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The setting is a semi-modern fantasy world with pockets of population separated by huge expanses of wild land where monsters and other predatory creatures live, keeping civilization from expanding too much.

They would have technology like modern metallurgy, steam engines and maybe electricity in some settlements, but still, most of the world would use old technology because of reliability or cost-efficiency. For example, modern ships exist but tend to be very few and expensive or used for utility (like icebreakers) while the most common would be sailing ships as metals are harder to get than wood.

Another way the world could develop is the limited use of the existing hard magic system or materials from flora and fauna that have special properties. The best comparison is with the worlds from Monster Hunter and Hunter X Hunter, could this concept work? How could it work?

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    $\begingroup$ It's worth noting that metal ships are much cheaper than wooden ships, both in terms of labour and materials, and the metal doesn't have to be spectacular. So even if wood is more available, you can bet that they'd use metal for everything they could. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Aug 9 '21 at 1:12
  • $\begingroup$ I wonder if you could provide more details about your world? There are many factors that affect technological levels and society's ability to support them. Right now we can only speculate as information is insufficient. We do not even know the severity of the monster problem. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Aug 9 '21 at 5:33
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    $\begingroup$ Your biggest problem is explaining why modern technology is not capable of dealing with the monster problem and colonising the wilds. If you can build steam engines then you can build high velocity rifles and field artillery capable of injuring or killing any plausible monster. If the monsters have some kind of unobtanium or magic that prevents damage then you can bet the scientists are learning everything they can about it. $\endgroup$ Aug 9 '21 at 7:33
  • $\begingroup$ What is considered "modern metallurgy"? Aluminum production? Oxygen converter process? Main advantage of modern processes, compared with preindustrial ones, is that you can produce metals with dependable quality in huge quantities. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Aug 9 '21 at 17:16
  • $\begingroup$ Have hard time to identify a q, what it means how world may work - are you asking if it is possible to stagnate for a long period of time with certain level of technology, not having industrial revolution development, due to external and societal factors - yes, especially if they have limited human resources. Or you asking about internal relationship between world elements, we have no clue about, and even if we would with many elements hardly it even possible to describe things in general form, in contrary to any random choosen description of what's possible. What's your own research on topic $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Aug 10 '21 at 8:16
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I don't think the “rediscovering of past technology” is the only way to go about this. The defining feature of this world is this monster problem. In a lot of ways as other answers mentioned this would put a considerable hamper on technology. But I would like to argue that the flip side can also be true.

The progression of technology does not have to be a highly equivalent liner step by step parallel progression equivalent to our to real world advancement that we are used to. Because of this huge monster problem you would have some powerfully motivating forces to develop tech in differing ways than we have in real life. Even our own history has a lot of randomness and luck dictating what tech was discovered and when. I feel people over assume that if we started over again from scratch the pace of technology would be the same. I don't embrace that idea unquestioningly and feel circumstance would profoundly change a world and how its “modern” technology came to be. With that said I think its perfectly acceptable to freely pick and choose what this world technology has and when it has it, without any fear of “but we never had that tech in this equivalent time period”

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No infrastructure for large projects.

While they can smith enough to make swords and armor and some lights, they lack access to rare elements and space to build bigger factories and shipyards to manufacture large technological items, due to the monsters.

Those advanced artifacts that do exist are remnants of empires that formed in the past which managed to push back the monsters to set up more of a tech base. They fell.

Notably, microchips are very hard to make because of the immense investment of cash needed, and so most computing systems will be much simpler ones run on gears or vacuum tubes. Most technology will be at best at a 1920s to 1940s level due to the limited resources and space for manufacturing.

