Magic and technology of a civilization

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LoZompatore
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Magic and technology of a civilization

Post by LoZompatore » Tue Jun 15, 2010 7:54 pm

In the following I'd like to introduce a few concepts about technological and magical levels of the various civilizations of the Edge setting, hoping to define a few guidelines and start a discussion.
Please notice that I'm not particularly attached to the concepts below, they are just an attempt to set things in a logical way for the setting, feel free to criticize and modify them or to add your own version of the whole thing.

First, a definition:

Development Level of a culture/people = Technological Level + Magical Level

The Development Level accounts for what a population is able to do. It measures the total avaliable power to alter the environment and to suit the population's needs (food, protection, clothes, health, lifespan, transportation, workforce, wealth and so on). Such development can be achieved by technological means, by the study of magic (of any kind) or by a combination of both systems.

Said so, let's assume the following:

The Development Level in a large, non isolated and connected area (for example, most continental landmasses of a planet such as Thalassa) is fairly the same for all races living in it.
Such a Development Level for the planet of Thalassa equals to about an Earth-like XXth century technological level equivalent.


Such an assumption, in my opinion, would resemble the real world situation, where the whole non-isolated area of the Earth are mostly at the same level of technological development (give or take a few decades) due to mutual cultural influences, to the exchange of ideas and information and to the skill of intelligent people to adapt and improve what others have built in order to suit their own needs.
I think it would be a good idea to avoid in Thalassa (and in the rest of the setting) the issue of nearby people with extremely different technologial or magical level of development living side by side, without giving any justification for it. In a realistic situation, any evident difference in power should be levelled in a few generations by cultural spill (or sheer assimilation) from the more developed culture to the less developed. If we assume that all the intelligent races and cultures actually live in a (approximate, everchanging) equilibrium, then the sum of magical+technological power of each culture should be equal to that of every other nearby people.

Following such reasoning, for every people/culture/race we could state the following: "the more the technology, the lesser the magic (and the opposite)".

After all, a "Fireball" has the same effects of a grenade, most healing spells are equivalent (if not better) to many modern medical skills, a "light" spell has the same effects of any artifcial light generated through electrical or chemical means, and so on. A civilization could use the most efficient way to reproduce such effects, by using magic or technology, or a combination of both.

The same, given a task to complete (i.e. build a bridge) we could say that every culture would use the method it finds easiest in order to accomplish the task. So, for example, wood elves could use magic to twist trees to cross the ford and build a bridge, while steel ogres could use metal bars and reinforced concrete blocks laid down by cranes in order to get the same result. Both bridges will be comparable in strength, length and other basical features, although they were built in two very different ways.

Going further, in order to justify the magic or technology "bias" of a given culture we could say that such a bias depends on the "attunement" the culture has with the Edge Plane of Existence. Such an attunement would allow for a more efficient and powerful use of magic powers, which substitute the equivalent technological skills and devices needed to perform a given task. We could say that the more a culture is attuned to the Plane of Existence, the higher are its magical powers and the lesser the equivalent technological skills needed to fulfill the various tasks.

So, if we have a race/culture with a very low technological level (i.e., the neanderthals) then we are sure that their magical powers are by far much higher than those of a high-tech race (i.e. the spacefaring Skywood elves). Reinassance-like people of Kelidra should have a lesser magic attunement with the world than the Roman-like empire of the halflings, and so on.

We could try to quantify this attunement by stating the average maximum level of magical/clerical spells available to a given culture versus its technological level. Table below lists a suggested, approximate correspondence (with a few analogous real-world civilizations for comparison):

Stone Age: 9th level and up
Bronze Age: 9th level
Iron Age: 8th level
Early Classical Age (Persian Empire, Phoenicia, Ancient Greece, Republic of Rome, Chinese Shang Dynasty): 7th level
Late Classical Age (Hellenistic Kingdoms, Carthage, Roman Empire, Chinese Zhou Dynasty): 6th level
Dark Ages (Arabic Empire, Byzantine Empire, Chinese Qin to Tang Dynasties): 5th level
Early Renaissance (Europe in XIV-XV centuries, Ottoman Empire, Chinese Song Dynasty): 4th level
Late Renaissance (Europe in XVI-XVII centuries, Chinese Ming Dynasty): 3rd level
Early Industrial (19th century -like): 2nd level
Late Industrial Era (20th century-like): 1st level
21st century and up: cantrips or no magic level

So, for example, the average magical level of a Roman Empire-like halfling civilization would be the 6th, that is, halflings have - on average - common access to clerical and magical spells up to the 6th level. On the opposite, the Fiori Hills gnomes, which have a Late Renaissance/early Industrial technological level, should have an average access to clerical and magical spells/powers up to 2nd-3rd level.

