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Main Story, an atheist cliche?


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I've addressed this in another thread where I basically said I wished we had a wider range of options available to respond to the revelation other than "No, my world is shattered!" and "How dare they lie to me! *Rage fist at sky*"  I would have been happy if they had simply provided me with that outlet to respond in a more nuanced way.  It's the fact that they didn't allow this and not the revelation itself that made the end come off as quite didactic to me.  I felt like they were trying to coach my reaction to the revelation. 

 

I also personally think atheism is a weird theme to explore in fantasy.  If you are trying to science up magic, you are basically turning fantasy into sci-fi.  Magic just *is* and that's what makes fantasy fantasy.  It should have boundaries and consistency, but at the point you can put it in a beaker and precisely measure it and define its nature you are now just dealing with chemistry or physics and therefore science fiction and not fantasy.  There is a reason why many of modern fantasy's founding members (Tolkien, Lewis, George McDonald, etc.) chose fantasy instead of say, historical drama or mysteries, and religion and spirituality are a key component of it.

 

However, as this is super in vogue in fantasy right now and I've read/played/seen stories that are good despite its inclusion, I'm willing to ignore if it I'm just allowed a nuanced response to it.   I don't really need more Chronicles of Narnia, but I also don't really need more His Dark Materials, especially in an RPG which is supposed to be about choices.    

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Like midichlorians? That definitely sucked. I think it worked in PoE for me because souls, and the magic resulting from their manipulation, were set up from the beginning as essentially physical/natural. If that wasn't the case and magic was old school magic magic, would the gods being made by kith using magic instead of soul-tech have made any difference?

Edited by alsey
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Like midichlorians? That definitely sucked. I think it worked in PoE for me because souls, and the magic resulting from their manipulation, were set up from the beginning as essentially physical/natural. If that wasn't the case and magic was old school magic magic, would the gods being made by kith using magic instead of soul-tech have made any difference?

 

Well, all supernatural things in fantasy are essentially "natural" because they occur organically and demonstrably exist, unlike, say, miracles or ghosts in our world.  The difference is that they are inherently inscrutable in a way that other physical processes are not.  So if you are trying to set up all the magic in your world as natural processes that can eventually be measured from the you have already failed.  

 

Imagine if an actually existing God in our universe performed verifiable miracles.  You could confirm their occurrence by simple observation by millions of people (say, for the sake of argument this includes observation by lots of people otherwise inclined to skepticism).  They are commonplace enough that they are taken for granted.  However, you still can't scientifically measure or define the miracles because God is breaking the laws of physics and chemistry to create them.  This is in fact what makes them miracles.  There will be boundaries and consistency such as: he never raises people from the dead, he only *sometimes* cures the sick but people don't understand precisely what criterion he uses. It isn't just the science problem of "we don't know how subatomic particles work yet because we don't know all the math or have instruments powerful enough to measure it well."  It is that these processes defy scientific measurement because something about them transcends physical laws.  Quantum mechanics is just science we don't understand yet.  The miracles would be "magic."

 

This is why it's so hard to remove all traces of the divine from fantasy and for it to remain fantasy and why I think atheism is a weird theme to explore in it. 

 

Examples of what I'm talking about are like wandcraft in Harry Potter where Dumbledore explains wands are inherently mysterious and even people like Ollivander don't completely understand them.

 

Or when some enterprising fan presented George R. R. Martin with an elaborate scientific theory about how the seasons worked in ASoIaF to be met with a response that was basically "Dude, it's magical."

 

Even Pullman understood this when he wrote His Dark Materials and created symbolic mystery and sanctity surrounding human souls (daemons) themselves.  Daemons are mysterious and are supposed to be inviolate which is what makes severing children from their daemons so monstrous.  

 

Or a quote from the master himself Tolkien "The significance of a myth is not easily to be pinned on paper by analytical reasoning. It is at its best when it is presented by a poet who feels rather than makes explicit what his theme portends; who presents it incarnate in the world of history and geography, as our poet has done. Its defender is thus at a disadvantage: unless he is careful, and speaks in parables, he will kill what he is studying by vivisection, and he will be left with a formal or mechanical allegory, and what is more, probably with one that will not work. For myth is alive at once and in all its parts, and dies before it can be dissected."   

