Creative Destruction

May 27, 2006

D&D Meets Physics

Filed under: Science — Robert @ 12:32 am

Coming soon: invisibility. Oddly, the article doesn't mention that the technology stops working after you attack someone.

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13 Comments »

  1. Clearly they mean improved invisibility.

    I’ve always thought the plain 2nd-level invisibility, with it’s curious rule that it stops after you attack, doesn’t really make you invisible, but merely unnoticeable. Thus, it works by altering perceptions rather than bending light.

    Thus, when the mage attacks someone, the other guy will realize “hey, he was there all along, I just didn’t notice”. It also explains why a 10th-level character has a change of noticing the invisible character with a succesful saving throw (this wouldn’t make sense if the person was really invisible), and why basic invisibility lasts longer than improved one. It isn’t as cool as bending light, but what did you expect for a lousy second level spell?

    Get some levels, weakling! (and pointing out that I am a geek is absolutely redundant).

    Comment by Tuomas — May 27, 2006 @ 6:50 am | Reply

  2. To clarify, the saving throw refers to Ad&D, they nowadays resolve things with a spot check (dc 20).

    Comment by Tuomas — May 27, 2006 @ 6:51 am | Reply

  3. Your approach also has the advantage of clarifying why invisibility works against creatures with forms of perception like infravision, not just visual sight. So invisibility wouldn’t work against, say, a motion detector or a laser grid – there’s no mind to fool.

    On the downside, your approach would also mean that the spell wouldn’t function on creatures without minds, such as golems – but that seems to be contrary to the spirit/intent of the spell.

    Anyone who believes in intellectual consistency also pretty much has to believe in dragging Gary Gygax out of his mother’s basement and beating some answers out of him.

    Comment by Robert — May 27, 2006 @ 5:53 pm | Reply

  4. Anyone who believes in intellectual consistency also pretty much has to believe in dragging Gary Gygax out of his mother’s basement and beating some answers out of him.

    Well, yes. Or show him some guys who are good with min-maxing (munchkins) and make him recoil in horror of what he has done.

    Comment by Tuomas — May 28, 2006 @ 3:17 pm | Reply

  5. Min-maxing: the reason why I don’t play D&D anymore.

    Comment by Off Colfax — May 28, 2006 @ 5:20 pm | Reply

  6. I guess that’s one advantage of my group’s style of roleplaying, which has no formal rules at all; no rulebook = no min-maxing.

    Comment by Ampersand — May 29, 2006 @ 5:26 am | Reply

  7. creatures without minds, such as golems

    Do golems have minds? I argued no, that creating an independent intellect would be a vastly greater power than creating a robot, and therefore a golum was basically a telepathically-controlled robot. Hence it should be able to follow my commands as quick as throught.

    The dungeon master ruled that golems of the Jewish folk tradition were the equivalent of the Frankenstein movie monster: strong, dumb, and as likely to plague its creator as anything else. To the extent that there was telepathic communication, it was on the level of communicating with the Frankenstein monster: limited vocabulary, slowly extracted. And the golum would never be able to follow a battle plan more complicated than “squash everything you see.”

    Anyone who believes in intellectual consistency also pretty much has to believe in dragging Gary Gygax out of his mother’s basement and beating some answers out of him.

    Such as, what happens to a way-cool sword that you retrieve from the belly of a heat-emitting dragon? If you imagine that the dragon emits heat because he’s hot all the way through, then the sword may be melted. But if you imagine the dragon emits heat because he acts as a heat-pump, extracting all the available heat from his interior, then his interior would be an icebox, perhaps rendering the sword brittle.

    And, while the source of a fireball’s fire is magical, is the fire itself? To what extend to fireballs work under water, etc.?

    The classic question, however, regards teleportation. What happens to the space in which the person left? If some guy teleports out of a submerged vessel, does he create a vaccuum? Or do the molecules of his body and the molecules of his destination change place? This would be a big issue when people teleported into cliffs. Initially the dungeon master ruled that this provoked an explosion. So we started attacking enemies in dungeons by teleporting rocks into the ceiling above them. So the DM switched his ruling to say that teleported objects switched places with the area to which they teleported. This opened all kinds of interesting possibilities. We could make it appear that we could turn ourselves into water or smoke simply by teleporting ourselves into a lake, or a smoky place. But if we wanted to rescue someone turned to stone, maybe we needed a spell, or maybe we needed to find the cliff into which he teleported.

    Man, what a time-suck D&D was.

    Comment by nobody.really — May 30, 2006 @ 11:42 am | Reply

  8. Nobody.Really

    Initially the dungeon master ruled that this provoked an explosion. So we started attacking enemies in dungeons by teleporting rocks into the ceiling above them. So the DM switched his ruling to say that teleported objects switched places with the area to which they teleported.

    If I had been DM, I wouldn’t have changed my ruling. Instead I would have your enemies attacking you by teleporting rocks into the ceiling above you.

    That’d teach you players to have smart ideas…

    Comment by Daran — June 1, 2006 @ 2:43 am | Reply

  9. The classic question, however, regards teleportation. What happens to the space in which the person left? If some guy teleports out of a submerged vessel, does he create a vaccuum? Or do the molecules of his body and the molecules of his destination change place?

