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I am early in this design but am imagining a fictional world in the age of exploration including classic fantasy tropes of monsters and magic, with renaissance era technology, that is cannons, muskets, clockwork and wacky renaissance war machines perhaps entwined with magic albeit to limited effect or making use of fantastical beasts. I would like the world to stay in this state of technology for as long as possible.

So I indeed ask, What would stop advancements in technology beyond this state? Specifically weaponry?

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    $\begingroup$ In real history, progress in war-making technology was quite slow between about 1450 and about 1850. There was some progress, but a 16th century soldier or mariner would have felt at home in the first half of the 19th century. During those three centuries and a half progress in weaponry was incremental, with no major upsets or revolutionary new technologies. The major difference between the armed forces fighting in the Napoleonic Wars and those fighting in the Italian Wars was that the industrial revolution had made large armies possible, with uniform clothing and equipment. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jul 4 at 13:10
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    $\begingroup$ Widespread catastrophe is my answer, or limitations with land, infrastructure, anything that stunts expansion and forces a society to use what they have already at their disposal. As AlexP said, mid-millenium Europe had this issue because infrastructure was limited at the time to what they had on hand. $\endgroup$
    – Quinn
    Jul 4 at 21:44
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    $\begingroup$ I would search this site for questions about preventing or delaying the industrial revolution. That's at the very least a sure way to buy yourself a couple more centuries (if not more). $\endgroup$
    – Blueriver
    Jul 4 at 22:22
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    $\begingroup$ Does this answer your question? Technological progression over 1000 years Note my own answer to that question, which explains that the only way to justify innovative stagnation is by the use of an outside force. Nothing, not even the convenience of magic (or chemistry, in a non-magical context) will stop curiosity and problem-solving. (Which is why we have electronics and didn't stop with chemistry.) $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jul 5 at 0:37
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP: that couldn't be more wrong. Progress might have been incremental, but there was still significant progress. The Madre de Deus was one of the largest ships in the world in 1590. By two hundred years later it wouldn't have been considered big enough to be in the line of battle, and was smaller than any of the original 6 US Navy frigates with far weaker guns. Then you had exploding shells, gunlock firing, differences in mounting allowing greater flexibility in aiming, carronades, etc etc. And that's just at sea. $\endgroup$ Jul 8 at 17:07

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Interchangeable parts don't.

No, seriously - I don't just mean there are poor tolerances in your manufacturing. I mean that having all those blasted wizards running around tapping into arcane essences of space, time, thought, logic, and reality ... it means that an inch in Chicago isn't always more than seven-eighths in New York. It means a cartridge loaded in your basement might not be reliable in the woods behind your house.

The most practical technology for your scenario is crude tech with very high tolerances, so that you can't be disappointed. Load up a blunderbuss with thimbles, forks, and hope (and a mass of black powder casually poured from a horn) ... and it has no more uncertainties than it would in our world.

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    $\begingroup$ You may wanted to write high tolerances instead of low... $\endgroup$
    – P.Péter
    Jul 5 at 10:35
  • $\begingroup$ @P.Péter Whoops! $\endgroup$ Jul 8 at 16:03
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  • Magic sinks the scientific method.
    At some point, natural philosophers would have stopped guessing about phlogiston or humors and started doing real science, using the scientific method. They think about things they see, they develop a coherent theory, they think of experiments to falsify the theory and observations that would be predicted by the theory, they observe and experiment, and they think and talk some more.
    Except that the world is just slightly magic. Observers influence the outcome of the experiment on a macro scale, not just on the quantum scale. The boiling point of water suddenly depends on how many people are watching, and if they want it to boil or not. At least a little. Black powder is more effective if it is mixed by people who believe in it.
    That sabotages the progress of science.

  • Dragons really like to nest on steam engines and blast furnaces.
    They also enjoy village smithies and charcoal kilns, but not so much that a determined blacksmith cannot discourage them. But a steam engine, that's where monsters from the entire region will congregate. Better stay with water power and mostly wooden construction unless you have an army to protect your steam engine. Which means it doesn't pay to industrialize.

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    $\begingroup$ This does not really prevent science it just adds a new layer, if anything it means they will find out about double blind studies and such faster. As long as magic obeys rules science can be applied to it. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jul 5 at 3:14
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    $\begingroup$ If nothing else, the idea could tie in with the answer from @MikeSerfas. Sure, we might know that observers and thoughts influence stuff in strange ways, but that doesn't mean we can control them. It's not gonna be terribly practical to use super precise manufactured technology like electronics when someone can just think about it short-circuiting and there's a small chance it'll happen. $\endgroup$ Jul 5 at 19:25
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    $\begingroup$ @John That immediately suggests an answer, doesn't it? Magic doesn't obey rules, or at least doesn't do so in any consistent way that can be easily worked out. How much harder would basic physics be to work out if the mass of objects changed based on the emotional state of people around the object, or if the law of inertia varied in the same way the amount of cloud cover does? We can barely make decent predictions about the weather today - how much harder would it have been for Newton if he had to do the equivalent before figuring out the basics of mechanics? $\endgroup$
    – R.M.
    Jul 6 at 19:31
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    $\begingroup$ @R.M. OP appears to suggest that some people are able to function as magic users "wacky renaissance war machines perhaps entwined with magic albeit to limited effect", something that would not be possible if magic doesn't follow rules (or is sufficiently chaotic to be unpredictable at their level of tech) $\endgroup$
    – Tristan
    Jul 7 at 10:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Tristan OTOH perhaps the magic works as well as a blunderbuss. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Jul 8 at 16:22
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No oil, no progress.