Edited by Ontarah
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This is why it's so hard to remove all traces of the divine from fantasy and for it to remain fantasy and why I think atheism is a weird theme to explore in it. 

 

But why would you assume that magic being inherently ineffable and inexplicable is such a defining feature of fantasy? That may well be your particular preference in fantasy fiction, but that doesn't make it a core quality of what makes something fantasy in a more general sense. The requirement that it be inexplicable all the way down is certainly too stringent a criterion, because that would make it essentially impossible to determine whether something qualifies as fantasy at all. The fact that no character in that fictional world can explain it doesn't mean it cannot be explained in context; even characters actively believing that something is inexplicable doesn't mean that it is. 

 

Similarly, the author of a work designating stuff as "just magic" doesn't seem like a particularly good criterion either. Firstly, because as a rule it's probably more because they can't be bothered and/or have no compelling reason to work out a fine-grained explanation for something (and probably wouldn't want to pin themselves down too much anyway), rather than them having actively decided that in context it is genuinely is inexplicable. But secondly and more fundamentally, it would mean that a work being fantasy cannot be determined from the work itself, which seems counterintuitive at best. It would also mean that something can retroactively stop (or start) being fantasy if the author changes his/her mind in a later connected work (or just in general, actually). 

 

So sure, there's certainly a lot of unexplained and seemingly inexplicable stuff going on in fantasy. It doesn't follow that explanations being provided or more generally it being indicated that it does follow some (albeit unknown) set of rules stops it being fantasy. And consequently I also don't see the issue with exploring atheism in a work of fiction, especially if you focus specifically on atheism as opposed to the type of fairly abstract, monotheistic-style God of our own major religions (rather than 'mere' powerful magical beings of a more mundane kind). And if nothing else, even the inherently inexplicable doesn't presuppose a God; and a God isn't inherently inexplicable (essentially, pinning the label 'God' on things and imputing some conscious intent is itself an (inadequate) attempt at rendering things explicable).  

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Explicable and scientifically explicable aren't the same thing.  I'm not saying magic in fantasy should be completely inexplicable, random, and orderless.  I'm saying it shouldn't be definable in scientific terms.

 

Consider something like Aphrodite's creation story (arising from the severed testicles of Uranus that were thrown into the sea). This is an explanation.  It even explains why she is a carnal goddess.  It also makes 0 scientific sense which is why it's a myth and not a history.   

 

For me the definition of fantasy is "has magic in it" or perhaps more broadly "has supernatural stuff in it."  It comes down to whether you think magic is well, magical, or is just Clarke's idea that "magic is just science we don't understand yet."  I think if it is not in fact magical, then it's just particularly improbable science fiction.

 

I'm not going to die on a hill defending this definition because obviously defining genres is inherently subjective and murky.  There are assorted outliers and exceptions.  (One that comes to mind is the Temeraire series which I commonly call fantasy but is literally 100% exactly like our world except it happens to have non-magical dragons in it.  But you can also argue that this is really just alternate history or historical drama with some fantasy tropes.  You could make the dragons sapient dinosaurs that never went extinct and that would immediately render the "fantasy" inert and make it generic alternate history or improbable sci-fi).    

 

You can explore atheism in fantasy in the sense that belief/disbelief in various things is something that can be explored in *any* genre.  But atheism is specifically a lack of belief in Gods and (usually but not always) by extension a disbelief in the supernatural.  Atheists who believe in angels or ghosts or nature spirits may very well exist, but I've never met any.  Disbelieving in things that demonstrably exist (as magical things do in 99% of fantasy worlds) would be really fringe: the equivalent of exploring people in our world who think the moon landing was fake.  It's a real phenomenon and might be an interesting story, but wouldn't really get into the heart of the world much.   

