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Magical computer programs? Can other mages do what Phemonoe does?

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  • Magical computer programs? Can other mages do what Phemonoe does?

    DeSchedule is a smartphone app described in Nameless and Accursed. Here's its magic:

    Phemonoe hides just enough High Speech in the code so that it serves as a sympathetic tap anyone with the requisite skill (and appropriate permissions, or a way to convincingly fake them) can use to predict events anywhere in the proximity of the phone hosting DeSchedule.
    So... if the phone has DeSchedule installed, then anyone who has something like administrator creds for the app can achieve a sympathetic connection with the phone. Then they can use that connection to cast Prophecy or similar and it will reveal things in the future of the person who has the phone? And the DeSchedule system somehow automates this as the secret sauce of its predictive scheduling function?

    I have an interest in the idea of magical computer programs, but Mage's rules don't seem well set-up to support them because it's trivial and cheap to duplicate a computer program but difficult and expensive to duplicate an enhanced or imbued item. This is probably why the examples of magical computer systems aside from DeSchedule have all dealt with enchanting pieces of computer hardware that happen to run some software too.(e.g. Data Hog from SoS). It's a little awkward because it seems like Matter is as good or better a fit than Forces for that kind of thing; Matter has spells defined already that deal with electronic devices. It would be nice to be able to enchant a computer program itself, which physically is a particular configuration of electromagnetic forces that could manifest on a variety of different devices.

    I'd like to hear your conjectures about how something like DeSchedule works in terms of the game system (basically, how could player character mages do something similar) and beyond that how "magical" computer programs can work in general. I'll admit that my intuition is that DeSchedule is a "Rule of Cool" thing that doesn't really work according to the published rules and STs are on their own with houseruling in similar sorts of things.
    Last edited by galivet; 06-02-2020, 12:03 PM.

  • #2
    Rapid Access Memory (Forces 3 + Prime 3) from Signs of Sorcery allows you to imbue software with a spell that can then be triggered by a computer.

    re: DeSchedule: maybe Phemonoe is using an alternative relinquishment so that she can mass produce the program? Or there's a single program that the app interfaces with (the High Speech allows the interface) that does the actual magic?


    Mentats - a 2e Free Council Obrimos Legacy (Mind/Forces) built around being a human computer; Thaumatech Engineers - a 2e Free Council Obrimos Legacy (Matter/Prime) focusing on the creation of Imbued items and the enhancement of Sleeper technology

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    • #3
      Originally posted by proindrakenzol View Post
      Rapid Access Memory (Forces 3 + Prime 3) from Signs of Sorcery allows you to imbue software with a spell that can then be triggered by a computer.
      Eh, sort of. Here's the flavor text:

      The caster imbues the software on item that can interface with a computer (an external hard drive, a USB memory stick, or even just a dongle) per normal. Once imbued, the software can trigger the spell via interfacing with a computer into
      It's more like you're enchanting the dongle or whatever than the software itself. In the published spells, there always has to be some single piece of hardware where the magical program lives exclusively and the magic only works when the spell is accessed using that single piece of hardware. Mage always wants to rephrase "magical software" as "magical device that happens to have software on it but if there was no software involved it would all work the same anyway." It doesn't click with how we all use software in the real world because it doesn't take advantage of the fundamental differences between software and hardware. I don't know if you could have a "magical website" that provides its benefit to billions of people accessing the website using a normal web browser without breaking the rules. I feel like the rules want you to enchant the devices from which users access the website (all billion of them) rather than the website itself.
      Last edited by galivet; 06-02-2020, 12:36 PM.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by galivet View Post

        Eh, sort of. Here's the flavor text:



        It's more like you're enchanting the dongle or whatever than the software itself. In the published spells, there always has to be some single piece of hardware where the magical program lives exclusively and the magic only works when the spell is accessed using that single piece of hardware. Mage always wants to rephrase "magical software" as "magical device that happens to have software on it but if there was no software involved it would all work the same anyway." It doesn't click with how we all use software in the real world. I don't know if you could have a "magical website" that provides its benefit to billions of people accessing the website using a normal web browser without breaking the rules. I feel like the rules want you to enchant the devices where the website runs (all billion of them) rather than the website itself.
        It literally says you imbue the software, it's just that software doesn't exist as a free floating entity, it has to be on something.


