Thursday, October 17, 2019

Surprising Research in the Third Imperium

Readers of my blog will know that I run in my own TU, not the canon Third Imperium. However, that does not mean that I don't pay attention to the canon material. For example, I recently ran across this:

Supplement 8, Library Data (A-M) has an entry on Imperial Research Stations on page 33.

I quote a portion of that article:
Imperial research may delve into many areas. Some examples include: black hole research, both large scale and mini black hole investigation, instantaneous transmitter development (so far proving impossible) advanced gravity manipulation, generic manipulation, anti-matter containment, weapon research, disintegrator beams, black globe development, deep planetary core soundings, nova prevention and prediction. Psychohistory, mass population behavior prediction, psionics, stable super-heavy elements, deep radar analysis, long range detection systems, robotics, artificial intelligence, stasis and time travel, so-called magic, cryptography, bionics, personal shields, x-ray lasers, and high temperature superconductors.”

Wait. A. Minute.

That list said “magic”.
If that's the Earth, where is she standing?

Let that sink in for a moment.

Magic could exist in Traveller.

In one sense this should not be surprising. Read across the decades of fantastic fiction about space travel. You will find plenty of odd, weird and not-at-all scientific abilities about. Leigh Brackett's The Big Jump comes to mind, as well as the tales of Northwest Smith or Eric John Stark.

What could this mean? A whole new kind of adventure possibilities would open up with this. Acquiring, or fighting against this power, or finding out from whence it comes could become major campaign goals.

There are a few parameters I would set up first, If I were going to have magical activity in my Church & Empire setting

One, magic is not mechanistic. I mean that it is not as simple as choosing a spell from a spell list, announcing intent to cast, and getting a result. There will be preparation time, casting time and uncertainty about the result. Magic should be rare and strange and mysterious, not a process like changing spark plugs.

Two, magic and magical items will not be for sale at every major starport megaplex. If you want it, you have to go find it. Do research, chase rumors, have encounters. Hunt around the corners and dark closets of the galaxy to find things. There will be fakes, hoaxes, forgeries and every so often, the real thing.

Three, there are no standard lists of magical items by type, as if they were mass produced. Every item, every spell will be unique in its construction and mode of operation. One object with invisibility power might be a bracelet. Another might be a liquid you drink. Or a sacrifice may be called for . . .

Four, there are (at least) social consequences for using magic. People will not always want to trust a magic-wielder. Some governments might say it's against the law. The Church will not approve of it. And it may be directly harmful to you as well. Other people might want to influence or control you by magic, or because you can do magic for them.

For one perspective of how that might work, look into Sword of Cepheus, the new rules-light 2D6 sword-and-sorcery RPG coming soon from Stellagama Publishing. SoC has a magic system, including rules for the risks associated with tapping the mystic arts.

Check out their Promo Video!

It's something to think about, isn't it?  What's your point of view on magic?

Image Credit: from Pixabay


  1. IMTU, “magic” is what happens when a Lo-TL figures out how to skip way up to a Hi-TL. It usually involves mechanics cribbed from Charlie Stross’ Laundry Files, Larry Correia’s Grimnoir books, and Harry Connolly’s Twenty Palaces books. Often magic is a form of commerce between beings in different dimensions. Learning magic can be experimental, or it can be a menu of services and prices loaded into the practitioner/consumers mind.

  2. I'd suggest that most of your parameters can be achieved by making "magic" the ability to communicate with and influence "spirits", which can be conceived as localized instances of consciousness in an animistic or pan-psychic universe. Spirits can either be conceived as having either a small or negligible direct effect on physical matter, but either way can influence events through affecting those spiritual entities which are embodied. Myself, I'd also add "peak performance" abilities, such as high-adrenaline reactions, enhanced detail perception, and the like (some sources call these "somafera", "patharchy", or other terms; see the RPG FuRPiG, available for free for the Googling, which uses the "patharchy" coinage, Scientific Magic and Putting on the Wolf Skin by Wayland Skallagrimsson, or Google "somafera" for some ideas under the "somafera" term). I include some more specific notes in a recent article on my own blog, discussing ways to come at the idea using GURPS rules, and include a fairly extensive bibliography on the subject.

  3. Thor 2 is my favorite magic movie. It's all explained by future science.

  4. The few times I've anything remotely "magical" in a campaign, I rationalized along the lines suggested in that Halloween issue of GDW's Challenge: It's all either psionics, tech you can't comprehend, animals unknown to you, or some mixture of all three.