 

Myth and later modern fantasy are choked with themes of basically what humans should do with the numinous.  I think fantasy has a structural definition only: "has magic" but if it has to have a thematic definition I would argue that this is it: "dealing with a demonstrable numinous."  To force this question, the numinous demonstrably exists in both myth and the vast majority of fantasy.

 

PoE certainly explores this theme but simultaneously seeks to completely corral it by making sure that everything "supernatural" remains well within the bounds of the scientifically explainable (assuming you had the right knowledge and tools).  The very science of "animancy" reinforces this point. It's basically just treating souls and gods like FTL travel or time travel.

 

Some of the less well written stuff like this just comes off to me as "I like how magic makes me feel but I don't like that it's magic making me feel that way."  PoE doesn't feel like that to me, but it does come off rather clinical and moderately didactic.         

Edited by Ontarah
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I'd say "explicable" and "scientifically explicable" aren't that far apart, really. If something is explicable at all, then attaching a certain scientific rigour to it should be no problem. The problem with the Aphrodite myth from a scientific perspective is simply that it didn't happen to begin with. Given our reality as we understand it is also couldn't have, but that's essentially immaterial. Whether something is explicable or not is relative to the structure and principles of the reality (fictional or otherwise) it did happen in. In our reality, supposing that our current understanding of how it works is pretty much correct, it would be a good candidate for 'inexplicable' had it actually happened: the rules of the universe don't allow it, but it happened regardless. But it wouldn't be too much a stretch of the imagination to come up with a conception of an alternate reality in which the birth of Aphrodite could have happened in such a way. 

 

I can certainly go along with fantasy broadly defined as "has magic/supernatural stuff in it". Or at least that seems like pretty much a necessary condition; I'd be inclined for example to put a general "pre-modern era" rider on it, stuff like Star Wars definitely feels more like sci-fi to me, but that's a different issue. But I would deem things to be supernatural or not, magic or not, from the perspective of our own reality. It bends, to some significant degree, the rules of what *we* know to be possible; whether the fictional world just has somewhat different rules, or has the same rules as ours but a tendency to break them, seems largely immaterial.

 

And to some extent you have to wonder whether even that might be needed. For example, a diversity of sentient races like elves, dwarves, orcs and whatnot is certainly a staple of fantasy. Not enough to qualify it by itself, but add a Middle Age-y setting and some more exotic critters and it would very likely be perceived as fantasy, even though none of these elements really qualify as supernatural in some "breaking the known rules of (our) reality" sense. 

 

And certainly, atheism as we generally encounter it tends to be just as down on God's menagerie of helper monkeys and other such things as it is on the man Himself (though throw a rock on the internet and you'll easily hit three people who declaim the non-existence of God and the defend the existence of UFOs in the same sentence, so let's not overstate the consistency of the average atheist either). But indeed, all those things are entirely lacking in the evidence department, whereas in your typical fantasy world magic clearly exists. But I would argue that an (interesting) atheism in a world of magic would cast doubt on things that aren't so clearly demonstrable. That magic exists doesn't mean that all the divine beings of assorted lore in that world exist as well, and are all what they are believed to be. The rules of reality may be different, but those of rational belief stay the same (I would argue). 

 

Obviously, whether that kind of fantasy world *appeals* to someone is a different question. I generally like my fantasy to remain at least somewhat grounded and with a feel of structure, even if that structure isn't explicitly articulated (in part also because the line between "magic happens" and "deus ex machina" tends to be a thin one). But I can certainly see that other people seek other things in fantasy in particular and fiction in general (as evidenced by the many people worshipping at the altar of JRR Tolkien, whereas I'd hardly consider his books fit for burning), and are drawn to entirely different works and kinds of worlds instead. So for example a science of animancy arising may feel drab and clinical to some, whereas it seems entirely natural and interesting to me. 

