The age-old quarrel, right?
Mages against Doctors, Dragons against Starships, the Supernatural against the Artificial, Fantasy against Sci-Fi.
…No, wait, scrub the last one, we talk about something else: magic versus science inside the story. No flaming, please.

It happened a lot of times by now in different fictional works, I’m sure many readers will have examples roaming into their minds right now. The most common instance is that of an alternative reality Earth with added ghosts, demons and the like, but it can really come into place in any setting featuring a society with at least a Renaissance-like level of development.

The premises should be good: there is diversity, excellent possibilities for alternative evolutions and unusual circumstances… then how is it some authors get it so wrong?

Hhhnn…

The problem I’d say is the same as for every other setting going wrong: superficial writing. Well, let’s not be narrow: superficial scripting. In the worst examples the author will just see the complex thingies and the sparkly lights and put them one against the other to make a sufficiently loud and bright ka-boom to catch the audience’s attention. The senses subconsciously feel the potential, but the mind does not timely exploit it.

In this article, I will try to follow the conflict from its probable origins to explore some of the possible implications to be addressed when presented in works of fiction; finally, I will try to dispute a common misconception against wizards and scientists.

Origins

There was already some talk about it in my first Rant (the Dragon Archetype). Today, magic in fantasy is often seen at its best in its positive qualities as wonderful (that is: awe-inspiring), and, at its worst, as a perfectly rationalized form of energy… but, back in the day, it was something dark and feared, a power to be reckoned with, dangerous, alien and nigh uncontrollable.

Like supernatural creatures it had its change and decline as man overcame nature and usher himself in the new era of enlightenment. When man knew there was a reason for things to catch on fire or for some food to provoke illness (or ailment), the fear was reduced and so conception of magic. Illuminists went to great lengths to root out superstition, but I think it was the Romantic current which first knowingly represented the quarrel in its modern form. Magic: the unknown, the dream, the darkness, the monsters and dark wonders on one side. Reason: the mankind, the triumph of mind, the light and the order of society on the other side.

Fight!

Contrary to some of its spawn, Magic didn’t really come out as bad as it could have been assumed, it survived adapting into an alternative form: the sanctuary of imagination against an otherwise cold and rational world, another representation to which the old arcane evil magic latched on to quicken itself. Thus we can find it fortunately today in both its flavors.

Then let us give a better look to both Magic and Science, see how are they represented when together in a story and what are the inherent problems about it:

The problem with Magic

In this kind of narration, Magic is usually represented in two ways, which depends mostly on whether Magic will be on the side of the protagonists or the antagonists (no, really?). On one hand we have a sugary fairy world threatened by the merciless machine of modernity, on the other hand we have the resentful remnants of a primal maddened old world bent on revenge against their historical vanquishers. There is also the third way when magic is belligerent without being evil or good, but just to forward its different needs, but that becomes incidental.

The problem to pose to oneself when writing this kind of story is: why would magic be against technology in the first place? Fortunately there’s already been quite an amount of successful cases of settings with magic and technology blending in successfully, so why would a magical species or faction or character feel threatened or upset by a technological world or person?

I would say the answer lies in comprehending the basic principle of magic: it cannot be known. Ever.

Magic in fiction is the perceptible representation of unknown powers, it is that which inspires wonders; the glittering and explosions, those are only for added flavor: it is the inexplicability the causes awe and leaves aghast. Magic is what human (or non-magical humanoids) cannot possibly understand, no matter how hard they try, no matter the means at their disposal. It fundamentally contradicts the basic positivist principle that applied reason will always be able to explain any given phenomenon through experience and study. It is the very meaning of magic to contradict reason (and the technology it spawns), that’s what creates contrasts: a profound conceptual incompatibility between the two.

On the Magic’s part, its mere existence is enough: it upsets the perceived order and the systems created by technology and its unknowable nature compels science to adapt to it and exploit it like all other natural resources. Or so it should be.

And so we come to the second common problem about these representations of magic: not only the author propones the contest ignoring the basic cause, he also operates a naturalization of Magic. This is wrong on two levels: the first one considering Magic closer to any other natural phenomenon than Science and the second considering Magic explainable through scientific means.

Talking about the first level of misinterpretation: it could sound strange for some readers, but Science is natural, while Magic is not. Think about it: sciences and technologies are the product of an undoubtedly natural creature (man), they employ natural resources and obey to natural and physical laws; magic on the other hand twists, subverts and otherwise denies Nature in all its forms. Even the pixie covering the forest with flowers and leashes is twisting the natural course of life much more than the bulldozers about to level the whole place down.

For the second level of misinterpretation: I’m talking about the incessant need of explain the way Magic works. Don’t get me wrong, this is a very realistic process for the human mind to make and a character perceiving something unexplainable as a magical phenomenon will be brought to explain it to himself or to others in some way; the problem is when this need becomes one of the author for his readers. And I know it’s hard not to do it, it is a very tricky point, but it’s also a major one: what happens when normal physics and magical physics clash? How do we calculate the damage and the score? Let’s see an example:

A wizard is fleeting, a soldier shoots at him, the wizard conjures a magic barrier. In a fantasy setting the barrier would have stopped a sword or a spear or an arrow with ease, but can it stop a bullet? Does it have a maximum limit of kinetic force it can stop before crashing or sapping all energies from the wizard? What if the soldier is using a laser gun? Does the barrier automatically protect the wizard from the energy ray as well as the physical bullet/arrow? Or does the wizard need another specific spell for that? Is there one?

These are of course legitimate questions a cautious author can ask himself when pondering about the realism of any given scene in his setting, if he doesn’t pose this questions to himself when writing, he could cause the occurrence of implausible scenarios and interrupt the suspension of disbelief or turn Magic in one big convenient deus ex machina (real or perceived).

Sadly he if does answer the questions he’ll necessarily conform Magic to natural laws, turning it into an energy by which learned or gifted individuals can create tools (spells) to accomplish tasks (in this case stopping a bullet). If the quantity of energy is enough, the tool will work, if it isn’t, it won’t and the wizard will fail.

The problem is, Magic is absence of Reason, or failure of Reason, how can you device an in-universe realistic set of rules for magic when the very establishment of such rules would be a contradiction of the nature of magic? Sorry, but I really have no idea on this one.

Even if you were to throw a die every time a character uses magic inside your story and for every solution have a different result and apply it adapting the rest of the plot to it, it would still be a standardized way of recreating magic. Many times this problem happens to be ignored by both parties, but sometimes the public will perceive an excessive rationalization of Magic and react pretty badly to it (think of the uproar caused by midichlorians).

This is after all, linked to another sensitive point: Magic, in its conception, also, being resistant to understanding, becomes a private, elusive and restrictive matter. To the dragon sleeping in a cave, the dwarves exerting their craft deep down far from surface, to the ever known lone wizard studying alone in his tower, Magic is keen to appear as selective, whereas Science is universal. After all, even for real life charlatans, it works only as long as the public doesn’t know the trick.

The problem with Science

When is represented along and against Magic, Science has a recurrent big problem: whether it is considered in a positive, negative or neutral light, it is often perceived as an inherently sterile matter compared to the wonders of Magic.
How can that be?

