Mad Science and Magic, Together At Last

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

-Arthur C. Clarke

The above is very well known and often quoted rule, at least by fans of science fiction and fantasy. And the reason that this bon mot is so often dropped is that it is absolutely true. If you went into the past, your smart phone would effectively become a magic tablet, even without cell service. Let’s face it, we don’t use phones to talk to one another but lets get back on track.

In movies, TV, books, and comics there is a clear delineation between magic and technology. Magic is inscribing runes or glyphs, speaking specific words and making gestures to make the impossible real. Technology uses physics, chemistry, and engineering to make the impossible real.

So what’s the difference? Well, physics, chemistry and engineering are all real and magic is not, as far as I know. But they essentially accomplish the same things, narratively speaking. Whether you’re firing a plasma pistol or shooting magic flames from your hands ends up with the same result, someone’s painful death. Unless you miss but lets just say that orc or stormtrooper got what they had coming.

Again, aside from flavor, how do they differ? A plasma pistol should have a limited number of shots, like any projectile weapon. Do wizards have ammo? It depends on if they are using their own reservoir of magical energy, in which case, yes they have ammo and it’s limited. Even if they are channeling magic from outside their bodies, that has to take a toll so again, a wizard is limited on how much they can do.

Of course, an energy weapon can be hooked up to an external power source that would effectively give the shooter unlimited ammo, or near enough to deal with their foes, so that’s different. Of course a wizard could use some sort of ritual that allows them to focus magic from another dimension. It becomes a zero sum game.

Some science fiction tries to use real science to justify the fantastic things that are accomplished in the course of their stories. This is more prevalent now that it was in the past. In the Lensman books by E.E. “Doc” Smith, faster than light travel was accomplished by use of an inertialess drive. Other than the idea that being inertialess would allow you to travel faster, it has no scientific legitimacy. If you’ve not heard of the Lensman stories, the first one, “Triplanetary”, was published in 1934.

Note: A man by the name of Michael Pedler claimed to be developing an inertialess drive and raised $6.8 million to make it a reality. Spoilers, we do not have inertialess drive space ships.

So how does inertialess drive work? It just does, that’s all you need to know. In fact, that’s how a lot of science fiction tech works. I’m sure there are some that have a basis in theoretical physics or other disciplines, and I’m quite confident that some of my readers can site examples that counter this. While I admit I’m painting with a very large brush, I don’t think I’m wrong.

For magic, it’s the same thing. Why does saying certain words and waving you hands or a wand allow you to break the laws of physics? Because it does.

In the Harry Dresden series, which is about a wizard private eye operating out of Chicago, magic has rules. He can throw up a shield spell to protect himself but it takes energy. If he does it too much it can wear him out.

Too counter that, he makes rings and a bracelet that captures the energy he generates while walking around each day, like a self-winding watch, and uses that power to avoid being damaged or to throw some of that force back. While this is clearly something we cannot really do, it does have a scientific feel, despite being magical. And like the inertialess drive, it works because it does. Side note, if you’ve not read them, I suggest you check them out. After you’ve read all my stuff.

Does the lack of a solid scientific basis make it less enjoyable? For me, not at all. When you create a weird and wondrous world, it doesn’t need to be entirely realistic. The rules just need to be consistent.

In a very real way, science fiction and fantasy are closer than people think. It may come down to a matter of preference.

I have a friend who loves fantasy and super heroes but does not care for science fiction. To me, this is puzzling, not just because of all the reasons I’ve listed above but because to my way of thinking, super heroes and science fiction are very closely linked. While there are magical heroes and villains, most have origins closely tied to scientific means or more accurately pseudo-scientific means. If radiation really bestowed super powers, I would’ve dosed myself a long time ago. I know I’m not alone in this.

In spite of that fact, he just doesn’t care for science fiction and nothing I could say would change his mind. He likes what he likes.

Of course fantasy leans into the destiny of heroes and queens and kings and science fiction tends to be a little more inclusive and more democratic but the idea of a hereditary nobility still persists in the distant and not so distant future. But in both, emperors are usually evil. Another overlap on the ven diagram of these two genres. Interesting.

Maybe we should think of fantasy and science fiction as potato chips, each with a different flavor. You might love sour cream and onion or barbeque but they are both crispy and delicious. Also, they are both still chips.

So conjure up, or nano-build, a big bowl of crunchy goodness, share it with your favorite cyborg or sorceress and realize you aren’t so different after all.

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Why am I doing this?

Why do I write?

That’s a question often asked of writers. Of course, there are the stock answers, “I have stories to tell”, or “I’m compelled to by my nature.” There are few writers who don’t feel that way, myself included.

