Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Articles of Dragon: "Modern Monsters"

When I was a kid, the idea of mixing magic and technology was (largely) blasphemous. For some reason, it offended my youthful sensibilities, which insisted that fantasy and science fiction were two separate genres of literature, the division between which was impermeable. It took my purchase of Expedition to the Barrier Peaks (and, later, Blackmoor) to soften my stance on this question, but, even then, I was still instinctively opposed to the notion, despite ample evidence that the older generation of gamers, to whom I looked up, had no such qualms about it.

Consequently, I was equally baffled by both the sections of the Dungeon Masters Guide that included guidelines for converting Gamma World and Boot Hill characters to AD&D (and vice versa) and by articles like "Modern Monsters" in issue #57 (January 1982) of Dragon. I can't be certain, but I think this was the first article I ever read written by Ed Greenwood and I didn't think much of it at the time. Stats for cars and bazookas? Advice and guidelines regarding the functioning of magic in modern, technological worlds? Why? What was the point?

Now, there was no question that Greenwood's article was well presented and made ready use of ideas and suggestions from earlier articles (like James Ward's "Monty and the German High Command," for example). Heck, the article even had footnotes, citing not just previous Dragon material but a host of classic fantasy and SF literature where magic and technology contended. But none of that moved me and I found myself unable -- or unwilling -- to shake off the staid notion that six-guns and sorcery should never appear side by side. It's only been in recent years that I've abandoned my adolescent scruples regarding genre mixing and happily included robots and laser pistols in my fantasy without regret. Live and learn!

21 comments:

  1. I'd rather a world of both science and magic than a world of mostly magic with some science or mostly science with some magic.

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  2. In my early days in the hobby, I wanted to keep the two separate, but I've long since come to think some blend of science-fantasy is way-fun. I particularly like ancient, lost civilizations of science-that-seems-like-magic, things well beyond the "current" setting and which the players can rediscover. Tekumel, of course, is a prime example, as are Jorune and WFRP -- at least through 1e and WFB 1 and 2. That's one reason Dwimmermount was so much fun to read about, watching the science-fantasy threads play out. (I was so hoping they'd go to the planet of the Red Elves (as I recall)).

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  3. I'm young enough to have been introduced to the concept of RPGs via computer games, namely the Might & Magic series. That series' peculiar background (where the magical world was secretly on a space ship) greatly affected the way I've conceptualized fantasy gaming, and most of my early worlds were high fantasy settings with science fiction backgrounds.

    It's actually been only recently that I've begun to separate the two. My most recent campaign was supposed to rely heavily on its medieval atmosphere, and I felt that having rayguns next to the Devil would make it fall apart.

    Still, one of the reasons I'm such a fan of the Wilderlands is the sci fi elements present in the Necromancer Games version.

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  4. I enjoy mixing SF and fantasy although in AD&D this seemed to lead into inserting Psionics into the fantasy milieu. To my thinking Magic and Psionics are two explanations for the same phenomena. Having both in the same setting is unnecessary and confusing. The unplayable AD&D Psionics rules didn't help either.

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  5. I think I've always employed crossovers of science fiction into fantasy settings (although rarely the other way around), but I've always resisted the temptation to introduce high technology that was reproducible. I don't want industrialization in my fantasy settings. (When I play a fantasy game, I want to escape from the industrialized present to a mythical/fantastical past.)

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  6. Growing up on Marvel Comics (and some DC) you get very used at a young age to a wizard, a Norse God, a dude in power armor, and an alien from Mars running around together. Sci Fi and Fantasy to me go together like a dog and a bun.

    I was well ready for the crazy mix in D&D that David Hargrave and some Judges Guild indulged in.

    Having said all that, I keep my long running D&D world fairly clean up tech. Very rare and major occurance if a starship lands or a robot from a future battlefield gets gated to the dungeon, but it can happen. In the distant past I've had Doc Frankenstien types making flesh golems and robots in the Tegel Manor lab, and even have aliens involved in some of the wackiness therin. Not sure how much canon I would consider that for my world currently. Pretty basic, hardly-tech fantasy world.