It is true, applied reason can be interpreted as a cold methodical calculus, but that would be more of a possible consequence rather than the basic principle.
The real basic difference is that Science is understandable, since it is the product of man (or humanoid equivalents), but that should be long from making it trivial. And the process of imagination, farther from being the neglected party, should be considered the integrant part leading to the wonders of technology. It is a creative method after all, it requires flexible and keen minds and produces extraordinary results. The point that is so often ignored in this kind of works is that Science is an evolved spawn of the arcane arts through history: from shamans to wizards to philosophers to professors to scientists, all the same category of learned men trying to understand (with different tools and methods) the strange world around them.

Magic, when pictured as real in a fictional world, is absolute antithesis with Science, but as Science as it is conceived in our world. It is true that an author going for the previous ultimately-unknowable-Magic route still puts the seeds for an inevitable hostility with Reason, but the way Science would cope with a magical world might very well be different from the behavior which real life Science would have on the matter.

Which bring us to the second problem with Science: a universe with real Magic, a society which develops under the influence of real Magic, will be extremely different from ours. From this point I would defend some “classic” fantasy settings, criticized by readers because featuring societies with thousands of years of history while still stuck in medieval-like setting: the presence of Magic or magical creatures could create such an occurrence (although maybe in less blatant ways). We were talking about dragons in the other rant, a dragon-infested society will have a lot of problems to handle for survival, therefore the basic tool of man (Reason) would be applied to create other usable tools to defend the species form fire, threats from above and the like. When Magic is also part of human society as well (that is, there can be wizards) the changes are bound to be even more extreme. Remember that our historical wizards, the wise men spending their whole lives sunk in their studies, were trying to understand and control Nature; by doing so they set the basis for what in future would have become medicine, chemistry, astronomy, biology and so on. If they actually found ways to warp reality by casting spells, how would their social class have evolved? Because, you see, if a man knows that he has the chance of finding a spell which will allow him to fly, how high are the chances he’ll try to create an airplane?

How would have a magic-filled class of wizards reacted to other attempts by common men at creating rudimental mechanical tools? Remember, Magic in human society is a lot more likely to become elitist: it can come either by innate qualities or great study, but in both cases it is a secretive and individualistic power, whereas technology has a more universal and accessible use and in fact is more likely to thrive thanks to exchange and sharing of knowledge and expertise. There is a very fitting and real life example that should give the correct hint on the matter:

You may know the invention and diffusion of crossbow was one of the major factors for the decay of the feudal aristocracy and its dominion on the battlefields of medieval Europe. The noblemen maintained their authority and supposedly divine power by blood by virtue of being able to provide themselves as knights in armies. With steel weapons and armors and warhorses (which only they could afford), trained in the art of war since they were boys, the nobles were the dominant and vital part in any field conflict. That it is, until peasants with no training started shooting them down with the relatively cheap and easily produced crossbow. In response to the unsettling change, in 1139 Pope Innocent II excommunicated the use of crossbow, condemning to eternal damnation anyone who dared to wield one. It was one desperate attempt of a mystical caste of society to protect its perceived rights (intrinsic superiority of blue-blood) over a more practical group, through the use of metaphysical means. Of course, that didn’t work out much. But if we were in a fictional alternative reality where the Second Lateran Council had the actual power of putting a deadly curse on anyone who happened to use a crossbow, what would have been the evolution of European warfare from that point?

The conflict
Disclaimer I: There may be spoilers from Flight of Dragons

And here we are at the main point: what happens when the two of them clash (if they do clash)?

When we read about the confrontation on the Magic part there always is the resentment and incomprehension: the ancient magical creatures or wizards will see a world (or just a faction) of science and resent it because it doesn’t understand and denies their nature. It isn’t exactly a wrong approach for magical creatures, but it has to be pointed out that they might have been at odds against mankind from way before they invented starships, and that doesn’t mean they would be more helpless against gun than they were against arrows. Comes to mind that old Buffy episode when a student was scanning the school library’s books for a new archive and the computer’s readings of the old pages counted as a demonic summoning inside the network. It’s not hard to think magical creatures, especially thanks to their supernatural means, would be able to adapt or otherwise distort the new tools of man: a dwarf could create his artifacts employing a factory with a production line of animated machines, a fairy could jump into the internet and arm the nuclear warheads of a nation, a ghost could haunt a forum and reach on for any connected user.

Fortunately, there are already some successful examples in published fiction in this regard, but, before moving to the other side of the conflict, there is to consider the controversial situation of wizards: as said before, mages were more or less precursors of scientists, they are not magical creatures in their right, they are humans (or humanoid) who study (or try to master) magic without understanding it nor being its extension. I can understand it is plausible there could be some resentment for a master of the arcane arts if he’s considered a charlatan or a demon-worshipper or a primitive by the stereotypical scientist, but, the truth is, they really have too much in common. What are wands and scrolls and spells and filters and scrying balls and reagents and rituals if not tools created to try and rationalize and tame the mystical energies? What’s to stop a mage to think modern-like or sci-fi technology and a scientific method could help him even more in his search for truth and control over magic? Why would he consider them sterile or unnecessary?

On the other side of the trench, from what I’ve seen, the behavior of science in regards of magic has been really little scientific-like.

It is amazing how many works inadvertently depict scientists as the close-minded party of the conflict. Once again, I can understand the possible instinctual skepticism which a man of science could feel in its first experience of a supernatural phenomenon but I do not think it should be the only (or major) possible reaction. As a very fitting example, I’ll report the ending of that old cartoon, Flight of Dragons (here you find the scene), which is literary a showdown between Magic and Science. Or should be.

While the protagonist previously in the plot he tried to approach himself with logic to the supernatural to rationalize it (a very realistic reaction), in the end he instead denies all the sensorial proofs that Magic was in fact real, while still claiming to be logical. For Thoth’s sake, man, you were just inside a dragon, how did you restore your body? How are you blocking the fire spitted at you by the big bad? Big bad who just turned into a seven-head monstrosity right in front of you and cracked the ground around you. Just illusions? Fine. And how is he making those illusions, since you clearly are seeing them? How is that you can kill him by calling on the various scientific subjects? Since when shouting “Mathematic!” has had the potential of killing people?

By turning the sciences subjects into abstract concepts, shouting them one after another to the point of almost becoming barely comprehensible to the hearing, the protagonist is actually turning them into a magic spell employed to banish the monster. They are not science and logic anymore.

The problem is that, as someone could say, the protagonist puts his faith in science, which becomes quickly an oxymoron when you start to actually worship science and consider its tenets as the immutable truth (as Peter shouts). The point of logic and science is that they are far from immutable, they are keen to change, adapt and update themselves constantly as more information is gathered and examined from the universe by man.

It is the lack in this regard what makes fictional characters allegedly on the part of reason and science fall short when they see fairies raining from the skies, dragons rampaging across the streets and just cover their eyes and shout “No! La la la la lala magicdoesntexist la la la!” Even if there may be the first phase of disbelief and rejection, I would say that a doctor discovering a magical phenomenon would be ecstatic, it would think of himself like some sort of new Einstein, ready to revolutionize the current conceptions of the entire world. A more realistic scientist would be someone curious, someone who will spend weeks pestering the lonely wizard with interviews, someone who will take the baby dragon and vivisect it to see how it spits fire, someone who will mix pixie dust in his laboratory to see how it reacts to the basic elements.

