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The setting is based on the Earth during the 60's, but with two big changes:

  • Magic exists (although somewhat limited to humanity).
  • And so do all sorts of magical creatures (Dragons, dryads, ghouls, faeries, etc).

In this setting, the humans have long been using the approach of keeping their distance, and because of that a pretty big portion of the world is virtually unexplored.

But how do I explain that situation? How do I go about explaining the continued existence (and even dominance) of some of the more dangerous creatures, when humans have access to the same level of technology (and weaponry) as we had in the 60's? Why wouldn't the humans just go out and do what we have been doing to our wildlife in the past few centuries?

This info should be taken into account:

  • While the technology and the environment are similar, the history of this world is very different from ours.
  • Magic has both its own limitations and those imposed by religions. Even in this modernish setting a lot of people are afraid of it.
  • Having the magical aspect of the world hidden to most of the population (like the Muggles in Harry Potter) is a no-no. Everyone can see the world just as it is.
  • There are a few sapient races in the world alongside humans, but they mostly keep out of each other's business and shouldn't be taken into account for this issue.
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    $\begingroup$ Sponsored Ad by Lego: Introducing lego brick blessed by Odin... Warning: MIND YOUR STEP! $\endgroup$ – user6760 Nov 29 at 23:47
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    $\begingroup$ @wearemonica Are you being deliberately obtuse? In this context, the phrase “how do I explain...” is equivalent to “what would explain...”. The question is NOT asking for writing advice. $\endgroup$ – SRM - Reinstate Monica Nov 30 at 0:55
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    $\begingroup$ @SRM-ReinstateMonica And to the OP. Fair enough, I'm glad I didn't vote to close. $\endgroup$ – We are Monica. Nov 30 at 11:48
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    $\begingroup$ I apologize for being harsh, @wearemonica . The VTCs have been too aggressive for my tastes lately. I overreacted. $\endgroup$ – SRM - Reinstate Monica Nov 30 at 16:21
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    $\begingroup$ You may be interested in the Warded Man book series the magical creatures in that nearly drove humans to extinction despite having modern technology, they were just to hard to killin the long term (magical healing) and can rebuild their numbers too fast.. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 1 at 2:40

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We haven't exterminated all the lions and tigers yet, even though we could. By the time we're strong enough to wipe out a species, we're able to question whether we should.

The answer should probably be unique for each monstrous species that hasn't been accidentally wiped out. Dragons are bulletproof. Trolls have regenerative powers. Dryads make the soil more fertile just by existing; kill them and you'll soon find yourself in a desert. Ghouls are good at hiding; they don't even show up on infrared. Faeries are (perhaps wrongly) thought to be beautiful and lucky. Wyverns are conserved solely so hunters can hunt them. Griffins are symbols of national pride. Manticores have been wiped out in all civilised regions, but are able to survive on the outskirts of countries with weak and unstable governments. Leprechauns will bribe you with a gold coin if you let them go. Unicorns are a tourist attraction...

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    $\begingroup$ "By the time we're strong enough to wipe out a species, we're able to question whether we should." Might be some survivorship bias here; what about the species we don't see these days? (Dodos, Aurochs, etc) $\endgroup$ – Robert K. Bell Nov 30 at 23:23
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    $\begingroup$ @RobertK.Bell I think he meant intentional extermination as that is what the question was about. $\endgroup$ – Tarnay Kálmán Dec 1 at 0:34
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    $\begingroup$ Not sure if this is disallowed by his last point, but it isn't that uncommon to have dragons as a race that is smarter than humans, but less inclined toward building civilizations. I wonder if Dragons might have claimed a good chunk of territory. That territory could be somewhat of a nature reserve (well, other than the small % that is eaten by the Dragon). $\endgroup$ – Zwuwdz Dec 1 at 8:56
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    $\begingroup$ @RobertK.Bell sure, but that does not really contradict this answer. We have wiped out various species, and are now (up to a point) trying to conserve the ones that are left. So maybe in this world, say, gorgons and vampires have been hunted to extrinction, but dragons and griffens have not $\endgroup$ – By Symmetry Dec 2 at 10:54
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Spontaneous generation.

