D&D 5E World Building: Tech, Magic, and Society

World Building Question 3 Science, Alchemy and Civilization

So I asked for general DM advise, because hello I am new to Dming. However I would like to start a series of specific posts asking about different parts of world building. This isn't a plus thread per say, but if you think I should not world build that is not very helpful.
Also Warning, I ramble when I am excited even in text.

(if you want to see part 1 https://www.enworld.org/threads/world-building-commerce-and-gold.698360/ if your want to see part 2 https://www.enworld.org/threads/world-building-army-building.698375/ and there is a part 2b someone else spun off https://www.enworld.org/threads/wor...-in-military-application.698390/#post-9051859 )

Okay, so wind up to question 3: Should you use historical models for your D&D world, or does magic throw that off?

Civilization and society in the real world has progressed in one way in the real world. The base PHB doesn't really follow any 1 time period and that is before we talk about magic and Alchemy. So there is a push to make magic=tech and as such bring about modern ways to do things. In part 2 we looked at that in war, but what about everything other than war?

Weapons, and armor are what most people think of, but book press is my first go to right now in my world building. If there are or are not printing presses changes the world, or in my case the kingdom (I plan on it being not used in my main kingdom that is evil but to have them in free good places PC can find maybe). My next thought was Communication. Cyber bullying with skywrite already made me feel scared, but message and sending along with strategically placed sending stones can give some level of long range communication.

How hard would it be to make a magic Iphone? I mean no we don't have one in D&D that I know of but a way to send messages pictures and short clips to each other changes the world, using illusions and divination along with sending and message those things can be made.

Then there is transport. I am using a lot of stargate, so I started by thinking about teleport circles linking things around the world and/or kingdom.

Now so far I have talked about tech, but let's be honest some magic is WAY beyond our tech. The really old version of trek had the red head doctor wave a light stick over wounds to close them. If that isn't a wand of cure wounds I don't know what is.

That is before Alchemy. In one of the other threads I talked about the spider silk my DM uses from drow, but I am sure not magic but not real but kind of real modern stuff can be made with some alchemy.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Okay, so wind up to question 3: Should you use historical models for your D&D world, or does magic throw that off?
Yes and yes.
How hard would it be to make a magic Iphone? I mean no we don't have one in D&D that I know of but a way to send messages pictures and short clips to each other changes the world, using illusions and divination along with sending and message those things can be made.
It's only as hard to make as you want it to be. Either they're impossible because you want them to be impossible, or they're available for a few gold at every shop in every small village. It's entirely your call. You don't have to sort out the "magical engineering" of the device. You can just write up a magic item, describe it's function, and put it into your world.
Then there is transport. I am using a lot of stargate, so I started by thinking about teleport circles linking things around the world and/or kingdom.

Now so far I have talked about tech, but let's be honest some magic is WAY beyond our tech. The really old version of trek had the red head doctor wave a light stick over wounds to close them. If that isn't a wand of cure wounds I don't know what is.
That Arthur C. Clarke quote and its corollary. Sufficiently advance [pick one: science or magic] is indistinguishable from [the other].
That is before Alchemy. In one of the other threads I talked about the spider silk my DM uses from drow, but I am sure not magic but not real but kind of real modern stuff can be made with some alchemy.
Yep. You can do anything you want in a world you build and/or run as a referee. The only limit is your imagination and how much time you have in a day to create every detail of your world. Which is why the common advice is to not worry about the big picture worldbuilding and focus instead on the small-scale stuff the PCs will actually interact with, because the tendency is to get sucked into the minutia of worldbuilding and get lost in that. Putting in hours and hours of work on things that the PCs will likely never know about and/or never see in the game. Which makes it, effectively, a waste of time.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Unless you are genius like Tolkien and can devote a significant amount of your lifetime to inventing things, you should heavily draw upon real world cultures in order to derive your setting. Ideally, you do this as something other than pastiche - "Fantasy Egypt" for example - by mixing and matching ideas and cultures freely to create something that feels original. But even pastiche is probably better than what most people can invent on their own.

Real world history and even real world stories about magic are predicated on the idea that magic doesn't exist or at least is exceptionally rare. The people that told the stories about magic weren't stupid. This does as you've noticed create a problem if you have ubiquitous magic in a fantasy setting. There are basically two choices. Either you assume a pervasive high level of magic in which case you have some sort of 'Magic as Technology' society which draws heavily from the modern world like for example "Eberron" or the world of Max Gladstone's "Craft Sequence", or else you assume that while low level magic might be pervasive high-level magic remains exceptionally rare allowing for a more traditional Middle Earth or Hyperboria inspired fantasy world set in a past that never was. Neither is wrong, but both require careful thought to do well.