Please notice that I always made reference to the "average" magical level for a given culture.
Gifted individuals of this culture have no limits in the spell level they wish to learn; they could even open a school of magic in their country and teach high-level spells to other students of their culture (thus slightly improving the attunement of their people to the plane of existence in which they live), but the numbers of such gifted individuals are still too few to make the difference in the everyday life of their people or during warfare against other civilizations.

Deviations from the general rule should exists, anyway.

--- An isolated culture, for example, could have both a low technologic and magical level due to its poor relationships with other people (on the opposite, a civilization with both a high technological and a high magical level should not be an isolated one - and it likely should have conquered the rest of the world, so let's say that such a culture does not exist in the setting).
--- Partial isolation (as in swamp/jungle/desert/ice/mountain cultures) could shift down the table above one place or two (so that a bronze age civilization would have an average maximum spell level of 8 or 7 instead of 9, for example). Such partially isolated civilizations would be disadvantaged when they come into contact with other cultures, and they could find themselves conquered or displaced by the dominant one until a new equilibrium is set (such could be the situation between the lizardfolks and the gnomes of the Fiori Hills, for example).
--- Very ancient civilizations could be more attuned to the world than younger ones, so they could have abandoned their previous technological bias towards the "more practical" use of magic. Such could be the case for the Birhamians, for example.
--- Lastly, any new culture which enters the Edge has to overcome a temporary situation (which could last a few generations) in which they would adapt to the new world they came into, attuning itself to the magic of the new world. As a general rule, any high-tech race would abandon some of their technology and substitute it with similar magic, until a new equilibrium is set. Such would (or will) be the case for the Skywood elves, for example.


In my opinion the approcah described above could avoid excessive power gaps among nearby cultures and justify the contemporaneous existence of many different technological levels on the same world or continent. It would also let us to introduce 20th century-like civilizations in the setting without worrying too much about the use of "non fantasy" elements (weapons, electricity and the like): such civlilzations would start as a non magical people and they would end dropping a more or less large part of their technology in a relatively short time as alternative and easier magical options become available through the attunement to the setting.

Let me know what you think about the whole issue, feel free to suggest your own approcah ;)

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Re: Magic and technology of a civilization

Post by Ashtagon » Tue Jun 15, 2010 8:54 pm

I'm not sure I like this idea.

So far, the setting is based on the idea that water will be the focus of any long-distance travel. This is the whole basis even of the setting's name, and it is a core point that I feel should not be compromised for any culture. This obviously limits technology to late steam age technology. Even that should be rare, I feel, perhaps as relics from shattered cultures (such as the golem-tech civilisation I postulated as a remnant on the "islands" in the edge region). Most others should stagnate for various reasons no higher than late renaissance in terms of technology levels. That basically means gunpowder and clockworks.

As for immigrants from more advanced cultures... stuff breaks down normally anyway. Whatever they brought in can be used until it does break down. The mind-fog effect associated with the incoming portals scrubs clean any knowledge of how to build, repair,or even maintain advanced technology. Depending on the item, that gives them from hours to years of use for a given item, depending on reliability and the amount of maintenance it normally requires - a gun might work until its ammunition runs out, while a helicopter will probably only be good for a single flight, and a modern nuclear power plant such as that in an aircraft carrier might go half a week before melting down of cooling out unable to restart.

Immigrants from lower-tech cultures don't get any special advantages. They just suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune like everyone else. However, they aren't stupid, and given time and luck, they can see these more advanced tools, and can probably learn to use them given the opportunity. Learning to make them might require a couple of generations though, as they may have difficulty sparing the manpower for "thinkers" instead of "hunter-gatherers".

Imposing a caster limit that varies by cultural tech level imposes a kind of Hollow-World style cultural stasis too. It imposes a specific cultural identity on everyone on the planet, which only really works if we cultures will not mix, something else that goes against one of the primary concepts of the setting - disparate groups pulling together in the face of adversity.

In terms of actual magic level, I'd prefer to keep things rather modest. Most towns can call upon one or more casters able to cast 3rd level spells. Cities can typically call upon a small team of casters each able to cast 4th level spells with a few days notice. Perhaps half a dozen cities on the entire planet can call upon casters able to cast 5th level spells. Casters able to cast 6th or higher level spells typically will not work for a city, and are utterly rare in any case (ie. exist only as plot devices for specific adventures). Keeping the NPC magic level low also helps focus the PCs as the real heroes of the story instead of leaving them wondering why Elminster hasn't saved the world twice during his coffee break.

