D&D General Technology in D&D, the IRL Timeline, and Pausing It.


Great Old One
Most D&D settings are lousy with the remnants of ancient civilizations that includes dungeons to delve, treasures to plunder, and magic items to discover. That would suggest that maybe some sort of cataclysm of apocalyptic scope interrupted the progression of technology as we understand it.

For this, I would assume a Wheel of Time model, technology and magic progress in leaps and bounds depending on the demands and possibilities of an age, but a cataclysm wipes a lot of things out, including knowledge and some possibilities (while maybe opening new ones).

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The "Dark Age" was a lot less dark than how people think (how do you think people lived in roman villages? It wasn't aqueducts and masonry everywhere) and the regression was not global or even continent wide either while agriculture for example steadily advanced.
My point is that engineering suffered a regression during this period. And since we are the global stage, while Asia advanced steadily during this time their lack of communication with west did nothing to advance western science. You have to look at regional, not global or even continental advances. And just because an advance was made doesn't mean it can't be lost to be rediscovered. Going back to Rome... When the Superdome was built and had that super cool retractable roof, it was touted as an engineering wonder.... until it was pointed out that the Roman Coliseum had one too. Out of sight does in fact equal out of mind in some cases.

The Dark Ages were incredibly backward through most of the period. One reason for a lack of Roman ruins in Italy is they were torn down and repurposed. Much like the castles of Britain after the Renaissance. (and this is a general statement not an all inclusive, of course there were exceptions. But they were exceptions.) And yes agriculture advanced because the Feudal system required it for sustainment. Forced labor in exchange for minimal protection. It's a wonder there weren't more King Vinny's or King Guido's.. lol


Reeks of Jedi
Everything from several sentient species coming at various times plus magic and literal god interventions, tech may be oddly distributed.

Then you get into worlds like Dragonlance where the Gods simply prevent tech from advancing (gunpowder just doesn’t work) or required to be very overly elaborate to be almost useless (that steam powered cart is 3X the size you would think it needs to be). Especially when magic can do the same thing easier.

Same with medical science. A level 1 cleric can fix almost any Ill like 3X a day.

But overall, magic is what comes into play. How quickly/slowly does tech advance when magic can do it for you?

Personally, I think tech would keep advancing just slower. That in unless, like in Dragonlance (or Hollow World etc) the Gods simply prevent certain sciences and tech from working.
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Are there any widely believed old theories that could be true in the fantasy world and lead to interesting things?

The miasma theory of diseases that epidemics were caused by miasma, emanating from rotting organic matter. (Does becoming undead stop rotting?)

Extramission theory of vision that you see because of rays your eyes admit. (Can you be trained to tell when you're being watched? Has the beholder just harnessed it in the obvious way?)

Given how long some of them lasted I wonder if they wouldn't do anything unless the DM played them up. Does Spelljammer use at least one?
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As for existence of magic hindering the development of technology, I would go a step further and say that in an inherently magical world you necessarily aren't literally able to develop certain technologies. Underlying chemistry and physics don't need to be the same. Things are not composed of molecules, they're composed of elemental motes or some such. If you try to develop explosives, you end up just inventing a fireball spell, because in this world magic is physics and that's simply how the things work.

Now with more mechanical things you kinda have to assume that they could be developed, but even then, a lot of things we take for granted weren't invented for a very long time, even though all the required technology existed. I've been doing some research for my world that tops at early bronze age tech. Did you know that earliest books were Roman codices, made at the early first millennium? Writing, parchment and papyrus had existed for several thousands of years at that point, but people just kept using unwieldy scrolls. It simply had to not occurred to anyone for several millennia that cutting up the scrolls and binding them as stacks would be much more convenient. And there is a lot of stuff like that. So to me 'they simply have not invented it yet' it a perfectly sufficient explanation for most of such things.
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This thread reminds me of the Civilization computer game. It kept wanting to trade me democracy for my nuclear fusion.

I do not recall the source, but there was something on the horse stirrup changing the world with the Huns and being able to use horses in a more favorable means.

There is also the change in farming plows to a curved one or a heavy steel one that allowed better and faster use and allowed for less labor, leading to extra time.

Coffee and tea with the stimulants, and boiled water from disease, allowed people to gather and discuss ideas leading to shared knowledge and revolution. The history of this trade and politics involved is a good read or I believe a show in History Channel.

A big problem in the past and still in non-industrialized nations is safe food and water. The development of waste treatment/ sanitization, food preservation and clean water is one of the greatest achievements in the last few hundred years.


There are many reasons for technology not advancing, or to put it a better way advancing in ways unlike the real world. Some have already been mentioned.