I tend to do the later one. In my campaign, low level magic is ubiquitous, and society has carefully prepared defenses against it on the expectation that it exists and understanding of what it is capable of. High level magic exists but is too rare to drastically impact the global economy. Certain adaptations have been made to the RAW to support this in various ways such as changing pricing structures of magic items to make some high impact magic items more expensive, making some low level magic less expensive, nerfing certain spells (such as the range of teleport magic), creating various low level inexpensive defensive magics that can help counter ubiquitous low level threats, adding rules that make heavy infantry formations more resistant to magical attack as well as non-magical attack, and kind of in the background assuming magical contamination or residue is a real worry if you overuse certain sorts of magic (elemental magic and necromancy in particular) and that in the world's past there was a magical catastrophe when mortal magic got out of control that colors the perception of magic by both mortals and the gods. All these things help preserve a system that works and isn't easy for the PCs to break.

And yes, D&D magic - even low-level magic - means that certain technologies are available to the society that exceed even what we have available now. So if you aren't careful, you end up with a high science-fiction setting. If you don't embrace that ahead of time by considering the consequences of a world filled with casters of 11th level or higher, then you are going to have problems as the PCs start breaking the culture by accelerating the technology to where it should be as implied by your demographics.

On the other hand, if there are like 1 11th level caster per 100,000 people, then that high magical technology might exist but it simply wouldn't be affordable enough to be ubiquitous. Wizards of sufficiently high enough level to change the world will tend to be subtle, independent, quick to anger, and want to keep their head down so they don't become targets, living in towers working on projects that interest them intellectually or personally. They won't normally be working like IT professionals and engineers in steady 9-5 jobs, schlepping for some king who wants a boring infrastructure project most of the time. Occasional spectacular things will exist as monuments to some past wizard's power, but there won't be global teleportation circle networks because there just aren't enough 17th level wizards devoted to that pastime.
 



The 3.5 Unearthed Arcana gave us the "incantantions". These were like magic ritual for no-spellcasters. They weren't so useful in a dungeon crawnling but for a castle siege a congregation praying in the templo could get enough to change the battle.

If constructs are possible, then also the motors, and they could be a magitek revolution. A crossbow with a motor could reload itself automatically and faster, and war wagon with a motor could mean the end of chilvary.



Magic is powerful, but also too expensive. The noble houses could buy magic powered-armor or exosuits (and these only could be used by members of certain dinasties or knight orders). Illusionists could create effects like smoke grenades.

In the night a spellcaster using "wild shape" to turn into a bat could fly until the tower, and throw a stone with a magic rune. This could be used for teletranportation of infiltrators.


Maybe the industrial revolution couldn't start because the society is too technophobic, and by fault of infernal gremlings sabotaging the machines, or worse, controlling these to cause disasters. Or maybe it is a taboo because when a zone is too attuned with high-tech, then this is "assimilated" into mechanus.

And if we are talking about "biopunk" or living-machines, we can't know the social impact.
 


nevin

Hero
On the other hand, if there are like 1 11th level caster per 100,000 people, then that high magical technology might exist but it simply wouldn't be affordable enough to be ubiquitous. Wizards of sufficiently high enough level to change the world will tend to be subtle, independent, quick to anger, and want to keep their head down so they don't become targets, living in towers working on projects that interest them intellectually or personally. They won't normally be working like IT professionals and engineers in steady 9-5 jobs, schlepping for some king who wants a boring infrastructure project most of the time. Occasional spectacular things will exist as monuments to some past wizard's power, but there won't be global teleportation circle networks because there just aren't enough 17th level wizards devoted to that pastime.
This is going to depend on societal dynamics. sure 1 out of 100,000 people are wizards. ritual magic is available to anyone in 5e. So if you have the standard western fantasy trope then sure wizards are all hiding out doing thier own thing. But If the powers that be decide magic is awesome and put money effort and societal benefits into magical "technology" then it can go completely the other way. Go read Operation Chaos by Poul Anderson. Old book but one of my favorites. In such a world you might find that one out of every 800 people is an caster of some sort something comparable to our world and engineers. Take them and the engineers and Artisans and you end up with magical technology that changes everything. some things like Gates for travel are expensive and would be the equivilant of nuclear power, but some like ship's that magically produce thier own wind or flying ships would be far easier to make. Global Gate networks might be a moonshot thing for this civilization but we went to the moon with far less benefits and if rich people are willing to fund thier work I bet the mages crawl out of their towers and get to experimenting on the public's dime.
 

nevin

Hero
The 3.5 Unearthed Arcana gave us the "incantantions". These were like magic ritual for no-spellcasters. They weren't so useful in a dungeon crawnling but for a castle siege a congregation praying in the templo could get enough to change the battle.

