    My approach is that magic works because the setting is a magical universe.

    With that principle, all sentient beings are magical to a greater or lesser extent. "Magic" isn't limited to casting spells, it shows up in a variety of ways people interact with the universe. Spells are just a very systematized and very efficient way of using magic. But great warriors, great craftsmen, skilled thieves, organized groups of people, etc can all do magic in different ways.

    To abuse the Captain America: Civil War quote, "Plant yourself like a tree, look the world in the eye and say, NO, YOU MOVE"--and make it stick. You can do that with a wand, or with a sword, with a song, with a statue of a terrifying horned demon, with a building, or by telling the universe that actually, no you were in hammerspace when the guard is looking/when the fireball goes off.

    So, while Chuck Norris may not be able to shoot lightning out of his fingertips, he CAN divide by zero if he writes the equation on the chalkboard then delivers a roundhouse kick. (Results TBD by author or GM, or by player if it's That Sort of Game).

    Which is a super-Hard philosophy of magic, but the application can be soft in practice--you won't know whether the subjects of the kingdom love the princess quite enough to break the curse until you try the ritual and see what happens. Just how much of Tinkerbell's pixie dust, and how much happy thoughts would be required to fly a SHIELD helicarrier to Neverland is something you'll only find out by trying.

    BACK TO OP: Robots would or wouldn't be able to do magic essentially based on whether or not they were sentient. So if we applied this to Star Wars droids, either droids would count as lifeforms for Force effects--or we would rule that Droids actually put out Force dampening fields in their vicinity.
    Last edited by johnbragg; 2018-02-15 at 11:22 AM.

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    Default Re: Do Robots Dream of Casting Spells?

    Let's leave robots out of this and go further.

    The Automation Limit: any magic that can be reliably automated becomes a technology.

    In some systems a magician has to do certain actions to, for example, create a talisman of protection. If the wizard decides that instead of dipping the items in troll's blood and rotating them three times widdershins, he's going to set up a mechanism that'll pick up a talisman, dunk it into a bucket of troll's blood, and then pass it to another mechanism that'll rotate it three times widdershins before putting it into the 'output' tray.

    If magic requires speaking certain words, can I load the words as an audio file on my phone to be used as required.

    Something that cannot be automated might still be hard, but it might require something that the automation process cannot have (see: Mistborn, how Allomancy and Feruchemy are inherited, and how 'burning' and storing in metals works).
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zelphas View Post
    So here I am, trapped in my laboratory, trying to create a Mechabeast that's powerful enough to take down the howling horde outside my door, but also won't join them once it realizes what I've done...twentieth time's the charm, right?
    Quote Originally Posted by Lord Raziere View Post
    How about a Jovian Uplift stuck in a Case morph? it makes so little sense.

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    Default Re: Do Robots Dream of Casting Spells?

    Quote Originally Posted by Pleh View Post
    Yeah, Divine Magic almost needs its own discussion. I've never really cared for the transparency D&D used between arcane and divine. I like how Dark Souls differentiates "spells" with "miracles" to kind of imply that they essentially function differently.

    It even gets slightly weirder when you consider that Nature is divine as well. Just when you thought you could safely say, "divine isn't science because it draws on a sapient cosmic being for power," druids come in and muck everything up with their Ecology Worship.

    I have trouble feeling that this segment of D&D has much coherency at all.
    My personal fluff for d20's magic considers wizards to be lawyers, working with ancient (or not-so-ancient) contracts with magical entities of the "I do this for you, you now owe me this spell" sort. (There's more complicated stuff in my fluff, but I'm trying not to write an essay, here.) Clerics, instead, are members of the hierarchy of these magical entities' courts. Specifically, of their god's court. They get to order spells because it's in their charter as officers of said court. Druids are honorary magical beings, themselves, insofar as the nature spirits and the like are concerned, and similarly to wizards, trade favors with the other nature beings. But it's far less formal than wizards' work.

    Sorcerers and Bards actually have friendly magical entities that like them and hang out with them and do them favors as friends.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pleh View Post
    Good point, though I feel it mostly shifts the goalposts I was aiming for rather than essentially changing the game.

    What I mean is, now the question is, "is the wizard element something that is possible to copy?"
    In general? "Yes," if only because it's something that happens more than once. Even in soft magic settings, something makes a wizard a wizard. And, even if you have to work with the mechanism that is behind that something, you can arrange it. See complicated breeding programs that some soft magic systems engage in to generate the Chosen One out of bloodlines of powerful mages.

    Quote Originally Posted by Anonymouswizard View Post
    Let's leave robots out of this and go further.

    The Automation Limit: any magic that can be reliably automated becomes a technology.
    Interestingly, by this definition, various forms of art are (currently) magic, not technology.

