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Thread: Fictional culture and technology

  1. #11
      Karro is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by jfrazierjr View Post
    Even that is not a 100% accurate statement.
    ....
    And as Torstan pointed out... it's pretty darn hard to empirically prove a negative.
    Well, sure, we live in a world with few absolutes... throw a little confusing fantasy milieu into the mix, and you can find loopholes all over the place.

    I just want justifiable loopholes that don't just look like "phlebotinum" mines.
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      Ghostman is offline
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    I think the discussion so far has focused a bit too much on technology. You should also take into account the impact of philosophy and religion on people's views of the world they live in. That technology has advanced to some point doesn't necessitate a prevalence of critical and rational outlook. It's perfectly possible for a culture to be immersed in a tradition of superstition and mysticism, and still develope practical inventions. Customs and social structures can also set limits on how a particular technology will be used.

    For example, the invention of a printing press will greatly increase the number of recorded texts in the world - but if only the clergy are literate and it is a strict taboo for any layman to learn the occult secret of reading, the invention might not change things all that much, at least over any relatively short span of time.

    Technology, in and of itself, will not necessarily lead to a boost of exploration either. Exploration tends to require a motive in order to be practiced. Take for example the "discovery" of the Americas by Columbus. He couldn't attempt the voyage without first winning the support of a monarch. The reason he succeeded was not only that technology gave him the idea and made ocean-crossing possible, but because there were major political and economic motives justifying such gambles.

    A densely forested region would probably remain mysterious as long as it actually remains densely forested: most people don't have a motive to venture deep into wilderness, while a few hunters or outlaws won't be enough to convince the general populace to drop their superstitions. Deforestation brought about by the growth of population, need for farmland, or the need for wood as construction material would be the most likely reason to de-mystify the place. In a fantasy setting the presense of magic or monsters might discourage such deforestation, thus helping to keep the region sparsely populated and "untamed".

    Just some food for thought

  3. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ghostman View Post
    ....
    Just some food for thought
    That was yummy, thanks!

    I had thought about religion, as a general rule. It's been part of my world-building conceptualization for a long time. I've only recently begun thinking about the technological side of things and how that would effect it. Until now, I'd just assumed a standard "medieval" level of technological and cultural development. But I hadn't considered how different factors might move beyond that, or how the society and culture might change as time marched forward and new inventions were developed.

    But I absolutely agree that religious ideas and superstitions (are they superstitions if they're true?) can play a huge role in how a culture and society views the world around it. I've got some ideas about how I, personally, want to approach that topic in my own world-building, but the point stands as a valuable contribution to the discussion for the sake of future thread-goers.
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      jfrazierjr is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ghostman View Post
    I think the discussion so far has focused a bit too much on technology. You should also take into account the impact of philosophy and religion on people's views of the world they live in. That technology has advanced to some point doesn't necessitate a prevalence of critical and rational outlook. It's perfectly possible for a culture to be immersed in a tradition of superstition and mysticism, and still develope practical inventions. Customs and social structures can also set limits on how a particular technology will be used.

    For example, the invention of a printing press will greatly increase the number of recorded texts in the world - but if only the clergy are literate and it is a strict taboo for any layman to learn the occult secret of reading, the invention might not change things all that much, at least over any relatively short span of time.

    Technology, in and of itself, will not necessarily lead to a boost of exploration either. Exploration tends to require a motive in order to be practiced. Take for example the "discovery" of the Americas by Columbus. He couldn't attempt the voyage without first winning the support of a monarch. The reason he succeeded was not only that technology gave him the idea and made ocean-crossing possible, but because there were major political and economic motives justifying such gambles.

    A densely forested region would probably remain mysterious as long as it actually remains densely forested: most people don't have a motive to venture deep into wilderness, while a few hunters or outlaws won't be enough to convince the general populace to drop their superstitions. Deforestation brought about by the growth of population, need for farmland, or the need for wood as construction material would be the most likely reason to de-mystify the place. In a fantasy setting the presense of magic or monsters might discourage such deforestation, thus helping to keep the region sparsely populated and "untamed".

    Just some food for thought
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    Okay, the focus has been on technology and religion. What about magic?

