This magic is done by offering a tribute to god. The tribute is mana, the magical power source. You offer it up in return for a wish granted by god. The benefit of the magic is that the only bottleneck in using it is the mana cost and the person's imagination. The crazier the wish, the higher the cost.

I wish to throw a basketball sized fireball at the donkeybutt over there.

God grants the wish while taking the appropriate amount of mana as payment.

My medieval society was introduced to tribute magic. A time before guns and the printing press.

A person's mana capacity is how much they can gather in a day. Mana comes from god, it is humanity's daily allowance.

Only humans can do magic.

One millionth of the population are super magically gifted. They can split the Mississippi and walk across the split once a day. I would assume that creating an instant dam to contain all that water would probably kill a heck ton of people when the dammed up water goes rushing all over the place.

The lowest 90% of people in terms of magical talent have enough mana in their bodies to use magic to hover for ten minutes and light fires and not too incredible things.

Point is, there isn't enough mana to go around to really stop people from inventing things to make their lives easier. The problem is that tribute magic would only accelerate the growth of technology. It would be best if development of science is more or less similar with a non magical world.

Using this magic, can't a group of very determined people start asking for wishes in a scientific and logical fashion to deduce the laws of reality? The laws of this magical world's reality is not in anyway the exact same as a non-magical world. There will be ghosts, and giants, and a known god. Science being cheated through because of tribute magic is still a problem though.

How would the I change the rules of tribute magic to stop that from happening? Or even, what rules can I set up that would keep tribute magic from increasing the development speed of the sciences?

I don't want my magical society to refine this magic to take the most efficient and effective path to killing people and doing things. I want tribute magic to foster creativity. I want for there to be a thousand schools of magic to be born from tribute magic. I want a world in which all sorts of whimsical and fantastical ideas comes to life because people used tribute magic to turn "what if? questions" into reality. This really doesn't have much to do with the question, but I thought it might help if you see the sort of world I want to create.

If you all think that the most likely outcome is for humanity to advance in the sciences at the speed of light, then please say so. I'll ask for the question to be thrown into the void. I'll grudgingly move on and maybe visit Reddit. shivers

I know it would be very difficult to decide the mana cost for wishes. I would certainly make mistakes when deciding mana costs in the the actual world creation. That is not a problem. I don't mind it since that is not an issue with tribute magic, but an issue with me not being all knowing.

I just really would like for a world in which a magically talented child could wish for a pig to fly, and it would happen. The threat of rapidly developing science bothers me. The child wishing for a flying pig on a farm during medieval times and a child wishing for a flying pig in the middle of magical modern megalopolis are two very different different worlds to me. One is filled with wonder, and the other is filled with fire breathing reality TV stars.

My question may be very annoying or inappropriate. I read the rules for asking questions and had a headache of it. There were so many links to so many suggestions. The whole "no opinions but subjectivity is sometimes okay" was very difficult to understand. I'm not too smart so I might just be breaking a holy law somewhere.

I found many questions on this site about magic and science coexisting. It is related to my question but not quite enough to solve my problems. I'm past that. I care more about the effect magic would have on scientific progress. And specifically how to prevent them from giving too big of a boost to each other..

Effects of Mana-based magic on Technological Development

Would science emerge in a world with magic?


For SlothsAndMe - To clarify. God cake is a possibility but unfortunately for mankind, only god has enough mana for that. As for delicious food. Hmm. I'll say that the less specific the wish, higher the mana cost/more random the result. It is like wild magic in dnd. Don't make a wish along the lines of: I offer tribute of all my mana. Give me something great. This wish would either go terribly wrong or terribly right. Or you might just get cake.

The issue of wishing for things that increasingly strengthens a person all the way to the end of time has been brought up. This is a problem solved by adjusting mana cost of such a thing. Think of god as a game developer. He will scale the possibilities accordingly so that his game doesn't break.This issue is unrelated to my question. My original question was for answers that could help me solve my problem without calling on god to just limit scientific development with his god powers. As a rule of thumb, the more God has to interfere, the worse this world would be.

Liesmith's Answer is the accepted answer based on the what I have seen so far. While his first two points was interesting, the 3rd point was almost a catch all solution that didn't require god to slap every scientist and smartypants for trying to ruin the balance of the world. I would like to point out such a non-god answer as something that exemplifies the sort of solution that would be perfect. I am not saying that all the well thought out "god answers" are terrible. They are just not ideal. I will of course implement some of those ideas as well.

As for how Liesmith answer is a solution.

Connecting the world's population to the power of magic is a great thought. Tech makes life better, which makes the population limit higher. But a higher population would decrease the effectiveness of using magic as an instrument of science. When the population becomes so high that magic becomes too basic for the conman scientist to cast "magical sight" to see bacteria, humanity may have to pay the price for failing to develop a microscope. The result would either be to start inventing the things they have always used magic to do over time, or mass slaughter for the sake of science/more mana.

