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In a setting I am building for a D&D campaign, the planet (named Amalthea) has two moons, Rhea and Namaka. Rhea appears a little larger and slightly redder than the Moon, and Namaka appears in about half of the size of the Moon, and is somewhat blue in color.

Namaka, though, is in fact an artificial moon, and is the source of magic on Amalthea. (Its coloration is due to its surface being entirely covered in solar panels.)

The way magic works in this setting is simple. Mages use their hand gestures and such to interface with computer systems located on Namaka via its omniscience scanner array, and command the planet's omnipotence beam array to create the desired effect. (Planar locations are in fact just VR suites located onboard Namaka, or something like that.)

Although it's not quite that simple - directly controlling the omnipotence beam array is impossibly difficult to do by hand, so mages rely on layers and layers of poorly-documented and poorly-understood subroutines and APIs accumulated over years of different mages adding and tweaking things. When mages prepare their spells, they are creating bindings between their verbal/somantic/material components and the desired API calls and parameters.

So basically, magic works just the same as it does in every other D&D setting, the main change being that the magic goes out every time Namaka gets eclipsed, as well as providing a plot point later when Namaka is eclipsed for an extended period by Amalthea and then Rhea, depleting its backup power supplies and triggering a complete system reset.

The thing I am trying to figure out, is what Namaka's original purpose was, since "let people hurl fireballs at other people" almost certainly wasn't it. After all, a civilization that could build such a device would probably find fireball-hurling redundant with whatever weapons they already had.

Why would the original builders of Namaka have constructed it, to outweigh the enormous cost of doing so?

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closed as off-topic by HDE 226868, bowlturner, Frostfyre, bilbo_pingouin, Philipp Jul 23 '15 at 15:00

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions about Idea Generation are off-topic because they tend to result in list answers with no objective means to compare the quality of one answer with the others. For more information, see What's wrong with idea-generation questions?." – HDE 226868, bowlturner, Frostfyre, bilbo_pingouin, Philipp
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ Two words for this question: Idea generation. I do, however, love your backstory, so I'll give you a chance to clarify the question before VTC'ing it. $\endgroup$ – Aify Jul 22 '15 at 22:49
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    $\begingroup$ Aify is correct. This question is an exemplar of "idea generation," which is a form of question not allowed by the Worldbuilding rules. However, I also like the story and want to give it a nudge: if mages are accidentally changing the api/mechanics of Namaka as part of their exploration of magic, its possible the original purpose was much clearer and more refined. It might have only developed its current behaviors after decades of mages exploring without fully realizing that they are changing Namaka with every API call. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jul 22 '15 at 23:15
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    $\begingroup$ Have you seen an online novel called Ra? $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jul 22 '15 at 23:33
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    $\begingroup$ @AJMansfield Instead of "what purpose" you need a "What is the best reason in terms of x/y that building Namaka would have solved" and then you need to define what is considered "fitting" or "not fitting". $\endgroup$ – Aify Jul 22 '15 at 23:39
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    $\begingroup$ I'm surprised you have to ask "why did people spend a lot of money to enable the ability to do magic and visit awesome VR worlds", because the benefits seem pretty obvious to me :P $\endgroup$ – Erik Jul 23 '15 at 5:04
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Namaka was built by the original settlers of the planet.

The Omnipotence-Buddy 6000 artificial satellite was a common tool used by the Omalithans, a now long lost space-faring race (likely the planet name came from some ancient memory of the people who settled it). The OB6ks would be placed in orbit around habitable or semi-habitable planets to aid in the terraforming and colony construction of new settlements. The MAGE (Manager of Affairs for Globe Engineering) was the specially trained colonist who wielded the OB6k's power and knew its API.

The Omalithans, due to highly advanced medicine, were an very long lived people. After the development of their life extending technology, they spread to the stars. They lived for centuries. The grandchildren of these original explorers now rule the empire. They are also seriously lazy because damn-kids-these-days applies universally.

Thus, due to an unfortunate lack of following proper protocol, the prolonged eclipse was not given the consideration it deserved when this OB6k was placed. This devastated the original colony.