I think an important point to maintain is that, while immigrants may remember the technology of their civilisations in its constructed, daily-use form, as a group they do not have the skills to actually rebuild that society in its original form. Most of us, cast adrift with nothing but what we are wearing, and let's be generous and add whatever is in our bedroom, would not be able to recreate a modern computer-networked civilisation in our lifetimes, and by the time the next couple of generations step up to the plate, our Earth would be little more than a mythical wonderland - a kind of "golden age". The homeworld would shape the mental outlook of the refugees, and might shape their aspirations and stories, but it won't really have much effect on what technology is available.
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Re: Magic and technology of a civilization

Post by eldersphinx » Wed Jun 16, 2010 4:27 am

I'm inclined to agree with Ashtagon's general reasoning - magic isn't a simple substitute for technology, and shouldn't be treated as such. The notion that a Bronze Age culture that writes in hieroglyphics and practices animal sacrifice is able to regularly train up spellcasters able to sling around meteor swarm and holy word while the higher-tech culture engaging in religious Counter-Reformations and developing germ theories of disease are only up to making magical light is pretty bizarre in any case. One would think the high-tech people would figure it out.

As a counter-proposal, let me suggest that the *proportion* of skilled spellcasters (and possibly just high-level individuals of any stripe) is much higher in cultures with lower technology. Something like the following:

- Stone Age/non-technical - 50%+
- Bronze Age/pre-Classical - 20% - 30%
- Classical era - 10% - 15%
- Dark Ages/Medieval - 5% - 10%
- Renaissance - 1% - 3%
- Industrial Era - 0.1% - 0.5%
- Post-Industrial - 0.01% or less

In this setup, the potential magical cap on the Fiori gnomes isn't set - but only 1 in 100 or 1 in 200 gnomes actually bothers to explore their potential, and you get large cities with only a dozen or so practitioners of the arts (who needless to say are often misunderstood or mistrusted). An individual spellcaster might have incredible power, but most of his fellow citizens won't know or care since their livelihoods are based around printing presses, textile mills and steam engines. Meanwhile, the nomadic tribesmen further inland who've barely managed use of the stirrup would have a spellcaster or two in every extended family. Their horse archers don't even come close to the raw firepower of a block of musketeers, but when one horseman out of every ten has the potential to drop a fireball or web spell in your face it's a strong incentive to respect the border.

I do agree that any culture that has been planetside for more than a few generations has probably regressed technologically somewhat, and become more intent on training spellcasters to compensate for lost tech. The Fiori gnomes are actually probably something of an odd exception here, in that they stabilized somewhere near an early Industrial stage rather than regressing back to a Classical/Dark Ages state. Of course, a culture that arrives with high-tech and tries to actively push magical development once they arrive might hurry the technological regression along, as newly-arrived mages smash the old infrastructure out of carelessness/arrogance...
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Re: Magic and technology of a civilization

Post by LoZompatore » Wed Jun 16, 2010 9:49 pm

I suppose your comments are right: readinge again what I wrote I realize that the idea of limiting the maximum spell level depending on technological level is pretty arbitrary, and it wouldn't be of any help in game terms.
Imposing a caster limit that varies by cultural tech level imposes a kind of Hollow-World style cultural stasis too. It imposes a specific cultural identity on everyone on the planet, which only really works if we cultures will not mix, something else that goes against one of the primary concepts of the setting - disparate groups pulling together in the face of adversity.
I think you have a point here. A static, Hollow-World like setting should be avoided at all cost, as it was already shown that such a feature, though interesting in principle, was not very successful on game terms.
In terms of actual magic level, I'd prefer to keep things rather modest. Most towns can call upon one or more casters able to cast 3rd level spells. Cities can typically call upon a small team of casters each able to cast 4th level spells with a few days notice. Perhaps half a dozen cities on the entire planet can call upon casters able to cast 5th level spells. Casters able to cast 6th or higher level spells typically will not work for a city, and are utterly rare in any case (ie. exist only as plot devices for specific adventures).
I mostly agree with you about a not-too-high-magic setting but I'd loosen a bit such numbers.
Here is the "loose" estimate, see if you like it: the master document estimated - from real world data - some 20 to 40 cities worlwide with 100'000 or more inhabitants, with a couple of metropolis in excess of 1'000'000 people. Maybe we could say that each 100'000+ people city could call upon a dozen of mages/clerics able to cast 5th level spells, while the two metropolis could call upon a dozen of those able to cast the 6th level one (plus a larger 5th level casters' group).
Countryside and wilderness spellcasters (both of them mostly independent from local governments and including also evil mages and clerics) could be overestimated as being 10 times the "institutional" city spellcasters. Making the sum, this would account for a total worldwide amount of about 2500-5000 casters able to cast 5th level spells or more.
If Thalassa's world intelligent population is between 500 million and 1 billion inhabitants (overstimating a little the real world late-renaissance data in order to account for underground and sea races) then the number of such high-level casters is pretty limited: just a person every 200'000 would have any chance to learn to cast magical or clerical spells of 5th level or more. This includes also the setting's villains.
This is not a very large number of powerful mages and clerics, after all. No "Alphatian Council" or "Sclaras' Mages" in the Edge! :D
Keeping the NPC magic level low also helps focus the PCs as the real heroes of the story instead of leaving them wondering why Elminster hasn't saved the world twice during his coffee break.
This is always I good strategy, I fully agree with you in this! ;)
In my opinion the numbers above would also fit well the desired setting's feature of having the PCs at the center of the action.
Let's consider a typical situation for a high-level party: two PCs, a cleric and a mage - both able to cast 5th level spells and over - must confront their nemesis, who are another cleric and another mage of about the same power level. Such four guys should stand out over a sheer mass of 800'000 common and low-level people (a whole nation) who will likely look in awe to the epic battle among the spellcasters.