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I'd say "explicable" and "scientifically explicable" aren't that far apart, really. If something is explicable at all, then attaching a certain scientific rigour to it should be no problem. The problem with the Aphrodite myth from a scientific perspective is simply that it didn't happen to begin with. Given our reality as we understand it is also couldn't have, but that's essentially immaterial. Whether something is explicable or not is relative to the structure and principles of the reality (fictional or otherwise) it did happen in. In our reality, supposing that our current understanding of how it works is pretty much correct, it would be a good candidate for 'inexplicable' had it actually happened: the rules of the universe don't allow it, but it happened regardless. But it wouldn't be too much a stretch of the imagination to come up with a conception of an alternate reality in which the birth of Aphrodite could have happened in such a way. 

 

I can certainly go along with fantasy broadly defined as "has magic/supernatural stuff in it". Or at least that seems like pretty much a necessary condition; I'd be inclined for example to put a general "pre-modern era" rider on it, stuff like Star Wars definitely feels more like sci-fi to me, but that's a different issue. But I would deem things to be supernatural or not, magic or not, from the perspective of our own reality. It bends, to some significant degree, the rules of what *we* know to be possible; whether the fictional world just has somewhat different rules, or has the same rules as ours but a tendency to break them, seems largely immaterial.

 

And to some extent you have to wonder whether even that might be needed. For example, a diversity of sentient races like elves, dwarves, orcs and whatnot is certainly a staple of fantasy. Not enough to qualify it by itself, but add a Middle Age-y setting and some more exotic critters and it would very likely be perceived as fantasy, even though none of these elements really qualify as supernatural in some "breaking the known rules of (our) reality" sense. 

 

This is sort of my point though.  With this definition there is no difference between fantasy and really improbable sci-fi.  I'm no physicist but most everything I've read suggests time travel (other than the illusion of time travel by someone flying in circles around a black hole to "progress" time really quickly from their own perspective) is impossible.  Or the "wantum mechanics" of Star Trek.  What this stuff is doing is taking a different "bubble" in the multiverse and saying "okay, laws and physics and chemistry are different in this bubble."  This is what Paolini does in the Eragon books.  Magic is just a sort of chemical and physical phenomenon that naturally occurs in some other bubble out there.  It's just wantum mechanics with a medieval flair. Fantasy very frequently isn't just interested in looking at another hypothetical bubble in the multiverse with different physical laws.  It wants to deal with the question "what is beyond physical laws and what would humans do in the face of it."  That's why Chosen One stories are so common in fantasy. Fate just *is.*   It's not made of molecules or energy.  What's interesting is how humans emotionally respond in the immutable face of it.  Sure, this can get hackneyed from overuse and predictability, but the reusing of themes and tropes is a whole other discussion and something that occurs not just in fantasy but in art generally. 

 

Certainly the sense of imaginative escapism persists throughout all of these scenarios but if that is the only consequential defining attribute you might as well just lump sum "speculative fiction" and not bother going any deeper.

 

As to explicable and scientifically explicable being basically the same, I would just say:  

 

This is a basic axiomatic understanding of practical atheism/skepticism/positivism/whatever you want to call it.  It is the fundamental impasse that atheists have with theists and why most conversations between them don't produce anything of substance.  Atheists (again most not all) believe in the axioms that reality = scientifically definable processes, and knowledge = information derived from empiricism.  Theists (again most) believe the axioms that reality = scientifically definable processes *and* assorted transcendent ones, and that knowledge = information derived from empiricism *and* information derived from divine inspiration, one's divinely gifted "conscience," et al.  Being axiomatic, neither is provable though I'm not really interested in getting into some big theological argument here.

 

What I think you are dealing with is people projecting their preferred axioms into their fiction, which is natural enough.  I'm interested in looking at both (as an agnostic theist that's probably my own bias showing as well).  Science Fiction is that branch of speculative fiction that starts with the skeptic's axioms and builds imaginatively on top of it.  Fantasy is that branch of speculative fiction that starts with the theist's axioms and builds imaginatively on it.  These can overlap in tropes and themes, but inasmuch as that fundamental difference is eroded I think they cease to be different genres.

 

*To clarify I don't think fantasy has to be explicitly theistic, but I do think it has to be explicitly supernatural in the way that gods are commonly understood to be supernatural.           

Edited by Ontarah
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This is sort of my point though.  With this definition there is no difference between fantasy and really improbable sci-fi. 