        Mentats - a 2e Free Council Obrimos Legacy (Mind/Forces) built around being a human computer; Thaumatech Engineers - a 2e Free Council Obrimos Legacy (Matter/Prime) focusing on the creation of Imbued items and the enhancement of Sleeper technology

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        • #5
          Originally posted by proindrakenzol View Post

          It literally says you imbue the software, it's just that software doesn't exist as a free floating entity, it has to be on something.
          If your player wanted to use a basic non-magical file copy to duplicate that imbued software across 1000 dongles and give one to each mage in the Consilium, what would you say? If it doesn't work, then what's the meaningful difference between enchanting the software and enchanting the device the software is on? Why was software invoked at all?

          The magical DeSchedule app installed on any number of smart phones makes me wonder what's meant to be possible in this area.
          Last edited by galivet; 06-02-2020, 12:44 PM.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by galivet View Post

            If your player wanted to use a basic non-magical file copy to duplicate that imbued software across 1000 dongles and give one to each mage in the Consilium, what would you say? If it doesn't work, then what's the meaningful difference between enchanting the software and enchanting the device the software is on? Why was software invoked at all?
            Because the software allows you to set up more complex conditions that a simple trigger so that you can have automagically casted spells.

            And, no, I wouldn't allow a file copy to copy the magic of the software, just the code, just like I wouldn't allow Matter to create an imbued duplicate of an imbued item, just a mundane copy.

            The magical DeSchedule app installed on any number of smart phones makes me wonder what's meant to be possible in this area.
            As I suggested above (and based on the way the DeSchedule app is described) the app isn't magical at all, there's some sort of server (which is common in apps) where the actual magic happens, the High Speech in the code provides the sympathetic connection.

            Remember, the authors are not programmers; they're not physicists or biologists or chemists; they're writers. Sometimes you have to tweak things to make sense if it's in an area you happen to more than them about.


            Mentats - a 2e Free Council Obrimos Legacy (Mind/Forces) built around being a human computer; Thaumatech Engineers - a 2e Free Council Obrimos Legacy (Matter/Prime) focusing on the creation of Imbued items and the enhancement of Sleeper technology

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            • #7
              Yeah, and not just the authors, there probably are not many programmers here to participate in the discussion.

              Maybe it's useful to think about it using an analogy to something everyone understands like fire. A mage enchanting a computer program is a lot like a mage enchanting the flames of a fire. They're both of Forces.

              The first question to ask is, would you let a mage enchant a flame itself, or could a mage only enchant a specific burning object? Sure, at first the two are inseparable. You can't have a flame without having something that's burning. The material difference between them is that the fire can naturally spread.

              Suppose we have an enchanted flame burning on stick of wood. You take that stick of wood and put it on a large pile of dry wood, where it grows into a bonfire. The original enchanted bit of flame is then indistinguishable from the bonfire as a whole. Is the entire flame of the bonfire enchanted? If you separate some other burning piece of wood from the bonfire, is that newly-distinct fire enchanted? If the bonfire rages out of control and consumes a building, is the building then covered in enchanted flames?

              The more I explore it, the more it seems like in Mage it's a bad idea to enchant things that aren't physically discrete as are Space and Matter (and that would include it being a bad idea to enchant software). Probably the whole bit with DeSchedule is a Rule of Cool thing and shouldn't be taken as something we could systematize.
              Last edited by galivet; 06-02-2020, 01:22 PM.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by galivet View Post
                Maybe it's useful to think about it using an analogy to something everyone understands like fire. A mage enchanting a computer program is a lot like a mage enchanting the flames of a fire. They're both of Forces.