  • $\begingroup$ Could a user say, ask for a flavoured cake with a never before seen taste? If so I love your world concept. $\endgroup$ Jan 28 '19 at 6:37
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    $\begingroup$ I realize that tribute magic is really loose and there are many loopholes in it. Fortunately, the magic system is based on a god. So he, in my place, would make up magical laws so that things that would break the world wouldn't happen so easily. I'm sure that many of you would think that having a god figure fix my problems is stupid, but loopholes that allows the inhabitants of my world to became gods themselves just shouldn't exist. Having god limit the humans from pursuing science is different than stopping the birth of a god king. $\endgroup$
    – Lonha
    Jan 28 '19 at 7:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Lonha If this "God" is 100% consistent, magic has specific rules that are applied, they are every time the same and you can make experiments to see the results of your wishes... Well, then magic and science are the same thing :-P $\endgroup$
    – ChatterOne
    Jan 28 '19 at 13:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ To be clear what happens when a person asks for something that doesn't or can't exist, what happens when a person wishes for a bottle of phlogiston or a sphere who's circumference is exactly three times its diameter.? $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jan 28 '19 at 18:14
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for having the chutzpah to say "donkeybutt" in public (and I like the question). $\endgroup$ Jan 29 '19 at 7:10

21 Answers 21


Here's a few possibilities you could adapt for your setting:

  1. Scientific knowledge reduces the efficiency of wishes.

    Consider this: a child wishes for a pig to fly, but has no real knowledge of what that would mechanically entail - he simply has faith that their God will handle it. With the innocence and imagination of a child, his connection to this god is most "pure". Numerically, we could say that this wish takes 10% of his mana.

    Conversely, let's say that a biologist makes the same wish. He knows that this is organically impossible. The necessary wingspan to lift that much weight is immense, and the caloric requirements are insurmountable. When he makes the wish, it takes 110% of his mana because his mind is reinforcing the very laws of physics he's trying to break. The wish doesn't work, because his thinking is too rigid.

    This would result in a society which has a symbiosis between scientists and spellcasters. The scientists help build the modern world, but they have to go to spellcasters for the crazier things. It's sort of like hiring an artist who can warp reality.

  2. The god himself wants humanity to grow. Since the magic in this setting is granted by a deity, he could simply refuse to ever give pure knowledge for a wish. A scientist could with for a metal plate the exact size and composition he needs (and repeat this wish daily until he has enough), and assemble a Large Hadron Collider, but he couldn't just hook a random text generator to a printer and try wishing for the random output to be an accurate description of otherwise unknown physical laws.

    In this context, the god will allow humanity to undertake logistical shortcuts, such as some degree of mining and manufacturing, but they still must learn on their own.

    This option also works if you want to have spellcasters fighting each other at some point: the god is willing to let humans use his gifts for warfare, because even that will ultimately foster growth. However, he won't allow something like a magical nuke which could harm the entire planet.

  3. Mana is zero-sum for the entire species. In this instance, there'd be 10 billion mana per day(for example) for the entire species. If a third of humanity is wiped out by a plague, then the remaining 2/3rds is still drawing upon that same 10 billion mana.

    As the human population grows, the overall magic available to the average person will become weaker, and people will become more reliant on science to improve their everyday lives. A stable medium will be reaches for a period of time, before magic diminishes too far to be useful.

    This would give you some interesting hooks to use in the setting: you can set the story in the "modern era", where magic and technology are in balance, or a few decades later, when magic is in decline. There could even be factions which want to wipe out a chunk of humanity to return the world to the "Mystic Age", when even the average person was said to be a demigod compared to today.

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    $\begingroup$ Your first point is very interesting but then people will harvest this phenomenon. Powerful mages will be raised with a very low education to be even more efficient, so you'll basically end up with your most dangerous people being the most ineducated. The consequences must be very interesting but I'm not sure anyone would want that. I still upvoted though. $\endgroup$
    – Echox
    Jan 28 '19 at 13:10
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure this makes the setting work the way they'd want. Factor 1 makes uneducated murderhobos, factor 3 encourages war and mass murder and genocide, and 2 isn't a major limitation. You could, say, use a wish to grant you sight of the tiny and learn about bacteria to bypass this. Coupled with the genocidal uneducated murder hobos, this isn't going to work well for people. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Jan 28 '19 at 15:32
  • $\begingroup$ If your biologist grows up in a world where some pigs actually do fly, is his or her knowledge of "the rules" going to be that firm? $\endgroup$ Jan 28 '19 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Echox, I was imagining that it would take actual intent, as well. You can lead a person to knowledge, but you can't make them learn. Similarly, you can try to keep someone ignorant, but a genuine thirst for understanding will trump that. Especially if the magic is being dictated by a sentient being. $\endgroup$
    – Liesmith
    Jan 28 '19 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ @jeffronicus The pigs fly only through magic; they don't fly on their own. The study of biology would still be useful in a world where magic can't do everything (ie, trying to directly cure an infection might not be possible, whereas an antibiotic could easily handle it). A biologist would necessarily learn the mechanisms and limitations of organisms when magic is not enhancing them. $\endgroup$
    – Liesmith
    Jan 28 '19 at 16:46


Failing predictably(and iterating from failure) is key to scientific pursuits. If you don't wish for your magic system to be science'd out, you should take away the "predictable" part. Thus, your wish-granting god should uphold a set of loose ethical guidelines rather than rigid rules that people would try and game.

For example, if someone wishes for "that annoying neighbour to drop dead", your god would find that inappropriate, but s/he/it can deny that wish in more than one way. Your first try could get you temporarily transformed into a yodeling humanoid chicken, a repeat attempt might make you temporarily forget that person exists, and so on. All kinds of consequences are possible; a deity with a sense of humour helps.

