See, I have a magic system and most people can practice a decent amount of power. There are two primary kinds of mage. Sorcerers can give their mana different properties (like making it sticky, solid, etc.) and convert their mana directly into various forms energy, but lack the ability to completely manipulate external forces. Wizards use spells for specific magical effects, like sending out a concussive wave. Prophets/PHEts (People of the Higher Entities) are uncommon people who can perform powerful miracles (like curing cancer) and/or curses (like causing a generation's first-born to always become a serial killer), but must be chosen by this higher being. One could also make a contract with a magical being, like a fairy or demon, to share their magic power. Depending on the contract and strength of the creature, they usually can outperform most average and skilled mages. The most rare magic practitioners are called Magi. There are Magicians who can practice both sorcery and wizardry (and sometimes even miracles and curses), Warlocks who have a formidable innate talent (like controlling the weather), Chains who can bind other living creatures to their will, and Chaotics who can affect probability and change the balance of entropy and use hexes to cause good or bad luck. Arcs are those who wield ancient forms of magic, similar to modern sorcery and wizardry but blurring the lines between them and possess various unique attributes (like fusing with nature or local space/time/spacetime distortion).

I imagine magic primarily being done small-scale, like affecting what's in one's line of sight, speeding up or easing mundane tasks, etc. Large magical feats like conjuring/destroying a building require many people and extra magical fuel, or an exceedingly powerful Magus. However, magic cannot be automated and every magic sequence or spell requires an active casting.

However, I still want a society based on technology and focused on advancing technology, either modern day or 20 Minutes in the Future.. For what reasons could technological advancement (and its motivation) be resistant to magic?

  • $\begingroup$ This has some good potential in it. However, in order to not make this Too Broad, you'll need to describe the system of magic and the technological level of the society, at the least. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 4:22
  • $\begingroup$ I think you would have to create specific magic limiting rules within your story. Example: Your world has only so many magic users. Magic is only inherited and cannot be taught, so others can't become magicians. There's only 2 or 3 magicians in any given area. There are superstitions against magic. All of the above. etc. $\endgroup$
    – Len
    Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 19:47

4 Answers 4


One of the ways I'm including on how to do this in an upcoming blog post in Universe Factory is to make the magic soft. Make it so that the caster does not always get to create exactly the same effect every time. So when you look at the way we engineer technology, we rely heavily on the central limit theorem (CLT). This is a statistical trick which basically says "the more times you do something, the more predictable the average is. The motion of an electron is highly unpredictable; the average motion of 10,000,000 electrons is predictable enough to harness in a lightbulb. Its the reason why you can lift up your can of soda without considering the billions and billions of individual atoms that make it up independently. You get to lump them all together and say "the can as a whole goes up when I lift it"

CLT depends on the independence of those statistical draws, so if you make a magic system which creates dependencies between each cast, you can nullify the effect of the CLT, and make magic refuse to scale as easily as technology. Make it so that every time you cast a spell, it changes the way that spell behaves just enough to make the mage casting it adapt their casting. If you try to cast a spell in the same way 10 times, its effects may drift until cast 10 fizzles completely. Casting the same spell 10,000 times the same way each time may actually psychologically warp a mage under the strain of trying to keep this uncontrolled interdependence bounded. Compare that to technology, which is more than happy to use 10,000 transistors to create one very powerful device (and then replicate that device 1,000,000 times)

This also has the neat effect of making "reliable" spells a tremendously valuable commodity, because not many spells can be cast repeatedly without contorting and mutating. It creates a divide between a wizard who has memorized many reliable spells and a sorcerer, who is happy to embrace whatever less-reliable spells happen to be available to him at the time.

It also doesn't prevent magic from replacing technology, it just provides the framework to make it harder and harder to do so on larger scales. Perhaps there is a one-in-a-million mage who actually can do things with magic at a technological scale. There's nothing preventing him from doing it... it was just really really rare.


Why do you assume that having magic would affect the rate of technological advancement? To us magic is fundamentally different from technology since technology exists and works while magic is as far as we know fantasy, but a society with working magic would not see a difference and would not see having magic as a reason to not develop technology. Magic is nice, but magic and technology both will always be better.