 

Does there need to be? On the face of it, I'd say one of the main dividing lines between stuff that gets classified as Fantasy and stuff that gets classified as Sci-Fi is the general type of setting; roughly, pre-modern era vs (post-modern) era. There's also an axis of real world plausibility to it, but that applies to both: make it too... plausible and you get more into (alternate) history fiction and science fact, respectively.

 

Obviously a difference in setting by itself tends to evoke different themes, even apart from specific traditions and themes that accumulate in different genres. But it hardly implies that such fictional worlds have inherently different kinds of metaphysical underpinnings in some general sense. Whether Fate really just *is* or characters just believe it to be is largely immaterial to the story being told, as a rule. It tends to have a rather Nostradamus-like quality to it anyway, if nothing else simply because it would make for a rather boring story if Fate is outlined in detail at the outset and then proceeds to unfold exactly as described. And similarly, whether the unavoidable looming obstacle du jour is (allegedly) metaphysical in it supposed inescapability or just practically so (eg. whatever passes for the local incarnation of Evil Empire) doesn't seem of an overwhelming importance. 

 

 

 

To clarify I don't think fantasy has to be explicitly theistic, but I do think it has to be explicitly supernatural in the way that gods are commonly understood to be supernatural.  

 

Again though, why? I don't see why this would be a requirement for something to be fantasy. It makes it essentially impossible to tell from a work whether it is fantasy or not, since there is generally no way of telling whether things are *really* transcendent in some relevant sense or only seem to be / are believe to be (essentially the same problem that claims of transcendence in our own reality faces, really). And while nominally this could perhaps be resolved by a proclamation from the author, this would result in the quality of being fantasy or not getting entirely divorced from the actual work, raising the question: why should anyone care about it all? 

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I would agree that magic is a defining feature of fantasy, magic being phenomena that don't occur in our world and are not inspired by or extrapolated from our current understanding of it. Using this definition (which I just made up, not claiming that is THE definition of magic), magic is supernatural in that it can't exist in our world but it isn't supernatural in the fantasy world where it is often well established to be existing. To be honest I don't find the word supernatural to be very meaningful because what is supernatural is impossible by definition.

 

In PoE soul/essence manipulation is magic by the above definition. What differentiates it from magic in other fantasy settings is the degree to which scientific practice can be used to learn about it. Even in other settings however, e.g. forgotten realms, wizards acquiring knowledge through magical experiments, i.e. empiricism, is commonplace.

 

What I find interesting about PoE is that souls exist but gods in the conventional sense don't, and souls have a much wider role in religion than just theistic religion.

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Magic is usually defined as supernatural force that can control natural forces (aka observable forces). 

Supernatural is usually defined as something that is exist beyond the visible observable universe usually relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, ghost, or devil.

 

Meaning that both are something that can't exist in scientific contest as we know it, as when something become observable it becomes natural and therefore it stop being magic/supernatural.

 

In Forgotten Realms where magic comes from the gods (with some exceptions like psi powers), which works as way to keep things magical even if wizards, etc. magic users in Forgotten Realms study and research magic it will always keep its magical status because of its source.

 

In PoE magic comes from souls, that come from some sort larger pool of things where souls go to be recycled and where they it is possible that they are able to change or their structure and become different soul.  Souls are also entities that are possible to destroy but what happens after that is somewhat unknown. But anyway in PoE souls seems to be something that is observable and manipulatable, which makes power that can be harnessed from them less magic/supernatural and more natural force in PoE's world.  

 

PoE's explanation for its magic/soul force and gods steer it away from traditional fantasy towards science fiction, but its magical creatures and world building counterbalance those elements and keep it under fantasy genre (IMO).

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In Forgotten Realms where magic comes from the gods (with some exceptions like psi powers), which works as way to keep things magical even if wizards, etc. magic users in Forgotten Realms study and research magic it will always keep its magical status because of its source.