Therefore, as a conclusive statement, obviously a Plot can possess magic and technology clashing against each other without having Magic vs. Science as the main reason of the conflict, but even so, in the moment they do find themselves confronting one another and interacting in the story (even if for other motives), there should be an attention on the background and the subtle rooted differences which make them hardly compatible and which empower the conflict. In an hypothetical world, Science will always try to understand and rationalize Magic and Magic will always contradict and shrink away from Science.

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Comment

  1. Brendan Rizzo on 5 October 2013, 07:12 said:

    This is a Morton’s Fork, really. If magic can be explained, then it ceases to be magic in some way and the writer will be criticized for making magic comprehensible, but if magic cannot be explained, then the universe is inherently inconsistent, so the writer will be criticized for inconsistency. There is no way out of this that I can see, either.

  2. Sìlfae on 5 October 2013, 07:32 said:

    This is a Morton’s Fork, really. If magic can be explained, then it ceases to be magic in some way and the writer will be criticized for making magic comprehensible, but if magic cannot be explained, then the universe is inherently inconsistent, so the writer will be criticized for inconsistency. There is no way out of this that I can see, either.

    I know, that point may become particularly frustrating when creating a setting; how does one balance the two to avoid making Magic either naturalized or a deus ex machina? I think maybe in the next Rant I’ll focus on Magic in general within the setting, for that specific problem; in this article it was more about the relationship between the consistency of a Magic system and its interactions with the scientific method.

  3. Epke on 5 October 2013, 08:29 said:

    Because, you see, if a man knows that he has the chance of finding a spell which will allow him to fly, how high are the chances he’ll try to create an airplane?

    It is often said that Man’s greatest dream is to fly… so I guess the real question is: is the man in question a greedy bastard who enjoys looking down on people (heh), or is he a good person who will use this spell to create something so that the non-magical people can experience the wonders of flying as well? If it’s the latter, then chances are quite high.

    That in turn, leads me to this: I think many magic wielders with some foresight would realise that what they can do with magic after decades of study can be turned into the benefit of Mankind through applying it in common means. Say, assemble an airplane through magic, but have it operate without a magician/magic as a power source, and in time, people will learn to create something even better on their own. Magic becomes science.

    Or, as Arthur Clarke said, and I know someone will flame me for this… “Magic is just science we don’t understand yet”.

  4. Sìlfae on 5 October 2013, 09:01 said:

    It is often said that Man’s greatest dream is to fly… so I guess the real question is: is the man in question a greedy bastard who enjoys looking down on people (heh), or is he a good person who will use this spell to create something so that the non-magical people can experience the wonders of flying as well? If it’s the latter, then chances are quite high.

    Well, I don’t know, if he’s generous he could just cast the fly spell on magical people; it may also be possible the hypotesis of magic-created airplane, but, as for Eberron’s trains, they may still create a magic-dependent technology, because they wouldn’t feel the need to search for other sources of energies if they have a potentially limitless one at the ready.

    Or, as Arthur Clarke said, and I know someone will flame me for this… “Magic is just science we don’t understand yet”.

    The statement about “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” never sat well on me. Don’t get me wrong, I understand it and know how it may be applied in fiction, but, even if extremely advanced technology might happen to be taken for magic, it.. just.. still is technology… It could potentially be explained, given the right tools and knowledge, whereas I would say actual magic would remain unknownable, no matter the resources applied to the research for its nature.
    The fact that there may be instances of technology being integrated with magic are another topic, it might happen and there’s nothing wrong with it; as I wrote in the article itself a wand or a scroll is already some sort of primitive tool to harness magic, which may evolve in the course of history, as could be for a spear turning into a gun. The efforts of man trying to understand and use magic are one thing, the actual nature and behaviour of magic is another.

  5. Tim on 5 October 2013, 10:09 said:

    It is the very meaning of magic to contradict reason (and the technology it spawns), that’s what creates contrasts: a profound conceptual incompatibility between the two.

    Not really. Magic can be defined in several ways; personal essence (the magic is the spirit of the wizard given form), global essence (magic is a natural force which can be manipulated by someone with the correct talent or training) or conjured (the magic only exists because the wizard’s spells create it). All of these could potentially work in predictable ways.

    For the most part, for magic to actually be useful it has to follow some deterministic rules; if you don’t know what will happen when you cast a spell, it would be like running a chemical plant where you couldn’t ever tell what chemical you’d end up with. Fine if you get liquid gold, not so good if it’s sarin. For it to actually be useful in a story the reader has to be aware that the magic has some kind of limits, too, otherwise it’s an authorial license to bullshit.

    Science should never be held to be the opposite of magic anyway. Science is an analytical method for creating models of natural systems by attempting to generate negative proof of a hypothesis; if none can be generated, the hypothesis is held to be supported by the experiment. If magic works in any predictable way, the mechanism will always be a “?” in science, but observations could still be made regarding what types of spells work under what conditions, what conditions matter in casting a spell and what conditions don’t, etc.

    One does not have to absolutely understand something in order to use it. The Romans had no working theory of gravitation, but they could still build a trebuchet that could hurl a car because they knew what gravity did.

    So magic would end up as a field of scientific study which studied the properties of something whose fundamental mechanism was not understood. Since this can also be applied to the modern understanding of physics (since nobody can yet rationalize quantum and macroscopic physics), it’s certainly not much of a stretch.

    The problem is, Magic is absence of Reason, or failure of Reason

    I think you’re confusing “magical thinking” with “magic.” Magic is asserting control of some form of abnormal power (usually abnormal strictly in regard to the reader); it says nothing about whether that power is knowable or predictable. It’s quite possible for magic to have its own distinct laws, limitations and principles, or to simply assert control of things that already exist. If someone has the magic power to speak to animals or control fish, that’s still magic even though it doesn’t involve any unpredictable elements.

    Because, you see, if a man knows that he has the chance of finding a spell which will allow him to fly, how high are the chances he’ll try to create an airplane?

    Much higher than his chances of carrying a useful amount of cargo? :P

  6. swenson on 5 October 2013, 10:18 said:

    I have to say, I agree with Tim on this one. Magic can and probably should break what we think of as natural, physical laws, but unless you’re going for a truly dangerous and unknowable magic system (which, frankly, I would find fascinating), you’ve got to be able to know things about magic. If you couldn’t know anything about it, you wouldn’t have magicians, because as Tim pointed out, you’re not going to run around doing spells if you literally have no idea what you’re gonna get.

    I’ve always (well, ever since I read the Enchanted Forest Chronicles) thought of magic as not being opposed to science, but just being different science. If you put in X amount of energy while chanting ritualistic phrase Y while holding herb Z, you get effect W. Right?

  7. Sìlfae on 5 October 2013, 10:30 said:

    Not really. Magic can be defined in several ways; personal essence (the magic is the spirit of the wizard given form), global essence (magic is a natural force which can be manipulated by someone with the correct talent or training) or conjured (the magic only exists because the wizard’s spells create it). All of these could potentially work in predictable ways.

    Obviously Magic can assume different forms and derive from different sources depending on the setting, I would say that any of it, if we’re still talking about Magic, would still have in common the supernatural and possibly unknownable quality.

    One does not have to absolutely understand something in order to use it. The Romans had no working theory of gravitation, but they could still build a trebuchet that could hurl a car because they knew what gravity did.

    So magic would end up as a field of scientific study which studied the properties of something whose fundamental mechanism was not understood. Since this can also be applied to the modern understanding of physics (since nobody can yet rationalize quantum and macroscopic physics), it’s certainly not much of a stretch.