                The first question to ask is, would you let a mage enchant a flame itself, or could a mage only enchant a specific burning object? Sure, at first the two are inseparable. You can't have a flame without having something that's burning. The material difference between them is that the fire can naturally spread.
                I would allow the Mage to enchant the flame itself, I see no reason you couldn't have a Forces 3 + Prime 3 spell that allowed you to Imbue a fire with a spell.

                Suppose we have an enchanted flame burning on stick of wood. You take that stick of wood and put it on a large pile of dry wood, where it grows into a bonfire. The original enchanted bit of flame is then indistinguishable from the bonfire as a whole. Is the entire flame of the bonfire enchanted?
                No, just the original volume of flame that was put in enchanted, or what survives of it (should the flame go out the enchanted "item" would be destroyed).

                If you separate some other burning piece of wood from the bonfire, is that newly-distinct fire enchanted?
                No.

                If the bonfire rages out of control and consumes a building, is the building then covered in enchanted flames?
                No.

                The more I explore it, the more it seems like in Mage it's a bad idea to enchant things that aren't physically discrete like Space and Matter (and that would include it being a bad idea to enchant software). Probably the whole bit with DeSchedule is a Rule of Cool thing and shouldn't be taken as something we could systematize.
                It's not that it's a bad idea, it's just less generally useful, you really need a specific application before you make imbued fire or an enhanced lightning bolt.


                Mentats - a 2e Free Council Obrimos Legacy (Mind/Forces) built around being a human computer; Thaumatech Engineers - a 2e Free Council Obrimos Legacy (Matter/Prime) focusing on the creation of Imbued items and the enhancement of Sleeper technology

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by proindrakenzol View Post

                  As I suggested above (and based on the way the DeSchedule app is described) the app isn't magical at all, there's some sort of server (which is common in apps) where the actual magic happens, the High Speech in the code provides the sympathetic connection.
                  Yeah, maybe. So the High Speech embedded in the app gives each copy of the app a sympathetic connection to some backend server, and mages can use that server as a sympathy yantra for casting Time spells on any of the installed instances of the app. And then (hand wave hand wave) they get information about the person who has the phone where the app is installed. Not too bad.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by proindrakenzol View Post
                    No, just the original volume of flame that was put in enchanted, or what survives of it (should the flame go out the enchanted "item" would be destroyed).
                    I think the reason to enhance using Forces is basically because Forces is what the character has; if they had sufficient Matter they'd always be better off using that to enhance whatever object is currently being effected by the force instead. It's strictly more useful and enduring. It's all-around better to enhance the stick rather than the flames. You get to take advantage of the enduring nature of the stick, whereas you wouldn't get to take advantage of the spreadability of the fire.
                    Last edited by galivet; 06-02-2020, 01:41 PM.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by galivet View Post

                      Yeah, maybe. So the High Speech embedded in the app gives each copy of the app a sympathetic connection to some backend server, and mages can use that server as a sympathy yantra for casting Time spells on any of the installed instances of the app. And then (hand wave hand wave) they get information about the person who has the phone where the app is installed. Not too bad.
                      Yep, and the automation comes from a central server just mass casting spells. It's mana intensive, sure, but there's ways around that (build the server in a Hallow and have it siphon mana directly, for instance).

                      I think the reason to enhance using Forces is basically because Forces is what the character has; if they had sufficient Matter they'd always be better off using that to enhance whatever object is currently being effected by the force instead. It's strictly more useful and enduring. It's all-around better to enhance the stick rather than the flames. You get to take advantage of the enduring nature of the stick, whereas you wouldn't get to take advantage of the spreadability of the fire.
                      For imbument it's almost always better to use something permanent (though having flames imbued to not need fuel as a passive, plus having an active imbument would be really cool hot), but Ephemeral Enchantment on a fire would let the flames burn twilight entities, whereas casting it on the stick would do nothing.