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  • $\begingroup$ that's kind of what I did expect. Not a digital age type of world but at least analog $\endgroup$ Aug 8 '21 at 23:16
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah. You could have the characters discuss how much they would love to move to digital, and how they totally have the books and knowledge to do so, just, there's giant monsters on the ore and land and supply chains they need to do it that would eat them, plus a few rare advanced artifacts from the past which are digital. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Aug 8 '21 at 23:19
  • $\begingroup$ not quite. The Romans and Egyptians built massive structures and industrial empires (especially the Romans for the latter) without access to 'modern technology'. Cheap labour (conscript or slave), animals, and basic mechanical engineering knowledge. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Aug 9 '21 at 9:42
  • $\begingroup$ How many giant monsters did the Romans and Egyptians have in their countryside attacking people who tried to build things and make supply chains? Did they rely at all on trade or movement of goods to build things? $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Aug 9 '21 at 10:34
  • $\begingroup$ @jwenting I think you are underestimating the role of transport infrastructures that Romans and Egyptians had. For example, the Roman Empire was growing grain in Egypt to feed its European population. If the Mediterranean Sea were full of monsters blocking the grain transportation it would not be possible to feed the European territories. Many building projects would not have enough workers because those people would have to grow food. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Aug 9 '21 at 18:44
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If you make the escalation of monster populations and the emergence of wildlands a relatively recent event, then your world could develop any technological level that you want in the days before the monsters arrived. Then as the world lost cohesion and each of the separate human civilizations became isolated from each other, some would devolve to pre-electric while others might maintain enough tech to create modern ships.

The challenge with the monsters having always existed (and therefore always isolated the separate colonies), is that most modern technologies are too complex for a single community to maintain. A modern warship for example contains the worlds best electronics, composite materials and massive quantities of high grade steel. No single city could build one alone.

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  • $\begingroup$ What if there was a mediator that made trade reliable but that still couldn't controll the monster population? $\endgroup$ Aug 8 '21 at 23:08
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    $\begingroup$ A powerful mediator which could traverse the wilds without heavy losses could establish enough trade to help each civilization survive but large scale projects like battle ships would still be a hard stretch on a city-state level. $\endgroup$ Aug 8 '21 at 23:25
  • $\begingroup$ then what would be the most they could get? $\endgroup$ Aug 8 '21 at 23:30
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    $\begingroup$ Tough call. Depends on how many load-bearing vehicles the mediator has, their capacity and how often they travel between civilizations. If there is a precursor civilization which left behind mighty artifacts likes beached battleships, you could possibly explain away an implausible supply chain by saying that resources were scavenged from those ancient wrecks $\endgroup$ Aug 8 '21 at 23:43
  • $\begingroup$ I think pretty common with the mediator giving protection and guiding services, while transportation would be on the part of the client $\endgroup$ Aug 8 '21 at 23:58
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Technology originates in developed countries. Developing countries adopt tech to varying degrees.

maasai with cell phone

https://foodtank.com/news/2015/01/five-ways-cell-phones-are-changing-agriculture-in-africa/

In our world there are places that are technologically advanced. They (we) have loads of tech. They (we) are rich. The lives of these people (me) are very unlike the lives of their ancestors 4 generations back.

In the rest of our world, tech has penetrated to varying degrees. For example this herdsman is going about his day much as his great great grandfather did. Except he has a cell phone. In our world there are many places where people make their living growing crops and tending livestock using methods that have not drastically changed over centuries. Tech in these places will be imported according to interest by the residents, utility and expense. . They have cell phones and use them in the same way people in technologically advanced areas do. They might have a well that was dug by a machine brought for that purpose Someone in the area might have a truck which can be borrowed for emergencies. Machines are older styles with less integrated tech, and are easier for locals to maintain. Animal power is still used because it is reliable and fuels itself. There is less access to medicine. Food is more likely to be grown locally than produced in a distant factory.

This is our world. Your world can work the same way. Out in the countryside they have some tech. Just not as much.

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A dark age.

"In the old days people were rich! Amazing machines were everywhere. People had flying boats and they mowed down the monsters with beams of light! Right here in this town we had people from all over. I don't just mean people from the capitol - people from all over the world would come through! I have a scarf that a golden lady from a far country gave me as a present because she liked my red hair. I had hair in those days."

