Thursday, October 9, 2014

Back Issues #4 - It's Electric!

So in New England, in the winter, we have 4 primary risks to life and limb; snow, ice, bad drivers, and static electricity. Alright, perhaps I'm exaggerating, but cold dry air does tend to make for some fantastically painful electric shocks, usually when you least expect it. Electricity is pretty fun stuff when you aren't rendering a limb numb. It can even be used in an RPG...

Issue #4: It's Electric!

Despite my opening, I'm not going to advocate annoying players with tiny meaningless jolts of electricity ... even though that would help many a table top game stay on topic. No, I swear.

In a modern game, ion and particle beam technology, even plasma, are all aspects of electrical theory. Plasma is electrically charged and responds to magnetic fields. Particle beams are directed and accelerated by use of intense magnetic fields (never mind the electric power needed to isolate them). Nikola Tesla intended to show the wireless transmission of electricity, famously demonstrated with a lightbulb of his design powered without wires or fixture.

Generation of power is huge nowadays, huge enough that in a game set in the near future, like Shadowrun, you could have an entire run based around the theft of a prototype or plans for some kind of fusion reactor or a high efficiency solar panel. In a modern day supers game an electrical themed villain could be running a series of heists to get the components he needs to build an electrical weapon or maybe a powered suit. Alternately he could be misunderstood, with a "the end justifies the means" philosophy, who is stealing these things to prove his theory is right for the betterment of the people. Of course, he's misunderstood and foiled by the heroes and eventually goes mad (as all good evil scientists do) and becomes a recurring villain.

On the fantasy side of things, lightning bolts are such a common offensive tool for mages that one would think Zeus was getting a cut of the profits. Wizards and mad scientists seem to love electricity to such a degree you wonder if it has some kind of addictive quality. Heck, that's an idea worth exploring right there.

Or maybe next time a player zaps a knight in plate armor with a lightening bolt have the target suddenly become magnetically charged. Small weapons become stuck to it, or even attracted towards it from afar. A 1 ton iron golem with even a moderate magnetic field could probably grapple a paladin as a free action simply by way of adhering to him. If your game is a little less silly and a little more serious it's reasonable that that attack would cascade through the knight's armor and into the ground without affecting the man within. A Faraday cage in medieval application essentially. A golem, being an nonliving construct, would likewise have nothing to fear from a few thousand amps and volts passing through its conductive body and into the ground. Sure it's not "fantastic" but it might get the wizard to explore a new spell or two.

Electricity is just half of the Electromagnetic effect though. What about the other end; magnetism. What effect would a magnetic attack have on a metal armored foe have? Spinning a magnet around a chunk of metal is how we use turbines to generate electricity; could a magnetic attack possibly generate additional electrical damage or effects?

It's now understood that our ancestors probably had a better grasp on electricity and magnetism than we give them credit for. Archaeological evidence has implied that electroplating was possibly used by the Parthians, while the Greeks had demonstrated knowledge of static electricity by 600 BC. Is it unreasonable for a fantasy age inventor to have an electrical device or two?

The ancient Egyptians maybe had invented the light-bulb a few years ahead of Edison. The Dendra Light is conjecture based on hieroglyphs found inside some tombs, and the fact that it would be rather dark inside those pyramids and underground crypts. Granted, torches could have lit the rooms just fine, but some people take those carvings as evidence of something more. Granted this has largely been debunked, but its interesting to think about.

And what about the other end of the spectrum (as it were)? The far future may finally implement wireless electricity the way Tesla wanted.  Or there may be new ways to generate power entirely.  Go far enough and maybe electricity becomes a quaint form of old tech. How does the far future engineer/technician deal with electrical systems that are hundreds of years out of date and completely unfamiliar?

Next time you turn on a light give a moment to think of just how extraordinary the power that lights that bulb is. Try and think about how our forefathers would have seen it, and give thought to how power technology has changed in the past twenty years and how much more it could change in another twenty.