    I agree, it is what I’m saying about similarities between scientists and wizards and the problem with the usual depiction of Science in works of fiction dealing with the two subjects.

    I think you’re confusing “magical thinking” with “magic.” Magic is asserting control of some form of abnormal power (usually abnormal strictly in regard to the reader); it says nothing about whether that power is knowable or predictable. It’s quite possible for magic to have its own distinct laws, limitations and principles, or to simply assert control of things that already exist. If someone has the magic power to speak to animals or control fish, that’s still magic even though it doesn’t involve any unpredictable elements.

    For Magic I mean the thing itself, the study and use of Magic maybe I would have used the term wizardry? Anyway, of course, the process of learning, studying and experiencing Magic by man (or equivalent humanoid) may follow logic and try to establish rules to actually harness Magic and use it, I think I wrote that quite explicitly in the text.

    Much higher than his chances of carrying a useful amount of cargo? :P

    Well, it was a quick example, if we want to nitpick, the wizard could reduce the weight and size of what he wants to carry, or teleport it directly to its destination, much quicker and less bothersome.

    If you put in X amount of energy while chanting ritualistic phrase Y while holding herb Z, you get effect W. Right?

    Yes, that was part of the issue about naturalizing magic; again, in this article I didn’t go in depth about the various possible representations of Magic in fiction, that would be another whole topic by itself, I maintained the discussion on what I would say is (or should be) the basic common point for any magical system, which is, inspiring wonder (that is, experiencing something strange, pleasant or not, and thinking about how it works, without fully understanding).

  8. Rocky on 5 October 2013, 11:02 said:

    Very nice article. As it turns out, we have an active RP on II built from the magic vs. tech premise.

  9. Sìlfae on 5 October 2013, 11:06 said:

    Thank you; oh, well, I didn’t know where is it?

  10. Tim on 5 October 2013, 11:16 said:

    Well, it was a quick example, if we want to nitpick, the wizard could reduce the weight and size of what he wants to carry, or teleport it directly to its destination, much quicker and less bothersome.

    Well, you see, then comes the question: could he?

  11. Apep on 5 October 2013, 11:48 said:

    I think a good execution of the magic vs. science is the video game Arcanum. And the reason for the conflict makes sense – magic and technology work on opposing principles (essentially, magic works by bending or breaking the laws of physics, while technology exploits those same laws). The more aligned a person/thing is with either, the more drastic the reaction when in the presence of the opposite (ex: powerful mages have to ride in the caboose on trains, as far from the engine as possible).

    Still, neither side is any more “good” or “evil” than the other. Still, technology can be used without special training, hence why it’s on the rise.

  12. Sìlfae on 5 October 2013, 12:33 said:

    Well, you see, then comes the question: could he?

    It could be said the same for flying; the point of the example is the possibility of the occurrence of a mundane solution when a faster and better supernatural one is possible for a given problem. If something can’t be done with magic (or it is very dangerous to be done with magic), it is possible a mundane solution will be searched and eventually found, but if something can be done with magic?

    (essentially, magic works by bending or breaking the laws of physics, while technology exploits those same laws).

    Yes, that was exactly the point; the idea of mages incapable of being near a engine just because they are powerful mages would reasonably not make any sense, but, then again, so it would be for a troll to be turned to stone under the sunlight.

    Still, neither side is any more “good” or “evil” than the other. Still, technology can be used without special training, hence why it’s on the rise.

    Again, for the most common examples, technology does appears as the more universal mean: anyone can shoot with a gun, not everyone can cast a fireball; even if not everyone knows how a tool spawned from technology works or knows how to create it, that doesn’t mean its use is automatically precluded (as for, say, computers). Magic on the other hand is often portraited as more secretive, usually deadly if in the wrong hands (thinking about the Sorcerer’s Apprentice…).

  13. Epke on 5 October 2013, 14:52 said:

    Well, I don’t know, if he’s generous he could just cast the fly spell on magical people; it may also be possible the hypotesis of magic-created airplane, but, as for Eberron’s trains, they may still create a magic-dependent technology, because they wouldn’t feel the need to search for other sources of energies if they have a potentially limitless one at the ready.

    Wouldn’t feel the need? Let’s take a look at our society. The first colour TV is from the 1940s: this is a device that fills the roll of bringing coloured television into our homes. Let’s say that this is our magically built airplane. Now we have flatscreens, plasmas, LCDs… whatever, that are derived from that colour TV. Humans, and nature, constantly strive to improve, to become better.

    There will always be a need to overcome the achievements of the past.

    even if extremely advanced technology might happen to be taken for magic, it.. just.. still is technology… It could potentially be explained, given the right tools and knowledge, whereas I would say actual magic would remain unknownable, no matter the resources applied to the research for its nature.

    We’d have to define what magic really is then before going further, because if it’s simply a form of energy or power that can violate the laws of nature, then magic is just science’s older brother.

    Well, you see, then comes the question: could he?

    Hmm… how fast can an unladen wizard fly?

  14. Sìlfae on 5 October 2013, 15:20 said:

    Wouldn’t feel the need? Let’s take a look at our society. The first colour TV is from the 1940s: this is a device that fills the roll of bringing coloured television into our homes. Let’s say that this is our magically built airplane. Now we have flatscreens, plasmas, LCDs… whatever, that are derived from that colour TV. Humans, and nature, constantly strive to improve, to become better.

    There will always be a need to overcome the achievements of the past.

    True, I’m not denying the lack of advancement, only the difference in its course: rather than from the first prototype airplanes to modern high-velocity jets, we’ll be seeing from first short-term fly spells to more advanced ones, applied for different occurrencies and different qualities (added resistance to highness, lack of oxygen, maybe even vacuum, speed capabilities and capacity to manouver at high speed as well).

    We’d have to define what magic really is then before going further, because if it’s simply a form of energy or power that can violate the laws of nature, then magic is just science’s older brother.

    That’s the point, how to describe it without confining it, how to employ it in a plot without describing it?

  15. Tim on 5 October 2013, 19:01 said:

    Still, there are plenty of reasons magic and technology might develop side by side: for example, the wizards don’t concern themselves with the work of “lesser” scholarly fields, or regard manufacturing as beneath them and only perform works of artistry (so they will make gardens but not farm crops), or whatever.

    Also, technology can inspire wonder, even if you do know how it works. Try standing in front of an aircraft carrier or looking at the span of a suspension bridge on a misty morning. You don’t need magic to do that.

  16. swenson on 5 October 2013, 20:47 said:

    Or… magic has limitations, and technology must make up for the fields where magic cannot help—or even for where magic hurts more than it helps, like if magic results in a physical toll on users and there’s no healing magic.

  17. Trent on 5 October 2013, 21:38 said:

    Thank you; oh, well, I didn’t know where is it?

    It’s on the forum, entitled “The League of Outcasts”. As far as the premise goes, it’s nothing brilliant, but we have some interesting characters in there.

  18. Sìlfae on 6 October 2013, 02:44 said:

    Still, there are plenty of reasons magic and technology might develop side by side: for example, the wizards don’t concern themselves with the work of “lesser” scholarly fields, or regard manufacturing as beneath them and only perform works of artistry (so they will make gardens but not farm crops), or whatever.