Most of us, cast adrift with nothing but what we are wearing, and let's be generous and add whatever is in our bedroom, would not be able to recreate a modern computer-networked civilisation in our lifetimes, and by the time the next couple of generations step up to the plate, our Earth would be little more than a mythical wonderland - a kind of "golden age".
Good point on this.
As a counter-proposal, let me suggest that the *proportion* of skilled spellcasters (and possibly just high-level individuals of any stripe) is much higher in cultures with lower technology.


This could be a valid alternative to consider, especially in the light of what you wrote about technical solutions being preferred to magic among common people (maybe they are more reliable and require less study or application). Your table could be implemented as well. Notice that your assumption means that every people has the potential to learn at least the basics of magic, but cultural factors limit the number of spellcasters depending on how "cosy" the average lifestyle is (the cosier, the lesser the people who study magic).
I like this approach, as it would avoid the tricky question about how many people possess the gift of magic in a given society - and all the related stuff (to the point of trying to determine if a PC can be reasonably a spellcaster or not: I don't think such limitations are of any help in game terms).
An individual spellcaster might have incredible power, but most of his fellow citizens won't know or care since their livelihoods are based around printing presses, textile mills and steam engines. Meanwhile, the nomadic tribesmen further inland who've barely managed use of the stirrup would have a spellcaster or two in every extended family. Their horse archers don't even come close to the raw firepower of a block of musketeers, but when one horseman out of every ten has the potential to drop a fireball or web spell in your face it's a strong incentive to respect the border.
I like this vivid picture you made! It is very effective and it could really show the different ways in which cultures resist foreign aggression/assimilation :) My main concern about setting technological and magical level was just to power-balance different cultures living side by side. Of course Thalassa (and the rest of the setting) is not a static place, so it is very likely that many people will disappear, merge with others, conquer and be conquered over the course of history. I just wanted to avoid too much unrealistic situations so I explained anachronistic tech levels with the use of magic, no matter how it is exactly implemented. Your solution sounds good for me.

a culture that arrives with high-tech and tries to actively push magical development once they arrive might hurry the technological regression along, as newly-arrived mages smash the old infrastructure out of carelessness/arrogance...
This is a very good suggestion, it could be a very good plot device, especially for the Skywood elves! Foreign PCs could be called by the Skywoods in order to fight (likely with magic) a few of their own kin who showed themselves very talented in spellcasting and are now upsetting the high-tech Skywood society... :)

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Re: Magic and technology of a civilization

Post by Ashtagon » Wed Jun 16, 2010 10:59 pm

Those NPC numbers for casters look good to me. Note that there should be a clause in there for story-specific NPCs and PC nemeses - PCs and villains can easily (and usually will) exceed these limits. The numbers merely represent the amount of magic available to large (and small) political bodies.

The low magic level does of course make mundane travel on the esoteric plane effectively impossible. But with the large supply of two-way gates on that plane, it won't be too great an obstacle (and both PCs and their nemeses should have teleport spells by this point anyway). Adventures on the esoteric can focus more on a series of locations rather than a series of journeys.

Adding in eldersphinx's notes, it would make sense that the number of NPC casters will be even lower in (relatively) high-tech communities.
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Re: Magic and technology of a civilization

Post by eldersphinx » Thu Jun 17, 2010 3:55 am

Tech Degradation - Initial Thoughts

Many cultures brought to Thalassa rely on advanced technology to maintain their civilization and standard of living. Almost invariably this tech doesn't work as its creators intended once brought to Thalassa - a discovery that can cause no small amount of trauma and unrest among newly-arrived civilizations. How a newly-arrived culture's tech fails, and how the culture chooses to respond to the crisis this causes, are generally pivotal events in each culture's history and can forever after shape its history. Accordingly, a few guidelines are presented below.