                      Mentats - a 2e Free Council Obrimos Legacy (Mind/Forces) built around being a human computer; Thaumatech Engineers - a 2e Free Council Obrimos Legacy (Matter/Prime) focusing on the creation of Imbued items and the enhancement of Sleeper technology

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by proindrakenzol View Post
                        For imbument it's almost always better to use something permanent (though having flames imbued to not need fuel as a passive, plus having an active imbument would be really cool hot), but Ephemeral Enchantment on a fire would let the flames burn twilight entities, whereas casting it on the stick would do nothing.
                        I guess Ephemeral Enchantment on the stick would let you hit them with it instead. I'm with you though, I meant Imbuments there.

                        My point with Rapid Access Memory is that it accomplish nothing beyond what normally could be accomplished with an imbued item. A maker can already set whatever triggers she wants for a contingent item, including entering a password or whatever else. It doesn't require a special spell to set any sort of trigger for a contingent item. Stating that it's the software that got imbued rather than the dongle isn't what makes the contingent trigger possible. Meanwhile, that method of imbument does not take advantage of any of the unique properties that software has but hardware lacks, because (at least you're saying) we can't copy the software to another device without losing the imbument along the way. I don't understand why that spell exists. The exact same thing could have been accomplished by imbuing the dongle itself, and it would have easier besides.

                        Rapid Access Memory lets character enchant the software rather than the dongle, but there is no advantage, disadvantage, or any gameplay difference whatsoever gained from doing so over simply enchanting the dongle itself. The spell seems purely academic.

                        EDIT: NO WAIT I GOT IT FINALLY. It exists so that a single dongle can host multiple imbued software programs, each with a different contingent trigger. This lets you get around the limitation that only one spell on an imbued item can be contingent. The dongle is like a keyring where each key is a separate imbued item, but easier to use because you can push a button in a UI instead of fishing for the desired key.
                        Last edited by galivet; 06-02-2020, 02:41 PM.

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                        • #13
                          Interesting discussion. The way I'd view the difference of enchanting a piece of hardware vs a piece of software would be something like this:

                          I create an app for a phone. I enchant the actual code to look through a phone and try to identify its owner. If the owner fits X characteristic, the magical software pings me and alerts me that the right person has been found and is at Y coordinates. Maybe it works by leaving some High Speech in the code, hidden behind an obscure way of writing code that forms some sort of pattern resembling High Speech runes and sigils.

                          Would that work? I think the idea is pretty cool, at least.

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                          • #14
                            The bottom line I feel is that the authors of the game wouldn't like "But it uses software!" to enable the caster/maker to skirt around using the necessary spell factors for an effect. In your case, I think that because the effect you describe lets you ignore the gameplay limitations of Scale and Range it's a no-go. Allowing spell effects to propagate through world as easily, quickly, and cheaply as software does would break the game.

                            It's kind of a shame because writing programs is the closest thing to casting spells that the real world has to offer.

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                            • #15
                              Would it really have to break the game? What if the program created still has to be maintained by the mage who created it? The spell is still alive so it needs maintenance, or to be relinquished. And maybe to support the actual propagation of the program-spell you'd need to use Space as well. It would still probably be pretty difficult to get any sort of mass-distribution going, since you'd need to build a market for your app, or whatever. Hacking Microsoft to make it roll out with every Windows update might be a bit challenging, since a lot of other mages probably use Windows computers and would notice, or even prevent it.

                              I also imagine that you'd be a bit limited in what you could do. Upload information from an infected device? Sure. Affect or sense the environment around it? Only to the extent that the device the magic code running on could. So probably couldn't make an app that causes the phone to erupt in a huge explosion, but perhaps it could cause overheating to possibly result in a fire by bypassing all safety protocols. And you could have the code tap the sensors of the phone, but you wouldn't be able to have it read someone's mind.

                              Even if you make some sort of magical supervirus that spreads like a wildfire, it would probably be limited in the same way that a normal magical virus spreading through the world would be - by duration, and the possibility that other mages take extreme offense. And if you've created this spell-program, your magical signature would be all over it.

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