If constructs are possible, then also the motors, and they could be a magitek revolution. A crossbow with a motor could reload itself automatically and faster, and war wagon with a motor could mean the end of chilvary.



Magic is powerful, but also too expensive. The noble houses could buy magic powered-armor or exosuits (and these only could be used by members of certain dinasties or knight orders). Illusionists could create effects like smoke grenades.

In the night a spellcaster using "wild shape" to turn into a bat could fly until the tower, and throw a stone with a magic rune. This could be used for teletranportation of infiltrators.


Maybe the industrial revolution couldn't start because the society is too technophobic, and by fault of infernal gremlings sabotaging the machines, or worse, controlling these to cause disasters. Or maybe it is a taboo because when a zone is too attuned with high-tech, then this is "assimilated" into mechanus.

And if we are talking about "biopunk" or living-machines, we can't know the social impact.
Magic is expensive but magic items are the opposite of our modern technological items. They are built to last generations or even forever. planned obscelscence isn't there. If every generation of rulers built a dozen constructs for protection or other things imagine what could be done. Egypt built pyramids that provided no benefit to society. Imagine a society putting that kind of effort into a magitek society for a few hundred years.
 

Oofta

Legend
I think it was on one of these threads that Agatha Christie would come up with the solution to the murder mystery and work back from there. I look at world design much the same. What feel do you want? Do you want a literate world where many people own books? Where walking down the street you'll hear someone yelling "Extra! Extra! Read all about it!" as they try to sell the latest newspaper? Then make it so. Has the "technology" of the world stagnated? Stuck between late renaissance and early industrial revolution? Then that's what you have.

My campaign world is pretty advanced but it's been "stuck" at that level for quite a while. Long ago, things were much more advanced but then there was a magical cataclysm that wiped out a lot of knowledge (essentially the equivalent of nuclear war, those legendary items have to come from somewhere), but a fair amount of knowledge was retained. However, the logic and science behind the advances of magic was lost. Meanwhile, there is a lot of "common" magic. Magic that people don't even realize their casting. So those cookies really are magically delicious, the blacksmith hums a special ditty and blessing while forging and his steel is more uniform than it should be while also not being prone to rust. There is magic that groups or specialists can do that will rival even high level casters, on the other hand they couldn't cast magic missile with a snap of their fingers to save their life.

This even extends into biology, medicine, agriculture. A broken leg that in the real world that would take 3-6 months to heal instead takes 3-6 weeks. Those compotes and tinctures really do cure diseases. Infant mortality is far lower than it was traditionally so women are more likely to enter the workforce (side note: longer lived races also tend to treat men and women more equally because percentage wise raising a child takes less of their lives). When it comes to agriculture, blessings for good crops really do work and fields are far more productive than they were traditionally. While planting and harvesting are still quite labor intensive, it's more around 60% of the population grows food instead of 90%.

Last, but not least, people sometimes get too caught up in things like "Castles wouldn't stand a chance against dragons". While this is true if dragons had just popped up in some medieval city, but that's because dragons don't exist in the real world. Therefore in a world with dragons there would be counters to dragons. When people's lives are on the line we tend to get quite creative on how to defend ourselves.

All of this is just stuff I've been noodling on over the years. If I assume that we have magic, how limited is it? Is there any reason to limit it to just a handful of people? I want a more "modern" feel to my world but I also want to be able to advance the timeline, so the magitech is not really advancing much, why not?* If people really can have diseases cured with a touch, how widespread do I want magical treatment of disease to be? What ripple effects does that have? So I decided I wanted magic to be common, but I don't want a industrial revolution society. I certainly don't want space fantasy (although that could be fun too). I just kind of went from there.

TLDR: Start with what kind of society you want, start with the real world as a guideline and then think about how magic works and what impact it has on society.

*We should note that we live in a time of technical advancement that has never really been seen before. Go back just over a hundred years and speed of advancement was slower. Go back a little further before the steam engine was invented and it was even slower.
 

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Top