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Thread: Fictional culture and technology

  1. #1
      Karro is offline
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    Post Fictional culture and technology

    Okay, so this is very tangential topic to mapping... but I got to thinking today about how culture and technology interact with the sorts of things we'd put on a map... i.e. I'm interested in some other aspects of world-building.

    One thought, in particular, I've been pondering today regards how advances in technology and knowledge will affect what we see on maps and what the imaginary people that inhabit those lands think about their world. For instance, by the time an imaginary peoples reaches something of a rennaissance level of technology and culture, is there any room left on a local/regional map for mysteries, "haunted forests", "here there be dragons", or other unexplored or wild lands? Or do we have to journey to a distant and unknown continent for these things?

    What about Gunpowder? How does is that going to affect these things? Are societies with access to gunpowder inevitably going to look more modern, or do feudal systems and monarchies evolve to meet these challenges?

    What do you guys think?
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  2. #2
    Publisher Gamerprinter's Avatar
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    Post It all depends on your world I suppose.

    Quote Originally Posted by Karro View Post
    Okay, so this is very tangential topic to mapping... but I got to thinking today about how culture and technology interact with the sorts of things we'd put on a map... i.e. I'm interested in some other aspects of world-building.

    One thought, in particular, I've been pondering today regards how advances in technology and knowledge will affect what we see on maps and what the imaginary people that inhabit those lands think about their world. For instance, by the time an imaginary peoples reaches something of a rennaissance level of technology and culture, is there any room left on a local/regional map for mysteries, "haunted forests", "here there be dragons", or other unexplored or wild lands? Or do we have to journey to a distant and unknown continent for these things?

    What about Gunpowder? How does is that going to affect these things? Are societies with access to gunpowder inevitably going to look more modern, or do feudal systems and monarchies evolve to meet these challenges?

    What do you guys think?
    It all depends on your world - how big is it, how expansive are the oceans between continents, how is your climate. Consider that the "New World" was being explored in the 16th century, while European trading ships were in Asia, yet it wasn't until the late 18th century that Hawaii was discovered. Antarctica wasn't discovered until the 19th century and not explored until the 20th.

    If the Pacific Ocean was bigger, you could have an island the size of Australia where Hawaii is, yet the distance is so great its existence could still be entirely unknown to the rest of the world.

    Climate, vast mountain ranges, huge oceans all work to hide those unknown parts that is left for discovery.

    Regarding gunpowder, consider that the Portugeuse introduced gunpowder weapons to Japan in the late 16th century and were being used at war for the next almost 3 centuries, yet the primary arms and armor pretty much was the same as that from before the introduction powder.

    Think the "Last Samurai", when western-trained Japanese forces much like armies of the west, were fighting the indigenous samurai, yet the latter hardly changed at all from what would be worn to war four centuries earlier.

    Its because of the nature of Japanese culture and the strength of the Shogunate, that this happened at all.

    Until the 1870's Japan was barely affected technologically despite the existence of gunpowder.

    It really depends on your world and allowed technologies as to how it affects these issues.

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      jfrazierjr is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by Karro View Post
    Okay, so this is very tangential topic to mapping... but I got to thinking today about how culture and technology interact with the sorts of things we'd put on a map... i.e. I'm interested in some other aspects of world-building.

    One thought, in particular, I've been pondering today regards how advances in technology and knowledge will affect what we see on maps and what the imaginary people that inhabit those lands think about their world. For instance, by the time an imaginary peoples reaches something of a rennaissance level of technology and culture, is there any room left on a local/regional map for mysteries, "haunted forests", "here there be dragons", or other unexplored or wild lands? Or do we have to journey to a distant and unknown continent for these things?

    What about Gunpowder? How does is that going to affect these things? Are societies with access to gunpowder inevitably going to look more modern, or do feudal systems and monarchies evolve to meet these challenges?

    What do you guys think?

    Well.. think about it this way... 3000 years ago, the Egyptians and Aztec peoples knew the world was round and had developed highly accurate maps and calenders. 2000 years ago the Romans had homes with running water and a rudimentary radiator heating systems. 1000 years ago most of the world was dumber than dirt and had lost many of these advances.

    With that said, I don't think it matters. It really depends on the particular society in the end.
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      Redrobes is offline
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    A lot of technology issues are glossed over pretty thickly in fantasy stuff. Castles in D&D have towers and barbicans which would not be present with the availability of flying creatures. You see typical dark ages castles but these were refined and by the end of their days when powder came in castles went out. Some bizarre rounded ones with earth banks took their place but you never see any of these in campaigns.

    Also hand held weapons made certain armour obsolete. Full plate became redundant in the latter period before powder as the late crossbows could penetrate a breast plate.