    In any high fantasy environment, where magic is fairly common and out in the open, there will be a cultural impact. A culture will form dependencies on magic that will inhibit technological advancement. For example, why bother producing a washing machine when you can conjure water elementals to do it for you. Or, why produce gunpowder when your elite guard can be outfitted with magical crossbow bolts that do far more damage. Obviously there will be some technology, as the economic trade-off between magic supply and raw muscle power balances out. There will be items that we may consider "technological" that would be powered by magical means.

    Edit: I think there was a castle toilet thread somewhere around here that started down magical waste disposal for a while.
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    Had a bit of a dig around online, and this is the main site I was thinking of which goes into various considerations with world building, also of possible interest is this site which lists important questions to consider.

    As for sister site, not sure if thats the correct term, but I was refering to the others in the Fantaseum Alliance, specifically the Campaign Builders Guild

  7. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Valarian View Post
    Okay, the focus has been on technology and religion. What about magic?

    In any high fantasy environment, where magic is fairly common and out in the open, there will be a cultural impact. A culture will form dependencies on magic that will inhibit technological advancement. For example, why bother producing a washing machine when you can conjure water elementals to do it for you. Or, why produce gunpowder when your elite guard can be outfitted with magical crossbow bolts that do far more damage. Obviously there will be some technology, as the economic trade-off between magic supply and raw muscle power balances out. There will be items that we may consider "technological" that would be powered by magical means.

    Edit: I think there was a castle toilet thread somewhere around here that started down magical waste disposal for a while.
    Well, this certainly adds a level of complexity to any cultural analysis, that's for sure. My high-level thoughts on the issue of magic are that the impact of magic on these items are correlated to the level of magic within a setting. While that sounds somewhat obvious, it breaks down like this, with respect to the earlier emphasis on the mystery and outlook on the world: a world with low magic might have the effect of increasing the mystery in the world, insofar as rare magic is likely more misunderstood and, well, mysterious to the majority of people. Thus, whenever something is unknown or unexplained, it will garner a magical explanation, even when there is actually a rational or non-magical one. Further, where there is real magic, it is likely to be held in fear and awe, as something unknown and conceptually powerful. In such a world, much as in our own, real technological solutions will eventually develop. The question as to whether it will rival magic as a means to solving problems depends in part on how rare as well as how powerful that magic is, and whether further study and exploration of magic will make it either increasingly common or more powerful over time. Such a world could become less magical and more technological over time, or it could become more magical over time.

    Conversely, if magic is relatively common in a world, this could easily lead to a situation where mystery and fear of the unknown are reduced to a greater degree. In this case, the "magical" explanation probably is the real and rational explanation for an unknown phenomenon, and there are likely decreasingly few phenomena that lack a thorough understanding and magical explanation. Ordinary people will increasingly look upon magic, or at least upon the results of the use of magic, as mundane, possibly even beneath notice, even if they continue to regard the practitioners of magic with a sense of mystery, respect or skepticism.

    Essentially, these views on magic are corollary to Clark's Third Law (wrt sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic, and Niven's corollary being any sufficiently advanced magic being indistinguishable from technology). Of course, this is only one possible interpretation of the prevalence of magic in a world and the effect it will have on the outlook of that world's inhabitants on their environment.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jkaen View Post
    Had a bit of a dig around online, and this is the main site I was thinking of which goes into various considerations with world building, also of possible interest is this site which lists important questions to consider.

    As for sister site, not sure if thats the correct term, but I was refering to the others in the Fantaseum Alliance, specifically the Campaign Builders Guild
    Thanks for the links! I will have to check them out as time permits!
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  8. #18
      Jkaen is offline
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    I think with regards the original "could there be a haunted woods next to my city" question it depends on outside pressures, if its monstered up enough that peasants cant jsut wander round and map it up then an official foray would have to be made into it, if no danger came out of it, and there were negihbouring countries on the borders that warranted more attnetion for the military they may not get round it it.