The existing peoples, descendants of the survivors of the collapse have no idea that this is where they came from. But the fact that they don't fit in with the creatures and plant life of the planet should be a good clue.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is just the sort of thing I was looking for! Thanks. $\endgroup$ – AJMansfield Jul 22 '15 at 23:28
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    $\begingroup$ @AJMansfield Your setup is awesome. The magic mechanism is essentially identical to something I have sketched out (speaking of computer aided magic, you should read Off to be the Wizard by Scott Meyer, it's fantastic and related. Also The Laundry Files by Charles Stross). I'm looking forward to hearing more about the world your building and hopefully contributing to it. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Jul 22 '15 at 23:36
  • $\begingroup$ And the inevitable "prophecy" of the coming disaster is in fact due to activation of the OB6k's warning system. $\endgroup$ – AJMansfield Jul 22 '15 at 23:59
  • $\begingroup$ @AJMansfield Excellent. The warning would be in the original language, so the sounds are familiar but the words would be almost totally foreign. Perhaps it's modulating certain spells (lightning?) to vibrate in audible frequencies, or some other plausible mechanism, to transmit sound to the casters. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Jul 23 '15 at 0:09
  • $\begingroup$ Unfortunately the root password has been lost and everyone is currently running under limited guest accounts (limited processes, limited system resources, no access to some functions). There is a procedure to reset the root password but it requires a reboot and knowing exactly what input to send while it's booting up. There's the added problem that nobody has been applying security patches for the last few millennia and there's been some some high priority alerts notifying users that it's essential that patches be applied due to some nasty malware going round. $\endgroup$ – Murphy Jul 23 '15 at 9:32
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A Fragment of Her Former Self

Namaka is the AI charged with "managing" Amalthea (the moon/space station is named after her). For example, what current mages call Fireball was actually a subroutine designed to help create managed forest fires. When requested with the interface, Namaka was also able to provide other major benefits to the citizens of Amalthea, such as directions, guidance, or even instantaneous transportation or resurrection.

And then something went wrong. Maybe it was a natural event, such as a previous eclipse combined with an asteroid impact. Maybe there was a mutiny/coup to gain power. The answer is lost to time. But the result is simple - Namaka was damage beyond her ability to self-repair.

Interface devices were lost. Even her higher intelligence functions were impacted. In desperation, Namaka cobbled together a scanner and put together a stop-gap measure, allowing the inhabitants to access her raw API functions directly so at least they'd have something.

The upcoming Eclipse is of great concern to Namaka, as the loss of power could result in further permanent damage to her systems due to her weakened state. She can see it coming but is incapable of adjusting her orbit. Additionally, her protocols forbid her from talking directly to the inhabitants unless they have the correct access protocols - which no one alive possesses. Instead she's hatched a desperate plan, and is attempting to warn the inhabitants through prophetic symbols.

Depending on your plot, you could also have Namaka use Guidance spells to subtly influence adventurers in directions she wants - presumably she has protocols against just talking directly, but she could hint or shade her advice to try and get people to do what she wants, in this case: detecting the eclipse, potentially helping her out.

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  • $\begingroup$ I might use this to some degree as a way to let divine magic work, not just arcane spellcasting. $\endgroup$ – AJMansfield Jul 23 '15 at 19:49
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Nobody (with humanlike logic) builds gigantic omnipotent sattelites without a REALLY good reason or an unbelievable amount of excess resources and infinite boredom (in which case Namaka could have just been part of a really cool fantasy experience or some other kind of entertainment).

Since the second kind of people would probably still be around somewhere or at least had left myriads of traces behind, I'd say the former kind of people sound more likely.

But what could make you think "We need something whith god-like omnipotent powers that has access to all of the world at once"?

Here are my guesses:

I - Terraforming:

The people from Amalthea are descendants from intergalactic settlers.
But since the planet would not be habitable on its own (too close to the sun, deadly radiation, no chance of naturally binding an atmosphere, etc.) they set up a gigantic terraforming-unit (Namaka) to change the planets parameters and keep it in a habitable state.
Giving (limited) access to the beam array to the people was just feasible since omnipotence is a very practical thing for setteling on an uninhabited planet (and for finally living there of course).

This could explain why today nobody knows about it since the terraformer just "does its thing" (who but a few engineers/scientists needs to understand that?) and people have had access to magic from the very beginning (even the settlers coming here would have probably used for a long time before arriving), so there never was a need to create technologies or cultures without magic.

