Physics in [Whiteleaf] - A Lesson in Unscience Fiction

Roll your own. Dice, that is...

Moderator: Idabrius

Post Reply
User avatar
Black Dragon
Posts: 2897
Joined: Wed Sep 23, 2015 9:10 pm
Gender: male

Physics in [Whiteleaf] - A Lesson in Unscience Fiction

Post by willpell » Sat Jul 15, 2017 1:05 am

The laws of science as we know them are localized phenomena; there are galaxies far from Terrestra where they apply exactly as they do in our own cosmos (indeed, conceivably the Earth as we know it might exist within one of these, although the same punishingly strict limitations which make our technology operable also virtually guarantee that we could never cross the intergalactic distance in order to visit the more mystical regions of space, where FTL flight is not only conceivable but may even prove relatively easy to master). However, Terrestra is in a particularly significant part of the universe, a region where the contest between Superstitionists and Technomagi (to describe each group by the other's term for them; they generally call themselves Enlightened Scientists and Archmasters of the Mystic Arts irrespectively) has recently taken a decisive and seemingly final shift. While Terrestra is still far from being what we would regard as a scientific reality, it is a lot closer than it used to be; within the living memory of several ancient creatures (dragons, liches, venerable elves and so forth), mystical principles were drastically more operable than they have now become. Such principles as gravity and evolution are now well-understood by scholars, sages, and even sorcerers and clerics (the gods have always known how science works, even if they have generally and quite understandably chosen to reject it, given its near-total lack of any respect for their existence); this is in spite of the continuing existence of several artifacts, rapidly being destroyed by ideological entropy, which conclusively prove that they previously did not apply within the Whiteleaf universe as a whole.

To demonstrate the distinction between scientific and mystical principles, let us look at the example of gravity. Prior to the relatively recent shift, there was no gravity on Terrestra; objects which found themselves in midair would still fall toward the ground, but they did so because the power of elemental Earth compelled them to proceed toward the largest nearby concentration of rock and dirt, traveling the shortest possible distance, and then being punished by the Earth for attempting to reject its all-encompassing embrace, in the form of falling damage. Adepts with significant control over elemental Earth could thus negate this falling damage by forging an accord with the element, but more often, adepts would turn to the exact opposite element, Air, to counteract the wrath of Earth and buoy them up, shielding them against impact damage by reducing their falling speed. Where the difference most clearly applies is that while an object falling from above the ground was considered a "sin" against Earth, an object which stood on the Earth had the opposite problem: if a tower that was properly founded and able to support its own weight were to fall over, it was because the spirits of the Air had taken umbrage at its strength, and had pushed it from the side in order to topple it. Thusly, a cleric with a strong mastery over Earth but no accommodation with the Air could potentially fall from any height and land without harm, but he might well find himself crushed by having a building knocked flat onto him by a sudden gale (and the higher and stonier that building was, the more likely it was to give affront to the Air elementals; for this reason, even now that something resembling our Science is known to be taking hold on Terrestra, a strong reluctance to build skyscrapers remains).

Where things become really interesting is when we look at matters beyond the planetary scale. Under the old system, achieving orbit was simply impossible; the Void element might choose to allow mortal beings to rise above the atmosphere and enter its domain, but no amount of acceleration or ballistic calculation would cause any object to fall into a stable repeating circuit around the world (anyone who tried would simply shoot off into the distance in a straight line, since Earth's power no longer applied within Void's domain, and thus the rocket would not fall back toward the planet at all once it was "above the sky"). It is worthy of note that the Tradespeak Empire has had a space program, albeit a small one, for centuries; the building of "voidshells" was prohibitively expensive, and had never been attempted for any journey farther than the position of the Moon or the Sun (both of which were, and likely remain, semi-divine regions that are far more inhabitable than their pure-science equivalents - simply becoming fireproof was/is enough to make the Sun's immediate vicinity survivable, without any need to worry about radiation or tidal forces). With little actual reason to visit these locales, and the distances to alien worlds being so incalculably vast that nothing could ever cross them, the practical applications of space travel were extremely limited - but it was still attempted often enough to eventually catch the notice of intergalactic voyageurs, who secretly made contact with the Emperor himself. A careful dialogue was initiated, overseen by a deeply classified Ministry, and eventually the collaboration gave rise to the construction of a single well-secured Reach Platform high above Terrestra. Since crossing the interstellar vastness was inconceivable, it was regarded as a truism that the only way to visit other star systems was to "leap" (essentially, to teleport on a cosmic scale), and "leaping" was suicide without the ability to precisely calculate where you would be landing, so it was only possible if you had the exact coordinates of a motionless destination in absolute space, which was held in place by cosmorphic forces (similar to those which operate an Immovable Rod), and could transmit and receive instantaneous messages at such unimaginable distances (again, in a fashion consistent with well-documented magic items which function as ansibles).