* Tech Works As Designed. This is extremely rare (and not very interesting from a worldbuilding point of view). The culture is likely to become extremely dependent on this technology, and reluctant to trade it or share it with outsiders.
* (01-10) Tech Doesn't Work. This is somewhat common (but also not very interesting from a worldbuilding point of view). The culture may junk their new dross, or take it apart for spare parts or sell it to interested outsiders.
* (11-30) Tech Has Limited Use. It still works, but less efficiently - weapons have reduced range, agricultural methods slower turnover, industrial goods flimsier and prone to breakage, or similar. If this is a vital technology, the culture will have to try and 'gear-down' to a cruder substitute, or find a way to duplicate the results of their tech out of local materials in order to meet demand.
* (31-60) Tech Degrades. Quite common - whether because of irreplaceable fuel, limited spare parts, environmental conditions or just lack of knowledge in how to properly maintain/repair the tech. The culture may try to find local substitutes to compensate, or may put their technology into storage and use it only in emergency situations.
* (61-75) Tech Has Side-Effects - damaging the user, bystanders or the local environment. The culture will almost certainly try to identify countermeasures or safeguards, and might start a caste of slaves or outlander captives to use the damaged devices at arm's-length.
* (76-85) Tech Works Unexpectedly. It's not usable as originally intended, but can be employed for a new and (probably radically) different purpose. The culture may try to adapt to take advantage of the new potential, or open trading relations with neighbors who value the new capability of the tech.
* (86-95) Tech Works, But Only With Magical Assistance. A spell or ritual in some form is needed to act as a power source, control system, etc. The culture has to train or attract wizards if they want to keep their tech usable, and has to put the new tech into these wizards' hands. Outlander spellcasters may try to buy or steal choice bits of tech for closer study.
* (96-00) Tech Has Multiple Drawbacks - Choose or randomly select two items from the above list (other than Tech Works As Designed and Tech Doesn't Work). Both sets of limitations apply.
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Re: Magic and technology of a civilization

Post by Ashtagon » Thu Jun 17, 2010 6:21 am

I favour a modified "tech degrades" scenario. Basically, in real life, tech really does degrade if not maintained. But the portals introduce a mind fog effect that removes all memory of how to build, repair, and in most cases even maintain advanced devices (anything more advanced that steam age technology). This, combined with natural wear and tear of running out of supplied that require advanced technology to build, is sufficient to bring down most societies that rely on advanced tech. Ironically, societies that wee in late renaissance or steam age would fare best. Societies at a WW1/2 level of technology could probably downgrade gracefully too, albeit with some road bumps.

It also doesn't help that many immigrants are just random jay-walkers going about their business. These individuals simply don't have the infrastructure, and in many cases not even the personal artifacts, that make their original society possible. They may well know what is possible; they remember what their old society did and its achievements and culture, but even given the tools there in front of them, they could not begin construction of advanced technology. Adventurers, prepared for short-term survival, fare quite a bit better, at least until they would have needed to "return to town".

Intentional colonial expeditions probably do best, most especially those of late renaissance or steam technology. The most notable colonial expedition on Thalassa is the skywood elves. They currently can't maintain or repair their technology, but thanks to it being low-maintenance by design, they have so far been lucky enough to hide this from the outside. Those trained as engineers and technicians have been going through the motions and maintaining as best they know how (ie. not at all), but things are failing. This is of beginning to be of concern to the colony leaders, alongside the failure of the scheduled second wave of colony ships. Most elves in the colony still assumes things are going to plan though.

An immigrant colony unfortunate enough to rely on a nuclear power plant would have lasted a few days at most before the plant went wrong somehow. Those require a ton of maintenance to keep running, and a failsafe is the best scenario.
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Re: Magic and technology of a civilization

Post by eldersphinx » Fri Jun 18, 2010 12:50 pm

Ashtagon wrote:I favour a modified "tech degrades" scenario. Basically, in real life, tech really does degrade if not maintained. But the portals introduce a mind fog effect that removes all memory of how to build, repair, and in most cases even maintain advanced devices (anything more advanced that steam age technology). This, combined with natural wear and tear of running out of supplied that require advanced technology to build, is sufficient to bring down most societies that rely on advanced tech. Ironically, societies that wee in late renaissance or steam age would fare best. Societies at a WW1/2 level of technology could probably downgrade gracefully too, albeit with some road bumps.
Well, my opinion is that there shouldn't be just one universal scenario. I like the more general rule "High tech brought to Thalassa has problems and generally stops being used after a few generations" - and not trying to get too specific as to when, how or why for any given situation. A specific 'this is why tech stops working, always, no exceptions' scenario is prone to possible loopholes and bizarre interpretations - a more general rule that can take effect in any of half a dozen different ways leads to more flexibility in worldbuilding and more interesting cultures and encounter opportunities. So IMHO some tech should degrade, and some should work but be crippled, and some should work in weird ways and require a former lowland agrarian society to become reclusive mountain dwellers if they want to keep their best toys working, and some should only run on magical energy and kick off a war between six different older wizard civilizations when it's introduced.
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Re: Magic and technology of a civilization