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  7. Remember that many Lovecraftian beasties are technologically advanced. Mi-Go, Shan, Serpent people, The Great Race and Primordial ones would all possess strange technologies that might eventually fall into player's hands.

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  8. I used to feel the same way. Something about the youthful mind wanting the world to be schematic and entirely explainable. For me, the story that really made me examine my preferences was the two-book series Mordant's Need, by Donaldson. It makes use of two tropes which are often looked down on by fantasy fans: 1) the main character comes from our earth (through a mirror) and 2) there is a sci-fi character in the second book (space suit, laser rifle, and all). Though the ending is not perfect, I highly recommend it, and I think anyone that shares some of the tastes exhibited here on Grognardia would greatly enjoy it (if you have not already read it). The way magic is depicted (as the power of mirrors) is also quite original.

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  9. I don't have anyting against about mixing the Sci Fi and Fantasy together, it just doesn't happen. The again, whjat is the difference between a handgun and its functional equivalent - wand of magic missiles? How about the equivalency of a tank to an armored knight on the battlefield of its day? Another thing to cosider is that genetically, a modern man is the same being genetically, as the Cro-Magnon Man. You can teach a cave man to hunt with a rifle without explaining to him how it works. By the same token, if you went back with a crate of asault rifles into Ancient Egypt or Ancient Rome, are you really naive enough to think that the educated among their priests and rulers will go - Thunder stick! Mighty God! Thunder stick! Mighty God! More likely, they will get you by flattery or torture to reveal to the how to operate the asasault rifle and pretty soon the ancients will be ducking around taking potshots at you with no regard to your divinity.

    To avouid that pitfall, and to make the magic truly fantastic, and a fantasy world fantastic, I tweaked the physics of that uiverse in such a way, that the scientific method does not work. Midlands (my campaign) Wizards will make great scientists and engineers in our mundane world, if they ever lived here, but they don't, and in their universe, experimentation and hypothesizing will NOT yield replicable results. Wizards CAN NOT get together, organise a lab and advance magic via research. When it works, there is no logical explanation for it,a puzzle for players rooted in modern physics. Knowledge is elevated to mystical, metaphysical, and philosophical.

    For that reason, rayguns do ot exist side by side with eldrich wizardy in my fantasy game. It IS conceivable and a technological artefact might get to Midlands, it just WON'T WORK PROPERLY. The more complex the item, the more usntable it becomes. Thus, an antacid tablet will take away the bellyache, as it was designed, while an aspirin tablet, will heal some, poison others, will drive some insane, and will ruin the good reputation of any would be healer from our universe.

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  10. I guess I'm the oddball here, but I still don't like mixing magic and science, at least when I play D and D.

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  11. I'd say the article (which I've not read, so I can't speculate beyond your comments) did nothing more than anticipate the whole "Urban Fantasy" genre by a few years (though only a bit, since Anne Rice's first books were already in publication). Would the first edition of Shadowrun have been out by this time?

    Mixing magic and technology wasn't really anything too new. As By the Sword pointed out, it was a regular staple of Lovecraft (albeit pulp era technology).

    I encourage trying to mix the two. I'm in the early stages of designing a 3.5 campaign right now, that takes the Forgotten Realms setting, and advance it to roughly mid to late 19th Century standards...steamships, revolvers, early autopistols and bolt-action rifles, gatling guns, breech loading artillery, steam locomotives...but as happened with technology in the 19th Century, it has spread unevenly, leading to some great clashes of culture where one side might have more technology but a lot less magic (magic is dying out in the technological parts of the world, mainly the West), vs. the more "barbaric" portions eastern and far north portions, where the weapons technology is still mostly sword and board oriented, with maybe a handful of muzzle loader flintlocks and smooth bore artillery in spots, and lots of high level spell casters (divine and arcane) still to be had. Even the pantheon will take sides.