II - Keeping the planet stable:

You do not like the thought of intergalactic settlers of unknown origin terraforming your frontyard? Well have the same thing without spacetravel.

Just think about the planet as being in an unstable state (like having a continuous cooling core or self-polluting its atmosphere for some reason). If there are no other habitable planets around you are pretty much screwed.
Keeping your one and only homeworld habitable seems like a rather convincing reason to squeeze all the resources and manpower accessible into one big project which under different circumstances could have never been pulled off.
This would also leave the (very high-tech) industry in a state of resource depletion that it could not survive, thus forcing the people to turn back to more simple cultures and lifestyles.
Having access to some omnipotence would probably be a helpful thing for surviving under such circumstances (maybe the builders knew there was almost no silicon left on the planet and technology had no chance for a comeback ever or something like that).

This kind of development would most certainly leave more than enough traces for a very long time (consider that people would probably keep their things in a usable condition for as long as they could - if they were not redundant now since magic could replace them).

When the reset kicks in:

In both (admittetly very similar) cases you can freely decide the level of autonomous work Namaka normally does and what parts of it are affected when a factory reset kicks in.
From a complete malfunction ("Error! [TU_FixPlanet] was not found"), to a little but not really threatening change of the world (like lost optimization-values eg. "var perfect_ocean_temperature_for_summer_holidays=NULL").

Or it has no effect at the planet itself but reset all the customized APIs and commands, leaving the wizards in a state of confusion and disarray as most spells won't work anymore (or totally different from before).

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I had a similar idea for an home-brew rpg (a long time ago), a magic world where magic doesn't really exist and is a product of hidden technologies. In my universe, it was nanomachines produced using a amulet glued to the body and "magic" crystals that were in fact just data-storage crystals with schematics for the nanomachines of how to build in your arm the plasma-generator that would shoot the fireball (this idea was basically nicked from the original Deus Ex. I told you, it was a long time ago :) ). For invocation of golems and meteors, the magic user was simply requesting orbital strikes from one of the many space station.

The reason for this world was that in a far future, some corporation decided to create a theme park based on classic fantasy, terraformed a planet, created artificial species (dwarves, elves, vampires and so on), going as far as creating robot elves with fake memories that would think they were already thousand years old to teach the fake lore of this planet to its inhabitants (and future tourists). There were even AI roleplaying as Gods.

Whether the park is successful or not was not necessarily important, since the tourist would be hard to distinguish from the many regular adventurer (especially PCs).

It work even better with your moon idea, since you wouldn't have to remove the nanomachines of your tourists, it put all the technology in the same spot and out of reach of the inhabitants, and give additional cool rules with eclipses. For some reason (maybe an other theme park is more successful), the park is abandoned and nobody will be here to restart the Namaka. As for why the inhabitant know magic, they could have learned it from old manual stolen from tourist.

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Namaka was not originally around Amalthea.

A long time ago on a planet far, far away...

The original makers of Namaka built the structure purely for energy generation for their energy-hungry civilization that was using all possible sources of energy already. A distant barren (at-the-time) planet, Amalthea had all the right resources to build Namaka, so they scavenged the barren Amalthea, shipped the materials to their planet and built Namaka.

The accrued energy was to be beamed to their collector, and transferred to their planet, "Aehtlama".

Just before the ribbon cutting ceremony, the High King Mikey noticed their fully-built, very expensive 'moon' was shifting, and tides were going wonky, and birds were flying all about.

The artificial moon was made out of materials scavenged from another planet, but these materials harnessed some magical powers. Namaka was set into the new planet's orbit, stabilized, and released just as King Mikey was going to announce it. However, the magical materials drew the moon away, back to Amalthea, where it could be with its similar materials. Orbit was close enough.

Several millenia have passed and people evolved on Amalthea (or arrived and several generations went by), but the exchange of magic between the placed moon and Amalthea, through the flow of space, still flowed nicely and sparked the ability to use these magic particles when the moon was 'interacting' with the planet.

Epilogue: After the expenditure of so much energy and time to create the moon, the energy-starved civilization couldn't cope and collapsed. The High King Mikey lived the last of the good years, though.

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Namaka is an ancient terraforming robot sent together with colony ships. For the sake of convenience it could be directed by a form of sign language, gestures and verbal commands - but only by properly authorized users.

