This is related to Must magic be tied to medieval tech?, but not the same.

So the setup:

There are two worlds, one is Earth, as it is now, with all its history. The other is a magic world, with an earth-like planet, that is entirely separated from Earth. Both worlds were created at the same time.

On the magic world, everyone has the ability to manipulate one of the four elements, earth, water, air, and fire. But the magic power is not unlimited. For example, an earth controller could not lift a mountain. Only a very strong earth controller could lift a boulder. The magic world's planet is the exact same as Earth's planet.

So with this background, say both worlds are at the year 2014, but the magic world is still using medieval tech (plus magic). How could this occur?

  • 12
    $\begingroup$ A lot of technological advancements came from artists and doctors questioning the human body... perhaps magic used for healing would create less demand? $\endgroup$
    – Liath
    Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 11:31
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ So, no Harry Potter? $\endgroup$
    – Envite
    Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 14:33
  • 11
    $\begingroup$ Innate magical ability is a very strong argument in favor of rigid hierarchical power systems. If the most powerful people form the highest social class, they can control the flow of resources and information. Maybe discourage inventions that would allow low-magic people to be on-par with magical aristocracy. $\endgroup$
    – lea
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 12:47
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This actually sounds a whole lot like the Tales of Paul Twister stories, with the exception of everyone on the magic world having magical powers. The explanation given is that an individual can only bring so much magic to bear as a destructive force, but the dragons (who may or may not have precognitive/prophetic powers) saw in the invention of gunpowder the potential for the development of unlimited weaponry that could make it trivial for mankind to slay dragons, so they divided the world in two and hid out in the magical world, suppressing technology ever since. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 28, 2015 at 12:42
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I dislike thinking like this. It comes about from people playing too many games with Tech trees I think. What makes you think that magic ISN'T technology? In our progression of mastery of technology, we have discovered natural forces and then one by one harness them. By throwing a new fundamental force of nature into your universe, you have given your inhabitants a different possible technology progression. Imagine a world with 100x more solar energy hitting the surface, would you call that world technologically behind because they didn't invent petrol powered cars but used solar powered cars? $\endgroup$
    – Aron
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 18:50

20 Answers 20


TL;DR: What if people didn't have a need to invent / what if they accepted a faulty theory based on magic for science / what if use of magic strains the mind?

Allow me to make some generalizations, so that I may reduce innovative "power" by showing how these groups of people don't have a reason or don't have the means to advance research.

People are lazy and will use any means that doesn't take too much effort at their disposal to do a task in a simpler manner.

Academics are interested in the workings of something, and will dedicate time towards discovering how it works and how to apply this knowledge.

We need to find a way to stop both of these archetypes from progressing technology.

The people

If magic can be shaped to one's will, then some of the hard work might be made easier through the use of magic. This leads to a less pressing need to come up with an easier method. Unless magic is expensive, it comes with the convenience of being always available. Physical, technological objects tend to lack this property. An example of this convenience would be a remote control in our world: when one doesn't have to get up to perform an action, there's no pressing need to invent.

Before I go on, there's something else that needs to be addressed: Why do we reach medieval technology at all? Well, personally, I believe that even with magic, the feudal system will still occur. It is this feudal system that brings the technologies. A landlord may dictate how the land must be farmed; after all, if lands cultivated in manner X are more productive than lands cultivated in manner Y, then perhaps all lands should be cultivated in manner X.

Why one would smelt iron and develop tools, I don't know. Perhaps because controlling fire doesn't help with farming land. So some still need tools.


What could make curious people stop looking? Stigmas, perhaps. But looking at our scientific history...

In 1667, there was the idea that there were spirits in substances. They called them Phlogiston. The wikipedia article contains the following excerpt:

In general, substances that burned in air were said to be rich in phlogiston; the fact that combustion soon ceased in an enclosed space was taken as clear-cut evidence that air had the capacity to absorb only a finite amount of phlogiston. When air had become completely phlogisticated it would no longer serve to support combustion of any material, nor would a metal heated in it yield a calx; nor could phlogisticated air support life. Breathing was thought to take phlogiston out of the body.