In short, the deity should actively hinder attempts to narrow whatever rules there are down beyond fuzzy guidelines like "don't wish for bad things"

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thank you. A fuzzy ethical guideline would be possible to add into the world. Also, thank you for bringing that video back. I forgot that existed. $\endgroup$
    – Lonha
    Jan 28 '19 at 7:47
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    $\begingroup$ Having wished granted by a moody and unpredictable deity is also a good way to prevent people from applying Pratchett's law ("any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology") and turn magic into a science. The deity who doesn't want humans to really understand magic would notice when people use the scientific method to find out the exact limits and mechanics of magic and screw with their results. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Jan 28 '19 at 12:18
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    $\begingroup$ Honestly, this is an aspect that belongs in any system you attribute to a deity. If your power comes from a god, then your power is and should be fully at the discretion of that god. Honestly, while mana makes since for a true magic system where the caster is the source of power, devine systems should be more abstracted into divine favor. Your tributes may make your god happy with you, but he'd never grant you the power to do something he does not want you to do. This itself may make wars require science when your enemy is also beloved by your god. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jan 29 '19 at 22:32
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, this. We are talking about a living god, not an automated wish-granting machine. If somebody is abusing the divine favour to peek behind the fabric of reality into its driving ruleset, one day they may find their flesh-thing's minds do not like very much what they were given to see and start to shatter. $\endgroup$
    – Eleshar
    Jun 1 '21 at 9:09

A society so full of magic would have several huge bottle necks with their technological progress.

Because science is often a matter of incremental improvements, if you can outperform the first several steps toward discovering something with magic, then getting to step #8 where science actually starts to pay-off would be really unlikely.

For Example:

If you can just throw lighting from your fingertips with all lethality of an assault rifle, then you've cut out the need for all the technologies that led up to the development of an assault rifle. (gunpowder, barrel rifling, iron sights, bullet cartridges, gas repeaters, magnesium firing caps, etc.) Since no 1 person is likely to independently discover enough things to make an assault-rifle that could rival finger lightning, it would likely never happen.

There is also a tendency for people to trivialize that which conflicts with their own way of doing things. For example, most highly developed countries out-right reject mysticism, herbal medicine, etc. because they are seen as not as effective. You society would likely reject science if it's seen as a bunch of ineffective mumbo-jumbo; so, your % of people interested in exploring science would be much smaller.

Also, people who get their power from a deity would likely perceive science as a way of cheating their god out of tributes. This could make it very taboo, if not outright heresy. Your deity himself may even see science that way and refuse to give power to people who try to use science to replace him.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Makes sense. I viewed it from a perspective that said that there was plenty of modern day tech that would be useful to the majority of people with limited mana. I did not consider that the effort and reason to start at step one of science may become very difficult if tribute magic exists. After all, they couldn't know how great the result of a few thousand years of research is from where they stand at year 1. $\endgroup$
    – Lonha
    Jan 28 '19 at 7:26
  • $\begingroup$ In my army, given the choice between one mage throwing one fireball a day and an archer shooting tens of arrows a minute, I'll take the archer any day. So if magic in "normal" people is sufficiently weak, technology will be needed anyway. $\endgroup$
    – Echox
    Jan 28 '19 at 13:23
  • $\begingroup$ But just about every archer in my world can throw a fireball once a day. Its like every member of the world's army has a once a day fiery grenade in addition to their bows and spears. Oh man. That is actually quite awesome. An army of normal soldiers with minor magical ability. I can see some brilliant generals taking advantage of this. Using mana is not exhausting by the way. No penalty at all. $\endgroup$
    – Lonha
    Jan 29 '19 at 2:17
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    $\begingroup$ It's true that I would choose to give bows to all my soldiers too, but even bows were incrementally improved by generations of hunters constantly experimenting with different materials, shapes, and lamination techniques. If a hunter gets one fireball a day to kill his prey, he does not need to waste time learning to shoot a bow; so, again it would take a long time to get from hunter gatherer to, arming soldiers with bows, to guns, etc. because there is less need and motivation to develop such technologies. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jan 29 '19 at 17:14

Knowledge is priceless

Knowledge endures. Give someone a fish, you feed them for a day. Teach someone to fish and you feed then for the rest of their life.

But we're not done yet, because while a fish is finite (unless you're Jesus), knowledge is not. If I know how to fish, I can teach you to fish, and now we can catch two fish a day. And once we teach our children, fish will continue to be caught long after your life has ended.

It's impossible to magically learn to fish because it's not possible to pay the cost of the knowledge, which is equivalent to the billions upon billions of fish that will be caught with that knowledge.

Of course I exaggerate.

The cost of learning to fish would not actually be that high. People already know how to fish. The knowledge being asked for won't allow for the capture of billions of fish, because those fish would be caught anyways. So learning to fish will only factor in the fish you catch, modified based on the ease of finding someone else to teach you.

It's only new knowledge that is priceless.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I like this: Truth is the most valuable thing there is Even the most powerful penitents can only afford a tiny slice of a peek at the Truth. $\endgroup$ Jan 28 '19 at 23:44
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    $\begingroup$ I love this answer. $\endgroup$ Jan 29 '19 at 9:17

The logical end state of this world is that a group of powerful magical people get together and use their mana to become elite god kings, hoarding most technology to themselves, killing wizards who oppose them, and gaining increasing power from wishes.

So, to stop that, you need rules for the tribute magic. Make your god ethical.

  1. Spells which are more creative and unique and less domineering are cheaper. The god would grant greater power to people if they were fair, did interesting things, and didn't try to rule each other. This would limit the development of cities and wars, and without cities science would be much slower.