    Given that there are magic and fantasic creatures in these settings then its anyones guess as to what might have really happened to castles and armour.

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      Jkaen is offline
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    There are lots of good resources scattered around the web for stuff like this, I would have had them bookmarked here, but I am leaving this job in a week so have been cleaning out my bookmarks on this computer. May be a question for our sister site?

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      Karro is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gamerprinter View Post
    It all depends on your world - how big is it, how expansive are the oceans between continents, how is your climate. Consider that the "New World" was being explored in the 16th century, while European trading ships were in Asia, yet it wasn't until the late 18th century that Hawaii was discovered. Antarctica wasn't discovered until the 19th century and not explored until the 20th.

    If the Pacific Ocean was bigger, you could have an island the size of Australia where Hawaii is, yet the distance is so great its existence could still be entirely unknown to the rest of the world.

    Climate, vast mountain ranges, huge oceans all work to hide those unknown parts that is left for discovery.

    Regarding gunpowder, consider that the Portugeuse introduced gunpowder weapons to Japan in the late 16th century and were being used at war for the next almost 3 centuries, yet the primary arms and armor pretty much was the same as that from before the introduction powder.

    Think the "Last Samurai", when western-trained Japanese forces much like armies of the west, were fighting the indigenous samurai, yet the latter hardly changed at all from what would be worn to war four centuries earlier.

    Its because of the nature of Japanese culture and the strength of the Shogunate, that this happened at all.

    Until the 1870's Japan was barely affected technologically despite the existence of gunpowder.

    It really depends on your world and allowed technologies as to how it affects these issues.

    GP
    I’m thinking an earth-like planet, all things being equal, that might have the introduction of some magical or fantastical elements, whether the possibility that fantastical creatures are real, or the presence of magic, etc.

    One of the main things I’m thinking about, however, is whether a local area might remain “unexplored”. How probable is it, given certain cultural and technological developments, that legends and myths will develop—whether unfounded or not—about things within their own lands. In a well-established kingdom, can a forested region long remain a source of mystery? How about a mountainous region?

    If something is dense enough to penetrate, making manual exploration difficult, I gather it might be sufficient to be a source of mystery.

    I guess that’s my main goal: figuring out what it takes to allow me to inject a sense of mystery within a local or regional area during the world-building process. Being able to call something a “haunted forest” or “forbidden mountains” or whatnot because the locals legitimately believe that there’s something strange or malevolent or unknown there, whether or not their fears are unfounded.

    Quote Originally Posted by jfrazierjr View Post
    Well.. think about it this way... 3000 years ago, the Egyptians and Aztec peoples knew the world was round and had developed highly accurate maps and calenders. 2000 years ago the Romans had homes with running water and a rudimentary radiator heating systems. 1000 years ago most of the world was dumber than dirt and had lost many of these advances.

    With that said, I don't think it matters. It really depends on the particular society in the end.
    True… but I ‘d like to at least have thought these things through before committing myself to a certain outlook or design. Your example, though, does demonstrate how knowledge, technology, and culture can wax and wane…

    Quote Originally Posted by Redrobes View Post
    A lot of technology issues are glossed over pretty thickly in fantasy stuff. Castles in D&D have towers and barbicans which would not be present with the availability of flying creatures. You see typical dark ages castles but these were refined and by the end of their days when powder came in castles went out. Some bizarre rounded ones with earth banks took their place but you never see any of these in campaigns.

    Also hand held weapons made certain armour obsolete. Full plate became redundant in the latter period before powder as the late crossbows could penetrate a breast plate.

    Given that there are magic and fantasic creatures in these settings then its anyones guess as to what might have really happened to castles and armour.
    That’s the kind of thing I’m interested in thinking about. In the real world, we’ve got tons of legends and myths and stories about fantastic creatures and imaginary peoples, and a lot of places became strongly associated with some of these, even as our knowledge dispelled the myths. (For instance… we know that there really isn’t a group of gods living at the top of Mount Olympus, but the Ancient Greeks thought there were… at what point was it known that there were no gods living up there?)

    But this touches a related thought: if in the real world we have so many legends of fantastic creatures… what kinds of legends would spring up in a world where some of those fantastic creatures were real? Obviously, I think the answer depends on how frequent and common the interaction with such creatures is. If every time you take a short trip, you’ve got a 50/50 chance or crossing paths with a Unicorn or a Centaur, then those things start to seem pretty mundane. After hundreds or thousands of years of cultural development, those things would be ordinary seeming, and there might not be a lot of “myth” regarding them. If you happen to see one this one time, and nobody you know has ever see one, but they believe your story only because you’ve never lied before… that’s the stuff of legends and myths.