    It depends on the case, but the crossbow example should give an idea of how different classes of learned men react to their competitors’ inventions. Especially if they threaten their position. As said before, at least for empirical evidence in fiction, Magic tends to be selective and secretive (fine, there may be cases of high-fantasy cheap Magic or of naturally magical species, but that’s another topic), meaning not everyone, for a reason or another, can manage to become a wizard. A class of wizards/shamans, especially in the first steps of a new society, is likely to either aquire a position of power or be shunned for fear by the rest (in which case all the more reasons to hinder the efforts of muggles). If they do aquire a position of power, they’re bound to see some of the mundane inventions from the commoners as dangers to their superiority. In a transposed example of the crossbow case, a wizard able to blow up things with fireballs has a certain amount of fear and power from normal people, because he can do that, and only he can do that; if normal people discover blackpowder, then everyone could be able to blow things up with fire, the wizard may see it as a threat to his position and a cheapening of his power.

    Also, technology can inspire wonder, even if you do know how it works. Try standing in front of an aircraft carrier or looking at the span of a suspension bridge on a misty morning. You don’t need magic to do that.

    Yes, of course, I’ve written in the very article science should not automatically be seen as sterile and that its advancement requires mental flexibility and imagination; I would say it’s a different kind of wonder, but yes.

    Or… magic has limitations, and technology must make up for the fields where magic cannot help—or even for where magic hurts more than it helps, like if magic results in a physical toll on users and there’s no healing magic.

    We’re entering in specific cases which obviously depend greatly on the circumstances; as I said in the article itself, it should be expectable for men to try and apply reason and technology in their efforts to control magic.

    It’s on the forum, entitled “The League of Outcasts”. As far as the premise goes, it’s nothing brilliant, but we have some interesting characters in there.

    Thank you, I’ll try to check it.

  19. Snow White Queen on 6 October 2013, 03:03 said:

    You should check out Frazer’s ‘The Golden Bough’. There’s a discussion of magic and science that’s pretty fascinating. Of course, as an anthropologist, Frazer is going off the ‘magic’ of the ancient world, blood rituals, etc. but he comes to the conclusion that magic and science are quite similar in that people saw them as ‘natural laws’ that would inevitably lead to a certain result. I’m describing this very crudely, but the book is available online. It’s an interesting read and very much in line with swenson and Tim’s points.

  20. Sìlfae on 6 October 2013, 03:09 said:

    You have to consider the Golden Bough is an actual anthropologic work based our world’s societies where there is no actual magic; it does provide interesting points, in regards to what I was saying about wizards being the first scientists searching for control over the mysterious forces of nature, who, in our history evolved in progressively more modern forms, but in a fictional universe the factor of an acutally existent magic comes into play, changing the process.

  21. Tim on 6 October 2013, 12:09 said:

    It depends on the case, but the crossbow example should give an idea of how different classes of learned men react to their competitors’ inventions. Especially if they threaten their position.

    Yeah, but the crossbow didn’t really threaten their position, since the landed aristocrats lasted until the Industrial Revolution smashed the value of their farmland holdings. All it really did was make being personally present in battle untenable for aristocrats because they were too easy to kill.

    A class of wizards/shamans, especially in the first steps of a new society, is likely to either aquire a position of power or be shunned for fear by the rest

    I don’t know about that, usually those with skills which require extensive effort to perfect are the class below the uppermost, who are usually organisers and leaders. I’m reminded in particular of Eastern warrior-monks who were much too busy with their training to really bother ruling over anything.

    In a transposed example of the crossbow case, a wizard able to blow up things with fireballs has a certain amount of fear and power from normal people, because he can do that, and only he can do that; if normal people discover blackpowder, then everyone could be able to blow things up with fire, the wizard may see it as a threat to his position and a cheapening of his power.

    In societies where conflict is frequent, a certain amount of societal natural selection takes place; you can only get so impractical with your laws and limits before someone marches in and wrecks your shit because they don’t limit themselves needlessly.

  22. Sìlfae on 6 October 2013, 12:58 said:

    Yeah, but the crossbow didn’t really threaten their position, since the landed aristocrats lasted until the Industrial Revolution smashed the value of their farmland holdings. All it really did was make being personally present in battle untenable for aristocrats because they were too easy to kill.

    It actually did, the fact that aristocracy survived in another form is a different topic, the invention (along with better organiziation of militias made of commoners and the introduction of the gunpower in the near future) was instrumental to the decay of the feudal system and the heavy cavalry (and, incidentally, of the control of the papal seat over the monarchies). Communes during the Renaissance were able to exist and remain indipendent from landlords and kings thanks to the new possibilities in warfare offered by crossbow and analogue inventions. The fact that the Industrial Revolution was then the last straw goes quite fine with the picture.

    I don’t know about that, usually those with skills which require extensive effort to perfect are the class below the uppermost, who are usually organisers and leaders. I’m reminded in particular of Eastern warrior-monks who were much too busy with their training to really bother ruling over anything.

    It depends on the circumstances, but not necessarily true: mantaining the same example, European knights needed to be trained from infancy and for their whole life, yet they were a dominant class in the Middle Age (until commoners started to be able to overcome their expertise with other cheaper means…).

    In societies where conflict is frequent, a certain amount of societal natural selection takes place; you can only get so impractical with your laws and limits before someone marches in and wrecks your shit because they don’t limit themselves needlessly.

    That is true and it may very well cause the fall of a society, it depends on the particular cases: China rejected modernity no matter what when Europe went knocking in the 19th century, whereas Japan, in the very same period, decided to acquire and adapt the new technology. It depends on the situation and the stubborness of the ruling class.

  23. Tim on 6 October 2013, 18:28 said:

    It depends on the circumstances, but not necessarily true: mantaining the same example, European knights needed to be trained from infancy and for their whole life, yet they were a dominant class in the Middle Age

    Eh, knights were the level below the landed aristocracy, though, and swore loyalty directly to them. An actual Lord / Baron / whatever only tended to get off his ass when the barbarians were beating down the gates, otherwise the underlings got to do it with their Lord’s coin paying for their equipment. Crossbows just meant they didn’t get off their asses at all and the knight classes were replaced by larger, cheaper units of crossbowmen.

    To be honest I imagine wizards would defer most actual work in the same way to maintain the image of being above the common man: the most likely final scenarios would be wizards at the head of industrial empires per Saruman, since there’s no point limiting your capabilities to what you can personally do. After all, if a wizard can protect his men from the crossbow curse, he can just do that and remain safe in his wizard tower while his enemies are on the battlefield getting murderized.

  24. Apep on 6 October 2013, 22:10 said:

    Thinking about it, crossbows might be a bad example. They were being used in Europe for centuries (as in, before the 12th century), so if they did play a part in breaking down the power of the aristocracy, it sure took a long time.

    Now gunpowder weapons, especially hand-held ones, those probably had the kind of impact we’re talking about.

  25. Sìlfae on 7 October 2013, 02:36 said:

    Eh, knights were the level below the landed aristocracy, though, and swore loyalty directly to them. An actual Lord / Baron / whatever only tended to get off his ass when the barbarians were beating down the gates, otherwise the underlings got to do it with their Lord’s coin paying for their equipment. Crossbows just meant they didn’t get off their asses at all and the knight classes were replaced by larger, cheaper units of crossbowmen.

