Sunday 9 August 2015

Luminiferous Aether - VSF Magic?

I've noticed that VSF tends to embrace "weird science" and the odd occult dabblings rather than straight out magic powers. Maybe the odd psychic pterosaur in a Lost Word.

I'm wondering why more isn't done with aether.  I mean, it's universally used to propel flying battleships and occasionally power various handwavium devices and weapons. E.g.

Practical aether travel as we know it today all began with Professor Etienne Moreau, who in 1860 hypothesised that the aether, like the matter and energy throughout the universe, was not evenly distributed. If it was instead affected by its interaction with matter, it might be distributed in vortices, thin patches, and even compacted clumps. He also theorised that interaction of matter, energy and aether indicated that it was possible for each to be used to manipulate the other. Just as matter could be burned to release energy, and energy expended to move matter, so could matter be used to grip or grasp the aether, and energy used to manipulate it. Thomas Edison, an American inventor, fell into discussions with Moreau about his theories, and through these discussions it was Edison who devised a practical use for the luminiferous aether. Its nature suggested to Edison a device which could sail at speeds heretofore undreamed of. 

I'm wondering - are there any rules/universes that go further, and use it as a kind of "scientific" magic?
In 1895, Wilhelm Roetgen discovered the X-Ray.  However, his experiments since 1888 had revealed anamolies in the electromagentic wavelength.  It was postulated that this could be caused by luminiferous aether.  There was tremendous excitement as nations quickly grasped the potential for improving aethership navigation and speed.  In 1897, Nikola Tesla invented a primitive device (electromagnetic spectrum analyser) that could isolate and measure aether waves.  Better able to navigate the aether currents, navigation time from Earth to Mars was halved.  With the spectrum analyser, it was observed that human beings could subtely effect the aetheric waves with their own innate electromagnetic fields - directly effecting localised changes in light, heat and electromagnetic polarity.  Germany was quick to see the military potential, and established their elektromagnetische StoƟtrupp in 1905, with England quick to follow through with their MI-13 department.  A further breakthrough occured in 1908 when Thomas Edison succeeded in miniaturizing the ESA device to the size of a pair of goggles.  Now "aether adepts" as they were so called, were able to more effectively control aether in the field. (<--explanation fluff)

Practical effects:
Aether adepts influence and direct light, heat, gravitation and magnetism.  This gives them a range of abilities:

Heating/freezing (heat/ice beam or spray, or AoE attack)

Magnetism (jam weapons, redirect bullets, deflect metal/bullets, levitate/leap off metal)

Gravity (crush, freeze in place, levitate)

Light (invisibility, dazzling light)

If they can use aether to move things, then potentially there's room for telekinetic style stuff aka push, pull, force fields.  Possibly they could "stun" and disorientate humans by scrambling the electromagnetic fields in their bodies.

In addition to or instead of aether goggles (goggles are common on steampunk/VSF minis) perhaps they could use silver "conducting wands" which you can say are strapped to their arms inside their sleeves or something.  
---end example--

That gives you an idea of the kind of thing I'm looking for.

I'm not interested in simply rebranding and rebadging fantasy magic to port over all the D&D spells etc, but rather a limited collection that reflects the properties of aether as commonly shown in VSF literature.     I like the idea of "scientific" magic for Weird War I-era conflicts, as opposed to the generic occult-Nazi-werewolf-zombie stuff of the Weird War II era.  

 So - does this sort of VSF "scientific aether magic" exist already? I'd rather save myself reinventing the wheel if there's an existing game or RPG I can "borrow" ideas from.

This is not
-aether to power handwavium weapons/steampunk mech suits etc
-spiritualist or occult magic
-vampires, werewolves, zombies (which I'm soooo sick of)
-chemically assisted mutants (aka Jekyll/Hyde)
-the usual fantasy magic

...but actual mages, using a "scientific" form of magic. Be it aether or whatever - basically "magic" is manipulating a pseudo-scientific phenomena.

