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D&D General Is there a D&D setting that actually works how it would with access to D&D magic?

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Iron golems. Fireball wands. Extinction.


What I mean is- humans, at the very least, are a very industrious and innovative people. Look how far we’ve developed in just the past 2000 years- or even the past 100! But most D&D settings seem to have multi-thousand-year histories where the world has existed at the “default” D&D setting; that is- a vaguely medieval, feudal peasant society that happens to have magic, dragons, etc. Now monsters aside, our world does not exist like that, and we don’t have fairly accessible magic.
I take issue with the idea that the last 2000 years are the metric to use. If you look at the 2000 years from 500BC to 1500AD you see slower technological development, and before that you had civilizations like Egypt that were stable for thousands of years. It's really in the "early modern" era - around 1500AD - that you start to see rapid development of technology. So I think the premise is flawed - measuring fantasy worlds by the standards of our era mistakes the interests and pursuits of our modern era for what people in that world would care about. Also there's no guarantee that magic would scale to industrial levels - even in Eberron where the most "magic as technology" aspects are around the big industrial magics require major magics like the Creation Forges to pull off and in a world where advances are not shared at the patent office but rather horded by guilds your advancement is going to slow a bit.

Beyond that, most D&D settings presume civilization-destroying apocalypses in the past that keep setting unbalanced and often make people skeptical of magic for centuries afterward. You've got Greyhawk's Rain of Colorless Fire, the Realms have the destruction of Netheril, Krynn has the Cataclysm just a few hundred years before the timeline starts, Athas of course is the result of a civilization destroying apocalypse, Mystara has the destruction of Blackmoor, etc.

And finally from an industrialization perspective - most fantasy worlds don't seem to presume a prehistoric die-off of plants and animals to bury a whole bunch of hydrocarbons in the ground. Without that, we don't get the Industrial Revolution on our world either - you needed the free access to coal, oil, natural gas, etc. to fuel our big industrialization push and without something equivalent on a fantasy world you're not going to get it. Also there's no reason to believe that fantasy worlds are as iron rich as our world either - another element that factors into our industrialization push of the last 500 years.

On top of all that - once you mix in gods, demons, immortal wizards, archfey, and others who have a vested interest in keeping the world as is for their own purposes, the fact that fantasy worlds have even advanced to the level of Middle Ages Europe is perhaps the more astounding question. :)


What I mean is- humans, at the very least, are a very industrious and innovative people. Look how far we’ve developed in just the past 2000 years- or even the past 100!
No. A VERY small subset of humans did that. The VAST majority did not. (even the Japanese would still be a fuedal, middle age tech society) Take away that small subset and you have a planet in the Middle ages at the highest. And HUGE areas of stone age society.


The real answer to this question is "What ever you want". You can make any set of premises about the nature of magic and its availability and extrapolate to any end point you want.

Want a magitech like Shadowrun or any steampunk variation then posit magic as a fundamental force of nature like gravity or the electromagnetism. Then magic is learnable, the principles of it are deducible and away you go.

Want magic for outsiders only, then posit a Law vs Chaos metaphysical conflict and off you go.

Want every aspect of nature to have consciousness and see where that get you.

If the moon in orbit by the warping of spacetime or the will of the Moon Goddess?

Even if you posit Magic as a material force like gravity, you can still have it rare in a pre-industrial setting because no one has invented a materialist philosophy.

It really depends on what your premises are and were you want to go.


While it's been said that any sufficiently advanced technology would look like magic, I don't think it follows that sufficiently advanced magic would look like technology. In fact, magic could easily hold back technological advancement. See the other thread for thoughts on that.

In my home campaign I assume there's a lot of low level magic and items. There are things like continual flame lamps, even a +1 weapon is not that unusual because once a magic item is created it's difficult to destroy. Cast continual flame on a rock and bury it? A century later you can dig it up and it will still provide light.

Why invent the light bulb if you get light from that lamp that your great grandfather bought? Perhaps magic just hits a usability ceiling beyond which it can't easily advance, it can only go so far to mimic technology while simultaneously stifling competing advances.

It's an interesting thought experiment and you can go a lot of directions with it. Steampunk is inherently supernatural, it just has different presentation than "magic". Heck there are entire systems like Esper Genesis that combine magic and space fantasy. Look at Star Wars as another example. We assume all the droids are just technology based, but do we really know? There's obvious space magic in the force, but hyperspace is (probably) not real either.

So if you want a magi-tech world, the skies pretty much the limit. For better or worse, D&D is based on the visuals of authors like Tolkien and others which in turn is based on an idealized vision of a western European society such as the stories of King Arthur that never really existed.


Mod Squad
Staff member
To my knowledge, nobody has made available a setting that fully works out the implications of the 5e spell list. I would be very interested to read it if someone has.

I don't think a setting is apt to "fully work out" the implications.

I mean, it isn't like we can fully work out the implications of even simple technological advances. That's because one person, or a handful of people, thinking about a thing in theoretical sense are no match for entire populations of tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions, working for decades to make ends meet, taking trial and error guesses and seeing what works.

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