Now, imagine if there was a faulty (by our standards!) theory that had these "magical spirits" that "conduct magic". There are 4 elements to control, and various substances are made of these four elements. Depending on how much of an element it contains, one can control it to a certain degree.

Faulty theories ("The sun rotates around the earth") can halt scientific/academic progress for a long time. Add in a world where strange occurrences CAN be explained by magic, and it becomes that much harder to advance technology.

Another way to halt scientific progress is if the use of magic strains the mind. If people are constantly mentally tired from doing magic (because by doing magic, a by-product that affects the brain forms in the body), they might not make discoveries as fast.

This is all a "maybe if" statement, though. Humans are such curious beings. Personally, I think that what you propose can't happen - there'll always be some people who will try to find out the workings of the universe, and magic will just be integrated with that. It might go at a slower progress, however. A slower rate of technological progress is also not too strange. They won't stay stuck at the middle ages, but I could see the middle ages stretching a couple thousand years.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ "Feudal" describes social structure, not technology level. $\endgroup$
    – Kreiri
    Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 18:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Kreiri I meant the technology that came along with the feudal system in our (normal) time period. Is there another way to phrase that? $\endgroup$
    – Pimgd
    Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 19:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Pimgd try "the technology of the European Middle Ages," unless you're talking about the technology of someone else's "feudal" time, like Japan's Warring States Period. $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 22:41
  • $\begingroup$ That works, as the middle ages didn't start until after about 500 A.D. (not precise don't bite me! :D), that would provide enough time for the story, especially since the story takes place in late Middle Ages. Thanks for the answer! $\endgroup$
    – DonyorM
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 3:12
  • $\begingroup$ A crucial additional factor is benefit. Academics don't make progress readily if powerful interests wish to stop them. As an obvious example, climate science is very poorly funded in the US because a lot of corporate interests benefit from the current energy models. So if you work out a way whereby the feudal powers-that-be stand to gain from magic research and lose from technological, the scholars will naturally gravitate to magic. This then puts magical approaches so far in advance that the occasional purely technical development seems crude and laughable. $\endgroup$
    – CAgrippa
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 9:18

What you're really asking could be:

"Why are Innovations Not Adopted?"

It usually boils down to one of the following factors:

Ease of Use

It turns out that China and Korea were the first to invent moveable type printing presses. Why did that technology not catch on? It's because their writing system uses a HUGE selection of characters. So you'd need a lot of individual type (the stamps) to get anything printed. Whereas european alphabets require only ~24 characters, which results in less type needed for a page.

The lesson here is; technology is not adopted unless it's easier to use than the alternative. So, if magic is easier to use than technology, magic ought to win.


For technology to be widely adopted, it needs to be reliable. For instance, gunpowder never really took off in Europe until wet-grinding of the ingredients was done. (There are instances and mentions of black-powder for 150 years before wet-grinding made it viable.) Gunpowder would often be too wet until this grinding process (and later the pellet size) was developed.

Is magic more reliable than technology? The more reliable thing wins.


There are rockets which can reliably get us to space, but a lot of people don't make it up there simply because they're not readily available. If everyone can use magic for manipulating things, why bother using technology?

  • $\begingroup$ you can also include "suppression" those capable of magicking would naturally hold power, and anything that challenged that power would be unpopular among the powerful. The urge would be even stronger in a magical society as the magical power is [normally] more personal..In reality personal power is always dependent upon the power of those who offer you service, so suppression that limits the effectiveness of one's servers is limiting of your own power...Not so much in the magical society. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 4:39

Here's an idea: Magic is a Science.

Just like humanity in our world learned to use and harness the principles of electricity, gravity, momentum, and the like; humans in the other world learned to harness the principles of mana, the four elements, incantations, and so forth.