Post by Ashtagon » Fri Jun 18, 2010 2:11 pm

eldersphinx wrote:
Ashtagon wrote:I favour a modified "tech degrades" scenario. Basically, in real life, tech really does degrade if not maintained. But the portals introduce a mind fog effect that removes all memory of how to build, repair, and in most cases even maintain advanced devices (anything more advanced that steam age technology). This, combined with natural wear and tear of running out of supplied that require advanced technology to build, is sufficient to bring down most societies that rely on advanced tech. Ironically, societies that wee in late renaissance or steam age would fare best. Societies at a WW1/2 level of technology could probably downgrade gracefully too, albeit with some road bumps.
Well, my opinion is that there shouldn't be just one universal scenario. I like the more general rule "High tech brought to Thalassa has problems and generally stops being used after a few generations" - and not trying to get too specific as to when, how or why for any given situation. A specific 'this is why tech stops working, always, no exceptions' scenario is prone to possible loopholes and bizarre interpretations - a more general rule that can take effect in any of half a dozen different ways leads to more flexibility in worldbuilding and more interesting cultures and encounter opportunities. So IMHO some tech should degrade, and some should work but be crippled, and some should work in weird ways and require a former lowland agrarian society to become reclusive mountain dwellers if they want to keep their best toys working, and some should only run on magical energy and kick off a war between six different older wizard civilizations when it's introduced.
Except what you're proposing isn't a rule at all - it's basically "a wizard did it". There is no consistency, because every place can have a different reason, which means that PCs will never know what to expect, and won't be able to usefully apply anything they have learned from previous encounters. If the PCs understand how and why the world is working the way it does, they should be allowed to take advantage of that knowledge. Allowing many different explanations prevents them from using that knowledge. It also leads to the meta-question of why it degrades in one way for one culture, but in another way for a different culture. We can find explanations, sure, but then it becomes kudzu backstory, and far more complicated than it needs to be.

And having technology break down through being unable to maintain it can still work very differently for different cultures. Some technology is more reliable than others (eg. helicopters vs. rifles), which will affect how long they will last before maintenance becomes an issue. For future-tech items, we can arbitrarily say some items are very low-maintenance (or very high maintenance), which again can affect how long an item can be used before it becomes unusable. We can say some civilisations used something which looked like tech, but was really just magic, and so isn't affected at all. Even without looking at maintenance, we can suppose that some advanced items require a supply (fuel or ammunition) to keep running, and make such supplies rare or plentiful as needed for the specific setting. Perhaps laser guns are plentiful, but the power packs have generally run out, save for a large cache carefully controlled by a rebel army, which lacks the manpower to defeat the lower-tech "peoples republic".

Basically, there are plenty of ways to have a numerous different scenarios even with a single consistent predictable rule on how technology degrades.
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Re: Magic and technology of a civilization

Post by eldersphinx » Sat Jun 19, 2010 4:48 am

It's not a 'single, consistent' rule, though. It's a totally arbitrary rule, and unnecessarily invasive at that. Let's suppose a museum of all of Earth's technology got picked up and thrown through one of your proposed portals to Thalassa - your 'mind fog' would quietly go through and wipe any knowledge of how to build a breech-loader rifle, a Bessemer steel converter, a steam-driven rotary printing press, a dose of penicillin... but would leave behind the memories of creating a flintlock musket, a blister steel furnace, a Gutenberg-style screw press, and inoculation against smallpox. The notion that Thalassa's tech level is maintained by portals that 'know' how to take away the knowledge of how to use only the tech that was in use during or after real-life Earth's Industrial Revolution, broadly enough that nobody would ever manage to recall or reinvent the details after thousands of years of exile, beggars belief. How is that not "a wizard did it"? Especially when within a paragraph you're pivoting away to suggest that some tech is arbitrarily low-maintenance, or magic-in-a-funny-outfit, and so doesn't have to play by the 'single, consistent rule'?

My suggestion is simple and flexible: Thalassa Is Different. The physical laws are subtly changed from other universes; so are the environmental conditions. When high tech from a different universe is brought to Thalassa, it behaves in an unpredictable manner - not because the rules change depending on where in Thalassa you are, but because the tech was designed to work under assumptions that no longer apply. That Gargalician blaster pistol will blow up in your hand no matter where on Thalassa you try to pull the trigger - not because there's something on Thalassa that makes it work oddly, but simply because the blaster pistol is no longer in the Gargalician universe. 'Why' is not important - there's no way back to Gargalicia, nobody on Thalassa will ever be able to make that blaster pistol over into anything other than a small clumsily-shaped bomb, best to focus on the questions that can be answered.
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Re: Magic and technology of a civilization

Post by Ashtagon » Sat Jun 19, 2010 5:48 am

What I'd want to know is, why does a doohickey (a simple breach-loading rifle, let's say) from one culture work (or fail to work), but that same doohickey from another culture works of fails to work *in a different way that is perceptible to the characters*?
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Re: Magic and technology of a civilization