Sure, some magical creatures can reproduce by the usual biological means. But magical creatures are, well, magical. They are generated by magic, which is a fundamental feature of the world, and as such are not subject to normal evolution, or extinction. If people show up in a new place and wipe out all the dragons... thy just pop up again a few years later. You can clear an area of dragons (or whatever) temporarily, but the only way to clear an area permanently is to somehow make the spontaneous generation of new magical creatures impossible, which requires sufficiently extreme measures as to make the area unsuitable for human habitation as well.

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MAD ends Expansion-By-Colony too soon

Tanks and air support brought about a huge revolution in the ability to devastate areas. Without planes, exfoliating an area with Agent Orange is much more difficult. With no tanks, you're going to have trouble against (say) armies of magical beasts the size of elephants.

So colonizing most of the world didn't really become possible until very modern technology was invented. The big nasties are too big, and too nasty.

But the firepower that can take them on with relative ease, also brings nukes along for the ride. Say using magic makes it easier to refine the uranium and manufacture the warheads, so they're obtained earlier.

No superpowers wants any of the others improving their position dramatically by claiming huge swathes of what's considered The Wasteland. Fortunately(?) none of them can build up a big enough military to be able to credibly defend the homeland, and field the large armies required to tame large sections of the shadowy corners of the earth.

In the face of MAD, none of them dare make such an aggressive and provocative move. They'll be limited to slowly extending their reach over time.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure how big of an influence MAD would be. Modern wars between nuclear powers are almost exclusively fought over dangerous and under-developed territories specifically because they are not important enough to fire nukes over. That said, you make a really good point about expanding into these areas being something so newly available that we have not really been able to do it until recently. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Dec 2 at 17:07
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Something to think about here. It took 70 years from scientists officially recognizing the giant panda as a species before we managed to capture a live one.

Large parts of the world are still very hard for humans to thoroughly explore and catalog, even outside of how little we know about the ocean.

Yeah, most of Europe is explored and we're pretty sure barring actual magic IRL that things like wolpertingers, tatzelwurms, and wyverns don't exist. Similar for most of the US and large parts of Japan and China.

The thing is though, Earth is huge, and human population is actually rather concentrated. A vast majority of the surface of the earth is not being observed by humans at all at any given point in time. Every continent and a vast majority of countries have some region that is mostly uninhabited on a regular basis, often a rather large one, and quite often we don't even have good satellite coverage in modern times either. Stories of yetis in the Himalayas may not be very likely to be true, but if they are it's not all that astonishing that we haven't actually found any if they're even remotely intelligent since most of the mountain range is unobserved most of the time. There are similarly huge swaths of the Amazon that haven't been touched by 'modern' man, and even some parts of Africa that are insanely difficult to get to even in modern times.

The other thing to think about is that humans are remarkably good at not acknowledging things that don't fit their world view. This was a huge issue during times of European colonial expansion, when it was quite often assumed that the natives, despite having lived there for their entire lives, could not be relied upon to list what animals lived in an area. That mentality is why it took so long for the okapi, pygmy hippopotamus, saola, and many many other animals to be 'discovered' by western science.

Together, I'd argue that these facts mean it's pretty likely that humans wouldn't even know some of these creatures exist even if we had expanded to cover the whole world.


However, let's ignore all that for a moment, because I think you're losing out on a very easy solution if you remove one of your restrictions. If we actually factor in those other sapient races and assume that they have much better access to magic than humans together with more ecologically minded outlooks, everything kind of solves itself.

Because humans have limited magical ability, any race that has significantly better magical ability than us is likely to wipe the floor with us in any war up until about WWII era technology is developed (and that assumes the other race doesn't develop technologically as fast or faster than us). The thing is, we would eventually try to expand enough that they would push back, hard, no matter how hands-off and isolationist they are, because they want to keep their own territory, and at that point we'll likely just stop expanding because we quite simply can't beat them. That means, at least until humans get tech that can out-match their magic (and even modern tech is just barely to the point that it could reliably deal with a platoon of level 10 wizards from D&D), large parts of the planet are effectively off limits to humans.

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  • $\begingroup$ That's a good point, habitat destruction isn't usually done with tanks and bombers, but by relatively poor farmers with relatively low tech. It's the people on the fringe of society making a bit more space for themselves. $\endgroup$ – Robin Bennett Dec 2 at 15:02
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The remaining Magical creatures are good at hiding

Cats are excellent creatures widespread on the real Earth, because they hide from big things that eat cats, and hide while stalking prey. The same thing could apply to magical creatures - stay out of sight intelligently.