Magic and science are not mutually exclusive. If a world exists that has such free and available magic, science would grow around the study and application of it. If "technology", as you narrowly describe it, is limited to what we would consider a "medieval" level, it is because that was the point where magic became a more attractive option. (Perhaps some great discovery or magical event)

Expect to see computing be based on intricate magical runes, intricately carved carts powered by arcane forces replacing the automobile. Perhaps even magical teleportation solving the issues of long distance travel.

War would be fought primarily by highly trained elemental casters who might even have replaced conventional soldiers. (Magic being as widespread as you describe)

TL:DR What we here have solved with science and technology, the other world will have solved with science and magic.

  • $\begingroup$ Nice answer. But I would like to note that under this magic system a lot of this won't work. Magic tunes don't exist, only elemental magic. $\endgroup$
    – DonyorM
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 2:05
  • $\begingroup$ @DonyorM I assumed as much, but thought I'd cover all the bases. I suspect that there are elemental solutions to many of these things as well. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 2:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Elemental fire and elemental water control == steam engine, without needing good valves, or good metal. $\endgroup$
    – user3082
    Commented Nov 26, 2014 at 20:28
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @user3082 Sod the steam engine...far too complicated. Wind magic, blow your car in the right direction. Now if only there was some kind of medieval tech that could turn wind into linear motion...>_< $\endgroup$
    – Aron
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 18:58
  • $\begingroup$ See the Lord Darcy series by Randal Garrett - 19th/20th century tech, but using magic for a lot of it rather than science. $\endgroup$
    – Oldcat
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 19:24

Traditional feudalism was powered by the war-making abilities of the original lords. Essentially the serf's lord promised to keep the other thugs...err, lords from attacking, so the serf owed fealty. Lords thus started as those who could wield physical power.

In a magic universe, it's reasonable to think that it would be magical power rather than physical power that would drive fealty. The magically powerful would protect their serfs from others of the magically powerful. This puts the magically powerful in control with an incentive to maintain their power.

If the magical have an ability to heal disease, they could avoid plagues like the Black Death. Without the Black Death, the Renaissance might not have happened. We could still be in a variant of the feudal system of the Dark Ages. With magic replacing both science and physical conflict, the feudal system could be stable the way that societies in the Americas and China were stable.

Even if magic doesn't include healing powers, it can still reduce the incentive for scientific and engineering advances. So long as magic is better able to provide than science, there is little reason to use science for engineering tasks.

In the search problem of Artificial Intelligence, this is called a local maximum. The searchers can't make more progress without backtracking before the point where they started up the wrong path. The problem is that there's a long period where progress doesn't give any incremental gains. The false path has already achieved more, so people continue to use the false path rather than the path that will eventually be superior. This isn't to say that there will be no scientific progress, just that it won't get as much support as it would in a universe where it gives quicker results.

The basic problem is that in the magic universe, magic looks to be superior to science. Until the society is jolted by an outside demonstration of their inferiority, they're likely to view themselves as doing as well as possible. They'll be focusing on incremental changes to how they use magic rather than for revolutionary changes in science.

  • $\begingroup$ Very nice, in the world, portals open up to Earth, and I'm planning to make certain groups take advantage of terrestial technology. Your last point works very well with that. $\endgroup$
    – DonyorM
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 5:37

So, I was expecting a certain answer to be given, which nobody gave, so first of I will quote the first two paragraphs from Brythan's answer, but then go off on a tangent:

Traditional feudalism was powered by the war-making abilities of the original lords. Essentially the serf's lord promised to keep the other thugs...err, lords from attacking, so the serf owed fealty. Lords thus started as those who could wield physical power.

In a magic universe, it's reasonable to think that it would be magical power rather than physical power that would drive fealty. The magically powerful would protect their serfs from others of the magically powerful. This puts the magically powerful in control with an incentive to maintain their power.

Now, let's say we extend this idea with the nobles not only providing protection, but also some magical services to their serves. Things like healing are obvious candidates, but even things like building or certain agricultural tasks could be on the list.

