Fantasy setting, highly rural/pastoral. Social landscape is significantly more egalitarian (but far from idyllic) with no serfdom tying a peasant class to the land. Magic exists, but wizards, as a social class, are estranged from others and have little interest or incentive to meddle in the affairs of mortals. Technological level is intended to be roughly analogous to the first industrial revolution, and the setting is experiencing increased urbanisation and the rise of cities, but…
I’m in the early stages of working on a setting for a tabletop campaign, and I’ve hit a bit of a snag. As mentioned above, I’d intended for the technology level to be that of the first industrial revolution, but I’m having some difficulty envisaging how such a thing would succeed in this setting. There’s a number of political forces arrayed against them, but I think the tipping point would be the popular outcry against the smog and smoke generated by factories powered by coal. A second, perhaps even more important concern, is that on a meta level I feel having the city inundated with the kinds of pollution London saw would undermine the aesthetic I’m going for. Dark smokestacks belching out ominous black smoke should be reserved for evil wizards making their own little Isengard.
So, I’m at a bit of a loss. I’ve considered moving the technology forward a bit to allow for electrical generators and grids, which would get rid of the the visible pollution (for the most part, pushing the power plant away from population centers) and handwaving away the in between steps, but I’d feel I’d be stretching credulity if I also wanted to keep the vibe of (mega)cities being a “new thing”. Also, on a very petty note, I’d be losing steam trains, and I do enjoy them. Am I overthinking this or is there an obvious solution I’m missing? Is there a way to maintain a bright, clean aesthetic without handwaving things and hoping nobody looks too closely?
Edit 1: A couple of clarifications re: social landscape and scale of city
Edit 2: Available feedback has helped me greatly narrow down my concerns and has been very helpful, thank you all. So, if no pollution is a non-starter, is there an alternate power source that would provide a cleaner aesthetic but fulfill the role of coal in powering engines?