Post by eldersphinx » Sat Jun 19, 2010 1:46 pm

Ashtagon wrote:What I'd want to know is, why does a doohickey (a simple breach-loading rifle, let's say) from one culture work (or fail to work), but that same doohickey from another culture works of fails to work *in a different way that is perceptible to the characters*?
Because it's not the 'same' device, just one that is similar. To throw out a series of hypothetical examples that are Much Too Simple And Detailed (tm), the Aamonians built all their rifles out of a metal alloy that (once brought to Thalassa) corrodes rapidly and irreparably upon exposure to heat; their rifles will fall to pieces after half a dozen shots each. The Bastites, meanwhile, use a type of guncotton that burns much more slowly on Thalassa than it did in their home universe; their rifles shoot only half as far as expected and with a corresponding reduction in bullet speed. Finally, the Carolingians' home universe has a higher degree of vacuum pressure tolerance than Thalassa; their rifles simply fail to work at all on Thalassa, since there's no vacuum seal when the trigger is pulled. Hypothetically, a Bastite rifle loaded with someone else's guncotton would work fine; so would a rifle made of Carolingian metal but designed to Aamonian specs.

(I say hypothetically, because as noted these examples are Much Too Simple And Detailed (tm); in a real situation each culture's rifle would probably have about half a dozen flaws, some major, some minor, some completely unnoticeable, all adding up to "well, this thing's a pile of junk". If tech problems were easy to identify and solve, anyone could do it.)
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Re: Magic and technology of a civilization

Post by Ashtagon » Sat Jun 19, 2010 1:51 pm

I see your explanation, but it creates a serious problem with a key campaign foundation. Because each group has different problems unique to each specific group, they have no benefit in cooperating - there's no "pulling together in the face of adversity".
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Re: Magic and technology of a civilization

Post by eldersphinx » Sat Jun 19, 2010 8:11 pm

Ashtagon wrote:I see your explanation, but it creates a serious problem with a key campaign foundation. Because each group has different problems unique to each specific group, they have no benefit in cooperating - there's no "pulling together in the face of adversity".
Gosh, look at those goalposts move.

First, half the cultures that come to Thalassa never had 'the same problem' in the first place, because they were focused on magic or never advanced to Industrial Revolution-era tech to begin with. Second, they all arrived at different times, so they never had the 'same' problem to begin with - by the time the Edharians arrive, the Deolators have been in place for a thousand years and have hopefully stabilized. You don't get much "pulling together in the face of adversity" out of "oh, yes, our great-to-the-nth grandparents once experienced the same thing, but we learned to live without long ago and have prospered ever since". Third, the notion that cultures with different values, different languages, different traditions, different nearly everything won't pull together because they share the common problem of their tech breaking, but will pull together from the common problem of their tech breaking in the exact same way...

(And this is, of course, setting aside the point that a single common problem is usually harder to solve than two separate-but-similar problems. I have Crisis A, you have Crisis B. Because I'm not directly at risk from Crisis B, I still have tools and ideas that'll help me solve Crisis B. Likewise, you have a way of dealing with Crisis A. We team up, solve each other's problem, both of us benefit.)

To be blunt - instead of continuing to pit-bull me, how about spending a bit of time explaining why anyone should agree with your notion that every single bit of tech loss has to be handled by magical portals that scrub scientific knowledge out of living brains, without ever bothering to touch physical devices?
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Re: Magic and technology of a civilization

Post by Ashtagon » Sat Jun 19, 2010 8:15 pm

I think we should both step away for a few days and wait until several others (say, at least three people) give opinions on this. It's starting to get a little heated.
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Re: Magic and technology of a civilization

Post by LoZompatore » Sun Jun 20, 2010 3:24 pm

Here is a suggestion which I hope could meet both your (sharable, IMO) points of view.

Forgive me if I do not go straight to the point, but I would like to expose a couple of preliminary concepts beforehand:

First of all, we could say that every time a living being crosses the planar boundaries into the Edge, its phyisology, internal chemistry and whatever are subtly and slightly changed in order to make them as much compatible as possible to the new environment.
(the same would happen also to people exiting the Edge to another Plane, but I'll speculate about this concept in another post).

The assumption above would account for the fact that the Edge, after all, collects hundreds if not thousands of different groups coming from the most disparate places in the multiverse: it would be very unlikely that all of them share the same characteristics and all of them are able to live in the new environment without modifications (think about different athmospheric composition and pressure, temperature, sunlight and radiation levels, gravity, not to speak about different biologies that makes poisounos what could be safe for another race/population).

In my opinion it would be necessary to implement such an approach, at least for the sake of having small, isolated groups able to reproduce with the rest of the extraplanar refugees: a group of, say 5-20 people from XYZ would be extinct in a couple of generations if it would not able to generate new offsprings by reproducing with a much larger breed.

So, the "human", "dwarvish", "elvish", "goblinoid", etc. breeds would be some sort of "melting pots" of average standard features where most of the newcomers would merge. Of course, there would always be groups of too-different physiologies which - even with the modifications - do not manage to fully adapt with the environment and to merge with the main breeds (a typical example on Thalassa would be the so called "cryptic elves"). Such groups would form different races and live in secluded locations - provided they manage not to become extinct doue to their low numbers.