We think gunpowder and we think effective cannon and flintlocks. But for a long time it was just a curiosity, something used as much or more for it's psychological effect than actual impact on the battlefield. Forget fireball, a thunderclap or fire bolt would be more effective than early gunpowder weapons along with being more reliable.

In a world with magic, perhaps life really can spontaneously form from things that emulate life. Rituals can bring things to life as well, what if a ritual for a steam engine was accidentally recreated? It wouldn't take many events where a steam engine came to life and destroyed a town for people to ban them.

What we consider alchemy for things such as turning lead to gold never worked in the real world but eventually lead to modern chemistry. But what if you really could turn lead into gold? The process isn't exactly cheap but it does work. It would also explain the devaluation of the gold piece.

While things work the same on the macro level, there's no guarantee they work at the micro level. At least not all the time. Sometimes disease is caused by bacteria or viruses. In a magic world some diseases, perhaps even the majority, could have magical origins. For that matter, perhaps the interactions are not as predictable in the real world. If the phase of the moon or the words you mumble while holding your hand just so can affect some core properties of reality, good luck trying to replicate every aspect of an experiment. Maybe alchemists are casting minor spells without even realizing it.

In my home campaign I also assume that low level magic such as poultices and minor potions actually work. A healing potion may be costly because it's healing is nearly instantaneous. On the other hand, if you come down with a fever, the local apothecary or healer can probably help. In such a world infant mortality is far lower and families can be smaller. Birth control is also more accessible which leads to women not having to spend their lives raising young children so society tends to be more equal.

Since low level magical healing works also means that there's not much need for modern medical advances.

The outlier here is metallurgy. In many ways it's actually pretty advanced, you need to be pretty good at forging steel in relatively large quantities before you have high quality plate mail. Again, magic comes into play here. The blacksmith hums a tune to a rhythm of his hammer blows or says a prayer that helps to magically transform the iron. The forge was blessed when it was built and it maintains a more constant temperature. People have learned from dwarves the secrets of metal since a dwarven smith can spend centuries honing their craft.

That's my 2 coppers on it anyway. We have a hard time understanding how crude the early discoveries for what we take for granted now were. If those crude beginnings can easily be surpassed by magic, how many people would spend their lives pursuing it?


Is there anything to looking at the other races and their lifespans. If elves live 1,000 years and Legolas' dad spent 500 years developing the first way to make stainless steel, leaving Legolas to teach his son the same method. He could tell the story on how he taught it to your 20x grandfather who should have taught you the 'right' way, since my father created the method over 1,000 years ago.

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
So, much like calling a species “more evolved” than another, calling a society “more advanced” than another assumes a proper trajectory which societies have some natural inclination to follow. Furthermore, it treats Western Europe as the blueprint for that proper trajectory. There are many reasons that a very ancient society might lack any given technology and many reasons that a very young society might possess any given technology.

The main thing we tend to associate with societal “advancement” is institutionalization. Societies which organize themselves around large, centralized institutions - governing bodies, standardized educational systems, large-scale public works, etc. these are the hallmarks of an institutionalized society. And historically, institutionalized societies do tend to grow more institutionalized with time.

Many of the technologies you list here were invented to address the needs of institutionalized societies - they wouldn’t be invented by a decentralized, nomadic, hunting and gathering society, not because such a society hadn’t had enough time to “advance,” but because they are organized in such a way which does not create demand for them.

Historically, the biggest driving factor in societal institutionalization is the need to move large quantities of water. Water is essential to life, and it is very heavy, so when you have a group of people who need to move a lot of water from one place to another to live, they generally need some sort of top-down organizational structure to get it done. Societies with easy access to water and no need to move it tend to be less top-down, less centralized, less institutionalized.
Of course, many civilizations across the worlds of D&D are institutionalized societies, and so would have the same historical concerns.

I'm not sure what's being advocated for here. Are you looking for an excuse for medieval stasis that doesn't rely on the supernatural?

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Given how young most setting worlds are, there's a case for less in the way of fossil fuels, if not none. That said, if you have coal seams, you probably have oil. And unless your ironmaking civilizations are denuding vast forests, you probably have coal.

To an extent, what tech you have is going to be a compromise between what breaks your verisimilitude and what breaks your aesthetic preferences. If you don't like gunpowder in your D&D--and that's what matters to you--you probably won't have it. If the world having large quantities of steel but no gunpowder just breaks your suspension of disbelief--and that's what matters to you--you'll probably be running D&D with gunpowder.
Yeah, I have never disallowed gunpowder precisely because it makes no sense to me to remove it and keep the rest of technology the same, and I have no desire to bend over backwards narratively in order to force it to make sense. Plus, blackpowder weapons are a cool ascetic.

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