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Alibear

Is your Fantasy gaming stuck in time?

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I sometimes get the feeling that Fantasy gaming is outside technological advances, we pick a period in history and play 'then' and never advance. Do you ever get that feeling? We have these old races with similar or even superior tech to our own from thousands of years ago but in the Real WorldTM ​tech levels march forward with times forward rush. New stuff gets invented all the time.

 

Technology never advances so for the next campaign I'm working on I'm going to use my Fantasy World I've been playing in for the last 15 years and wind the clock forward a few hundred years and see what that looks like?

 

I'm going to keep the geographical map of the place I GM and change it all around politically. I'm going to pick a new period in time and play then. I was thinking of adding gunpowder and taking away magic. Either the Napoleonic Wars era with muskets and cannons or move it further forward still and play a kind of Western Hero with a fantasy history.

 

I'll take away fantasy races but perhaps leave a hint to them in some people. You can't play an elf but you can be strikingly beautiful and have lightsleep. You can't be a dwarf but you can take a high con and have an affinity with metal and stone working.

 

Monsters, which are obviously powered by magic, like dragons will be gone but perhaps we can see an echo of them in large venomous lizards.. a bit like a crocodile with a venom glands maybe.

 

We won't see magic at all but some people may believe it still exists, you just can't prove it or see it, you need faith. Some might think it never existed at all.

 

Something to keep me thinking anywho.

 

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Do you have a rationale in mind for losing magic??  Is it some meta-environmental change thing?  Something to do with the Gods??

 

I think that question might provide a lot of the first steps for how and why things change.  There is so much magic can do that technology would not be able to match or even come close.  You need to think what the incentive there would be for developing the technology.

 

If magic can keep your socks dry when you are marching then you are almost beyond modern technology.  :-)  

 

Why invent gunpowder when you have lightning bolts, magic bows and stuff.  There was a decent thread with a lot of this stuff in it just a few months ago that you might usefully mine for ideas.  I think I recommended looking at the Brian McClellan "Gods of Blood and Powder" books for similar ideas.

 

Doc

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It always comes and goes in the history of my campaign world, normally we play at the time when the magic is in effect... but the players know that it is cyclical.

 

In my mind a comet, like in Game of Thrones, comes every few hundred years and that brings the magic with it. As it retreats so does the magic. Predictable, if you have the right skills, and regular.

 

Also, magic is not so common, never has been so common that you wouldn't need to be able to dry you own socks.

 

For our games 1 in a 1000 can do a little magic, light a candle, turn a page in a book, see a day into the future.

Of those 1 in a hundred can do big magic, enough to start a career as a wizard, do battle as a warlock, knock down a wall.

Of those 1 in a thousand has earth shattering abilities, cause an earthquake, bend a dragon to his will, take on an army on his own.

 

Why invent gunpowder? What if you can't use magic and don't have a magical bow and don't shot lightning out your arse?

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So now there is the question of what strategic decisions mattered when 10 in every million were good enough to be battle mages that no longer count when the biggest bang you can muster is a 12 pound cannon.  :-)

 

What natural resources suddenly become valuable and cause Klondike type migration and castles suddenly come into vogue as real defences.

 

The loss of top tier predators like gryphons and dragons open things up in the ecological spheres and the loss of undead probably lead to the question of whether the Gods are actually relevant any more...

 

Things like that??

 

Doc

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Um, it ain't fantasy without magic. It's just "period roleplay" at that point.

 

I might reintroduce magic at the end of the campaign. I might not, but we'll be playing in our fantasy world but I take your point. Fantasical Western Hero perhaps?

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So now there is the question of what strategic decisions mattered when 10 in every million were good enough to be battle mages that no longer count when the biggest bang you can muster is a 12 pound cannon.  :-)

 

What natural resources suddenly become valuable and cause Klondike type migration and castles suddenly come into vogue as real defences.

 

The loss of top tier predators like gryphons and dragons open things up in the ecological spheres and the loss of undead probably lead to the question of whether the Gods are actually relevant any more...

 

Things like that??

 

Doc

 

Indeed, exactly like this.

 

A couple of points:

 

In my world gold is a particularly precious metals 'cos it keeps the memory of magic best. So a magical seal to keep back a demon would probably be a real door with a gold inlay to hold the spell which repels the monster. A greedy thief would have to weigh up the risk off tampering with the ancient magic against his lust for wealth . My Players know this to be fact already. Maybe those gold items still have echoes of magic in them?

 

2nd point - I already have a great plains area called the Sea of Grass (think American plains) which is home to a hundreds of tribes of orcs and goblins. Maybe we can discover lots of gold there. If the magic is gone but only the humans have the guns then we have a power vacuum that we can exploit for our campaign. Basically the US wars against the Native Americans.  Maybe the greenskins still follow the old ways?

 

Thinking out loud now: Maybe we can have places (where the gold is) where magic is still relatively strong. Shamans can still cast spirit magic and the like. Maybe even magic items still work if they've been in contact with enough gold? 