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  12. I used to hate the mixing of SF and fantasy elements when I first started playing d&d in 1981. Of all things, it was Snarfquest that changed my mind. Weird, I haven't thought of that in about 25 years. Thanks for making me feel as old as I am :)

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  13. At first I had my SF and fantasy roleplaying games separate, but the publication of Shadowrun changed my mind. It was and still is pretty goofy, but it was fun for the 13-year old me, and it showed that both magic and technology can co-exist in the same setting.

    That said, I think I've still ran mostly separate things. Though Traveller with its teleportation and other stuff sometimes goes into the magic territory, and I do get annoyed by the psionics in almost every SF rpg. For example, Eclipse Phase doesn't need them, in my opinion.

    I'm of course free to ignore that, and I'll do that if I ever get to run a game in Eclipse Phase.

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  14. I'm morally certain that James Ward's "Monty and the German High Command" was actually a parody of Gary Gygax's "Sturmgeschutz and Sorcery". For whatever that's worth...

    --Erich Schwarz

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  15. For some reason I like sci-fi technology mixed with fantasy better than I like modern technology mixed with fantasy.

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  16. as per the might and magic comment (up to MM8 had swords and science!, don't forget that the wizardy series also mixed the two....i think that in addition to Barrier Peaks, Wizardry 8 and Might and Magic VI to be the best mixes of science and fantasy...

    btw MM6-8 are still floating around, with fan made patches for playing on new windows boxes....if you've never played them, they are really excellent

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  17. If you're serving dinner, there's nothing wrong with a clean "peas on this side, carrots on the other" aesthetic, and there's also nothing wrong with serving a dish of mixed vegetables. It depends entirely on the chef's wishes and the diner's appetite he wishes to tempt.

    For some people, _not_ mixing sf and fantasy is an amazing step outside of their stereotypes of thought. So it goes either way.

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  18. I like the concept so much I named my blog, Mutants & Magic, after the section in the DMG which you mentioned.

    http://mutantsmagic.blogspot.com/

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  19. I'm running a straight-up, no-high-tech fantasy game right now. I may include sci fi tech at some point . . . but I don't really plan on it. I'm not opposed to it (I loved Barrier Peaks, personally), it's just not what I want right now. We didn't mix sci fi and fantasy in my early dungeoneering days, so I won't mix them now.

    But since I run GURPS it's trivial to add tech. Which might be the problem right there. In D&D a blaster pistol might just be to same as a wand of fireballs. In GURPS, the immediate lethality of a TL10 X-Ray Laser is much higher than I'm allowing for magical spells. So I either need to gut the tech a bit or make magic more powerful. Either way, I'm risking disrupting some of the magic of our game, I think.

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  20. I've always had some version of firearms in my game, it always made sense that dwarves or whomever had access to it. The reason it was a revolutionary technology as it was in the real world is long-range fire-based spells that make it's use even more dangerous. But it's certainly popular in certain quarters, and the technology (given dwarves and gnomes) is pretty advanced. Technical sophistication is Boot Hill and lower - it's availability is on par with the cottage industry nature of gunsmithing in Europe at the same time frame rather than the industrial processes of the United States and England.

    I have also included a more "science fantasy" class of missle weapons that took inspiration from the Dart Guns of the Witch World series by Andre Norton. I've never bothered to define out the mechanics as more then "quasi-magical" but think of them as some sort of gauss weapon I guess. The expense of both the ammunition and the weapons themselves keep them somewhat limited in use.

    One interesting thing I did was to have a single proficiency for each class Firearms and Darters, but made them cost two "slots" each. That really cuts down on their availability as well.

    D.

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  21. Hi there. I host a weekly podcast and reference this article in this weeks episode. Do you happen to have the issue currently in your possession? 

    My #57 and/or best of #5 is long gone so I can't dig it out to get a look but do I remember correctly one of the pieces of art are some adventurers running with weapons and a hockey stick or something.

    http://pennyredpodcast.com

    daniel at hazardgaming dot com

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