Another option is to stay out of sight by living where humans cannot go, and intelligently avoiding contact. Deep-sea creatures and tunneling creatures could live this way. A wackier idea is creatures that live in the Earth's mantle, far away from human senses and instruments.

"Not My Problem Field" as described in Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy is another method. A psychic field that makes people uninterested. It doesn't make its wearer invisible or smell-free or anything else, it merely makes other people just let the wearer continue on whatever they're doing without even remembering.

Several other varieties are present in Peter Watts' novels. Internet worms... Software "wildlife" that lives on the order of nanoseconds, reproducing and abandoning its current frame of life far faster than humans can notice. And when humans do notice them through usage of resources and send automated hunter-killers, the hunter-killers become part of the wildlife.

Things that move and live between humans' ability to notice them. Literally only moving between your eyeblinks, as the most obvious example.

Things that are too small to notice... microbes and life made of quarks.

Things that are too big to notice... a turtle the size of Asia. Something similar is in the Dead Space games.

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I personally would suggest something along these lines.

  • Have the ability for monsters and magic to be able to subsist be dependent on another factor.
    IE: have Laylines and the area around them be the only places that monsters roam and magic is usable
  • Have electricity, chemical reactions, and physics be somewhat altered in the presence of magic.
    Which would explain restrictions to technology's growth, but still make it possible to coexist with magic.

Society-wise, have it so the common people see the Monsters as uncontrollable Natural Disasters. And most people see Magicians as either "like the military" but more dubious, or as people with dangerous maintenance jobs (for both the tools they use and the work-sites they are active in).

It would basically put a big barrier in the way for either side to greatly influence the other, but they would still be a danger to the other side, giving some tension - if for instance one of the other races could only live in the presence of magic.

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Faeries and dryads tend to be elusive by nature, so their magical abilities are a quick handwave. I imagine ghouls would want to avoid living things that fight back. Dragons are either huge predators that have a huge hunting territory and avoid noisy machinery or hibernate for extended periods after gorging; maybe both.

As for magic in general, maybe interest and practice have surged and receded throughout history (you did mention religious influence). This would explain practices being lost in archives or the burning of Alexandria, for example. So, magic could always be in a struggle for rediscovery and comprehension. Though, I suppose that means the leading experts would either be descendants of ancient tradition or historians. Cue adventures with Indiana Jones, Mage Extraordinaire!

If magic is underdeveloped compared to technology, perhaps magic (or enchanted) weapons are the only really effective way to harm some of the magic critters? Some Fae legends have them vulnerable to iron, so maybe there's a certain mystical forging method? If people don't have effective weapons and can only scare off the critters, that would be the stand-offish situation you had described, yes?

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Expansion could be limited due to ecological balance issues. If you expand too much and with great effort reduce the dragon population, then the gargoyle population gets out of control and ventures into the cities, and they are quite indestructible, heavy, destructive and deadly. Their skin is even harder than a dragon's scales. The gargoyle's only predators are dragons, and even they can only pop them with solid minutes of dragonfire, much like a microwave pops popcorn. If you see a dragon in the distance just hovering near a mountain slowly moving and blasting the side of the mountain for minutes, you can know it's trying to pop a gargoyle that is running for its life. When you see the dragon is no longer moving and it's just hovering in place still blasting the side of the mountain, you know that the gargoyle is done for, it didn't reach a cave in time, and you can expect a distant pop. That pop signals a feast for the dragon.

Dragons are picky eaters, they don't eat anything raw, and gargoyles are one of the few creatures their fire can cook without turning it immediately to ash. Dragons don't hunt most other creatures unless angered.