  2. Magic tends to make interesting solutions, not technology. If you ask to solve a problem magic may give you a way. Ask to ride a horse better, you can get an enchanted saddle. It doesn't tend to give you a better saddle though. It is inherently not prone to making army worthy solutions.

  3. It's expensive to overcome resource shortages. If there's not enough metal that could majorly retard science, but if they could simply summon a sea of metal, harder. Make it expensive to summon vast amounts of material.

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting. Thank you. Morphing the world's resources to prevent an industrial revolution is an excellent idea. It is a work around that makes it so science doesn't have as big of an impact even if it advanced. Having god being more "hands on" would be excellent as well. I designated god as an indifferent wish granter, not imagining him playing a role as you did. But having an all mighty deity wish for a varied world might just be the thing I need. I must say that such solutions seem simple now that I know of them. I can't say I would have thought of it myself. $\endgroup$
    – Lonha
    Jan 28 '19 at 6:23
  • $\begingroup$ Glad to have helped. Yeah, an indifferent wish granter makes it a bit harder. If you want them to be less involved they can be, but they should at least limit certain classes of wishes to prevent the immortal god emperors using wishes to oppress mankind scenario. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Jan 28 '19 at 6:26

God gets bored and may twist the wishes for his own amusement.

Science doesn't work very well with a sample size of 1 individual with it's own whims that may include stymying investigation into it's own nature.

As such the prices and how cooperative the god is varies depending on the how, what and why of the wish.

10 people sitting around with checklists working their way through a long list of small, predictable, boring wishes may very well lead to the god answering them in such a way as to maximally mess with them.

Magic works better when it's novel and interesting.

On the other hand it may look more kindly upon creative and interesting wishes such that the god gifts them with greater effectiveness and lower mana costs. Similarly for people in interesting situations.

2 mages of equal strength face each other.

one wishes to throw a rock really hard at their opponent, the other wishes to throw a 4 dimensional fractal of broken time at the other in the shape of a chicken. The god has seen millions of thrown rocks but has never seen what happens to someone who gets pulled through a chicken shaped 4 dimensional time-fractal so favors that caster with more power and effectiveness than they would otherwise have.


Magic is temporary.

In fact, you've already established this:

One millionth of the population are super magically gifted. They can split the Mississippi and walk across the split once a day. I would assume that creating an instant dam to contain all that water would probably kill a heck ton of people when the dammed up water goes rushing all over the place.

The lowest 90% of people in terms of magical talent have enough mana in their bodies to use magic to hover for ten minutes and light fires and not too incredible things.

Someone from our place and time who knew what we wanted to invent but couldn't remember the details could ask god for, say, a printing press, then have a couple people help take notes for the 10 minutes before it disappeared. In a couple of weeks, they'd have all the logistics worked out and could start building. Maybe.

But technological progress doesn't work like that. The chances of someone from that society being able to ask for future tech so they can figure out how to design it is pretty low.

More likely, they'd ask for a job to be done. "Plough my fields" instead of "show me a better plow design so I can copy it." (I'm assuming the results of magic last even if the implements don't.)

Even those "super magically gifted" folks can't make permanent things with magic. The Mississippi River doesn't have a permanent passageway in your example. (And yes you could design it as not to flood anything upstream; hopefully god does that automatically.)

Even if you could get a permanent machine out of the deal, people are more likely to ask for their own vs learning how to build their own. If that still speeds things up too fast for you, then make tangible objects disappear.

On the other hand, if food sticks around for as long as it would last in the real world, well plenty of food around is a really good incentive not to invent stuff. Ditto other basic needs being met. It might give people time to invent really awesome art though. And amazing craftwork. And writings. And music. Things people do when they aren't spending all their time surviving. Technology? That's for people who need more stuff or more efficient ways of getting stuff.


Science ferrets out truth through the use of repeatable and reproducible experiments. Deny science repeatability or reproducibility and it starts to falter rather quickly.

Our modern science is built around the assumption that there exist laws of nature which never change (or, at the very least, that we can model the world as if this were true). Gravity will pull the apple down when you let it go. It will do so every time, exactly the same. This gives you a chance to measure it.

If there are no such immutable laws, then science cannot find any. The apple may drop at different rates. Or it may even feel like not dropping at all. It may have a conversation with you.

We often like to view wishes like the magic you describe as having hard edges. If I wish for an apple to levitate, the side effects are restricted to the apple. Or at least they're restricted to the nearby area, or to a short time. But what if that wasn't true. What if the god maintained some cosmic balance of sorts, where a major change like "levetation" over here might have tiny changes in the forces of gravity over there. Or maybe it has funny effects, like apples taste ever so slightly less good. Or maybe they start to taste like pears.

If wishing had this effect, science would have trouble achieving its cold hard reproducability. It could still be locally useful. You might drop an apple a few times to get the hang of what gravity is doing today, before tossing one at a friend. But the behaviors over the course of months and years that are required for proper scientific rigor may simply not be an option.

If this was done, there is of course a fascinating fixed point: wishing seems to work. If these wishes don't work, your magic system falters completely. I'm assuming that's not what you want, so we have to assume that anything which seeks to prove that wishing works will find the result they desire.

So now you have to prevent your scientists from plumbing the exact grammar of wishes. For this, I recommend turning to Dungeons and Dragons. In particular, I recommend looking at the Wish spell. These scientists would be remarkably similar to players trying to outwit their Dungeon Master by crafting increasingly tricky wishes. The Dungeon Master's Handbook and many other resources are chock full of excellent examples of how a DM can field intentionally troublesome wishes without breaking consistency.