Being a writer is not good a way to become rich and famous. You’d be better off starting an instagram account if that is your goal. Of course, there are rich and famous writers but the numbers are not good. For every Stephen King, there are several thousand unknown scribes, toiling in obscurity.

I am one of them.

So, why do I write?

I’m not doing it for the money, as there isn’t any, at least coming my way and likewise, fame has proved to be equally elusive. Why do I tell stories and am compelled to tell them when I’m not sure who, if anyone, is reading them?

If you are one of the small group of excellent humans who do read what I write, I thank you. Reading someone’s work is a genuine gift. We all have a limited amount of time and if you have chosen to spend it with my words, I deeply appreciate it.

Of course, I have some old friends who I consider like family who do not read my work, despite it being delivered to their inboxes on a weekly basis. If I were a petty person, I would hold it over their heads. Maybe I do, but just a little bit.

Again, why write? No one is paying me to do so and there are no legions of fans demanding that I keep creating. I’m going to tell you a story. A true one and not an invention of my imagination.

A number of years ago, I was working in an office. To say that it was not stimulating would not do justice to the tedium that occurred on a daily basis. This job was so boring that when I was asked by strangers what my job was, I used to say that I worked for a company that ground up the souls of orphans to make objects that I assumed were used to beat orphans. While not in anyway true, it did convey the general malaise I felt about my job.

Why work there? A paycheck and health insurance, just like everyone else.

So while I was having my spirit worn away for forty hours a week, I started writing a screenplay. Of course many people write screenplays so that was not the remarkable thing. It made me happy.

Not just when I would come home and write it. Everyday, I woke up thinking about the characters, what they were going to do and what would happen to them. It excited me in a way that few things did. It made my life better.

This was not the first thing I ever wrote but it was the first time I actively associated the act of creativity with joy. Of course, not all creation is joyful. Often it is a maddening slog that feels like you are trying to swim while carrying multiple bowling balls. But I have to tell you, when you are making something, there’s nothing better.

To go back to my old job for a moment, I was not making anything. I was imputing numbers, processing paper work and other such adventures. The only thing I was making was the higher ups richer, especially when they put a raise freeze on lower levels of the company, of which I was most certainly a part of. Am I bitter? Damn right.

If I made chairs, at the end of the day I could say, “look, I made four chairs today!” (Full disclosure, I haven’t the slightest idea if making four chairs in one day is lot, a little or just right, but lets just go with four then. )

Looking at these imaginary chairs, I might think that a family would sit down on them and eat dinner. Or someone could read a book in one, or play a game. But I would’ve added something concrete to the world.

Words are ephemeral, you can’t sit on them, eat them or house yourself in them except metaphorically. But putting them in a certain order, they can make a difference. You’ve created something.

Of course some days, the words do not flow. It’s a struggle to write anything. It all sounds trite or it feels as though I’ve nothing new to say, or worse, everything I said before is garbage. Those days it feels like I’m wasting my time. Maybe I should learn how to make a chair, at least I’d have some furniture to show for my time.

I’d like to say that those days are few and far between, but that would be a filthy lie. They happen more often than I like, but not enough to make me stop.

There’s a very old joke about a man who goes to his doctor and tells him that he keeps hitting himself in the head with a hammer. The doctor understandably asks him why he keeps doing that. Because is feels so good when I stop.

Sometimes writing is like that.

All old jokes aside, at the end of the day, I’d rather build a rickety chair than nothing at all. Or a badly written page. Creating is one of the best things you can do, in my opinion.

Even on days that I’m tired, cranky and feel like I’m down to a 5% charge, I sit down and write something, even if it’s just a sentence, even it’s terrible. No worries, I can fix it tomorrow.

I’m always happier making something than not. That’s why I keep doing this. Whether or not anyone else is reading it.

That being said, I would prefer that someone is reading this.


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Game of Endings

Now that Game of Thrones is over, I’m going to reveal my predictions that I sealed in a cursed and locked cylinder at the Citadel. A maester riding an unmarked mule has just arrived so now I can reveal predictions for the end of this monumental series.

Tormund Giant’s Bane, with the help of Ghost opens a dire wolf preserve in the ruins of Castle Black, making the parents of children who wanted dire wolves as pets not liars as when they say that Growly is living up north in a place where he can run and play with other dire wolves.

Hot Pie does NOT sit on the Iron Throne but rests comfortably on the croissant couch after learning to make phyllo dough, thus establishing his own house with the motto, “We Cool On The Windowsill.”

Mera Reed finally arrives at Winterfell complaining about the traffic but most don’t believe her.