 

Dances with Wolves, Last of the Mohicans, Lonesome Dove, Tombstone etc can all be mined for camapign ideas.

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Overall, I like the idea of a magical cycle at play. I even like the idea of some sort of Weird West (a phrase coined for the Deadlands Wild West setting - which can also be used for inspiration) setting. The only thing I am curious about is the frequency of magical shifts. If the shifts are tied to a comet (a nifty idea), then for the most part, the world is going to experience the zenith of magical power for maybe a year or two, with the months (maybe years even) before showing a gradual waxing of power and the months (years) after showing a gradual waning. Using Halley's comet for Earth (it appears every 74-79 years), at what point would magic start being felt? Would it always be there, even at the 37-39 year mark, if only in small, pitiful amounts? Would there be an "average" amount of magic when it is halfway to (or heading away from) Earth? You've stated that the time frame for your comet is in the hundreds of years range, so it seems to me that magic would be the exception rather than the rule. Makes me wonder how anybody could excel at using magic if it is not some sort of instinctive channeling, unless the presence of magic gradually increases during the return journey (at some point). In that case, decades could go by with a gradual increase in ambient magical power, culminating in a few years of just gonzo power levels. As the comet leaves, those ambient power levels would gradually diminish (again decades of useful magic power but waning this time and eventually becoming inert). Between the time when magic fades and before its new resurgence, belief in magic wanes as well and technological advances are made. 

 

That's pretty much how I would do it, but I am interested in hearing  your thoughts.

 

Great subject by the way. The absence of the comet for hundreds of years also has other possible permutations. Has it affected other planets/species as well? Is there more than one magical fuel comet out there in the vastness of space? Could somebody, hypothetically, harness the magical comet's power and transfer it to themselves or into some container (such as Earth)? Could they create a massive gold battery that could be called up in emergency situations to power up the ol' magic spells or, even more importantly, maintain the magical seal on some sort of ancient evil? All of the answers from these questions can make for an interesting game cosmology.

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My campaign world spans a long period of time.  We have only played in one period of time,  There are time periods in the past where technology and magic have been more advanced/prevalent.  The opposite is also true.

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Historically, low tech, medieval/ancient cultures changed very, very slowly.  What takes us generations to achieve in terms of change took them hundreds of years.  People wore the same basic kind of clothes and spoke the same basic language for centuries.  Food, transportation, trade, religion etc was pretty static for very long periods of time.  So its not unreasonable for a fantasy campaign to be pretty stable and have no major changes in culture or advancement for very long periods of time.

 

On the other hand, magic can throw a monkey wrench into the mix.  It is a sort of replacement for tech, and with study and cleverness might be advanced to do new things others had not thought of previously, resulting in major shifts in culture and life.  I've toyed with that in my game setting's past with elves dominating history for many centuries. 

 

In my campaign, Elves are tremendously conservative in their outlook, particularly with magic, so they have their system of elemental spells and nothing else.  Humans, being rash and creative, developed all sorts of new crazy ways of using magic and managed to overthrow elven control and the world changed.  Now things that were stable and predictable are getting a bit ragged at the edges (old, long-standing magic fading away).

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Interesting idea. One of the reasons I quit playing fantasy was that every game/campaign seemed like minor variations on the same song. So I like the idea of trying something different. I went the other direction: the game I'm currently running is a historical fantasy set in the "real" 11th Century, except magic & monsters actually exist. The fact that both tech & magic are much lower than your standard D&D world has really given it a distinctive feel.

 

Re the comet: I believe the idea is that the comet brings magic space dust or whatever to the world as it passes, after which the magic fades with the passage of time until the next visit. Not that magic is made possible by the proximity of the comet itself. Does that make sens?

 

As for technological progress in the medieval world, there was actually a lot more of it than most people assume. Nothing like today, of course, and most of the advances they did have seem relatively inconsequential to us today. But to the people of the time, relatively minor advancements in things like agricultural techniques or animal husbandry could make a huge difference.

 

In fantasy, the usually-unstated assumption is that the existence of magic retards technological progress, either directly (if magic and tech are viewed as opposites) or indirectly (because the Smart People are all researching new spells instead of inventing a better water wheel.

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Not if you go weird.

 

"Planetary romance" and Lost Worlds are basically sub-genres of fantasy.

 

Yeah, but that's mostly because those sub-genres involve impossible things without any explanation, not even magic. Fantasy is merely the umbrella genre they get thrown under. They are the "we don't know what else to call them" sub-genres.

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I think I'll shorten the comet's flightpath, but not too short, maybe make it double as long as Haley's as Nolgorth mentioned. 

 

And I'll take his suggestion of having a time of extremely high magic and a time of extremely low magic with a middle point in between. So the world will have a lull then slowly build up to a crescendo of high magic, the Time of Heroes, when magic is all powerful, great deeds are done then slowly it fades away. So we can 50 years of no magic, with 25 years of little magic at either end but 50 years of higher magic with a 10 or 20 year window of extremely high magic.

 

I want to have some people live lives where there is just no magic to be seen, I want them to question if it even exists. I want sensible people to scoff and jeer, but then when it returns, eat humble pie and look like fools. 