Although the existence of the Reach Platform potentially opened Terrestra up to the risk of invasion by enemies it could barely imagine, it also allowed opportunities on a similarly impressive scale, and thus was deemed worthwhile by agents of the new "Nameless Ministry" (whose actual designation was in a seemingly meaningless code, to ensure that no passing telepath could gain any hint of its existence). This effectively allowed individuals who had reached the limit of their career potential, and were eager to continue their personal development beyond the Terrestran limits (epic characters, in other words) to operate on the Reach Platform and its corresponding ground facility. Unsuspected by these Imperial super-agents, their friends in the now-connected other systems, and various potential enemies that would kill for the Platform's coordinates, the Oracles and Exarchs of the two warring archmage factions were paying close attention to the situation, and for various other reasons came to the conclusion that it was an acceptable casualty of the cosmic shift. Given that these entities operate on such a conceptual level that even the ACJUARS, who are as unapproachable to the gods as the gods are to mortals, never suspect that they too are servants of these still more attenuated entities, it is unsurprising that none of the Ministry's people ever saw their obliteration coming; the Reach Platform was gone as though it had never existed, and the laws of the universe were now such that it never could. At the same time, cracks appeared in the Wall of the Faithless at the far edge of the intergalactic gulf, and several marauding foes who cross the great black "ocean" between the stars in ships traveling at FTL speeds (which were now merely improbable in local physics, rather than completely forbidden by divine law) discovered a tempting new target on their sensors. (Which is another way of saying that if you really want to play Spelljammer in the Whiteleaf universe, it might be possible, although I am still disinclined to help.)

Nowhere was the change more visible than on the Elemental Plane of Air; while the Earth plane remained largely unchanged (Whiteleaf's version is a bit more colorful and interesting than the classic environs of the Great Dismal Delve, but ultimately still works pretty nearly as written), its opposite was utterly transformed by the cosmic shift. Previously, gravity had held no sway whatever over natives and visitors of the Air plane; those unable to fly could simply choose to fall in any direction they chose, and landed unharmed on whatever surfaces they might finally chance upon, making Air the least dangerous of the elemental planes by a fair margin. However, in the wake of Science's partial victory over mysticism, the Air Plane reflection of Terrestra was literally torn apart by the sudden manifestation of Gravity as a conceptual force within local reality. Now, instead of being an endless expanse where "down" is simply an arbitrarily-chosen direction, the Air Plane is an immensurably vast (still truly infinite, but seeming otherwise, as was always the case for most of the Upper and Lower planes, but previously not the Elemental ones) ring of vapor and scattered "dust" (some of whose particles are planet-sized, but still amounting to no more than motes on the scale of the plane itself, which resembles a curving thread of smoke when viewed from outside its gravitational reach). No longer can visitors designate a direction to "fall" in; instead, the orbit of the central star defines a gravitational median which all objects continually arc toward, often being carried past it by their own momentum and then falling back in the other direction again. The once-dominant elemental principles once made the realm a fairly simple place, with no need for consistency; now, it operates by something resembling natural law, and has become a far stranger and more interesting realm as a result.

Post Reply

Return to “Homebrew Worlds”