    So, I’m less concerned with the specifics of what technologies follow what, per se, and more concerned in this discussion with how technology, especially early technology, influences cultural development and generally available knowledge and views of the world—including how such typically fantastic things might be interpreted through these lenses.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jkaen View Post
    There are lots of good resources scattered around the web for stuff like this, I would have had them bookmarked here, but I am leaving this job in a week so have been cleaning out my bookmarks on this computer. May be a question for our sister site?
    Sister site? I’m not too up on it… what is it? I guess I really should look around on the web, shouldn’t I? It’s at least a starting point for something to think about…
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      jfrazierjr is offline
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    I would also bring up that we only have so much to base these types of opinions on when trying to apply them to a fantasy world. In the end, we are all humans who are from the same planet, so our cultures are going to be somewhat polluted and there is no way to determine some of these things for sure. There are many such examples, but look at the flood myths( I don't claim to be an expert here!). Many believe that the Sumerians originated the original flood myth, however, Mayan's also had a flood myth that is eerily similar. There should be no reason given then geography that their decedents would have had any contact with each other, and yet their story is virtually identical. Likewise, look at myths about Dragons, vampires, werewolves, etc. Cultures which are separated by huge distances should not have such similar myths, but they do. Each is slightly different to reflect the local culture, but enough in common that the identification is pretty hard to miss.
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      torstan is offline
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    I would guess that satellite technology is the one thing that stops making things mysterious. Up until that, there will always be areas that could have been missed by explorers - a city deep in the Amazon, a hidden valley in the Andes, those sorts of things. Equally, we still haven't explored every inch of the Mariana Trench and our technology doesn't allow us to take visual photos of it.

    I guess if there is something big then yo have to explain why no-one has seen it. So in a world with flying creatures that hidden place would have to be very inhospitable - over a high ridge no-one wants to fly over or deep in a desert where there is no water for such creatures to drink on the way.

    As for, mysterious creatures - they just have to be rare and live in inaccessible places. People still hold on to the idea of a Loch Ness monster even though it is in the middle of first world developed country (well, the English might object at that description, but I won't hear a word against it ) because it is supposed to live at the bottom of a very deep loch with low visibility. Thus it is very hard to prove that it isn't there. In many cases people will believe something until it can be proven not to be the case - and proving a negative is always hard. It's harder if you can reduce or contaminate the sources of information.

    Therefore for a source of mystery I would say that you need to look at the sources of information the culture has - eyewitness accounts, forms of surveying, satellite information and so on - and see how these could be limited, or how some place or creature could evade them. Place the mysterious thing in one of these blind spots.
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      Karro is offline
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    Excellent thoughts. I did consider that with Satellite technology, we've essentially taken the mystery out of pretty much everything in our world today.... but there's a great deal of latitude between a culture that may or may not be on the cusp of developing gunpowder and one that has satellites in the sky.

    One of the things I've thought a bit about is how the ebb and flow of disasters and cataclysms, plagues and barbarians, etc. effect the development and loss of technology. I think I also need to think about how that technology flows across cultural boundaries, and how difficult or easy it is for something know in one place to reach another place.

    The same is true of cultural developments and changes.

    With regards to the mysteries of past mythologies across multiple cultures, the answer to that is easier in a fantasy context: it's because the myth is based on something that's real! (Sometimes that's true in the real world, too, of course).

    Sure... we can't necessarily experiment with these things scientifically... but we can at least run thought experiments in our heads to reason out how, logically, these things may have come to be. That's the kind of thing I'm thinking about with regards to how to approach world-building.
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      jfrazierjr is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by Karro View Post
    Excellent thoughts. I did consider that with Satellite technology, we've essentially taken the mystery out of pretty much everything in our world today....
    Even that is not a 100% accurate statement. As an example, take Incan/Mayan/Aztec ruins. Many of these are overgrown so much as to appear as hills to the untrained even while you are standing on them. Many such structures have been found, and I am sure there are hundreds if not thousands left to be found. These sorts of things are impossible to find normal photo satellites. Ground imaging radar/sonar type stuff has a much better shot, but unless you know what you look for, you can still miss it.

    My point here is that people tend to see something they are looking for and ignore anything which does not attract attention as being different. Camoflage is a great justification for many things like you speak. Of course, this also neglects other fantasy(D&D anyway) staple concepts such as underground passages connecting various parts of the world. Many in such underground passages, most people still think in standard two dimensions, so it is easy to miss something like the fact that a deep trench having either side or bottom openings which then allow much further movement, after changing the z dimension. Likewise, home many people in a cave with a semi high ceilling miss a man size hole in the "roof", which could very well lead to another whole level.

    And as Torstan pointed out... it's pretty darn hard to empirically prove a negative.
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