Can your scientists truly outwit a god?


Magic ruins science

God created the world with a set of rules but he isn't restrained by them.

If he decides to grant a wish, he'll do it ignoring all the laws of the universe and you'd have no way to deduce anything from it nor reproduce it. He will also ignore any requests too complexes, so you won't have wish like "solve my theorem" and he refuses any time related wishes ("I wan't my experiment to be finished now").


Magic requires love

Instead of it being about the "purity" of a wish, instead make the wisher have some love for God within their heart. The scientist merely wishes to know how the Magic Wish God works and they make wishes trying to test God (i.e. they make wishes as an experiment), but a child has no such desire, and merely desires to make wishes to please God out of their love for him. This sets things up where a Scientist must unlearn their desire to understand, and have a simpler faith in (and thus come to love) God.


Using this magic, can't a group of very determined people start asking for wishes in a scientific and logical fashion to deduce the laws of reality?

How would the rules of tribute magic to stop that from happening? Or even, what rules can I set up that would keep tribute magic from increasing the development speed of the sciences?

Cultural/interpersonal reasons should completely suffice.

How many thousands of years did it take Mankind to observe gravity and identify it as a predictable force that could be exploited for mechanical advantage?

How long did it take after Leonardo Da Vinci accurately postulated or discovered the heart's role in blood circulation, for this to become accepted medical knowledge, entirely independently from his observations and against all the authority of Galen?

For that matter, how long did it take the ancients to realize that diseases and illness were caused by factors they themselves could control (such as food hygiene and dirt in wounds) rather than being revenge from the Gods? (They really never did realize it, actually—those societies collapsed still believing their superstitions.)

How long did it take our modern society's electrical knowledge to catch up with Nikola Tesla? Oops, we still haven't.

You talk about the "development speed of the sciences." Sciences move at a glacial pace. Anything which is contrary to the "old school tie" is fought bitterly by the established authorities.

I could cite modern examples of this, but by definition these are contentious. One example that should by now be broadly recognized as incorrect except by financially vested interests is the use of electric shock to "treat" insanity. (This is still used today, including on infants.)

You're not accounting for the mental strength necessary to shift one's beliefs.

You wouldn't need any special mechanism to prevent people from discovering the laws of the universe.

Or you could put it another way, that there is such a mechanism already present in how people's minds are constructed, and it's true in our world as well as in your fictional world.

  • $\begingroup$ That is a good point. I don't know if you have ever read a Chinese xianxia or wuxia webnovel. The writing is horrendous to most people, but I found that these magical "cultivators" act in ways much different than people you and I know. It was as though, in the process of trying to become an immortal, they changed them from humans to a totally different race of "cultivators". Worrying about my humans acting like the humans I know might really be silly since I can just twist their minds towards the path I want. $\endgroup$
    – Lonha
    Jan 29 '19 at 1:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Lonha, great, glad you found it useful. :) Don't forget you can vote on all answers you received, as well as (optionally) choosing one answer to "accept." See What should I do when someone answers my question? in the help center. $\endgroup$
    – Wildcard
    Jan 29 '19 at 2:31

"I want a world in which all sorts of whimsical and fantastical ideas comes to life because people used tribute magic to turn "what if? questions" into reality."

This sounds a lot like the idea of experimenting and curiosity which is the foundation of science. Anyone who tries to learn anything about how the system works and seeks to repeat what they have done in the past technically performing the scientific method.

I don't know how to phrase this, but I see this mentality often. The idea that science is somehow boiling everything down to facts and that it cheapens things. The idea that science is at odds with art and creativity. This isn't the case.

I want tribute magic to foster creativity.

Science is not the antithesis of creativity. I would argue that science is always creative since it is explicitly about learning the unknown. You are a trailblazer. There's not a known way to go about the things you are studying.

I want for there to be a thousand schools of magic to be born from tribute magic.

Scientists don't always agree on things. Once something is studied enough then most people would start to agree, but on the fringes of what is known there will be disagreements. In addition, the way science works is by attempting to disprove peoples' hypothesises, there is not a way to truly "prove" things for certain. As such you could have people who continually challenge base beliefs that people have long since accepted as true. Maybe occasionally these radical yet fresh perspectives end up being right in your setting.

In short, I don't think your perspective on science is correct, you can still have a world full of unknowns and changing beliefs while not skipping "science".

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    $\begingroup$ I guess it isn't science but rather humanity's urge to game the system. We love to take the most effective route, tossing everything else into obscurity. You are right. Science isn't what I am against. It is the logical, efficient, Ford style assembly line ideology that I want to protect my world from. Maybe it is because of the world I am living in, but Fordism seems like the obvious outcome to me. I mean, who here wouldn't try to cheat a genie for infinite wishes? Damn, The question I asked and the question I ponder seems to be two different things. $\endgroup$
    – Lonha
    Jan 29 '19 at 2:08

The people of your world would most likely lack the philosophical underpinnings that led to the development of real science.

One of the key assumptions of modern science is the inductive principle. I.e. Perform a experiment 100 times and you should expect it to get the same result on the 101st time. Your people would not necessary think this is true. They don't live in a world that is regular and predictable, but driven by the random intervention of the gods. Even if the basic functionality of their world like ours is predictable and the action of the gods is merely a more superficial random layer on top, there is very little chance they will come to realize this. The scientific method just wouldn't make sense to them. Why would doing an experiment 100 times tell us anything about how the world works, the gods can make it do whatever they want next time.