 

Again though, why does it matter that things are "kept magical" all the way down (to the bottom turtle)? Suppose an author were to write a (series of) books set in a world and written in a style very much akin to that of for example Forgotton Realms and other such traditional settings. Now suppose three hypothetical scenarios. In scenario A) the author states (outside of the books, eg. in an interview or whatever) that magic in his fictional world is magical through and through; it is not bound by rules, it is just a manifestation of divine will / the whims of fate / whatever. In scenario B) the author states the opposite: although not really explored in any way in the books, magic in his world is ultimately bound by rules of nature, and could (potentially) be scientifically studied and understood by a sufficiently advanced society in that world. In scenario C) the author says nothing on the matter at all. 

 

My question is, why would this matter? The books and stories are the same in all three scenarios. So why would these works be more 'Fantasy' in scenario A than in B? There is no meaningful distinction in my view, but at least the suggestion seems to be that those scenarios really are appreciably different in this respect.

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I think that what matters to readers/players is the degree to which magic is understood within a fantasy setting. On one extreme you might have the world of a Song of Ice and Fire where magic is very mysterious and few if any characters in the setting understand anything about it. At the other end of the spectrum magic/animancy is scientifically investigated and documented in Eora. They each evoke different kinds of response from the reader/player and each can be used to tell different kinds of story. George Martin wanted magic in his world to be ominous and even frightening; a more medieval attitude to those aspects of the world we don't understand than PoE's very renaissance attitude. The medieval world is the more conventional setting for fantasy but I personally wouldn't confine fantasy so tightly.

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I think that what matters to readers/players is the degree to which magic is understood within a fantasy setting. On one extreme you might have the world of a Song of Ice and Fire where magic is very mysterious and few if any characters in the setting understand anything about it. At the other end of the spectrum magic/animancy is scientifically investigated and documented in Eora. They each evoke different kinds of response from the reader/player and each can be used to tell different kinds of story. George Martin wanted magic in his world to be ominous and even frightening; a more medieval attitude to those aspects of the world we don't understand than PoE's very renaissance attitude. The medieval world is the more conventional setting for fantasy but I personally wouldn't confine fantasy so tightly.

 

That, I certainly can agree with. It's the perception and experience of the world (and through them, the reader/player) that matters, that then creates the psychology and tone of the setting in a more general sense. Irrespective of whatever metaphysics may lurk behind them, insofar as those really have been defined at all. As in general, it's not about what *is* but about what is perceived to be. And it being a work of fiction, also in how that is in turn conveyed, of course.

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In Forgotten Realms where magic comes from the gods (with some exceptions like psi powers), which works as way to keep things magical even if wizards, etc. magic users in Forgotten Realms study and research magic it will always keep its magical status because of its source.

 

Again though, why does it matter that things are "kept magical" all the way down (to the bottom turtle)? Suppose an author were to write a (series of) books set in a world and written in a style very much akin to that of for example Forgotton Realms and other such traditional settings. Now suppose three hypothetical scenarios. In scenario A) the author states (outside of the books, eg. in an interview or whatever) that magic in his fictional world is magical through and through; it is not bound by rules, it is just a manifestation of divine will / the whims of fate / whatever. In scenario B) the author states the opposite: although not really explored in any way in the books, magic in his world is ultimately bound by rules of nature, and could (potentially) be scientifically studied and understood by a sufficiently advanced society in that world. In scenario C) the author says nothing on the matter at all. 

 

My question is, why would this matter? The books and stories are the same in all three scenarios. So why would these works be more 'Fantasy' in scenario A than in B? There is no meaningful distinction in my view, but at least the suggestion seems to be that those scenarios really are appreciably different in this respect.

 

 

Literacy genres are very flexible guide lines they exist only to give readers some sort idea what the book is about. Like for example when it comes to speculative fiction subgenres fantasy is generally distinguished from the genres of science fiction and horror by the expectation that it steers clear of scientific and macabre themes, respectively, though there is a great deal of overlap between the three.

 

In case of your scenarios there is no difference because what author say outside of their work don't matter how their work should be classified, only thing that matters is how the work itself portrays things. Also in case of Forgotten Realms, Wizard of the Coast is the authority that decides how things work in their world not authors that write books in it. And same goes with most of the traditional multi author settings (meaning that authors don't have authority over the setting).