    And that’s it, the knight classes were replaced by larger cheaper and yet more effective armies made up by those that were beneath them in the past. There are the other social ramifications about the decay of knighthood to take in consideration: even if the lanlords survived as a social class, their individual power started being reduced. Consider that the feudal lords counted on their personal array of knights both to defend their lands and to provide for their King’s army; since knights were mostly faithful to them (or were actually their relatives), they maintained a more localized power. When a Pope excommunicated a King, they could easily use it as an excuse to disobey their liege without being branded as traitors and their knights would go right with them. With the new weapons and systems, the monarchs could raise their own armies out of their subjects, the role of the vassals was reduced and the vassals ended up having less freedom and power. One of the main reason the France wasn’t tromped after its Revolution was because their leaders were able to turn the masses of commoners into an army, whereas the coalition of nearby monarchies was still partly following the old system of having nobility provide indipendently. And it is not strange after the decay of heavy cavarly there was a growing necessity for the ruler of a Nation to gather the consent of the common people rather than the nobility.

    To be honest I imagine wizards would defer most actual work in the same way to maintain the image of being above the common man: the most likely final scenarios would be wizards at the head of industrial empires per Saruman, since there’s no point limiting your capabilities to what you can personally do. After all, if a wizard can protect his men from the crossbow curse, he can just do that and remain safe in his wizard tower while his enemies are on the battlefield getting murderized.

    Depends on the limitations, as for Saruman’s example, it is something akin to the secretiveness I was talking about: he keeps secret the technology he uses, even if his servants employ it, and tries to sell it as if it were magic. Also, as a Maiar, Saruman had little to fear from his own machines, rather than a wizard, he was more akin to an angel or a lesser god.

    Thinking about it, crossbows might be a bad example. They were being used in Europe for centuries (as in, before the 12th century), so if they did play a part in breaking down the power of the aristocracy, it sure took a long time.

    Obviously the crossbow is just one of the first symptoms of the decay, it’s not the only one; as for fireweapons, there is some sort of misconception in their impact: while cannons destroyed the role of castles in warfare and had a very deep impact, arquebuses weren’t actually effectively emploied in warfare until late 18th century; in the previous periods the crossbow was still preferred, it was cheaper, considerably more accurate, more durable (umidity made gunpowder useless) and less dangerous to use. In the end history remembered more the fireweapons, but their impact is, in certain areas, exaggerated and created a certain amount of false myths (like Cortez defeating Aztecs because of cannons and guns, whereas he had little of both and achieved victory thanks to steel swords and horses). Also, I chose the crossbow as an example for the peculiar reaction of the mystical caste to its use.

  26. FreelancePoliceman on 7 October 2013, 12:35 said:

    I once saw a cartoon where this was lampshaded–a near-immortal human and bubblegum hybrid was trying to prove that magic was really science. This same hybrid is the princess and current ruler of the Candy Kingdom, where the inhabitants are made of candy, used to be friends with a vampire, and rides a unicorm that can manipulate light.

  27. Tim on 7 October 2013, 14:23 said:

    Now gunpowder weapons, especially hand-held ones, those probably had the kind of impact we’re talking about.

    You’d be surprised; gunpowder weapons date right back to “hand gonne” in the 13th century, which was basically a miniature cannon on a stick, but it was a long time before they could even match crossbows or longbows. The average matchlock arquebus weighed as much as a modern light machine gun, was slow, complicated and dangerous to load, required a rest to fire, was so inaccurate it was only suited to volley fire (at a time when bowmen could pick off individual soldiers at range) and was less effective than a crossbow against armour. In addition, keeping one’s match lit and powder dry was a full time task. Really the only advantage was that the gun didn’t require the user to be as physically fit as a muscle-powered bow, and that persisted right up until at least the invention of rifling and probably until the invention of the unitary firearm cartridge.

    And that’s it, the knight classes were replaced by larger cheaper and yet more effective armies made up by those that were beneath them in the past.

    Cavalry remained reasonably important well past the time crossbows became commonplace, though, armour just got progressively heavier and the higher risk meant a decreasing number of men-at-arms were nobles. Armoured cavalry only died out when the machine gun made it essentially impossible to perform manoeuvre warfare with horses.

    The point is the nobility didn’t fall because of the crossbow; indeed, they were the ones who were paying for the mercenary crossbowmen in the first place.

    Also, I’ve found the Papal decree you’re talking about, which actually is the rather curious command that

    We forbid under penalty of anathema that that deadly and God-detested art of stingers and archers be in the future exercised against Christians and Catholics.

    The site here: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/lateran2.asp gives the following comment:

    The reference seems to be to a sort of tournament, the nature of which was the shooting of arrows and other projectiles on a wager. The practice had already been condemned by Urban II in canon 7 of the Lateran Synod of 1097, no doubt because of the it involved.

    In other words, it seems to have banned some form of game involving archery, not using crossbows against Christians.

    When a Pope excommunicated a King, they could easily use it as an excuse to disobey their liege without being branded as traitors and their knights would go right with them.

    You seem to be assuming that the Pope would necessarily hear about anything but the most grievous and flagrant abuses, or would necessarily do anything. The Catholic Church repeatedly condemned knightly tournaments and jousts (including Canon 14 of the Second Lateran Council of 1123) and nobody actually gave a shit.

    Depends on the limitations, as for Saruman’s example, it is something akin to the secretiveness I was talking about: he keeps secret the technology he uses, even if his servants employ it, and tries to sell it as if it were magic.

    I still don’t really see why he wouldn’t see using all the capabilities of technology as advantageous; throughout history, the highest classes have sold themselves on either leadership skill or divine right, very rarely on knowledge or learned skills. They had advisors for that sort of thing, after all.

    If commoners can make gunpowder, it’s simple; make sure the commoners who make the gunpowder are loyal to you, and you can control who has it. That’s why medieval kings didn’t live in fear of blacksmiths even though none of them personally knew how to make weapons or armour.

  28. Sìlfae on 7 October 2013, 14:54 said:

    The point is the nobility didn’t fall because of the crossbow; indeed, they were the ones who were paying for the mercenary crossbowmen in the first place.

    I didn’t say the feudal nobility fell only because of the crossbow, just that it was part of the problem. For what I remember it were in fact the aforementioned democratic communes like Genova more renowed for hiring mercenary crossbowmen and pikemen to use against the heavy cavarly of their enemies.

    In other words, it seems to have banned some form of game involving archery, not using crossbows against Christians.

    It is an interesting take, the actual original phrasing in latin does specifically also mention crossbows, though (“illam mortiferam artem et Deo odibilem Ballistariorum et Sagittariorum adversus Christianos et Catholicos exerceri de cetero sub anathemate prohibemus.”), but I wouldn’t know if there were other implications of the like; when I usually find that particular point, it is referred for the usage in military matters, maybe there are updated interpretations on the matter I was not aware of. By reading the original phrasing I would think it tends more on that meaning, either maybe it would have used something along the lines of “despicable art” rather than “deadly art”. It is interesting as, as you say after, the Church pointed to limit the use of crossbows and the like only to the proper Christinas (which the nobles were supposed to be), condoning it against, say, infedels.

    I still don’t really see why he wouldn’t see using all the capabilities of technology as advantageous; throughout history, the highest classes have sold themselves on either leadership skill or divine right, very rarely on knowledge or learned skills. They had advisors for that sort of thing, after all.

