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The world is broken up into seven realms: Australia, North America, South America, Antartica, Asia, Europe, and Africa. Each realm is populated by large numbers of people, and travel between realms is commonplace. This form of travel occurs through a series of realm gates, one of which is located within each realm. This gates link to a massive, in-between realm that connects the smaller realms to each other. One must pass into this space in order to connect to a gate that will transport them to the realm of their destination.

Magitech has been developed by humanity, which has caused it to enter its industrial phase in history. Magitech is built by an individual or group of people infusing a particular item with their own mana, empowering it with certain properties it would not otherwise have been capable of. Society runs on this form of technology, such as computers, phones, cars, etc. It is available to all of the population and has become a center point of life. However, technology can only work within the realm that it was created. If taken to an alternate realm, it would not function. This prevents trade from occurring between realms, even though travel between them happens on a regular basis.

The reason it is set up in this way is because I wanted each realm to develop their technology independently from each other. Because of this, societies will sometimes develop their own form of similar products, while others would not be able to develop certain items at all. This would lead to differences in tech levels, with some realms being highly advanced and others being less modern and primitive. However, I can't justify why tech from one realm wouldn't work in another neighbor. Somehow linking the reason to mana made sense. However, humans also have mana and can pass through these realm gates just fine, as well as use magic with no issues.

How can mana prevent technology in one realm from working in another?

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    $\begingroup$ I'd argue you should not necessarily use our present continents: Eurasia is, when you look at it, really one continent. The difference is really more one of culture and history than geography. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Feb 5 at 18:03
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    $\begingroup$ The leylines are out of phase $\endgroup$ – aherocalledFrog Feb 5 at 22:08
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    $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison Also, separating North and South America is incredibly Anglo-centric (I say, as an Anglo). And where's the rest of Oceania? $\endgroup$ – No Name Feb 6 at 8:04
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    $\begingroup$ @NoName, no it's not Anglo-Centric. Dividing North America into North America and Central America is social-cultural-historical. Dividing North America and South America is geographic. The Isthmus of Panama only formed in the last few million years, and is narrower than the Isthmus of Suez, making the two American continents more distinct from each other than Africa is from Eurasia. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Feb 6 at 15:37
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    $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison The issue of "Europe and Asia" versus "Eurasia" is one of Euro-centrism. Similarly, the issue of "North & South America" versus "America" is one of Anglo-centrism. Yes, there is a geologic reason in the second case that isn't present in the first, but it's still the case that different cultures have different divisions. You will note I also brought up the absence of Oceania proper (Australia does not begin to cover it); I was trying to bolster what I assumed was your point: The seven realms, as stated, is not the most enlightened view of the world. $\endgroup$ – No Name Feb 6 at 20:19

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Lack of standardization, plain and simple.

Think of railways, each country can have a different distance between the rails, lacking a standard trains from country A cannot travel in country B.

Same for socket plugs or energy grid: different plugs layout or network rating in terms of power output and frequency can make inter-usability impossible.

A valid reason for preventing standardization is to increase safety from invasions: you don't want your invaders to be easily able to use your railways, plugs and so on.

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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, in some places Mana is 110 taums, and in some places it is 220 t. $\endgroup$ – The Square-Cube Law Feb 5 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ plugging a 220t spell into a 110t reservoir just means it doesn't work, but plug a 110t spell into a 220v reservoir and it explodes and gets mana everywhere! horrible to have to clean that out of the carpet $\endgroup$ – user253751 Feb 5 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ And sometimes the Mana seems compatible but all of the timing related spells run a little slow or fast :p $\endgroup$ – Redwolf Programs Feb 5 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ Oh, all that's nothing -- sometimes you have the right amount of Mana, but it's not referenced to Terra correctly, and certain gadgets can detect that and not work (don't laugh: Tesla EVSE gear simply won't run on a 240V ungrounded delta service). Never mind the issues that can get involved if certain equipment gets two of the three mana streams it uses crossed! $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Feb 6 at 5:12
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    $\begingroup$ This 'answer' hasn't read the question. The question is asking why the different realms had no choice but develop their own magitech solutions - not what mistake did they make that now means some things don't work (but with an adapter they could). Usually you've got some pretty good answers, but I'm going to have to flag this one as not an answer. You've read the title and nothing else. $\endgroup$ – Lio Elbammalf Feb 7 at 18:59
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They use region codes to allow per-region pricing

Like DVD region licensing, those who create magic-tech negotiate the rights to sell and distribute their creations within certain regions.

Regional marketing teams pick the price-point for magic-tech based on strategy, local competition, local values, and disposable income. Eg in one market we're trying to undercut a local competitor so are selling magic-tech at a loss, in another we have a monopoly so sell it for 3x the price. We also have a low-feature version we sell in low-income markets, which we don't want to compete with our product selection in premium markets.