 

In settings that are inspired by history and metapsychological things there will be always lots of different opinions should work be classified as fantasy or science fiction or something else. Like for example if we look steampunk subgenre there is always debates if it should be classified under science fiction or (science) fantasy. And even with modern or future setting style genres like urban fantasy and cyberpunk there are such debates. 

 

This kind debates are very similar to debates what constitutes as RPG. Meaning that it changes from person to person what elements are seen as genre defining.

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I agree, it's about how the work portrays things. But it follows that it doesn't matter much what the underlying of metaphysics of the fiction reality is, except when it explicitly figures into the story (and even there the perception vs (fictional) reality remains). Maybe magic in Forgotten Realms really is magic all the way down, or maybe those gods it originates from (or however FG magic is claimed to be sourced) are actually entirely bound by natural laws themselves. 

 

And conversely, it's not like the metaphysical status of souls and such in PoE is so very well characterised. Sure, the animancers are taking a fairly proto-scientific approach to it, trying to study and manipulate them systematically. But it doesn't follow that the nature and behaviour of souls in PoE would ever be fully explicable (or failing that, at least predictable; and frankly, it's not like real scientists in our reality do have any such guarantee).

 

And mages do very similar things in any number of fantasy settings. Magic is generally not some completely unfathomable manifestation of the mage's will. It is also studied, experimented with; powerful mages often develop new and better spells and enchantments that get named after them; they create golems, constructs, et cetera. And these are often studied in turn, spells and magical skills are taught to new magelings, and so on. In other words, magic is generally quite well-behaved and bound by definite rules: if it wasn't, it wouldn't be repeatable, reproducable. teachable. In that regard I would say the main difference between the animancers are simply more rigorous, systematic and organised in their study of souls, than mages in other settings are in their study of magic.

 

Forgotten Realms mages probably could take a far more scientific approach to magic as well, they just don't. So I would argue that the crucial difference isn't one of metaphysics, it's just one of mentality, of having a more analytic mindset. And probably far more important difference, a cultural and sociological difference: fundamental to anything approaching science is organisation, collaboration, communication. That's what allows a body of systematic knowledge to accumulate, rather than everyone having to start basically from scratch every time. 

 

And certainly, this difference in mentality could certainly be considered a good demarcation of (sub)genres, eg. mapping different works of fantasy onto the most closely corresponding era in (European) history. PoE (Renaissance, maybe early Enlightenment) unquestionably differs from the standard sword and sorcery type fantasy (Late Medieval for the most part, probably), and those different styles and outlooks will appeal to different people. Also, some people (particularly on the internet, as usual) probably should just tone down their taxonomical zeal a touch :grin:. It can be interesting to discuss what differentiates styles and genres, but why people sometimes get so excessively worked up about which exact label gets attached to something I'll never really understand.

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And conversely, it's not like the metaphysical status of souls and such in PoE is so very well characterised. Sure, the animancers are taking a fairly proto-scientific approach to it, trying to study and manipulate them systematically. But it doesn't follow that the nature and behaviour of souls in PoE would ever be fully explicable (or failing that, at least predictable; and frankly, it's not like real scientists in our reality do have any such guarantee).

 

In PoE there are machines that are able to control souls and use them as their source of power. Main story of PoE has major focus in some of this machines. Even though animancers and other people that study souls are portrayed so that they don't fully comprehend how they work, souls themselves are portayed as something that are clearly observable and manipulable. Meaning that they are something that real scientists can study in world of PoE.  Souls behavior in PoE is something like new scientific discovery (which is what they aimed towards starting from their kickstarter pitch) , PoE's souls, soul research and technology to utilize them are more similar to new scientific discoveries that you can find in science fiction, like spice in Dune or biotics in Mass Effect or even hyper/warp drives in most of the space travelling science fiction. Meaning that there they are something that is can be understood in scientific sense in those fictional universes even if people don't necessary fully understand how they work.