    You have to consider in a magical world knowledge is power in a very literary sense; a wizard could warp matter or control minds, it would not be only a source of potential knowledge. More than any other historical social class he would personally have power over other beings, without relying on the loyalty of his followers (based on lineage, faith or whatever else).

    If commoners can make gunpowder, it’s simple; make sure the commoners who make the gunpowder are loyal to you, and you can control who has it.

    As I said, it may happen, still, it may become risky from the point of view of the wizard: if he can create fire and explosions with his magic already, than that power is his and he can use it to rule over everybody else. If he let the power be shared or reproduced in some other way accessible to everyone, than now not only he doesn’t have an higher social stand, he also depends on the loyalty of anyone to him; there are bound to be those who will not want to follow him and now they’ll have the power to blow him up.
    As for the Middle-Earth example, in a way, Saruman was still keeping the knowledge of his “magic” secret, he certainly wasn’t instructing the orcs or Wormtongue on how it worked.

  29. Tim on 7 October 2013, 15:35 said:

    I didn’t say the feudal nobility fell only because of the crossbow, just that it was part of the problem. For what I remember it were in fact the aforementioned democratic communes like Genova more renowed for hiring mercenary crossbowmen and pikemen to use against the heavy cavarly of their enemies.

    Well, more or less everyone hired mercenaries sooner or later, the only real difference was the nobles disliked them because they often ended up acquiring feudal offices above their station as commoners. But in general when the battlefield became too risky the nobles just migrated into political positions (eg Junkers in Prussia) and armoured horse cavalry duty sometimes just ended up with a slightly more common class than the old knights (eg cuirassiers, Cossack horsemen), which was helped along by the fall from grace of the really-hard-to-use heavy lance which most knightly training had focused on preparing people for.

    It is interesting as, as you say after, the Church pointed to limit the use of crossbows and the like only to the proper Christinas (which the nobles were supposed to be), condoning it against, say, infedels.

    Well, most likely it was due to the church wanting everyone focused on losing the Crusades rather than the more usual activity of nobles killing each other. I mean, assuming it’s not related to some form of tournament as the source speculates.

    As I said, it may happen, still, it may become risky from the point of view of the wizard: if he can create fire and explosions with his magic already, than that power is his and he can use it to rule over everybody else.

    Given historical precedent, it would be more effective to sell it as a badge of his divine authority; the divine right argument is strengthened greatly if you can perform actual miracles to show how you and God are best buddies and so everyone should do what you say. I imagine a wizard would consider using his powers for things commoners could do for him to be quite beneath him; after all, history is full of monarchs who could barely be bothered to use their own arms and legs.

    So more a case of ‘Blow something up? Pfft, I am above such mortal concerns, speak to the Masters of Alchemy and do not bother me further with trivialities. Also, more wine.’ You’d have exceptions, of course, but they’d be the equivalent of our barbarian army-and-nation leaders and warrior kings; relative rarities.

    As for the Middle-Earth example, in a way, Saruman was still keeping the knowledge of his “magic” secret, he certainly wasn’t instructing the orcs or Wormtongue on how it worked.

    Eh, he’s still an industrialist who happens to be a wizard with most of what he does around Isengard. Well, a metaphor for the First World War who happens to be an industrialist who happens to be a wizard, if we’re being thorough.

  30. Sìlfae on 7 October 2013, 16:06 said:

    Well, more or less everyone hired mercenaries sooner or later, the only real difference was the nobles disliked them because they often ended up acquiring feudal offices above their station as commoners. But in general when the battlefield became too risky the nobles just migrated into political positions (eg Junkers in Prussia) and armoured horse cavalry duty sometimes just ended up with a slightly more common class than the old knights (eg cuirassiers, Cossack horsemen), which was helped along by the fall from grace of the really-hard-to-use heavy lance which most knightly training had focused on preparing people for.

    The fact that it required them to change, is partly the point; in the end cavarly in the following centuries was more often than not of the light type, which didn’t required the same expenses needed for warhorses of the old kind and full armors of metal, thus making it more affordable. Also in that period the monarchies were acquiring power over the feudal system, the updated burocratic system (as the French one by Louis XIV) allowed the State to equip its troops.

    Given historical precedent, it would be more effective to sell it as a badge of his divine authority;

    Quite possible, yes, we have plenty of fictional examples of this (ancient Sith Lords in Star Wars claming to be gods and being worshipped by their subjects for one).
    And the point is that: the wizards wouldn’t want their subjects to know it’s a trick, they wouldn’t want them to learn the trick or to find alternatives to the trick. The wizards will do fine ruling a group of savages who barely know how to light a fire on their own to warm themselves and whose most effective weapon is the spear, they’d have a harder time if they were put in charge of a modern society with cars and guns and phones, tools accessible to all their potential subjects and by which those subjects could see the trick for what it is and counteract it. They could manage it, by they would need to compromise, in the first case they could aspire to absolute political power.

    It is true, the wizards willingly keeping technology back from their society may open themselves to threats coming from outside their area of influence, but you have to consider in such a society the wizards might have a more active role (akin to the feudal lords rathen than the Reinassance nobles) and belive (correctly or not) that their own magic will be able to protect them. They wouldn’t need to appease the commoners or other ruling classes, because they wouldn’t need their help to defend themselves: they could scry on the enemy to see which are their forces and what are their strategies, put a curse on their provisions, let the metal of their weapons rot, blast their armies with rains of fire and the such to win a war. Depending on the setting it could be a success or a failure, of course. It is possible they could grow slothful and delegate? Yes, but that could open up to a future change in the balance of power (although I would think in such a society Apprentices would be loaded with all the works, patiently waiting to ascend to the rank of Master and being able to boss another toddler around).

  31. Tim on 8 October 2013, 05:54 said:

    And the point is that: the wizards wouldn’t want their subjects to know it’s a trick, they wouldn’t want them to learn the trick or to find alternatives to the trick. The wizards will do fine ruling a group of savages who barely know how to light a fire on their own to warm themselves and whose most effective weapon is the spear, they’d have a harder time if they were put in charge of a modern society with cars and guns and phones, tools accessible to all their potential subjects and by which those subjects could see the trick for what it is and counteract it. They could manage it, by they would need to compromise, in the first case they could aspire to absolute political power.

    Yes, but I’m not really convinced by the argument that they’d aspire to power over people not much better than monkeys just for the sake of having it. How does the wizard actually benefit from that? If you regard your people solely as a threat to your power, why not just kill everyone who isn’t a wizard? Wouldn’t you rather be remembered for your people’s scholarship and the great works that they made in your name rather than for the fact that your people consider themselves blessed if they live into double digits?

    The only systems that ever really tried to keep people simple and controllable were empires who were doing it to someone else’s people, and the only people so paranoid about being usurped are tinpot dictators who depend on networks of backstabbing assholes for their authority, not divine right or powers innately greater than those around them.

    They wouldn’t need to appease the commoners or other ruling classes, because they wouldn’t need their help to defend themselves: they could scry on the enemy to see which are their forces and what are their strategies, put a curse on their provisions, let the metal of their weapons rot, blast their armies with rains of fire and the such to win a war.

    But unless each wizard’s powers make them physically self-sufficient, they’ll still need underlings. Unless they’re omniscient, they’ll still need spies to tell them where they should be scrying, unless they’re good at everything they’ll still need people to advise them on things they don’t know, and given most spells require ingredients they’ll still need people to prepare and gather them who they can trust both not to betray them and not to mess it up because they’re stupid.