Arya Stark seeks to abandons the life of an assassin and use her face changing skills help people get over difficult break ups by letting them get closure that life seldom provides. Sadly, the parade of jilted lovers sends her into a murderous rage. The heart wants what the heart wants.

Ser Davos leans into his name and cooks the largest pot of onion soup Westeros has ever seen.

Yara Greyjoy, now the ruler of the Iron Islands, has an epiphany that rich people will pay lots of gold for something they think is exclusive and opens the Iron Islands Spa and Retreat. Customers learn to fish with their bare hands and are beaten with kelp to open up their pores. It becomes extremely popular, and she is known as Yara the Job Creator.

The new Prince of Dorn is mentioned several times but does not appear.

Jon Snow admits the real reason that renounced his claim to the Iron Throne is that he doesn’t want people to know he’s schtuping his aunt. Spoiler, Jon Snow is actually Jewish.

Robin Arryn wonders why no one visits anymore. Lord Yohn Royce contemplates telling him the truth but thinks it too cruel.

Even though the Night King is defeated and the Night’s Watch has been dissolved, Samwell Tarley continues to dress exclusively in black because he feels it makes him look cool.

Sansa and Tyrion settle into a marriage based on how they are smarter than everyone else. Ironically, it is the healthiest relationship either of them has ever been in.

As the Three Eyed Raven, Bran has the whole of human history at his disposal but ultimately squanders his gifts by guessing people’s weight at carnivals.

Daenerys, in a gesture of good will offers the people of King’s Landing an all you can eat BBQ but it is deemed to be “Too Soon.”

With no heirs, House Mormont makes a talking bear Lord of their house. It is later revealed to be Edmure Tully in a bear costume. While it doesn’t make a lick of sense, everybody just goes along with it.

Are these uncannily correct or wildly inaccurate? Full disclosure, I wrote these when hungry so there is more than one food related prediction.

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Small and yet full

One of the most challenging things about playing a tabletop RPG, Dungeons and Dragons being the most well know of them, is not learning all the rules. This is not to say that the rules are easily learned and completely intuitive, it is a lot to take in and some seem absolutely counter-intuitive. Character levels and spell levels for example, but before I fall down that rabbit hole, let me get back on track.

The really difficult part is getting everyone at the table at the same time. It wasn’t as daunting a problem when we were in high school or even college, our schedules were already determined for us, and we had a lot more energy.

As adults, it’s a decidedly more complicated. We all have a myriad of responsibilities that demand our time and “blowing them off” is not an option. Even when you have a regularly scheduled game, it’s not uncommon to be short one or more people.

Recently, I began running a Numenera game with four players. (If you want to know more about Numenera, just Google Monte Cook Games. That will tell you everything you need to know.) Our zero session went well, everybody created their characters, we established an over all direction for the game and I ran a short adventure which ended in the midst of a mission, setting up the next session.

Due to the reasons I mentioned above, the next session was delayed. We rescheduled, as you do. One of the other regular games that three out of four of the players are in was cancelled that week so I quickly suggested we continue the Numerera game. Only two out of the four could make it.

Games, to paraphrase a line for Annie Hall, are like sharks. If they do not move forward, they will die. So I ran with half the original table.

How was it? It was amazing! I’ve always had a preference for smaller tables, both as a game master and a player. Larger groups are often loud and chaotic. Some people thrive in that environment but I am not one of them.

Only having two players allowed me to give more focus to the individuals. It was both more relaxed and dynamic in that everybody got to contribute and because there were only two PCs, it moved a lot quicker.

At a larger table everybody wants to chime in, which is in no way a bad thing. This is a collaborative hobby, so players should be encouraged to share their thoughts. The unfortunate byproduct of this is what might be referred to as the “But teacher, you forgot to give us homework!” syndrome, where someone has just remembered some detail that will, they think, either makes the plan untenable or they just had a brand new “better” idea.

This is predicated on an adversarial relationship between player and the game master. A good GM will take the plan the PCs put forward and work with it. Of course if on its face, unlikely to succeed, the GM should point that out.

With a smaller table, it became more collaborative, we all worked with each other to tell this story. In fact, one of the players got a temporary skill in philosophy as a result of an attack by the aptly named “Chance Moth.” This skill helped in the rescue of a child, the goal of the session.

I had not planned in any way, shape or form that abstract thinking would be the key to this adventure but it was. Could this have happened at larger table? Of course it could have. Would it? No way of knowing but the more intimate nature of a small table allows these less obvious story turns to happen.

We had another two player sessions, with the same two players, and it was another fun game. One of the characters learned more about their background, simply by asking, “does this seem familiar to me?” Again, with the luxury of time, we were able to explore that question.