Dragons are quite territorial and dislike change, so you can't really expand without wiping them off, and if you do, then you have to deal with the resulting gargoyle problem. Popping even just a single gargoyle is a tremendous feat for humans, the fire brigade can blast them with both magical and non-magical fire at same time, but we are no dragons, so it takes longer and the resulting explosion is often deadly even when the fire brigade is equipped with magical heavy-duty shields. Also, they really don't like fire, so keeping fire on them for minutes while they go on a rampage is quite a suicide mission, but we have no better way to kill them. Also we cannot contain them, they can burrow through metal, it's insane, their physical strength is unmatched. Previous expansion attempts have resulted in many direct and indirect casualties, and pushing for expansion is political suicide nowadays. Many people have lost relatives due to expansion attempts, so now we strive for balance, extreme expansionism is a serious offence. Social policies have been implemented to keep the population under control. Land and resources are scarce, many people are unhappy with this state of affairs, but there is no known better way yet.

Some other somewhat civilised creatures manage to live in harmony with the territorial dragons by not disturbing the environment too much. Elves for example live in the trees without disturbing the environment, and dragons seem to leave them mostly alone. But humans are not so good at leaving the environment as is. Even just making a dirt road in a dragon's territory can anger it. If a dragons notices an artificial change, they are known to hover near it for days waiting for the perpetrators to show up again. Expeditions are extremely dangerous. Planes can't make it past the great mountain ring unless they fight off dragons. We don't know much about what's outside the ring.

We could have satellite imagery of the whole planet, the technology is there, but funding for such research is non-existent as it's considered expansionist. It's a shame.

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You don't detail the magic in your world, despite it being the obvious answer.

If stopping bullets is a tier 1 spell, every predator with that spell is a huge danger for a modern army - with the dominance of firearms on the battlefield, armour and shields fell out of fashion.

If a dragon can absorb heat, fire and other energy, you can't even nuke it.

All you need is the appropriate magic - and depth. Until 18-something, the interior of both South American and Africa was largely unmapped. Add some flying danger to prevent airplanes travelling there and you are set in the 60s - right where satellite mapping of the Earth was a new thing.

The main reason we have exterminated everything else is that we took away their chance of fighting back. A tiger will still kill you if it gets close, but you can kill it today at a distance where all it sees of you is a blurry splotch (https://www.businessinsider.de/pictures-of-how-cats-see-the-world-2013-10?r=US&IR=T).

If the magic in your world eliminates this advantage, humans suddenly are naked monkeys without claws and with ricidulously useless teeth again.

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Magical Conservation

Having your human's tech be equivalent to the 60s is actually a really interesting setup. At that point humanity had enough knowledge about the natural sciences to understand things like biodiversity and ecology, so your society should have the same kind of understandings. It was also a prime time for the development of new medicines using synthetic chemicals. Combined together and you have the perfect explanation for why your magical humans would keep nasty beasties around.

Firstly, as others have pointed out, just because we have the ability to destroy dangerous animals doesn't mean that we automatically strive to do so. In fact it often backfires in unexpected ways when people wipe out a predator from a region. Killing too many wolves means that the deer population explodes, which then leads to a sudden decrease in the plant life in that area.

Now imagine that same scenario, except with magical creatures. Humans wipe out the local wyvern population, but those were the only things keeping the gryphons in check, and next thing you know you can't walk a mile down the road without having to dodge a flying lion that thinks you look tasty. Sure, your humans could start killing the gryphons as well, but that just shifts the problem to a new species having a population boom and all the issues that will cause. It is easier all around to just avoid the wyverns and let nature handle itself.

Age of the Alchemist

Related to the conservation issue above is the fact that humans are really good at finding beneficial chemicals in nature and then synthesizing them. By the 60s we were producing antibiotics and painkillers that were originally based on natural remedies. Assuming that your world includes magical plants as well as animals, and there would be a very large incentive for the burgeoning alchemical industry to push for conserving as much of nature as possible (at least until they have had a chance to study and exploit it...).

You don't even need to be worried about magical animals in this case. My first example with the wolves and deer is suddenly a lot more important when those deer are eating all of the herbs that are used to make Healing Potions, and not just normal grass. Once people notice the knock-on effects of over-hunting animals there is going to be a much bigger push to keep the natural balance. And all of that is ignoring the very real possibility of magical creatures being the source of rare chemicals/ingredients themselves. If you kill all of the dragons, then where are you going to get dragonscales or dragonblood from? And without that how are you going to make Amazing Thing X?