By intentionally disabling the tech when someone travels to a different region, we allow our different marketing strategies to coexist and not undercut each other, enabling magic-tech products to achieve maximum profits.

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Gods†

Each realm has its own pantheon of gods, including one or more responsible for magic. The magitech is in tune with the rules and rituals of magic set down by each realm's god(s), the gods of the other realms can sense it immediately. Gods, unfortunately but not unexpectedly, are capricious and also jealous. So they block the magitech from other realms. From other gods. And while it might be possible to spoof which gods sponsored certain items, that just runs the risk of divine retribution when they find out.

instead of gods, you could make it spirits that speak different languages, thus don't understand magitech from other realms, or runes that work in one realm but not others.

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  • $\begingroup$ The do not even need to be a jealous thing. It could simply be that their influence does not cross realms. So, when you enchant an object, you link it to your deity. When you leave your realm, you are beyond the influence of your deity so that link is lost. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Feb 5 at 21:24
  • $\begingroup$ Even more fun suggestion : in most circumstances, the spirits don't know well enough to make it work and don't try. In malicious cases, a foreign spirit makes it go badly. $\endgroup$ – Christopher Hostage Feb 6 at 23:26
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Negative mana in the inter-realms space

As you said, magitech allows to enchant items so that they can perform more advanced or otherwise impossible actions, or gain improved features. For instance, I could harvest a batch of bananas, then enchant them so that they become bananaphones (which allows people to use them to comunicate to one another), infusing them with enough mana to become permanently enchanted. This is possible because inside every realm there is a positive (or null) mana-field.

Unluckily, the inter-realms space is a region of negative mana, which means that whatever has mana, keeps on losing it as long as it stays there. Conseqeuntly, as soon as I enter the gate with a wagon full of bananaphones with the purpose to sell them to another realm, the negative mana starts to drain magic power from whatever positive mana is present.
As soon as the mana level of the enchanted items goes downto zero (or anyway below a threshold), the enchantment vanishes, and the bananaphone is reverted to a normal banana.

I still make a good deal, since people of the other realm find that my bananas are good also as food, but of course I learn that it is not possible to move a magitech item from one realm to another through the portals...

Humans are affected too, but, since they are living beings (and their mana is more a latent power than an enchantment), as soon as they reach the other realm their mana level restarts to replenihsh, and their health is otherwise unaffected. But for an item, as soon as the enchantment is dispelled, there is no way to enchant them again (if not with a completely new spell).

An interesting consequence would be that inter-realms wars would be almost impossible (enchanted weapons would be reverted to normale weapons, while the wizards of the invading army would need time to refill their mana and launch spells, wgich would make them very vulnerable).
This would be interesting, since kingdoms could still try to win an upper end in trade (and military), by trying to discover ways to shield magitech from negative mana, or trying to find safe alternative routes to connect to other kingdoms.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is lacking an explanation how the inter-realm became a mana drain. $\endgroup$ – toolforger Feb 5 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ @toolforger It is a given (as it is the mana itself)... An idea could be that mana field has natural variations, and that the places where it is positive naturally became the best suited to civilization (positive mana manifesting itself in the primitive age as a kind of shamanic force, so that the first tribes found easier to settle and progress in such hotspots) $\endgroup$ – McTroopers Feb 5 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ @toolforger imho it absolutely is explained though. THe realms themselves have an athmosphere so rich in mana that human mana can be transferred to objects and stays there. Without this counter-pressure (in the between-realms), the mana from objects quickly bleeds out $\endgroup$ – Hobbamok Feb 5 at 19:19
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    $\begingroup$ @toolforger Coriolis effect. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Wells Feb 6 at 9:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Matthew Wells actually, Coriolis effect is a great explanation! If moving within a realm I have a limited delta in tangential (East-West axis) speed variation, when I move in the inter-realms I could experience a huge variation of latitude (North-South axis) in very small time (Coriolis Force). Since mana is less sensitive to physical forces, it tends to adapt to the different tangential speed a lot slower than the physical bodies it is "attached" to, creating a costant mana leak as long as I move North or South. (continues) $\endgroup$ – McTroopers Feb 6 at 9:32
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It may be simple. Humans are versatile and adaptive, so their magic is as well. In other words, while other realms have different kinds of mana, humans can adapt to use these different strains of mana as easily as they do their native mana since magic is an extension of their being.

However, magic in an object is not versatile; while magic connected to a living thing can adapt, being an extension of their being, once magic goes inside an object, that connection is broken and it becomes an extension of nature, drawing off the ambient magic to power itself and only fulfilling its given function.