Said so, I supose that we could go on a step further and say that the same Mundane Plane of the Edge pocket world is very similar, but not exactly identical to the Prime Plane **. Its features are designed to host the largest number of different people as possible, and enable them to merge as much as possible in order to avoid extinction.
Moreover, such differences are designed to suit just living beings (which are basically not aware of the mostly-microscopical modifications that happened in their bodies), not machinery and technology (or even magic, why not?). Anything that involves combustion, chemical reactions and energy production from light and atoms (or middle to high-level magic) - that is, anything above a Late-Renaissance technological level, works on slightly different principia with respect to the worlds of the newcomers.

So old technology do not work propertly, a few achievements could be harder to get, while a few of the more complex contraptions would not entirely work following the old principia etc.

A final couple of remarks about this issue:

- I think that in game terms it is not very important to set which technology works and why: we could state that any "simple" technology ("Leonardo da Vinci's" or "James Watt's" level or lower) works without failures, thus accounting for most of the situations in which an average PCs party is likely to occur. A few high-tech contraptions can be found throgh adventuring, but their use and defects are individually set by DM as in-game plot devices. the basic funcion of the limitations to high-techology devices in my opinion would be just to prevent any "futuristic" race to get dominance over the setting.

- If there is still disagreement aout how to implement technology in the setting then we could start a poll and ask for help from the rest of the community ;)


** On a side note, such an approach would be valid - on a bolder scale - also for the Esoterica Plane, if not to justify the fact that the same sub-plane is able to host creatures of the four elemental domains without having them to wither and die due to the very different conditions.

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Re: Magic and technology of a civilization

Post by LoZompatore » Sun Jun 20, 2010 3:29 pm

Side note:
the Aamonians built all their rifles out of a metal alloy that (once brought to Thalassa) corrodes rapidly and irreparably upon exposure to heat; their rifles will fall to pieces after half a dozen shots each. The Bastites, meanwhile, use a type of guncotton that burns much more slowly on Thalassa than it did in their home universe; their rifles shoot only half as far as expected and with a corresponding reduction in bullet speed
LOL! May I use these two people as an inspiration for a couple of Thalassas's cultures? I could set them somewhere in the European-like area of the world!
The third culture, the Carolingian, could fit as well, but their name is too much Earth-like to fit, in my opinion.

Care to write down a few lines about them for the general atlas (and maybe rename the third people)? :mrgreen:

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Re: Magic and technology of a civilization

Post by Idabrius » Mon Jun 21, 2010 2:53 pm

I do believe it is reasonable to assume the "tech degradation" without magical interference. After all, these aren't ENTIRE societies transplanted from their homeworlds. The more advanced your technology, the more well trained your specialist who maintains it has to be. In a situation similar to the collapse of the technology of Rome, massive trauma (in this case being transplanted to ANOTHER WORLD) can break the chain of technology; eg, the man who knows how to fire the rifle cannot build it, the man who assembles it needs the parts made for him, etc. In a generation or two, most advanced technology would be completely beyond the scientific level of the culture that brought it.

This avoids the narrative necessity of "mind fog," which seems like a too-good-to-be-true mechanism to simply keep the game in a D&D type tech level. Whereas I think, since dark ages/middle ages technology is COMMON in Thalassa, all societies would eventually degrade to that level, which is sustainable.
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Re: Magic and technology of a civilization

Post by metal » Thu Jun 24, 2010 4:40 am

After all, these aren't ENTIRE societies transplanted from their homeworlds.
I think you are dead on with this.

How many people on our boards can-
a. drive a car?
b. change the oil on a car?
c. rebuild the transmission in a car?
d. build a new car from raw materials?

So when "The Piazza" is transported to Thalassa, most of us will be able to drive and maintain cars(a. and b.), but over time the lack of specialists and the processed raw materials(c. and d.) means the technology will fade. What will drive this (no pun intended) is the number of beings transported to Thalassa. If you have 10 million beings transported, then there will be more specialists to maintain the technology longer. If 1000 beings are transported there will be only a few who have the knowledge to maintain it (provided that the Thalassa environment will support it) and over time the technology will fade.

My feeling is that we will be transporting in smaller batches (NOT 10 million) of beings to Thalassa which will reduce the chances of technology surviving more than a generation or two and then everybody settles into a.....
D&D type tech level
.
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Re: Magic and technology of a civilization

Post by Hugin » Thu Jun 24, 2010 2:55 pm

Idabrius and metal made some very good points. To add to it, it also takes technology to maintain technology. In the car example, someone might know how a car works inside and out but not have a clue about how to make the parts that comprise it. High technology requires a multitude of other technologies to work; forget one of them and the whole thing can come down like a house of cards.

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