Clarke's Three Laws
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Basic Information

Clarke's Three Laws… Well, there's actually four such laws written by Arthur C. Clarke, plus a few corollaries put forth by others. They pertain to technology, predictions about the future, and how to represent such things in fiction.

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
  4. For every expert there is an equal and opposite expert.

The most common corollaries are all derivations of Clarke's Third Law, namely:

  • "Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology."
  • "Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced."



Game and Story Use

  • The gist of the four laws is that you can really make anything you want happen in your story, as long as you present it as magic, superscience, magitek or sufficiently advanced technology or sufficiently advanced aliens.
  • What gives verisimilitude today won't necessarily do so 10 years from now. Clarke suggested that you were better off leaving the alien/futuristic technology mysterious and magical so it wouldn't look silly down the road. For a single RPG campaign, that's no problem, you'll have plenty of fun next week even if your game is based on some scientific concept that's eventually disproved. Most campaigns last a couple years, and aren't going to be dissected by a more scientifically literate playgroup 50 years from now. If, however, the GM has less of a grasp on science and technology than one or more of their players do, the sufficiently advanced route is probably the way to go.
    • This effect can be compartmentalized and vary by branch of science. For example, I frequently GM for a group that includes (real life occupations) a nurse, a pharmacy tech, and a medical diagnostic coder. So, I never make medical / biological issues part of a mystery plotline, and handle injury and healing fairly abstractly. If I try to be detailed in such an area, I'll probably make a mistake and it'll undermine their willing suspension of disbelief. On the other hand, I can go into depth about black holes and the fourth dimension (when gaming with that same group) and if I make a mistake they'll never know.
    • See the phlebotinum page for an exploration of the various levels of explanation you might give your science / technology / magic.
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