For example, Warmachine uses magic in a steampunk setting, but that's fantasy magic - i.e. undead pirates, dragons and trolls kinda rule out using it for an alternate-WW1 setting. 


  1. This "scientific aether magic" concept is a bit contradictory in a VSF setting.

    As I have understood (maybe I am wrong), steampunk philosophy proclaims the triumph of science and reasoning over the miths and the occult. All the scientific progress got during the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th gave an optimistic mentality with the using of technology and the reaching of all its potential. In other words, technology is the new magic: if you want to do something extraordinary, you can invent a machine for that purpose. Sorry if I can't explain me better.

    Come to mind two forms to justify this magic: or the mage uses technology to hide its true magic or the mage uses gadgets and devices to improve its arts.

    The first form it's only aesthetic: if a witch uses cauldrons and voodoo dolls to make magic, why cannot a scientific mage do the same with other tools? For example, the googles you mentioned before: it's a fantastic way to hide its extrasensorial powers.

    The second form is more a kind of synergy between magic and science. Technology don't provide you with magical abilities, but only helps people who already have it.

    Other form to include magic in a VSFsetting is using it as a source of technological power. Maybe you are looking for "aethreal-whatever transducers". A transducer is a device that transforms one kind of energy into another. For example: a fan would be a electromechanical transducer, because transforms electricity into fin rotation. Then, if in your VSC setting someone invents these aethereal transducers, then he will be able to do magic with technology. Now, you are free to explain how complex or dangerous is constructing these devices or using them on a proper form, and what kind of transducer can exist. But it won't be true magic, it will be only a science progress, as the discovery of electricity was.

    Finally, I want to give you some random ideas.
    -Transmutation was always one of the primary goals of ancient wisemen. In fact, nowadays we know how to transmute lead into gold. Maybe you can create new materials with "aethereal irradiators". You can give some interesting properties to these materials: more or less weight, more hardness or flexibility and explosive or irradiating unstability. It's like a classical enchanter.
    -Sound and vibration is another science topic of the genre.
    -And don't forget the chemistry. Phase-changing powers (transforming solids into liquids and gases, for example), or modifying the acid-base properties of inner-body water or environmental moisture.

    1. "As I have understood (maybe I am wrong), steampunk philosophy proclaims the triumph of science and reasoning over the myths and the occult. All the scientific progress got during the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th gave an optimistic mentality with the using of technology and the reaching of all its potential. In other words, technology is the new magic: if you want to do something extraordinary, you can invent a machine for that purpose."

      That's why I want a non-occult, non-mythological, non-magic "effect" which is merely manipulation of an observed phenomena. I thought aether as it is the most commonly used pseudoscientific handwavium in this setting. I mean, if it's fine to use aether (a light/heat/gravatic medium) to make an 12,000 ton ironclad magically fly to mars... ...then it's no more a stretch to use that aether to levitate a human-sized object, or channel light-bearing aether to form a "heat beam."

      Although steampunk does quite often include magical and occult trappings, I want to avoid these, in favour of a "brighter" more "scientific" power.

      ...and also have guys flinging fireballs in one hand, while wielding a Tommy gun in the other, using them to break the stalemate of the Great War...

  2. You can inspire ,then, in real pseudo-science of our world.

    As an example, radionics. Radionics dictates all beings are "waves" and, when we get sick, our "wave" has been perturbed, displaced from our original form. Then, through radionic machines (they were basically radio-signal emitters), you can imprint a corrective "wave" that restores our healthy "wave" form. This technology claims to cure all kind of ailments, and this "wave" may be perfectly an aether manifestation Sum the magnetotherapy and magnesium baths and you have your "scientific healing magic".
    And the implementation is very easy because you only need a radio-signal emitter.

    1. But there isn't, to your knowledge, a rule system that incorporates this?

      I'm not so much concerned about help inventing a system (easy enough) or the philosophy thereof, rather than avoiding re-making something that already exists.