The modern world is only possible because we have vast reserves of oil and coal underground - courtesy of pines and shrimp which fossilized in prior epochs. Without coal, even if electricity was discovered there would have been no resource energy rich enough to run large scale power plants. Without oil, we could never have progressed further then smoggy powerplants and into the era of personal, horseless, vehicles and trade.

Simply state that there are no oil reserves on your world and limited coal mines and your civilization is then stuck in the renaissance.

On the side of weaponry all I can add is that it wasn't the military that came up with early improvements to guns. It was enthusiast duck hunters in between the wars. The militaries were content with powder loaded muskets and trying to built continually larger cannons for a long time. The idea of getting off more then a single precision shot from a gun was engineered by sports hunters as a way to hit more ducks. So... Remove ducks from your world?

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    $\begingroup$ the early industrial revolution was before coal-powered engines started to be used. Things like water and windmills, the spinning jenny etc. It's only in really in the 19th century that coal-powered steam engines become the driving factor, so removing fossil fuels leaves you in the 18th, well after the end of the Renaissance $\endgroup$
    – Tristan
    Jul 5 at 13:25
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    $\begingroup$ No oil would certainly make the world different! But maybe you are on to something: resource availability. Perhaps revisiting this idea would make this answer better. $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    Jul 5 at 16:22
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    $\begingroup$ Meh, thats the best I can come up with from that angle. Borrowing from an old game called Arcanum, one really cool limiting idea is that the magnetic fields which electrical generators use to produce current and "magic" interfere with each other - so in an area with strong magic you cant generate electricity and visa versa. $\endgroup$
    – Alot
    Jul 6 at 13:25
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Religion or culture

We can see both Religion and culture reject many advancements in the fields of science. Look at astronomy or biology with Religion for example. Though there were advancements, many advancements were rejected by the church in medieval Europe. The advancements were discredited and the people who made the discoveries put to death or incarcerated. It wasn’t that there wasn't progress, but much was made difficult.

Culture as well. Look at the Amish for example. But in a greater scale you can look at the whole of the USA. Advancements in trains or social norms in gun control are rejected because of their culture. They view that they have certain rights for their guns. They view their cars as essential as the indoctrination of the people did it's work, making any alternative unthinkable now that the whole infrastructure is setup to support only cars.

Human complacency with the current world is all you need. They obviously know the world is flat, they are the center of their world and nothing is going to change that. Anyone thinking differently or having proof can easily be rejected, preferably by hurning them.

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    $\begingroup$ China and Japan are real historical examples of how a misguided central power can freeze technological development. Both empires had to be dragged by force into the age of machines. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jul 4 at 14:44
  • $\begingroup$ It seems like people are having more trouble with basic biology than they used to, and that it's correlated with unbelief, not belief. And the USA outclassed Europe in invention for most of the 20th century, while being more religious. $\endgroup$ Jul 5 at 1:53
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    $\begingroup$ @SeanOConnor why so defensive about the USA? The argument doesn't make sense. The post doesn't say a religious country can't advance, otherwise we would never have gotten where we are today. Darwin was incredibly religious for example. The point is that religion can stagnate (parts of) progress. We can see that throughout history on large scales. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Jul 5 at 6:57
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    $\begingroup$ "Many advancements were rejected by the church in medieval Europe": Examples? I cannot think of any. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jul 5 at 9:13
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterCordes: Galileo did not live in the Middle Ages, but rather towards the end of the Renaissance and the transition to the Early Modern period. And Copernicus was actually a cleric. (Plus I don't really see what the Church did to oppose Galileo's work effectively. He was in no way silenced, he was not imprisoned, his wealth was not confiscated. His most important work, the Two New Sciences was published after he was notionally condemned, and it did not cause him any trouble.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jul 6 at 17:38
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Empire

The combination of this technology and of magic let someone unite the region. He suppressed war with a heavy hand and discouraged other innovation as causing unemployment.

Central control gave innovation no place to hide, and the emperor did not fear a rival empire would take it if he didn't.

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Magic has to be superior to technology.

The development of weaponry didn't happen in a vacuum, it was in response to battlefield conditions. People stuck with firearms and continued to improve them because they were effective against the defenses they encountered. So if you don't want certain types of weapons to advance, make them ineffective. The obvious solution is to have magic render bullets as harmless with trivial protective wardings, or something along those lines. Something where the magical protection is far easier than the mundane weapon it defeats.

This creates a new problem: why are people using ineffective weapons at all? At what point did magical protections become common in warfare? That's the point where you'd see mundane weapon development stall out. So think about when this happens, and why. What changed to make magical protection commonplace? And how do armies defeat it? Probably with magical weapons of some kind.

So your task is to think about how this society uses magic to wage war, and to devise reasons for why building more advanced machines never seemed like a feasible or worthwhile idea to get the edge over the enemy. I think for this to be the case magical solutions have to be cheaper, easier to use, and more readily available than the means to mass produce machines, as well as more effective.

This should be your guiding principle when thinking about how magic is used if you want it to essentially replace the development of modern technology. It should be accessible to people at all levels of society and be fundamentally superior to the technology it replaces. If technology is easier for a majority of people to access and can defeat magic, nobody would use magic, especially in war.

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