    And computer programming is magic, because we can't really automate it beyond some extremely rudimentary levels. (And even in my own field, when Genetic Programming starts to allow Computational Intelligences to write code for us, working with those CIs is almost more art than science to get them to the point they do what we want them to, and thus is also "magic.")

    Quote Originally Posted by Anonymouswizard View Post
    In some systems a magician has to do certain actions to, for example, create a talisman of protection. If the wizard decides that instead of dipping the items in troll's blood and rotating them three times widdershins, he's going to set up a mechanism that'll pick up a talisman, dunk it into a bucket of troll's blood, and then pass it to another mechanism that'll rotate it three times widdershins before putting it into the 'output' tray.

    If magic requires speaking certain words, can I load the words as an audio file on my phone to be used as required.

    Something that cannot be automated might still be hard, but it might require something that the automation process cannot have (see: Mistborn, how Allomancy and Feruchemy are inherited, and how 'burning' and storing in metals works).
    In Harry Potter and the Natural 20, it becomes a plot point at one point that muggles and wizards actually achieve different results for mixing the exact same ingredients. If a wizard mixes them, a potion is created. If a muggle does, normal chemical reactions occur.

    This could, in theory, still be made into technology via assembly lines of potion-crafting. As it turns out, it's in the stirring-step that a particular potion requires a wizard and not a muggle; if the muggle combines the ingredients and a wizard does the stirring in the proper manner, it still makes a potion.

    Discovering what makes "the wizard" special would conceivably enable the creation of machines which have that property. The difficulty depending on how that mechanism manifests, of course. It may well be an energy that has no physical interaction other than it's latched onto this human-shaped entity and responds to that entity's brain firings.

    In any event, in hard magic, there IS a mechanism; whether it's discovered or not is the question.

    In soft magic, there still likely is, unless magic is really, truly so esoteric and unpredictable that somebody being a "wizard" is more a coincidence that his magic has happened to work so far than anything else.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Segev View Post
    Interestingly, by this definition, various forms of art are (currently) magic, not technology.

    And computer programming is magic, because we can't really automate it beyond some extremely rudimentary levels. (And even in my own field, when Genetic Programming starts to allow Computational Intelligences to write code for us, working with those CIs is almost more art than science to get them to the point they do what we want them to, and thus is also "magic.")
    Eh. The rule makes no statement as to the definition of magic. It just states that if magic can be automated it is also a technology. It doesn't say that automated magic is no longer magic. It doesn't even say that all technology is something that can be automated (although it heavily implies it).

    In Harry Potter and the Natural 20, it becomes a plot point at one point that muggles and wizards actually achieve different results for mixing the exact same ingredients. If a wizard mixes them, a potion is created. If a muggle does, normal chemical reactions occur.

    This could, in theory, still be made into technology via assembly lines of potion-crafting. As it turns out, it's in the stirring-step that a particular potion requires a wizard and not a muggle; if the muggle combines the ingredients and a wizard does the stirring in the proper manner, it still makes a potion.

    Discovering what makes "the wizard" special would conceivably enable the creation of machines which have that property. The difficulty depending on how that mechanism manifests, of course. It may well be an energy that has no physical interaction other than it's latched onto this human-shaped entity and responds to that entity's brain firings.

    In any event, in hard magic, there IS a mechanism; whether it's discovered or not is the question.

    In soft magic, there still likely is, unless magic is really, truly so esoteric and unpredictable that somebody being a "wizard" is more a coincidence that his magic has happened to work so far than anything else.
    Oh sure. I kind of forgot to finish my post, my point was in some magic systems something like making potions can be automated. In others it can't, and being so doesn't make the system any less hard. 'hard versus soft' is more due to presentation than to any actual inherent quality of the system.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zelphas View Post
    So here I am, trapped in my laboratory, trying to create a Mechabeast that's powerful enough to take down the howling horde outside my door, but also won't join them once it realizes what I've done...twentieth time's the charm, right?
    Quote Originally Posted by Lord Raziere View Post
    How about a Jovian Uplift stuck in a Case morph? it makes so little sense.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Max_Killjoy View Post
    I don't know how it would work for D&D-like systems, but in the system I'm starting from scratch to go with the "Greco-Sumerian" setting, I'm not shying away from the implications of magic that comes from bargaining with or serving other entities. Calling on a certain kind of spirit for magic will require that the person has been observing the rituals and taboos of that spirit, or is willing to come to agreement to give something in return.
    Based on my experience with the system, I'd wager that kind of interpretation would be an acceptable "module" or Houserule to Divine Magic. It is compatible, but not intrinsically implied in that system's mechanics.

    I think it'd be fun to try that kind of dynamic in a D&D game to see how it would actually affect play, but it might be hard to get a group on board with the concept, as with any proposed campaigns built more around limitations than freedoms.