 

I also really like the idea of rulers hoarding large troves of gold to power their magic.

 

Light just went on in my head as I type this. Just realised that Dragons don't covet gold 'cos its pretty, or even 'cos it's bait for tasty adventurers, which I always really thought... it keeps them alive! If they don't amass enough gold in the time of high magic they won't live through the nasty hibernation of the low magic times. 

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The use of gold is a great idea - giving it a value beyond the usual economic.  :-)  It also allows you to have areas of high magic even in the depths of the magical winter, though the practitioners would need to think about husbanding their resources for future need (and in the case of dragons, future survival).  :-)

 

I like that there is a potential, as magic runs down for magical creatures to be seeking arks where they might sit out the winter, dragon hoards being an obvious one.  You might also get unlikely alliances as groups come together to create their own bunkers against the drought.  You might get cuckoos looking to infiltrate and then kick others out.  You will get ants and grasshoppers.  :-)

 

You will also have treasure seekers, knowing that magical defences will be low towards the end of the winter.

 

 

Doc

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I think it would implausible for an entire society to forget that magic exists given how important gold would become as a hoardable magic resource during the Low Times. Gold would be a source of constant competition and conflict as magic energy ebbs in the world, and everyone would know/remember perfectly well why.

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That's a good point; maybe nobody but the dragons put 2 and 2 together yet? Maybe the dragons don't even know they're just genetically driven to collect shiny and the side effect is the 'magical battery'. Food for though anyway.

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Yup, just because we know the rationale doesn't mean anyone else does. Gold could be the common factor in successful hideaways but no one is around doing double blind randomised trials. :-)

 

Some people simply know that being around dragons is a good way to keep "warm" while others have elaborate rituals that simply manage to eke out enough to allow them to winter.

 

Treasure hunters simply know that hoards of gold exist to be found...

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The ones who don't have the shiny hoarder gene have short brutish lives but the ones who hoard gold get to be immortal, fly, breath fire, teh good stuff... basically anything it can learn in the Time of Heroes it can carry over in the Magical winter if it has enough gold. I like it.

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The use of gold is a great idea - giving it a value beyond the usual economic.  :-)  It also allows you to have areas of high magic even in the depths of the magical winter, though the practitioners would need to think about husbanding their resources for future need (and in the case of dragons, future survival).  :-)

 

I like that there is a potential, as magic runs down for magical creatures to be seeking arks where they might sit out the winter, dragon hoards being an obvious one.  You might also get unlikely alliances as groups come together to create their own bunkers against the drought.  You might get cuckoos looking to infiltrate and then kick others out.  You will get ants and grasshoppers.  :-)

 

You will also have treasure seekers, knowing that magical defences will be low towards the end of the winter.

 

 

Doc

 

 

And it explains why all the dwarfish gold miners are dead :D

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I have decided that Armour which takes the 'real' disadvantage will only work half as well against firearms. I think this is a good way to faze it out.

 

I don't want to make bullets AP, mostly cos they're not and that would have issues with cover and such like.

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Wizards are the scientists of a fantasy world. I don't think it would take very many generations before they would have figured out the relationship between gold and magic energy. If magic gets used widely during the High Times, then more and more mundane folks will learn of that relationship (especially the wealthy and those in power, as it will be an important resource that keeps them wealthy and in power). And it isn't even necessary to know/understand how or why that relationship exists/works, only that it does.

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I take your point, and do realise that people would, and do, hoard gold anyway. Which makes them powerful whether they have access to magic or not. Maybe they don't notice the correlation?

 

As much as I see what you are saying I want the Players to make the leap not some scabby-headed, lice-ridden scholar who gets his work published. Maybe scores of people have made 'the leap' but it isn't believed/common knowledge, maybe they died before the word got out, maybe they didn't see the importance, were drunks, whatever.

 

Don't forget only a very few people on this world can use magic; most scholars and scientists are interested in the mundane, that's what they can affect after all. Magic is fantasy, bedtime stories, a good book, what goes on in the big cities, not for normal folk to mess with.

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I do think that, in order for 'forgetting' magic to be plausible, you'll need longer time-frames between low and high magic tides.  Think of it in generations (with roughly 20-25 years per generation).  If your grandparents could wield magic, then you're likely to believe in it, even if you can't do it yourself.  I think you'd need at least 2-3 generations without magic (so, your grandparents or great-grandparents could do a few tricks but not much else) for skepticism to become the norm.  So, I'd make each phase roughly 2-3 generations long.  So, 2 generations of no magic followed by 3 of waxing magic then 2 of full magic and finally 3 of waning magic.  That's 10 generations or a cycle of roughly 200-250 years.

 

As for gold storing magic, purity of the gold would obviously be a factor.  If most gold coinage was impure to one degree or another, it could take vast amounts to have a noticeable effect.  So, dragons and other magical creatures wouldn't want to accumulate just any gold, they'd want the purest they could find.  This takes pure gold out of circulation, which makes it harder for anyone else to make the connection.

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