So, what would a Lord do when he finds out that one of his people is doing things that are his exclusive work. A 'smart' lord would probably decide it to conquer the other lords, but given enough class separation he will take it as an affront instead and punish whoever was 'mingling in things that were not his'. Or maybe they would even be burned as 'witches'... after all, if magic is the standard you measure by and having 'good' magic is only possible for nobles, then maybe you will consider 'technology' just 'bad magic'.

Either way, to give a (maybe far fetched) example from the real world (although I am not sure it's true now, because the Wikipedia article on Firearms of Japan makes no mention of it) at one point in Japan firearms existed, yet only nobility had access to them and it was absolutely prohibited for the normal people to have them. Why? Because it was too dangerous for the nobles if normal people had access to them. Now, this example is far from the same thing, but it is a clear case where technology was intentionally limited from developing and could give a possible base reason why a magic world would be stuck in medieval times.


There is a theory that suggests that in our history, one of the great drivers of technology and industrialisation was the abolition of slavery.

On this account the driver for development is really that work needs to be done. In a slavery-oriented empire like Rome, there was no need for more sophisticated technology beyond what they had because there were slaves to do all the hard labour. When we started abolishing slavery, the same work needed to be done and mechanical devices were developed to start doing that work. After a certain point the technology becomes its own driver as innovation continues to create new opportunities, but the starting point was the need for work to be done by some means.

Of course this is a very simplistic picture - slavery persists to this day and mechanical solutions also created new kinds of exploitative ( although usually paid ) work - but it gives an angle that is informative here.

In a world where magic is available, that might well become an alternative to slavery, a way of getting work done without that cost in human life and dignity. It may result in a fairly enlightened society in some respects, but at the same time the limits of magic would be the limits of technology and without the need to look for something else, it's plausible that technological progress would be slowed or stalled for long periods of time.

It may also serve the vested interests of the magical community, or of its more powerful members, to ensure that things stay that way.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You can also go all the way and use zombies as cheap slave labor. You can create a perfectly comfortable, affluent society that uses the bodies of its dead to work for them and doesn't need to focus too much on other technological progress (or is forced to focus on magic to the exclusion of everything else to maintain its standard of living): strolen.com/viewing/Undead_Economy $\endgroup$
    – Peter S.
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 13:01
  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking, you would propose, that with magic, the magically powerful would enslave the less powerful... thus reducing the need for tech. Is there any reason to believe that Wizards care for human rights or equality? $\endgroup$
    – mrwaim
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 6:55
  • $\begingroup$ @mrwaim I think that is actually a question in its own right - what is to stop wizards enslaving people? I can think of some pretty interesting arguments on that front, but the comments on an answer may not be the best place for them. $\endgroup$
    – glenatron
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 11:22

I was looking for an answer here that I didn't really see, so I guess I'll post it.

Power Elite

In any society, there is some group of elite people that tends to control most of the power and make most of decisions. Throughout the past, these have been the wealthiest, royals, religious leaders, those with the largest armies, etc. depending on what form power took in society at the time.

So now imagine that a power elite of magic users has formed. This cabal is composed of the strongest magic users in society, or at least the people in charge of the strongest magic users. These people are on top, and want to stay on top. What keeps them on top? Magic. What is a threat to them being on top? Technology. Because these people have large amounts of magic at their disposal, they want to keep magic the source of power in society. Technology threatens that, offering a replacement for magic that would disempower the elite. So they fight and suppress technology.

This has historical backing. Numerous religious societies have been seen to follow the same pattern, where the religious elite feel threatened by technology and attempt to hold it back (See the Dark Ages). It's not a hard and fast rule that this happens, but it's certainly possible.

In your magic world, it may be that magic offered a more reliable source of power and control than anything that's existed in a non-magic world, allowing the power elite to keep control of society indefinitely and halt the prorgess of technology while doing so.