    Quote Originally Posted by Segev View Post
    My personal fluff for d20's magic considers wizards to be lawyers, working with ancient (or not-so-ancient) contracts with magical entities of the "I do this for you, you now owe me this spell" sort. (There's more complicated stuff in my fluff, but I'm trying not to write an essay, here.) Clerics, instead, are members of the hierarchy of these magical entities' courts. Specifically, of their god's court. They get to order spells because it's in their charter as officers of said court. Druids are honorary magical beings, themselves, insofar as the nature spirits and the like are concerned, and similarly to wizards, trade favors with the other nature beings. But it's far less formal than wizards' work.

    In general? "Yes," if only because it's something that happens more than once. Even in soft magic settings, something makes a wizard a wizard. And, even if you have to work with the mechanism that is behind that something, you can arrange it. See complicated breeding programs that some soft magic systems engage in to generate the Chosen One out of bloodlines of powerful mages.
    Actually, this does remind me of another magic system I wanted to touch on, but had forgotten.

    Disney's Aladdin (I know it's based on the old Arabic Myths that had their own magic systems). But remember that Genies (in terms of capability) were basically exactly the 3.5 Schrodinger Wizards that the forums commonly mistake for actual 3.5 wizards. They had Phenomenal Cosmic Power, but were restricted to some very particular rules that seemed (based on how they communicated them) to be more like laws imposed by higher beings than physical laws that controlled their power.

    For one thing, the only way we saw (not that it had to be the only way) to become a Genie and gain its powers was to be given the power by another Genie. However, in accepting the power, you also accepted the eternity of servitude to mortals, granting them wishes and waiting for thousands of years cramped in a tiny oil lamp. Likewise, we know the only way to become free from being a Genie was to be wished out of service (which, strangely, did not seem to affect Genie's actual abilities when he flew off after being freed).

    The movie showed that Genies weren't necessarily restricted to only using their power to grant wishes. Genie (the character) was tricked by Aladdin into freeing him from the Cave of Wonders without using one of his wishes. Jafar (in the sequel) threatened to do terrible things to his master if his master didn't help him in his quest for vengeance ("You'd be surprised what you can live through....").

    However, despite their apparent *ability* to use magic apart from granting wishes, they seemed to have some knowledge that doing so was somehow not allowed and they had some motivation to refrain from doing so as much as was possible. Seems similar to the contracts you're referring to.

    Quote Originally Posted by Segev View Post
    Sorcerers and Bards actually have friendly magical entities that like them and hang out with them and do them favors as friends.

    Interestingly, by this definition, various forms of art are (currently) magic, not technology.
    This leads to another great point. Perhaps the reason we keep turning back to Art as the alternative definition of Magic as Science, because for all we can tell, every human skill falls under either an Art or a Science. If we want to consider Magic to be anything other than Science, what do we have left to describe it but as an Art Form?

    It ties my original thought back to a modern question people are still considering, which is: would a true AI be capable of creating art, or mimicking it only?

    That's not a subject we need to dive deeply into, but perhaps their relation to each other can inform our discussion moving forward.
    Last edited by Pleh; 2018-02-15 at 12:44 PM. Reason: some clarifying punctuation

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    Default Re: Do Robots Dream of Casting Spells?

    As the 3e Ur-priest and clerics of ideals demonstrate, divine magic is just another, alternate science being manipulated. At least, that's my take on it.

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    Default Re: Do Robots Dream of Casting Spells?

    A note on Starfinder: Magic is Tech and Wizards are reality hackers (Sorcerers and such died out.) - and yes, Android make great Wizards. (Psychic powers, now that actually needs the special ingredient)

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    As the 3e Ur-priest and clerics of ideals demonstrate, divine magic is just another, alternate science being manipulated. At least, that's my take on it.
    More like another example that the guys over at WotC lost touch with their own fluff and setting reality.

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    Default Re: Do Robots Dream of Casting Spells?

    Quote Originally Posted by Florian View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    As the 3e Ur-priest and clerics of ideals demonstrate, divine magic is just another, alternate science being manipulated. At least, that's my take on it.
    More like another example that the guys over at WotC lost touch with their own fluff and setting reality.
    Not quite. Ur Priests steal divine power from the gods, somehow. It's not the same as wizards-doing-scientific-magic. It's either a form of con game or some sort of hack based on knowing how gods grant spells.

    One fun (and evil) way to frame an Ur Priest's fluff might be to have him utter prayers while holding the ritually-prepared and desecrated skulls of priests of appropriate gods. Through his dark arts, the Ur Priest has feigned the faith of the cleric whose body he desecrates in this fashion, and tricks the god into granting him access to his power, which he uses his own wise understandings to control and cast despite not using them to the ends the gods intended.

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