Monday, May 23, 2016

The Force as Space Magic

Space Wizard by 3nrique

That wizard is just a crazy old man 
-Owen Lars, A New Hope

Thought it was a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. A magical power holding together good and evil... the dark side and the light. Crazy thing is... it's true. The Force. The Jedi. All of it. It's all true. 
-Han Solo, The Force Awakens

Now since “paranormal” is a long word, and I am basically lazy,we can now introduce the word “psi.” . . . I’m sorry to have to keep doing this, but as we said before, in magic things often become what we call them. 
– Isaac Bonewits, Real Magic
The Force is best depicted as Magic.  The Force itself is described as an energy field that pervades the universe, an energy field that certain individuals are sensitive to and can manipulate through concentration, training and expenditure of energy.  Sometimes, this energy field becomes twisted and aspected in a particular direction, such as Dagobah, which is "Strong in the dark side of the Force."  You know what that sounds like?  Mana.  What do we call the manipulation of mana through concentration, training and expenditure of energy? Magic. While it's true that the effects seen in Star Wars more closely resemble psionics, the entire point of psionics is to replace mystical claptrap with scientific-sounding claptrap when discussing paranormal phenomenon.  But Star Wars returns that mystical claptrap to its paranormal phenomenon.  What do we call mystical paranormal phenomenon? Magic.

Magic can absolutely perform the sorts of tricks we see the Jedi perform.  Oracles and diviners can see the future.  Magicians regularly seem to hover or levitate objects, just as Jedi do, and magicians regularly read and/or influence minds: from stage magicians hypnotizing an audience or reading which card they're holding to witches who "fascinate" or "enchant" their subjects.  In fact, "magic" and "psychic" are largely synonymous terms, especially when it comes to sideshow fortune tellers or stage magicians.

Furthermore, Star Wars is full of magical elements.  It has places of power, such as the dangerous cave Luke stepped into on Dagobah, or the Jedi Temple of Yavin 4 from the Extended Universe, or the tombs of Corriban.  Star Wars also seems to place significant emphasis on artifacts and relics: Kylo Ren's obsession with Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber makes little sense in a scientific context (that makes about as much sense as a modern soldier desperately hunting after Hitler's favorite pistol), but it makes an enormous amount of sense in a mystical context (such as an obsessive hunt after Excalibur or the Spear of Destiny). Star Wars also emphasizes destiny, not just in the sense of "I have foreseen a future and in it, you did this," but in the sense of a metaphysical weight behind someone, a purpose determined by a higher power.  Star Wars generally places a great deal of emphasis on the old and ancient: The Jedi are an ancient religion, and ancient order, unchanged by time.  Why?  Because the Jedi operate in a fundamentally mythic way.  The Force is not a science to be developed over time, but an ancient wisdom to be understood.  The tombs of the Sith contain more wisdom than the laboratories of the Empire.  The result is a setting that trades more strongly in the tropes of fantasy fiction than it does in the tropes of science fiction, thus some people even refer to Star Wars as Science Fantasy.

About ten years ago I set out to write a children's film, and I had an idea of doing a modern fairy tale... I wrote many drafts of this work and then I stumbled across The Hero With a Thousand Faces. It was the first time that I really began to focus. Once I read that book I said to myself, This is what I've been doing. This is it... It was The Hero With a Thousand Faces that just took what was about 500 pages and said, here is the story. Here's the end; here's the focus; here's the way it's all laid out. It was all there and had been there for thousands and thousands of years, as Mr. Campbell pointed out. And I said, "This is it." 
-George Lucas, National Arts Club, 1985, in regards to the inspiration for Star Wars
George Lucas deliberately set this mythical element in Star Wars.  Where most Space Opera makes an effort to hide its origins in some other genre, George Lucas brought it to the forefront.  If we dismiss the idea of the Force as Magic out of hand, we dismiss a major element of Star War's inspiration.

GURPS Magic as the Force

Using GURPS Magic opens up all kinds of great options for us, as it's the most well-supported "powers" system in all of GURPS.  It's supported right out of the core book (like Psi is), and it has an entire hard-back volume expanding it (GURPS Magic) and then another (Thaumatology).

For this exploration we will, of course, be using GURPS Magic.  GURPS absolutely brims with support for Magic (another point in its favor), so we'll use some of those resources, including GURPS Thaumatology, which we'll use to refine any magical concepts that don't entirely fit.

I will not be using the more recent, and increasingly popular, Ritual Path Magic.  I leave designing Space Ritual Path Magic to whatever reader that wishes to explore that concept.

Of course, we don't expect space knights to intone space-latin while making arcane gestures and then shooting a fireball at their opponents.  We expect something that at least looks somewhat psionic.  But fortunately, David Pulver is already a step ahead of us.  He wrote an article entitled "Magic as Psi" in Pyramid #3/29 Psionics. where he tackled this very problem.  He noted that many spells in GURPS Magic already readily imitate Psionic abilities: the Mind college and the Communication college allow the reading and influence of minds, the Movement college allows for telekinetic effects, and the Knowledge college allows for extra-sensory perception.

Magic also has relatively low point-costs associated with them.  Where a psion easily spends 50 points on a single power, a magician with 50 points of spells and Magery is already well on his way to magical mastery.

GURPS Magic does come with quite a few baked-in assumptions, but those aren't necessarily so bad.  The expenditure of fatigue applies to Psionics as well, and tracks nicely with the idea of "Force Points" as seen in other systems.  Spells require concentration to cast, but the Jedi certainly concentrate when casting their spells.  Incantations, wands, staves and magic books are inappropriate, but also removed by Pulver's article, so no longer a concern.  We have more spells than we need, but we can always pare the list down, or even add a few new spells as we need.  And if we find that an element is especially inappropriate, we can always adjust the rules with the help of GURPS Thaumatology.

The only real problem I see with using GURPS Magic is that many Jedi powers seem fairly innate.  They work whether or not the Jedi actively activates them: He dreams what the Force wants him to dream, and the Force warns him of danger moments before it happens.  A Jedi doesn't need to "cast" each ability to activate it.

Getting Started

Like last week, I'll explore what 50 points of magic spells will get you, though unlike Psi, I'll show you what a more integrated Jedi might look like, as Magic allows for much broader characters.  Then we'll dig into the Light Side and the Dark Side of magic, and we'll use Thaumatology to look at how we might handle the different metaphysics, and we'll look at things like enchantment, places of power and destiny.  Finally, we'll look back, see how it all went, what we can do to make it even more Force-like, and what Psi-Wars might look like if we went crazy with a Magical universe.

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