At the end of the day, people are going to be more than willing to risk a little danger for a large perceived reward. The world might be safer without dragons or gryphons or dire rats, but if keeping those things around provides a bigger benefit then someone is going to push for it. Usually whoever stands to gain the most and lose the least from that scenario. Having 60s era governments and pharma corporations be greedy enough to prevent the extinction of dangerous animals just to keep making money off of them is pretty believable, to me.

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They've learned to live with it by the time they get around to being able to exterminate them?

Outside of the western world there's plenty of dangerous animals that roam around. Just take a trip to Africa and see how friendly the local wildlife is. Even the hippo's that people find adorable are some of the most murderous creatures on that part of the continent.

Now imagine that you have magical creatures far more dangerous. A dragon can probably take an elephant gun in stride, and other creatures are simply too numerous or tough to go after as well. So by the time you've developed the infrastructure and technology to really start hunting them you've basically already build your society around them. "Here be dragons", you feed it some livestock sometimes or perhaps try to tame or co-exist with it, but are you really going to get some military grade armored vehicles with autocannons or full canons to try and take some out? You might not even be able to target it properly with 60's technology so you'll be exposed in a turret with a limited traverse rate and you could get eaten before you ever get an angle on the beast, assuming it's just one...

And that's the crux. You might have to approach them as you would approach a fullscale war. You shot Bob the Lovecraftian horror? Well his cousin Kevin is going to see why he hasn't received a tentacle this last month and then the ball gets rolling as he sees Bob slumped over half a dozen armored vehicles while humans are still trying to clean up the mess. They are magical creatures, horrors and pests. Many of them will likely form ecosystems where the troublesome pests that fairies are will take up shelter near bigger and nastier creatures. Try and shoot that small family of Dragons out of the sky while a swarm of fairies is causing mischief around your armored vehicle and Bob is slithering by to see what the fuss is all about. Better let it be.

Or nuke em from orbit, only way to be sure.

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What if the religions are really politically powerful and they have managed to create some kind of protectorate for the animals. Maybe there's something that they need the magical animals for that they're unwilling to share with the rest of the populace. They might have purposely created this atmosphere of suspicion and fear around magic as an extra check against the protectorate being challenged and the source of [whatever it is they need the magical animals for] being challenged. - Maybe they use the animals somehow to limit the amount of personal magic that people have available to them. Perhaps they deliberately discourage too much interaction with the other races as well because the other races have a bit more understanding of this alternative ecology you've got going.

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The creatures are simply too powerful, and don't like visitors

Perhaps the deeper you go into magical territory, the stronger the creatures are. Even with planes, tanks, etc., humans have learned that whatever aggression they provoke the (normally peaceful) creatures with, they get a retaliation proportional to the original attack.

They dare not use something like a nuke (or maybe they did only once), because the most powerful creatures are capable of an equivalent response (kind of the reason why there's no WW3 up til now, there's just too many nuclear powers).

Politics, human/creature rights, autonomy

Your question could be asked the same of real-world places like North Korea. There is a credible threat, their leader even boasts about it, yet the UN hasn't destroyed the government/country yet. War is often the very very last resort after all other attempts have failed.

Religion

The quickest way to go against pure logic is by involving faith/religion. Make the creatures special.

Farming/mutual benefit

If the creatures (alive) can give us a benefit, then there is strong motivation for us to not wipe them out. Perhaps they can offer material or services that are unique to these creatures.

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Not all the land is valuable. If the cost-benefit of organizing an army to eradicate monsters from a desert, or a swamp, or some glacial islands is negative, nobody would do it.

The only reason why an eradication of monsters from a far and worthless land would make sense would be to protect the nearby lands from attacks from rampaging monsters... but if the monsters stay quiet in their lands, they would remain relatively safe (except for some wannabe safari-hunters, but hunting a dragon would require so much assets and organization that only very few could afford it, so it could never become so common to threaten the existence of the dragon species)

If in the civilized side of your world there are 2-3 main superpowers and the monster-inhabited lands are too far from their main land to be efficiently exploited, probably they would prefer to keep the status quo, by nominally claiming parts of these lands, but without colonizing them. Maybe they could sign a Treaty to keep these lands as a kind of scientific sanctuary.
Think the equivalent of USA and USSR with Antarctica: I don't think they would have agreed to sign the Antarctica Treaties and keep it as a scientific reserve if it were near to their mainlands and/or they thought they could easily exploit it.

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