    With regards magic, bear in mind those in the woods may well have access to high magic too (thinking of the standard wood elf illusion approach here)

  9. #19
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    I guess the most important forms of magic to consider in this context are divinations. If you can cast commune and ask a deity "Are those woods haunted" and have the deity say "No" then mystery disappears pretty fast. Equally, divination magic of this form would screw up technological innvation a bit. Imagine a rather advanced technopriest casting divination "What's the relation between energy and matter?" and his god replying "E=mc^2". That gets rid of all mystery in the world. I'd make sure that such magic tools are sharply limited.

    The second thing to do is consider forms of magic that mimic real world technologies. These will have an impact on your world that are predictable. Common use of Sending mimics the invention of the telephone and allows for instant communication between dispersed troops - which is very important in any warlike fantasy setting. Rock-to-mud mimics real world sappers - making fortifications very vulnerable. You'd expect the fortress builders of the world to spend the money to counter these sort of attacks. Fly allows for the equivalent of airborne spotter planes and also bombers. These appeared in the first and second world wars. Fireball mimics artillery and will mean that no fortress will have exposed battlements any more - fortresses will have overhead cover as well. Those are a few examples, but in most cases the magic proposed in fantasy settings mimic some technological advance we have today (exceptions like polymorph are fairly common too!). I'd start with those to figure out the effect they would have on the world.

    And remember that people believe woods are haunted even today. They just believe science can't explain ghosts so there are elements of the world that lie outside our current means of acquiring information. The same will be true in any setting. Just make sure that there is some set of occurrences that can't be accounted for by commonly understood phenomena. Then you have a mystery.
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  10. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jkaen View Post
    I think with regards the original "could there be a haunted woods next to my city" question it depends on outside pressures, if its monstered up enough that peasants cant jsut wander round and map it up then an official foray would have to be made into it, if no danger came out of it, and there were negihbouring countries on the borders that warranted more attnetion for the military they may not get round it it.


    With regards magic, bear in mind those in the woods may well have access to high magic too (thinking of the standard wood elf illusion approach here)
    Hmm. My ultimate goal is to produce a setting that's logically consistent and realistic within the bounds of reason, yet has an air of mystery and the unknown. I'm hoping for something at once familiar and yet distinct and flavorful with enough new ideas to be worth the doing. So... I wanted to see what other factors I could find in play besides the "standard wood elf illusion" you elude to. For my own benefit, I think I've seen a lot of good perspectives here...

    Quote Originally Posted by torstan View Post
    I guess the most important forms of magic to consider in this context are divinations. If you can cast commune and ask a deity "Are those woods haunted" and have the deity say "No" then mystery disappears pretty fast. Equally, divination magic of this form would screw up technological innvation a bit. Imagine a rather advanced technopriest casting divination "What's the relation between energy and matter?" and his god replying "E=mc^2". That gets rid of all mystery in the world. I'd make sure that such magic tools are sharply limited.

    The second thing to do is consider forms of magic that mimic real world technologies. These will have an impact on your world that are predictable. Common use of Sending mimics the invention of the telephone and allows for instant communication between dispersed troops - which is very important in any warlike fantasy setting. Rock-to-mud mimics real world sappers - making fortifications very vulnerable. You'd expect the fortress builders of the world to spend the money to counter these sort of attacks. Fly allows for the equivalent of airborne spotter planes and also bombers. These appeared in the first and second world wars. Fireball mimics artillery and will mean that no fortress will have exposed battlements any more - fortresses will have overhead cover as well. Those are a few examples, but in most cases the magic proposed in fantasy settings mimic some technological advance we have today (exceptions like polymorph are fairly common too!). I'd start with those to figure out the effect they would have on the world.

    And remember that people believe woods are haunted even today. They just believe science can't explain ghosts so there are elements of the world that lie outside our current means of acquiring information. The same will be true in any setting. Just make sure that there is some set of occurrences that can't be accounted for by commonly understood phenomena. Then you have a mystery.

    WRT divinations, I feel like the best way to handle these is not to have access to pure knowledge like that simply through a spell. Vague, symbol-laden and often conflicting prophecies are one thing for flavor... straight-up D&D-style Q&A's with the divinity of your choice are a little tougher for me to swallow. Then again... I guess vague, symbol-laden and conflicting prophecies are kind of a well-worn trope...

    But your point on how magic mimics technology was similar to the stance I was taking in an earlier post, and largely I agree with what you're saying.
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