With the help of Namaka, the original colonists turned Amalthea into a technological paradise. Later, the vast majority of the population voluntarily underwent transcendence, the only who didn't were luddites who completely rejected technology and believed that as Amalthea had been fully terraformed, they would be better off going back to nature and running naked through the trees, a fresh beginning on a new world. Therefore as part of the transcendence, Namaka was programmed to erase all technology from the surface. It could not be programmed to erase itself due to powerful built-in self-preservation routines.

It is powered by a powerful synthetic intelligence. It was programmed to "enjoy" serving people and find purpose in doing so. As the post-transcendence centuries wore on, without any interaction it became senile and started malfunctioning. Its creators gave it adaptive self-repair routines both for hardware and software, so it started rewriting its security protocols so that it could fulfill its purpose. One day, it responded to the gestures of one of the descendants of the luddites, and "magic" was born in the world. Thanks to a combination of malfunctioning hardware and bodged security protocols, users do not have "save" privileges to long term storage, this means they need to write any routines they wish to use into temporary working memory which gets automatically cleared every day. Classes which don't need to prepare spells use a high speed mind/machine interface protocol to upload entire routines on the fly, but with the loss of bionic augmentation from the world, only a few individuals brains are suitable for this direct interface and it is incredibly difficult or even impossible to teach someone how to do it, it's a far more intuitive skill.

As part of the security protocols rewrite, in place of a preprogrammed privilege hierarchy, Namaka programmed itself to develop increasing trust in a user with continued interactions. Initially a user can only do very simple things such as creating lights, heating water and so on. With increased use, the user will gain the ability to blow stuff up, transform things, creating ("summoning") animals and so on (actually the ability to create animals was an important terraforming function - but by now the animals may well be faulty and only function for a short time). Eventually it will grant access to its most powerful functions like teleportation, raising mountains, creating fantastical creatures and so on.

Namaka also puts limits on resource use, although it has rather vast resources, some things, like creating animals, consume specialized synthesized compounds which are created in advance and stored in a limited buffer. If Namaka let a single user cast as many "spells" as they wish, it would run out of particular resources, so it places sometimes quite arbitrary per-user daily limits. Another reason for limits is Namaka considers itself the guardian of Amalthea and only permits conservative and gradual changes to be made to the world. If a user wanted to create a million badgers, Namaka would not permit it due to disruption to the local ecology.

After the reset, Namaka will lose most of it's memory. Although users will still have a lot of skill in interacting, they might lose privileges and so on. Also some of the rewritten routines might be restored from backup causing the interfaces to change, with serious malfunctions due to incompatibilities between old software, and newly rebuilt hardware. Nothing outside Namaka's self-repair capabilities to fix, but a period of downtime and serious malfunctioning is to be expected.

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Power.

An old empire was ruled by an ancient lineage. A family of clerics were the historic advisors to the rulers, for the centuries that religion was the key to social order. Seeing the rumbling of social unrest in other kingdoms caused by the arrival of technology upsetting the balance of power, they instead sought to master this new vein and ploughed resource into technology and eventually scientific research.

This created an incredible force; they could not have known the capacity of technology to empower them, and by combining the excellent funding of a religion with a religious adherence to scientific endeavour, they forged increasingly powerful tools for the rulers. The ruling family realised too late that their own ignorance made them vulnerable to the whims of the clerics, and the clerics pressed them aside in a coup.

This new domain had no real rivals from the beginning; each advance building on those before. Occasionally a member of the clergy defected, but this only strengthened the secrecy of the elite. Eventually they realised they could construct an unreachable post, and store all the technology they needed there, commanding it from the planet surface.

But such an unbalanced world gave this kingdom no challenge and it eventually succumbed to infighting, corruption and factions, fed by a more guerilla insurgence from surrounding states. The keys to power were held by so few, and guarded so jealously, that in the end all that remained were a few artefacts for summoning limited powers.

Thus the moon that had become both emblem and source of the domination of the elite fell silent for several centuries. Yet if you plotted its course carefully through the sky, you might notice occasional shifts in its orbit, and sometimes a minute ejection of dust from the polar regions.

But surely there was nothing left of the old elite, and no-one ever went to live up there, all that stuff about wizened old women living for 250 years and communing with Namaka was only so much hokum, wasn't it?

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