This doesn't mean there wouldn't be technology and engineering, but that it would come about in a more accidental haphazard kind of way and wouldn't really lead to further scientific discoveries, somewhat like in our world until a few hundred years ago.


The Gods can veto tributes and object to being studied

Although the Gods don't mind when humans scientifically study the world, they get offended when humans try to scientifically study the Gods themselves. It's rude and impertinent. The Gods are mighty, mysterious, and incomprehensible (or at least they want like to be regarded that way). They are not to be measured, formulated, and exploited by lesser beings.

If a God detects that a tribute is for science, they will veto it. Science is a violation of the TOW (Terms of Worship).

This actually throws several major wrenches in the scientific process. Science relies on being able to observe a phenomena in controlled conditions. But if the Gods will never grant a tribute in controlled conditions or under observation, that can't happen. Science also relies on consistently testable rules. The Gods in general follow a policy of granting tributes, but since they can make exceptions when they get offended, the rules are not consistent.

A more general application of this idea is that in order for your tribute to work, it mustn't offend the God you give tribute to. For instance, if you make a proper tribute to a lawful-good God and ask for a weapon to terrorize innocent people with, your tribute will be vetoed just because the God does not approve of your purpose for the tribute. It seems logical that the Gods should impose some of their will on how people can use magic, since otherwise there is no purpose to having intelligent deities as part of the magic process at all.


I think, that you are too concerned with rules and not enougth with the god. Your gog sounds like machine - you wake up morning tic-toc your daily mana is delivered to you in the same amount day after day. You say wish tic-toc god consults pricelist and fullfills it for exact number of manapoints paid. Took me only so long until I could count the price of wish too and start "optimising" my mana accounting by taking min-max approach as real munchkin does all time. Here the god is just the lowest servant paid for work in mana, so why not making him work more efectively for the same paiment?

I have other solution:

Bored god The god is immortal, almighty, knows all, had seen all and is totally bored. BOOOOOORED - there are millions people and half of them wishes for start fire in stove at noon (if food is too expensive for them). Where is the fun to serve all of them as convenient matchbox?

So do it other way - god is almighty, bored and easily offended. He made people some time ago, he cares about them (somehow), he gives them some mana, as he see to fit and he helps them, if they need. But he mainly want be amused. Wish for fire in stow and well, if there is wood and paper, it may burn. Do it week long in the same wording and enough is enough and what catch fire is your undies. Much better. Much more funny. Start the fire in stove with your burning undies, fool. But wait, what? Flying pig? much more interesting. Well for the first thousand childs at least - there are possibilities - wings as a fly or as an eagle? Or angel? Or maybe baloon shape would be more funny, lets try it and top it somehow, if it should fly, why not also sing as bird? Or maybe let it leave rainbow from its ass, why not? And give the child more mana next time to came with something new.

If somebody try to fit the miracles into formulas, he may be funny at first and let gave him some nice results - exgragete everything for him, but if he does the same hundred times to get exact formula, just lagh and say him, that it all was just a joke and it does not work the way, he tested. And do not support his wishes next time, so his results are even worse, not better, than should be. Science is boring and so does not work. And if does not get the hint, then more and more things came wrong for him - and if he still try the same, then KABOOM, not only his test failed but his head exploded too.

Well being boring in this world is not safe option. And if you cannot at least try amuse you god and ask for your fire in different ways then the results are worse and worse nad you have bad luck and illness and such - until you realise, that you are too boring to live here and maybe take a bag and went on advature - not on the main road, but to the woods and hills. That is change and you are at least little more interesting, your illnes ends, and if you take unusual ways, meet strange creatures and explore old dungeons, you may return with lot of gold and luck. So adveturing is common way of improving your boring habits and get better life. And so many people do it. And they may wish for tree with wine bottles on the way and so the tree is there and the world is more iteresting again. And next adventurer will find the tree and may wish for nice mountain top on horizont or even flying island. Way to improve your karma :)

But brething fire on main square? Interesting for few days, but doing the same again and again? One day you see yourself inhaling the fire, not breathing and so promising media start take its end. Became boring - just lager fire is not more interesting. You must came with new ideas each month to be amusing for your god, otherwise you fall to the grey average soon and stop it yourself. Or not and take bad end.

Well Joe Average is not extra amusing and knows that - so his wishes are small and he do not get much interest from his god, if he at least try a little. His advatures are small and his mishaps too and he only make the colorit and crowd. That is, why 90% of people do not have much mana - they are not much funy, nor extra boring. (Well to be just sligtly boring from lack of creativity is not punished by so much as willingly try to bore your god by repeating still the same experiment again and again. So to repent for lack of creativity two or three days exploring in woods near willage - with sitting to hedgehog family by mistake or falling to shallow stream and be found by willagers naked while drying your clothes - makes you clean for month or two even without intent on your side)

Heroes are heroes and do big things (and god looks on them closely), but as god cares about all people (he gave some mana to everyone) then hurting people is not good idea and is too risky - because who knows, maybe this small girl yesterday invented sparkling flying unicorn and god like her today more than you. So heroes are not warlords, but rather explorers, monter killers and knight on white horse - galant and helpfull - it is much safer to fight dragon, who may try to terorise village, that to kick the small girl who invented unicorn. In the first case god will help you to make things more interesting, in the second he may destroy you in anger and with extra effects (be it from his god will, or from all unicorn mana offered by the girl? Who knows! Dragons are more safe target anyway.)