Now these sorts of things can happen at the largest of tables. But they are less likely to happen unless everyone can let the focus shift. It’s not always easy to be as invested in another character’s development, but if there’s a small group, it’s easier to get behind. One, because you have closer relationships with the other characters, and two, most probably, it will be your turn next.

So if only two players show up for your weekly game, take the opportunity to explore things that those characters wish to in a way that might not be feasible at the full table. You’ll find that less is definitely more.

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Opening lines to unwritten stories.

With a flourish, she produced the missing file and then clicked “send all.”

Sleep eluded him like a dog at bath time.

Rain and a broken umbrella made Margaret a prisoner of her condominium.

Day old pizza is a joy but the same cannot be said of week old salad.

With the choice of doing anything in the world, her majesty spent this day watching repeats of the Great British Baking Show.

Love doesn’t hurt but its lack is devastating.

Deep space pilot is the perfect occupation for a highly intelligent introvert.

Jerry wondered where dust comes from but lacked the initiative to Google it.

As the battle-axe slipped from her hands, Vernaka thought about her mother’s admonishment to wash her hands before a fight.

Never tell an author what you think they should’ve done.

Believing in yourself is harder than telling someone to do so.

In ancient times, they worshiped multiple gods, notable amongst them were the Avengers and the great Beyoncé.

Sometimes the most profound thing you can do is just shut up and listen.

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What do you do with an empty dungeon?

So, you’ve cleared out a dungeon. All the monsters are slain, the traps disarmed and the treasure looted. Most adventurers move on to the next quest. Let me tell you this, those people are fools! FOOLS! They are leaving gold in the chest.

Dungeons are not just places that contain treasure, they are places that make treasure. Here are a few ideas on how to make gold with an empty dungeon.

1- Fixer Upper. While most D&D characters are much better at destruction than construction, there’s no reason to not to polish up those home decoration skills. Once you dispose of the monster corpses, wash off the bloodstains, and give the place a proper scrubbing, you will have a very valuable property on your hands. A fresh coat of paint and some new furniture and you have an underground palace. Flip that labyrinth for even more gold! Or break it up into smaller units and just watch the rent pour in!
2- We Have A Zoo! Sure you could just kill all those monsters but think about this, lots of people will never see an actual Owlbear or Purple Worm and if they do, it will be the last thing they see before being devoured. Just carefully cage up those deadly critters in a simulation of their natural environment, and hire some scholars and Rangers to keep an eye on things. This is like a spell that makes gold but with no material components. Warning, if the monsters escape this could go horribly, terribly, tragically wrong. But I’m surethat will never happen. What sort of Dungeon Master would do that?
3- Mall of Merchants. Who wants to go to market in the rain or snow? No one, not even the merchants. What if you put all the shops under one roof? That way folks could get everything they want in one place! Offer cart rides to the entrance, covered in inclement weather, and let the coin flow. You set up a large tavern in the middle and call it the Court of Food. Watch out though, surly teens will loiter but you fought a beholder, so no worries. Right?
4- Mega Inn. The average inn usually is short of beds, so there is a lot of sharing. Ugh! What if you took that huge empty complex and turned it in to a five star resort? Most adventurers, after a certain point have more gold than they know what to do with, so really, you’re doing them a favor. Turn that acid pool into a swimming pool. Hire a team of Halfling chefs to feed the guests. Book well known bards to entertain. Set up a casino. You could put this in the middle of a wasteland and people would come. Remember, what happens in the dungeon, stays in the dungeon.
5- Storage. What do people need more of? Space. Sure you could give away those magic weapons you no longer use because they are less powerful, but you might need them some day. Better lock them up in an armory. Gold and gems are heavy, why not have your own personal vault? Just reinforce the doors, set up some vicious traps and station some guards, and maybe even put a few monsters in there. Just a deterrent. Wait, this just sounds like a regular dungeon. Circle of life and death.

So as you can see, you need not loot and run. Turn those ruins into something spectacular! Just because some place is called the Cursed Castle of Certain Death, doesn’t mean you can’t rebrand. The possibilities are endless.

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Six Word O’clock

One ticket or two? Just one…

Cat novelist writes. Egtekn873………absahog; 02shfxcmsl.

Then what happens? No spoilers please.

Beer with friends or whiskey alone.

Inspiration arrives unannounced then Irish goodbye.

Nature is beauty, mud and bugs.

In love, don’t fuck it up.

How did you do that? Oh.

Money isn’t happiness. Neither is poverty.

Dwell on the past, diminish present.

Kindness will alter, in ways unknown.

A quiet house, calm and creepy.

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