"But these are lean times. Dark times. Travelers don't come. Even the tax collectors from the capitol skip years. People stick to the places and the people they know. Yes, I know some of you have seen flying boats high in the sky but those go between the great cities now. They don't come down in between - too dangerous. For a long time we fixed up some of the old tech as best we can, and used the ones that don't work for parts. That can only take you so far and then it is gone. And so we are back to how my grandparents did it - stuff you make with what you can grow in your own fields and take from your own forests. That was good enough for them for hundreds of years. It will do for us until the times change again."


I am thinking of the vibe from Castle in the Sky. The protagonist works in a worked-out mine, with ancient machinery. People have tech but it is cobbled together and everywhere there are signs of the majesty and grandeur of a past time.

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    $\begingroup$ why people tend to go for that trope? Don't get me wrong, it is good but, why lack of technology is always related to the fall of grace? $\endgroup$ Aug 9 '21 at 0:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Dawnstarwatcher - they do not lack technology. They have it. They just do not have much. If someone has always been poor they do not have any nice things. If someone is poor but has a few nice things, how did that happen? Maybe someone somewhere is rich and the poor person stole or was given something nice. Or the poor person used to be rich, and has a few things left from that time. People go for that trope because it makes sense and it is dramatic and gives the story energy. You want something weirder, I will keep thinking.... $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Aug 9 '21 at 1:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Dawnstarwatcher Because there are only 2 more or less realistic explanations for the existence of technologies that cannot be supported in current conditions: 1) all tech is remnants of the glorious past; 2) someone (aliens) gave this tech to these people. In order to maintain a certain technological level, society must meet specific conditions: enough people, enough food, sufficient population density, resources, infrastructure, supply chains, political structure, and ideology. If even one of these is missing it is impossible to maintain technology, even repair becomes problematic. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Aug 9 '21 at 5:22
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There is a substantial lack of large-scale infrastructure, access to materials, trade and transmission of knowledge.

In our world we have it all. You can order a USB drive from across the world, which itself is created by many precious materials from across the world, which can be combined by the knowledge we can build and maintain from across the world.

But your world does not have that. For example imagine two cities that want to trade. A dirt road is relatively easy since you just travel the distance over and over again. But now imagine building a stone road like the romans did. Monsters will attack the workers, monsters will attack the supply train that brings the food and materials for the workers, monsters might attack or eat the road itself. This makes it hard to build any lasting infrastructure without a ludicrously extensive military complex that clears the area of monsters for kilometers around.

Then imagine metalworking. Someone else answered that metal boats are superior to wooden boats because of maintenance and build methods, but that assumes you have the infrastructure and industrial capacity to mine, refine and create the metals required for the boat. If the metal mine you need is in the next country/citystate you may get a metal shipment once a month, and the amount will be low since they have to travel across hard to maintain roads and it will be ludicrously expensive compared to sending an armed guard with a group of loggers to gather wood. And that is ignoring the fact that you need metals to build the facilities that refine and shape the metals to build the facilities that build the boats. All of which you need space for and the infrastructure to transport it. Oh and monsters underground ofcourse, they might make mining even more dangerous too.

Then there is knowledge. We can study at colleges, which shares knowledge with other colleges if only to maintain a quality control. However in this case someone learning metalworking might make a dangerous journey towards a city that has the skills to teach him/her, but there is likely little reason to go somewhere else as any place that can teach metalworking has the infrastructure and capacity to get those metals in the first place.

Some places never get the metals to ever even start research in things like electricity, industrialization, basic blacksmithing... and other areas have the safety and resources to get into it. This creates disparity in technology.

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  • $\begingroup$ Nail the infrastructure and everything else goes down. Like disease carrying mega-mosquitoes that spread incurable, untreatable illness or untreatable water. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Aug 10 '21 at 15:08

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