This way you stop science (none consistent results, repeated measurement take revenge from god), enforce arts, exploring and interesting landscape (both as revarded inventions and way to get from misery of being too boring). Magic works as much as you want, but unpredicably and in creative ways and interesting strories are integral part of that world.

Also as there is a lot of space for miracles, there is not presure for technology. Reserching years peniciline is risky boring and does not heal illnes if it is revenge from god. Going at night to woods and hoping for golden flower to heal magically your ill mother take like day or two, brings result and big story along. Much more effective.

And the rule for magic is really simple - be interesting and amuse your god. Or at least try. Do not be boring and all will be good somehow. Everybody knows it and nobody needs to know much more to make colorfull world.

  • $\begingroup$ I totally imagined the god as a machine. Lol. You were right about that. It was an unconscious bias against an all mighty entity playing around in my world. Wait, am I jealous of a god I created? $\endgroup$
    – Lonha
    Jan 29 '19 at 1:46

People already tried to use magic to deduce the laws of reality. It didn't work out so well. According to Einstein's Theory of Magical Relativity, magic takes on an "appearance" that reflects the frame of reference of the user, including the user's preconceived notions of how the world works. In other words, it only reflects the laws of reality as well as the user already understands them. This makes it surprisingly useless for determining the laws of reality.

If we assume that your fictional world has a similar history to our own, then we didn't always know that. Aristotle had great magic power, and he tried to use it to advance human knowledge in exactly the way you suggest. But because the magic reflected his existing world view, what he actually got was what we call Aristotelian natural philosophy, which dominated Western knowledge for the next few centuries much as it did here.

Francis Bacon's theories of empiricism came about largely because he had been noticing inconsistencies between recordings of Aristotle's teachings and what he observed objects doing outside those records (it is worth noting that Bacon was very weak in magical power). Isaac Newton -who was famously interested in religious matters even in the real world- expanded on Bacon's ideas, but he couldn't resist using tribute magic to help with some of the harder bits. His instruments might not have been sensitive enough to show any difference, but there was one, and so his set of experiments yielded Newtonian physics: a closer approximation of how reality works, but still not entirely there.

Einstein was the one who figured out that you well and truly cannot use magic to determine the laws of reality. This is where his Theory of Magical Relativity comes from, developed before General and Special Relativity but crucial to how he developed them in your world. He was very dismayed when people started using magic to confirm his other two theories. Which they did, at the time, because they could not do otherwise. They still do, for the most part, unless you have a deep understanding of quantum physics. Spooky action at a distance indeed.


First, my answer will assume an "indifferent wish granter" as mentioned in the comments of one of the previous answers, as the comment indicates that this type of deity was originally the desired one (even if that desire has since changed).

Next, to me, the key to this whole thing is the concept of:

"a group of very determined people start asking for wishes in a scientific and logical fashion to deduce the laws of reality"

So, based on those two points, above, my proposed solution would be to take in to consideration many of the variables within the wisher's own mind/heart/soul/etc., and make them key aspects in how the results of the wish are manifest. So "determination" and "logic" and their counterparts "indecision" and "absurdity", among other variable personality traits such as mood, would actually play a role in how the wishes take effect.

In this way, a determined and logical person would get determined and logical results from their wishes, and their testing would lead to logical conclusions, BUT when they share this information with someone else, and that other person attempts the same wish, the differences in personality, determination, logic, mood, expectations, etc., between the original wish tester and the new one will cause a result that will not match the result expected by the original tester.

For example, person A is using scientific method to test wish functions. For his test, he chooses to wish for a pig to fly. Each time, without fail, he gets the same results, the pig 'levitates' directly up from the ground, reaches a certain height, and then slowly returns to the ground. Excitedly, he tells person B about these results, and asks them to make the same wish, in the same way. Person B makes the exact same wish (as exact as two different people can be), but this time, instead of the pig simply levitating and returning to it's original position, it actually physically sprouts wings and uses them to fly away, never to be seen again. Was it because Person B wasn't as focused or determined as person A? more imagination? not enough (or too much) logic? is it just because he thought the idea of a flying pig was amusing? is he just a more frivolous person in general? was he in a better mood, or a worse one?

No person, or group of people, no matter how determined, could pinpoint the causes of these variations among so many possible combinations of so many variables that are so vaguely definable in the first place.

In frustration, Person A gets a new pig, and wishes for it to fly, expecting it to levitate temporarily and return to the ground, as before (or maybe to sprout wings like his friend's wish). But this time, it rockets in to the sky so fast that it's almost immediately lost from view ... now he's more confused than ever.

This solution allows the Deity to be as indifferent, or actively involved, as needed or wanted by the story teller. But the bottom line is that no matter how determined or logical the scientific approach might be, and while wishes can still follow logical and scientifically sound rules known to the story teller (if they so desire to create them) and to the audience (if the story teller decides to let them in on the secret) the results of the wishes would never be consistent enough to be useful for scientific progression among the characters in the story, even if they seem to be over short term tests.


You could have the wish magic behave according to each persons personality, making each wish unique like the person, say a Logical person wishes for a pig to fly, boom a pig in a catapult being flung through the air, making it so scientists cant gain magic for science, while people who are less logic and more faith have more real or closer to what they want wishes. This could also apply to people who are twisted and evil to have their wishes perverted, like deals with the devil. You would probably want to make wishes that are more specific use more mana as this would help stop people gaining the system.


