Words from the Wise (Guys)

Copyright Nicholas HM Caldwell © 2005

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion


To the seventy-seventh issue of The Guild Companion.

Articles Still Needed

We've received some very good articles and some absolutely fantastic new fiction in the past couple of months, but we're still running very short on role-playing articles. We'd really appreciate more articles for HARP, Rolemaster and Spacemaster - although our Rolemaster editor would appreciate short Rolemaster articles at the moment as he's got a thesis to defend and a continent-crossing relocation to accomplish this summer. Send your submissions to me at editor@guildcompanion.com


Preparations for Consternation, the gaming convention to be held in Cambridge (UK), continue apace. Panels on the Friday evening (Aug 12th) will include discussions on self-publishing and breaking into the RPG business. Saturday features panels on the future of the Paranoia role-playing game, hard sf gaming, and discussions with our guests (Allen Varney and Marcus Rowland), the dealers room, and lots of gaming. Sunday (Aug 14) will have talks on building fantasy worlds that evade the stereotypes and unbelievable technology from the Roaring Twenties and Thirties. There's a major LARP on each day of the convention plus informal delegate organized gaming throughout. Anyone who is interested is strongly advised to consult the website at www.consternation.org.uk

Oh yes, we'll be auctioning a copy of the HARP SF manuscript at Consternation.

Quantum Mechanics and Psi

Psionic powers are a staple of many science-fiction universes and an obvious set of extraordinary abilities to be included in a science-fiction role-playing game. An entire chapter of the HARP SF manuscript concentrates on psychic abilities.

One of the key design issues for psionics in HARP has been to make them distinct in mechanics and theory from HARP magic. In terms of theory, HARP magic is the alteration of reality through the application of the supernatural energy known as mana. For HARP SF, I found a plausible (though unlikely) "scientific" basis in the speculations of certain physicists regarding quantum mechanics.

It is a principle of modern physics that particles such as electrons must sometimes considered to be particles and sometimes as waves. It is also a principle of modern physics that the properties of a particle, namely its precise velocity and precise position, are indefinite until a measurement is made. The particle fluctuates over a range of positions (or velocities) simultaneously. To ground this in a commonsense analogy, stand in a doorway of a house with one foot inside and one foot outside - you are both inside and outside the house at the same time.

So far, so good.

In the jargon, particles are said to be "fuzzy" and can be mathematically described in quantum mechanics by "wave functions". These give the probabilities for the range of velocities (or positions) available to the particle. When a measurement is made of the particle, we are most likely to get an average value but more extreme results are possible. When we make the measurement, we collapse the wave function, that is we transform the range of values into a single outcome. This means that the observer has affected the event being observed, simply by making a measurement.

In certain situations, measuring one particle can collapse the wave function of another.

Imagine two particles bound together. Now separate them explosively such that both particles fly off in opposite directions. If we observe one particle, we will obtain a precise measurement of its velocity - we have collapsed its wave function to a single outcome. But, the law of conservation of momentum applies in this scenario, i.e. the other particle must have a momentum equal and opposite to the measured particle. Thus we know exactly the velocity of the second particle, so by making the first measurement, we have collapsed the wave function of the second particle. This we have achieved action at a distance. The process is non-local in that it is not confined to a local region of space - as long as the particles have interacted in the past, the distance is irrelevant in this particular example. In certain versions of this scenario, time is irrelevant as well.

Still with me?

This irrelevancy of space and/or time is considered by some physicists as having the potential to allow psi events to occur.

Some physicists have gone further and proposed models based on quantum mechanics for psionics. Some of these suggest that consciousness has a role to play in the measurement process, and these are the speculations that HARP SF uses to underpin its model of psionics.

Firstly interactions are proposed between the physical brain and the physically unmeasurable consciousness. The brain contains many random and quasi-random processes in the synapses and neurons. We now claim that the consciousness produces effects on the brain by collapsing the wave functions of these processes.

Secondly, consciousness is coupled to the act of observation with information flowing from the observation.

Thirdly, we make the assumption that the consciousness is able to operate non-locally, in that it can affect what is being observed and the mechanism performing the measurement as well as the brain itself.

Having now made all these claims, it is theorised that the conscious mind can influence random events both inside and outside the body by playing a role in the collapse of wave functions.

Psionics can thus be postulated as a means of altering (or in some cases predicting) reality by affecting matter and energy at a quantum level. The psionicist, through training or chance, is able to effect such changes using (hitherto unknown) regions of the brain in combination with the conscious mind. Alter (or predict) enough reality at a quantum level, and an effect is achieved (or predicted) at the macroscopic level.

Thus we have a "scientific" basis for psychic abilities. Does this mean that the only psionic powers available are those readily explicable by this quantum model? No. HARP SF includes telekinesis, pyrokinetic bolts, telepathy, and a whole host of fun powers. The assumption (another one, but who's counting) is that the quantum model underpins these as well - we simply don't understand the mechanism and for a High Adventure game such as HARP SF, we don't need to explain the fine detail here.

Look for next month's editorial to explain some of the mechanics aspects of psionics and the other extraordinary abilities available to HARP SF characters.

Farewell for now ...

I'm off to write up the skill sets for more than a dozen HARP SF training packages, so I'll leave you to enjoy this month's articles. Our next issue will be published in August 2005, but until then ...

Keep gaming and have fun,
Nicholas HM Caldwell
General Editor for The Guild Companion