So to one degree or another every game involves both science and magic. Dungeons and Dragons is a highly magical setting but iron is still turned into steel and wheels still make moving things around easier. On the other side of the coin, Cyberpunk has their virtual reality which is (arguably) just a spirit world that is based upon programming we understand as opposed to being based on programming we do not. As Arthur C. Clarke’s third law states “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” It may be called “psionics” in Alternity, but from story/setting/GM’s perspective you might as well be talking about magic.Are Jedi wizards? Of course they are. What they do is normal and predictable to them while being fantastic only to someone who doesn’t know how the trick was done. What fantasy wizards do is only mysterious to non-wizards. To the spell caster in question, they do x, y, and z and the result is a fireball. Anyone who knew properly how to do x, y, and z should also get a fireball. Sometimes magical feats also require a certain amount of natural magical ability on the caster’s part, but even still, the caster usually understands how the “magic” was done. From their point of view it still boils down to a formula. One of the ingredients just may happen to be an inborn “gift” or (put another way) a genetic predisposition. In some systems, like Rifts, magic and science are capable of working hand in hand. Cyborg dragons, spelled up robots, magic infused, satellite guided, nuclear missiles. In other systems, like Shadowrun, they are naturally opposing forces and at some point you must choose which you wish to excel in or be doomed to mediocrity in both areas. Personally I like the idea of magic and science working together, but without some kind of solid setting to work with that kind of thing tends to get out of hand quickly. Hell, even with a solid setting to work with the same thing often happens. Just look at Rifts. In the end Paladium simply waved the white flag and gave up entirely on the idea of game balance. Can you blame them though? Spell casting, ninja, alien, juicers, with cybernetic implants, spell tattoos, and rail guns are just too cool for school. What can one GM reasonably do? When Fasa made Shadowrun and its sister game, Earthdawn, I thought the idea they came up with was very neat from a world building point of view. In this setting the world goes through “Ages” with the even numbered ages being magic centered and the odd numbered ages being science centered. At the edges of these ages there is a mix in the world even though the two forces refuse to mix in a single application, like oil and water. In the middle of a given age, one force dominates completely and examples of the other force are mysterious oddities. Modern day would be considered the fifth age with Shadowrun being set on the cusp between ages five and six and Earthdawn taking place in age four. The interesting thing is that in Earthdawn everyone does everything with magic and no one is skilled at anything. In general thieves use spells to open closed objects, but a thief who actually knows how to manually unlock something (ie. has a skill for that
instead of a spell) is a rarity like someone who magics open a lock would be today. What a neat idea! Then there’s White Wolf’s Adventure/Aberrant/Trinity world. Adventure is set in the 1920s and you play pulp style heroes; Indiana Jones, The Shadow, Doc Savage, etc. Some heroes have actual spiffy abilities like The Shadow disappearing, but most of them are just remarkably capable, skilled and dedicated people. Then Abberant was set in modern day and you play super heroes, your powers scientifically defined in the world as being completely able to defy the laws of nature (thermodynamics, conservation of energy, etc). Then in Trinity you play human psychics in a science fiction setting who hunt down and try to destroy any remaining super heroes (now called Abberants). You have powers, but yours are okay because they obey the laws of nature. Science magic vs non-science magic! I love it! Man… Now I want to play one of these games. See what you made me do?