I'll give you three options. They may be mixed and matched if you feel creative.

It's all about prerequisites

Your god may simply be very literal. If you ask for knowledge, he, she or it will give it to you, but you didn't ask for understanding. If you ask for technology, you didn't ask for the user manual. Or the power plant to run it. And if you ask for understanding or the user manual, it's in a different language, or far beyond your level of understanding and blows your brains out, figuratively or not.

There are questions on this site that deal with sending a time-traveler into the past and what knowledge or technology would be needed to alter the course of human developement. Your smartphone becomes a useless brick in a prehistoric cave, your knowledge of medicine is pointless if people will burn you at the stake for witchery. I think these questions would be a good frame of reference for you. The time traveler is god, their goodies is the wish, the only difference is cavepeople didn't ask for it.

You might find that there is no shortcut from club to laser gun without centuries of evolution.


This title is about domain.

In polytheistic pantheons, gods rule over a domain, be it war, love, wine, fertility, etc. The sky isn't even the limit, you have divinities associated with the Moon, the Sun or other stars. Point is, your god may be leftover from a vast pantheon and only has domain on certain things, like the natural world. God can move mountains, split the Pacific Ocean, make it rain but it, he or she has no domain over science and technology.

And then it's like asking Athena for better bedroom performance. You're simply praying the wrong altar.

God doesn't exist

There is no god. Your people think there is, but they are wrong. They make the Mississipi split, they conjure the fireballs. They can't ask for advanced technology because they themselves simply have no conception of it. How do you conjure something you don't know exist?

God is a nice explaination for this magical stuff, but, ultimately, there is no will, no power, no entity above intelligent life. That may challenge your setup. But if you think about it, we attributed rain, thunder and disease to one god or another. We have a vastly different understanding of things in 2019. Your world may not be that different.

The universe does its thing, and when you pour mana into it, magic happens. So you call that an act of god, but in reality, it's an act of you. You are god.


Creation magic mimics the Creator

When the creator first commanded the world into being, the commands did not disappear completely into nothingness, but remained.

The difficulty of casting magic depends on three things:

  • The scale of the casting (how big of a change does it make?)
  • The specificity of the casting (I want something good vs. 2m radius fireball from my palm)
  • How long ago the commandment that the mage is drawing upon was spoken.

For example, it might be that the commandments were done in this order:

  1. On the first day, He saw the chaos, and told it "Obey", and it obeyed.

  2. On the second day, He saw the void, and told it "Be filled with light", and it obeyed.

  3. On the third day, He saw the light, and told it "Take form", and it obeyed.

  4. On the fourth day, He saw the waters, and told them "Part", and they obeyed.

  5. On the fifth day, He saw the stones upon the Earth, and told them "Take root", and they obeyed.

  6. On the sixth day, He saw the foam upon the waters, and told it "Swim", and it swam.

  7. On the seventh day, he saw the clouds upon the air, and told them "Fly", and they flew.

  8. On the eighth day, He saw mud filled with heat from the fires below, and told it "Crawl", and it crawled.

  9. On the ninth day, He felt loneliness, for there was none like him in all that He had created. And he told one of the beasts "Be as I am", and it formed Man.

  10. On the tenth day, a remnant of the Chaos he had turned saw what He had created, and was furious. He began to tear at Creation, and so He said to his creation which He had made to be peaceful "Fight and destroy", and so all of Creation rose up to destroy the one of Chaos. But He was filled with sorrow, for in fighting the Chaos, it had become as Chaos.

  11. On the eleventh day, He said "Adapt", and Creation adapted to peace, and to war. For though He could not undo what He had done (for every commandment rested on the one before) He could keep some things Holy.

For this reason, fundamentally altering how reality behaves is all but impossible, creating energy from nothing is exceedingly difficult even for people with extremely large reserves, making matter from energy takes a life of study, restructuring the land takes an expert, plants can't be produced by the average mage, most adepts can produce a tadpole, an exceedingly talented child could manage to make a pig grow wings and fly, a rodent is somewhat a rite of passage, a basic golem is fairly, fireballs and lightning bolts can be accomplished by practically any mage, and anyone with a hint of mana can make a non-stick charm.

  • $\begingroup$ Your commandments sound neat. But how exactly does this answer the question? $\endgroup$
    – Lonha
    Jan 29 '19 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Lonha "Using this magic, can't a group of very determined people start asking for wishes in a scientific and logical fashion to deduce the laws of reality?" "How would the I change the rules of tribute magic to stop that from happening? Or even, what rules can I set up that would keep tribute magic from increasing the development speed of the sciences?" I've changed the way it works, so instead of making a wish directly granted by the deity, they're drawing on a commandment to do a similar effect of a lesser scale. But these can't approach the laws of reality since those were the first few. $\endgroup$
    – Piomicron
    Jan 29 '19 at 22:24

New technology must be approved by the high priest

It is a sin punishable by death to create new technology that God does not approve of, so all new ideas must go through the high priest to ensure that the technology does not violate God's commandments. If a person invents a new technology without approval, God will smite them with a bolt of lightning.

God has a specific plan of technological development in mind and will continue to allow development at his own pace because it fits his goals for the human species. Develop too fast and they lose the need for God and magic. Because he loves his chosen species and wants to maintain that connection through magic, he does not allow technology to replace him.


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