    In a traditional fantasy universe such as the typical D&D game’s universe, it’s a mistake – although sometimes a very enjoyable one – to allow modern ideas about physics to determine the effects of magical spells. The answer to your question, in my opinion, is that the space the person left is seamlessly and without implosion filled with air (or filled with water, if the teleportation took place underwater).

    Of course, there are some fantasy universes – such as the universe in the novels of China Miéville – in which it’s appropriate to think about physics when determining the effects of magic. But in most fantasy roleplaying games, thinking about questions like “is a vacuum created when someone teleports” is a non-sequitur.

    Comment by Ampersand — June 1, 2006 @ 8:38 am | Reply

  10. Admittedly, we didn’t go probing for physics problems. But when you leap from the tower into the moat, and it turns out that your new ring gives you the power to walk on water, the DM has to make a call about the mechanism by which water-walking rings work. Do they render a person effectively light and buoyant, or do they render water effectively hard? I don’t see how the DM can escape it.

    The answer to your question, in my opinion, is that the space the person left is seamlessly and without implosion filled with air (or filled with water, if the teleportation took place underwater).

    Ok, there are two ways to interpret this.

    1) Letter of the law: Applying the Amp interpretation literally, a player could use a teleport spell to create more of anything he could submerge himself in: air, water, dirt, sand, gravel, gold pieces…? Literal interpretations were favored by “clockwork god” DMs, who establish rules but apply them indifferently.

    2) Spirit of the law: Applying the Amp rule’s spirit, a player might be blocked in (or punished for) attempting to use the “fine print” of supernatural stuff for purposes for which the DM did not intended. These interpretations were favored by “interventionist god” DMs. Such DMs were like the Greek gods, leaving mere mortals in the knowledge that planning, effort and dice are all hubris; everything depends on the will of the gods.

    Curiously, I had one interventionist DM who reveled in fine print. We called him O Henry, because he would have magical wishes bring unintended disaster to the wisher unless the wisher was VERY specific. “I wish for a Vorpal Sword +6, alone, not otherwise owned, unaccompanied by anyone using it or claiming it, nor otherwise encumbered in any manner that would prevent me from claiming and using said sword for the purposes for which swords are intended. Said sword should have the qualities of a sword, plus the qualities of a Vorpal Sword +6 as described in AD&D Dungeon Master’s Manual at p. 121-22, but no other qualities. This wish shall be interpreted according to the laws of the State of Delaware, and any disputes shall be resolved by binding arbitration….”

    (For what it’s worth, we had another DM, Dan, whom we secretly nicknamed Dick Meat. We all happily referred to him as DM, and he never new the difference – until we got involved in a game of charades as part of a school “Getting to Know You” exercise. Dan and I were on different teams. You would draw a name of someone in the room and then attempt to get your team to guess, as quickly as possible, which person you had drawn. As the game proceeded, my team conspired to assign a hand signal for each person in the room whose name had not yet been pulled; why mess around with guessing? When it was my turn, I drew the name of the DM and prepared to give the signal. When the clock started, I pointed to my dick and my team immediately responded, “DAN!”

    Dan acknowledged being puzzled by this reaction, but decided to be flattered.)

    See? D&D is STILL a time-suck.

    Comment by nobody.really — June 1, 2006 @ 11:59 am | Reply

  11. There’s also the narrativist DM. He would have you be buoyant and light, or have the water be hard, or whatever, depending on what would best advance the plot or develop the story.

    Comment by Robert — June 1, 2006 @ 12:03 pm | Reply

  12. In a traditional fantasy universe such as the typical D&D game’s universe, it’s a mistake – although sometimes a very enjoyable one – to allow modern ideas about physics to determine the effects of magical spells.

    One idea I’ve been playing around for a while is to simply make the fantasy world (/universe) really operate under pre-modern physics model, which some designers obviously meant things to be (ethereal plane, phlogiston…) Thus, alchemy is a science and magic is manipulation of various laws of universe, and inventing a firearm just wouldnn’t be possible (no offense to fans of steampunk etc. but wizards with pistols is just silly).

    The current trend seems to be making a sharp divide between normal and magical, which is easy (hmm, it doesn’t make sense… magic!), but also potentially exploitable. My model does explain why mind flayers, being supra-geniuses aren’t making mincemeat out of the characters with +4 gatling guns of rapid shot, and also gets rid of the cognitive dissonance of a 10th-level fighter shrugging of a direct hit from a trebuchet boulder (as to pre-modern people, a great hero doing improbable things is plausible and explained by sheer heroism).

    Comment by Tuomas — June 1, 2006 @ 6:18 pm | Reply

  13. This is one problem with the magic… e.g. who consistently powers the magical gravity effect of the planes? People walk around like normal people on earthly planes, yet the land is a flat land, on most D&D worlds anyway. And for that gravity to work someone needs to control it, consistently, never sleeping, never eating, never doing anything else.

    Comment by Chado2423 — June 8, 2010 @ 12:06 pm | Reply


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