    In battle I’d imagine the presence of wizards would even out; a wizard would only consider the opposing wizard worthy anyway, and they’d either battle each other or try to match charms against curses while the army battled away on their behalf. Perhaps low-ranking wizards with basic training would fight within units as champions while the old masters acted as generals, but I think the infantry would still be mostly convention. Perhaps there would be some legendary wizards of immense power who did things like make an army out of animated clay or turned a city wall into rock monsters, but such powerful wizards would be even less likely to want to rule over morons.

    So unless the wizard is basically a living God, he’ll need a support network under him. Nevermind that at some point he’ll presumably want to have a relationship with something that understands basic table manners.

  32. Sìlfae on 8 October 2013, 07:20 said:

    Wouldn’t you rather be remembered for your people’s scholarship and the great works that they made in your name rather than for the fact that your people consider themselves blessed if they live into double digits?

    Yes, but that is a personal decision depending on the character. If we consider the issue only from a pragmatic point of view, it would be easier for the wizard to maintain power by not sharing his secrets.

    So unless the wizard is basically a living God, he’ll need a support network under him. Nevermind that at some point he’ll presumably want to have a relationship with something that understands basic table manners.

    Of course, as said before, it depends on what a wizard could allow other people to research without endangering his position, if tools to improve their lifestyle or effectiveness in battle still depend on his magic and expertise or are otherwise harmless, then they are no real threat. In past societies knowledge was withold or distorted to the masses, the very concept of public scolarship is quite recent; in the Middle Ages nobles and priests were content for commoners to not know any better and, especially priests, to be filter for any knowledge coming down to them (part of the problem from Luther translating the Bible in german, as I recall, it was it removed the necessity of priests as intermediates between the man and the deity, thus threatening their position by allowing the sacred text to be comprehensible for a considerably larger part of the population). If we translate this to another more powerful kind of knowledge…

  33. Tim on 8 October 2013, 08:04 said:

    If we consider the issue only from a pragmatic point of view, it would be easier for the wizard to maintain power by not sharing his secrets.

    Yeah, I just question what he’d actually want with such power and whether it’s really going to happen that often in practice. I’d imagine you’d have an equal number who went full messiah and were determined to lift their people out of squalor whether they liked it or not.

    In past societies knowledge was withold or distorted to the masses, the very concept of public scolarship is quite recent; in the Middle Ages nobles and priests were content for commoners to not know any better and, especially priests, to be filter for any knowledge coming down to them

    Yes, but this was true of only certain types of knowledge, usually knowledge of the scriptures that formed the basis of law (since if you have no access to the source text you can’t interpret it yourself and must accept it as told). Most other knowledge kept secret was to protect the person who held it, usually because it was deemed heretical such as alchemy or divination. Fields of study like architecture, metallurgy and so on with more practical uses weren’t limited in the same way. Indeed, a wizard may actually encourage disciplines similar to magic because if people can blow things up without magic, they have no reason to try to learn magic to solve their day to day blowing things up problems.

    There’s also the questions of where wizards come from and how you decide who gets to be one.

  34. Sìlfae on 8 October 2013, 09:35 said:

    Yeah, I just question what he’d actually want with such power and whether it’s really going to happen that often in practice. I’d imagine you’d have an equal number who went full messiah and were determined to lift their people out of squalor whether they liked it or not.

    It may be, they’d also have to face the reaction of those who do not want to do so.

    Yes, but this was true of only certain types of knowledge, usually knowledge of the scriptures that formed the basis of law (since if you have no access to the source text you can’t interpret it yourself and must accept it as told).

    Yes, that’s exactly it.

    Fields of study like architecture, metallurgy and so on with more practical uses weren’t limited in the same way. Indeed, a wizard may actually encourage disciplines similar to magic because if people can blow things up without magic, they have no reason to try to learn magic to solve their day to day blowing things up problems.

    Also possible; I think we roamed far from the original article, but in the text I wrote exsplicitly wizards may find themselves working with scientists and technology in their research for a better understanding of Magic. The original point was that the more secretive nature usually described for the use of Magic might bring the wizards’ class to be more elitist and closed to sharing than a scientists’ class, I didn’t say it was the only way to represent them or that there couldn’t be interactions between the two.

    There’s also the questions of where wizards come from and how you decide who gets to be one.

    Well, of course, that goes more on the tecnicalities of setting; magic-born wizards like the Istari or Harry Potter might not care sharing their knowledge, because common people wouldn’t still have any chance of acquiring their intrinsic powers (and yet Hogwarts was considered better if hidden from the muggle world…), more folkloric-like wizards might care more since they were normal people who researched their spells after years of study and training and could jelously hide them, just as stage magicians in real life seldom reveal their tricks to either public or fellow illusionists.

  35. Tim on 8 October 2013, 15:34 said:

    It may be, they’d also have to face the reaction of those who do not want to do so.

    Yeah, but then it’s wizard + stupid peasants vs wizard + army with weapons and stuff, which would probably work out in favour of the messiah wizard.

    Yes, that’s exactly it.

    To be completely fair to them, they were kind of right since the first thing everyone did was say “hey, there’s nothing about the Pope here” and invent protestantism.

    more folkloric-like wizards might care more since they were normal people who researched their spells after years of study and training and could jelously hide them, just as stage magicians in real life seldom reveal their tricks to either public or fellow illusionists.

    Possible, or they’d work out like monastic orders, like the Jedi before all that shit with midichlorians (remember when Obi Wan offered to teach Han Solo how to use the Force?). But in such cases secrecy rarely works out as power, so they’d most likely not be in a position to stop people developing technology.

  36. Sìlfae on 8 October 2013, 15:57 said:

    Yeah, but then it’s wizard + stupid peasants vs wizard + army with weapons and stuff, which would probably work out in favour of the messiah wizard.

    Depending on the situation, yes; the messiah wizard would have to exist in the first place and succeed.

    To be completely fair to them, they were kind of right since the first thing everyone did was say “hey, there’s nothing about the Pope here” and invent protestantism.

    Which bends well with the whole topic about storing and hiding knowledge rather than sharing it with everybody.

    Possible, or they’d work out like monastic orders, like the Jedi before all that shit with midichlorians (remember when Obi Wan offered to teach Han Solo how to use the Force?). But in such cases secrecy rarely works out as power, so they’d most likely not be in a position to stop people developing technology.

    I actually remember only Luke asking to Han if he believed or not in the Force. Consider that the Jedi, even if officially in a position of willing servitude, actually had quite the influence on the Old Republic, what with all being able to lead armies, take baby children found Force-sensitive to be trained regardless of their consent and depose the Senate at any time if they felt like it, remember Yoda and Windu in Ep. III expressely saying that, if Palpatine didn’t relinquish its office after Grievous’ death, not only they would have personally removed him (as they later tried to), but the Jedi Council would have put itself over the Senate to restore the Republic. And in the Star Wars EU the Jedi Order actually managed such a coup once or twice, with almost four centuries of non-elected Grand Masters forcefully occupying the position of Supreme Chancellor and assigning planets and armies to Jedi Lords to better manage in the New Sith Wars. And, regardless of all that, while Jedi did not opposed technology, they certainly didn’t share their knowledge of the Force with anybody but potential recruits, which figures why the Empire manages in only twenty years to distort the role they held for twenty-five thousand years.