 

PoE animancers are heavily inspired by early scientists that sought scientific discoveries often with very questionable methods. It aims to portray time when science starts to replace mythology as explanation how things work. You see Thaos fighting against this change because he believes that kith need mythology and gods to guide them.

 

I don't see how they could take more scientific approach to magic in Forgotten Realms as they are so heavily based it on the gods in so much so that assassination of one god causes magic to disappear. Of course WoC can make it more scientific, but they would need to change quite lot of nature of their world order to do so (which is absolute thing that they could possible do in future as they time to time do big changes in FR to freshen it up.)

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Dune is a sci-fi with fantasy elements (or fantasy with sci-fi elements, I don't care.) and that's what sets it apart from many sci-fi and fantasy works I've read in my life. Pillars of Eternity and the world of Eora is Fantasy with sci-fi elements (or the other way around, I don't give a ****) and that's what sets it apart from many other fantastical settings I've ever seen, including exploration of atheism. How are any of these things which make these universes interesting to explore bad is quite beyond me.

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In PoE there are machines that are able to control souls and use them as their source of power. Main story of PoE has major focus in some of this machines. Even though animancers and other people that study souls are portrayed so that they don't fully comprehend how they work, souls themselves are portayed as something that are clearly observable and manipulable. Meaning that they are something that real scientists can study in world of PoE.  Souls behavior in PoE is something like new scientific discovery (which is what they aimed towards starting from their kickstarter pitch) , PoE's souls, soul research and technology to utilize them are more similar to new scientific discoveries that you can find in science fiction, like spice in Dune or biotics in Mass Effect or even hyper/warp drives in most of the space travelling science fiction. Meaning that there they are something that is can be understood in scientific sense in those fictional universes even if people don't necessary fully understand how they work.

 

PoE animancers are heavily inspired by early scientists that sought scientific discoveries often with very questionable methods. It aims to portray time when science starts to replace mythology as explanation how things work. You see Thaos fighting against this change because he believes that kith need mythology and gods to guide them.

 

I don't see how they could take more scientific approach to magic in Forgotten Realms as they are so heavily based it on the gods in so much so that assassination of one god causes magic to disappear. Of course WoC can make it more scientific, but they would need to change quite lot of nature of their world order to do so (which is absolute thing that they could possible do in future as they time to time do big changes in FR to freshen it up.)

 

 

The nature of those machines isn't exactly clear, though. Regardless, sure those souls are fairly observable and manipulable, but as opposed to what. Magic? Both in PoE and other fantasy worlds, that's quite observable and manipulable as well. How else would mages be able to reliably control it and produce intended effects, teach this skill onto other people, refine existing spells and enchantments and devise new ones, create magically infused artifacts and constructs, etc. 

 

And for the same reason, there is nothing obstacle in the nature of magic in for example the Forgotten Realms setting that prohibits scientific study of magic. Magic there generally behaves in a fairly structured and predictable way. It can therefore be studies systematically and rigorously, observed and manipulated. Knowledge gained from this can be subsumed under models and theories, data collected and analysed. Results and conclusions can then be disseminated through a community of peers, feeding back into itself. It just doesn't happen in this world, to any substantial degree. This is chiefly a cultural thing; after all, it's not as if there is a booming scientific community investigating all other aspects of reality (ie. the stuff real-world science studies), that magic is somehow exempted from. It's just that there isn't really any science going on in the first place. 

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  • 4 months later...

IMO it's more complex than that, however the Hollowborn idea is so original that I had expected another end for it.

 

Instead it turned out into this Gods thing, while although not clichê per se, it's not so original.

 

 

Torment and Tides of Numerara story leaves PoE behind , by far.

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IMO it's more complex than that, however the Hollowborn idea is so original that I had expected another end for it.

 

Instead it turned out into this Gods thing, while although not clichê per se, it's not so original.

 

 

Well, it started after a fight against a God, so it could have turned out into a "redeem yourself by reawakening Eothas" - Story. The more mundane explanation of the Crisis is actually way fresher, than that, but the story has other problems (it just stops in the middle of the game).

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