As for society focusing on developing technology instead of magic that simply implies that developing magic further is more difficult than improving technology. You can make this absolute by declaring that the human ability to use magic is limited and that the limit was reached millennia ago by the civilizations of the great river valleys. After that all the development has been technological and magic has become rigid and static with only minor adjustments due to advances in technology.

For example, the invention of printing press would have revolutionized the study of magic. The age of exploration would have allowed the various magic traditions of the world to start fusing. Herb that restores magic power faster that used to be known only to people of the Amazon is now known worldwide, and so on.

There is a problem with this answer though, while the technology could be just advanced as ours and be advancing as fast it would be different. Since some things could be done easily with magic, the needs technology has to fill would be different. And I can't tell you how since that depends entirely on what effects your magic can produce easily and which it can't.

One observation I can offer. While magic can be powerful and convenient, it is rarely that practical. Shooting someone with a rifle is almost always more efficient than casting a magic spell. Area effect spells tend to lose to artillery or aerial bombardment pretty badly. It takes very strong magic to replace the railroads, a network of canals, and other forms of mundane transportation for transferring bulk goods. Similarly only the strongest magicians would prefer magic to a passenger jet for intercontinental travel. Or a ship for trying to find those other continents. Magic is usually not competitive with mass production either.

In practice it would probably be more like technology boosted by magic than anything else. There are lots of such modern magic settings to loot for ideas.

And, just a note, if magic is limited by human ability, genetic engineering, and previously eugenics, would be very interesting topics.


Magic is a short cut. It gets the job done, but you get what you get. "I want my coffee hot" Magic a flame, place under a plate that the mug will sit on and it'll gradually heat up.

  • A lot of heat ends up not going into the coffee, magic is only replacing a natural fire.
  • Coffee is heated to a non-specific value, possibly too hot/cold.

What technology lets us do, is harness the powers available to us with more control. We can tech ourselves a coffee maker that automatically makes us up a pot of coffee as we wake up in the morning and keep it heated to the perfect temperature, potentially pouring it into a cup for you and everything.

  • Takes more setup, but you get exactly what you want every time.
  • Heat is directed into the coffee and nothing else, at a consistent temp, requiring less overall energy to accomplish the goal.

Magic may be more of a hammer like approach.

  • "We need water for our city."
  • Magic can make it rain into a big pool, perhaps form the earth into a channel and bring it into the city.

Technology is when you need a chisel

  • "We want running water in our citizens homes."
  • You'll need to build a dam/tower, pipes, valves, and pumps to lead the water into each dwelling, rather than having citizens get their water from a communal well.

Two possibilities

  1. Magic Costs (or if you prefer there's no such thing as a free lunch). Using magic requires the user to expend time/energy/concentration on producing a spell. The more powerful the spell the more time/effort/energy required. A simple light spell still requires the practitioner to stop what ever they might be doing and focus on the task. Flipping on a light switch doesn't (much). Moving a large slab of concrete requires lots effort, a guy with a forklift requires much less. If time isn't the issue.

  2. Interference. Any time someone wants to cast a spell the universe resists a little, sort of like it resents the intrusion of magic into 'reality'. Or if you prefer there's some inertia you have to overcome. Not enough to prevent the spell from being cast (unless the mage really screws up) but enough to be noticed, just a tiny bit. (This is also part of the magic costs problem). But mages soon noticed that casting magic in close proximity to lots active modern electronics becomes a little harder again on top of that. But since the effect seems to follow something of an inverse scare/cube law so its not a big problem - unless your casting a powerful spell standing next to a live 100,000 volt transformer or hugging server racks in a major IT complex. Then in that case the effect can be worse. Basically in any modern home of office environment the effect is just 'there' a mild annoyance at worst. And its a reason why when really complex or powerful spells are performed by one or a group of mages they tend pick an isolated location with minimum resistance (and turn off the fuse box til they're done).

Combine the two issues and in daily life its usually just easier to push a button than cast something (especially if you have reason to believe you need to keep your powers ready for a real problem, not just making some toast).


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