It's like a rocket; you can prep all you want, but once it's fired off, you no longer control its path. Instead, physics takes over. Magitech only does what it's designed to do for this reason, and that includes its power source as well. If it was designed in a certain realm, it can only draw power-and therefore function-in that realm.

Interestingly enough, this means that this limitation can be circumvented by making magitech in an in-between place; such an item should work in the "gray area" and whatever's connected to it.

In conclusion, once magitech is brought into another realm, it can't adapt to and absorb the other realm's mana. Granted, this removes the "humans have no issues using magic in another realm" clause, but it is also a plausible answer to your question. Hope it helps!

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It's not just the user's mana. It's also the mana of the land. This can be because

  • a person is just not powerful enough to fuel such things
  • mana can't be chopped off that neatly, it pulls on mana about, being fluid and mixing with the mana about
  • when magitech was first being developed there were some extremely nasty battles, and each realm developed a massive spell unified the realm and its mana, and prevented any magitech not drawing the land from working
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  • $\begingroup$ This explanation feels weak because, assuming said realms match real world continents, continents are at least as much a social construct, as they are a geographical/physical concept. Europe and Asia are, by the definition of anyone not raised to view them as separate, obviously one large continent, not two; the Middle East is more separate from Asia than Europe is. Not saying this can't work, but you'd need to invent reasons why a largely irrelevant, poorly defined (in the real world) boundary between Europe and Asia has magical implications. $\endgroup$ – ShadowRanger Feb 5 at 15:19
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    $\begingroup$ The boundary is not defined by people's calling them Europe and Asia. The reason why people call them Europe and Asia is that they are, despite their obvious geographical continuity, magically distinct. $\endgroup$ – Mary Feb 6 at 0:14
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Travel between realms harms the devices.

If you travel by boat/air/rail you will inevitably pass through an area with no mana. When magical devices which need mana in them constantly even at low levels pass through these areas they instantly discharge all mana to the surrounding area and damage the components.

If you travel via the realm gates, the in-between realm has the opposite problem. It has too much ambient mana and it fries the devices (sorta like an EMP would).

This system would allow an adventurous merchant to try and map a trade route between realms but would never allow for mass transit of goods enough to change technology levels between them. Tech could potentially make it but a total loss of cargo would make it hard to be sustainable.

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To expand on Dutch's answer: machines must be plugged on ley lines to work. The ley lines are invisible and ubiquitous, but they are managed differently in each country. For example american appliances usually run on 110 thaums, while most european ones run on 220 t. Plugging magitech in a line with a thaumage lower than what it is expecting can damage its parts, but on higher thaumage than what the machine expects it can cause an explosion.

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Similar to the ley-line answers but a bit more geographic, magic phase is keyed off the geographic location based on position relative to the Earth's magnetic field, so effectively spherical coordinates.

There's a further complication of severe dissonance because of refraction around the boundaries of tectonic plates.

This, like others have suggested, doesn't really solve the Eurasian issue but it does allow for Russia to be interestingly split with part in the North American plate.

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Having different amplitudes, frequencies, and phases. The least consequential of the bunch is phase. Magitech operating in a phase different than intended would merely mean that it would be at a lower efficiency (i.e. a fireball producer creating smaller fireballs). The next least important is amplitude. While commercial products are very carefully made to work in only one region, to reduce costs for the customer and therefore undercut competitors, homemade stuff tends to be able to handle a wide range of amplitudes (i.e. a commercial fireball blasting out a bunch of energy and then breaking). The worst to have different is frequency. Magitech can only be built for a single frequency, because having it be able to handle more than one frequency would essentially require a closet sized thing rather than a briefcase sized things, due to the incredible power requirements and the drastic loss of efficiency from handling multiple frequencies. While such technology exists, it is extremely rare due to lack of demand for closet-sized fireball generators, while a normal fireball generator trying to use a different frequency would have extremely unpredictable behavior for the few seconds before it implodes or just stops working and turns into a first-rate brick. For this reason, most commercial products have an emergency failsafe if it is receiving an unexpected frequency.

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Long range communication.

Mana users of different realms use different types of communication. Add enough persons using a certain type and it interferes with short range mana transmission in your devices. Shielding is realm dependent.

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This question would be easy to answer, were it not for this little bit:

humans also have mana and can pass through these realm gates just fine, as well as use magic with no issues.

So, a antarctic car doesn't work in North America, but Tod can cast his Antarctic fireball in America just fine. It can't be that they can't move between regions like in McTrooper's answer, because what keeps Tod from just making one in North America?

My answer is that each continent has it's own "flavor" for magic. The continents and people from them are sources of this flavor. When you bring a machine to another continent, the constant emissions of another flavor tear it's workings apart. But a person cans still cast spells because they are their own source, which also protects them from being ripped apart.

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