Things to Address

  1. In actual history, nobody has ever managed to stay in power that long. How would an elite composed of magic users/controllers manage to do so?
  2. How does magic actually grant control? Through military power, economic might, simple holding on to the knowledge of some techniques, etc?
  3. Religion? Has the magical power elite adopted religion as a tool, or vice versa? Or has religion been deposed by the advent of magic?
  • $\begingroup$ "In actual history, nobody has ever managed to stay in power that long. How would an elite composed of magic users/controllers manage to do so?" - However, the bottom class rarely manages to take power - usually it is just swapping the upper class for the middle class. Perhaps power has changed hands, but just to other magic users. Any time the mundanes got into power, they could not last long enough to establish an environment that would promote scientific growth. $\endgroup$
    – komodosp
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 12:23

Maybe some doomed genius discovered the elemental-magic equivalent of the atom bomb, and "nuked" civilization back to the stone age. The survivors rebuilt, but now they've lost centuries of development compared to their counterparts on the non-magical planet.

Maybe this keeps happening, on a cycle.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 nice idea, and the time of next atom bomb is coming right in time where our hero comes to the scene to save the world :) $\endgroup$
    – Zavael
    Commented Mar 30, 2016 at 12:43

If magic can be used for healing, this means leaders and others could live a very long time. Especially if they value tradition and/or stability, they could get stuck in local optima and not innovate or be willing to adopt new ideas that lead to technological advancement.

Further, "any sufficient advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" and if you can do magic, there is much lower incentive to develop technology because there is little to no marginal benefit of doing so.

This is a cross-post including content from this answer at the encouragement of the question-asker.

  • $\begingroup$ that was my idea too, with addition that great technology driver is human laziness (thats why cars, elevators and many robots were created) and the hunger for more work done in less time. Magic could feed this "hungers-drivers" and technology development could decelerate $\endgroup$
    – Zavael
    Commented Mar 30, 2016 at 12:41

There are a couple of other options as well that aren't focused solely on the political reasons about why.

Garth Nix provided an interesting idea in his Abhorsen series. Similar style with circa WW1/WW2 age New World - (Earth) + the Old Kingdom (medieval style filled with zombies). The premise is that magic is inimical with technology. On the Earth side, the further away from the border between worlds one moved, the less reliable magic was until it became unusable. Likewise, technology (and anything made by machines/with machinery/electricity/circuitry) couldn't be used where magic was used, literally falling apart at the seams. The border guard would rely on a mix of silvered blades, bows and machine guns. The source of magic was somehow tied to the world itself.

Another way is a variation on how Trudi Canavan approaches magic (and the regeneration of finite magic resource) within her Milleniums Rule series. In that universe, magic is a finite resource in each world. Some worlds are incredibly abundant with magic, others are practically dead. Each time magic is used, it's drawn from the world. In the abundant worlds, this isn't too much of a problem as it is refilled quickly. In a world with low magic, it can take a very long time to refill. Magic is generated through the process of creation. The more technologically advanced worlds (and one of the main protagonists is from a pseudo-industrial revolution world) can generally be said to have less magic. The theory, as I understand it, is that the act of mass-producing and using machines inhibits the creation of more magic. Magic is generated through the process of creation, the emotional investment that the inventor/creator/artists imbue their individual work with - therefore a textile factory would not add magic, yet a district of weavers would.

A similar process could be adopted to explain the disparity between the worlds. If the magic is an integral but finite resource, albeit one that can be replenished, then their society could literally collapse if it were to completely disappear - giving the leaders (and the magic world) the necessary reason to ensure that an industrial revolution doesn't occur.


"Any sufficient advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology" - Terry Pratchet

Most inventions of technology are out of necessity. Someone needed to do something, but couldn't because the technology was missing, so they invented it.

But magic is able to replicate most technological advances:

  • Who needs a crane when you can lift heavy rocks with magic?
  • Who needs irrigation systems and pumps when you can control water with the power of your mind?
  • Who needs gunpowder when you can shoot fireballs?
  • Who needs gas lamps when you have an illumination spell?
  • Who needs vehicles when you can teleport?
  • Who needs a telegraph when you have long-range telepathy?

In a world with magic there is just no need to invent technology.

  • $\begingroup$ But why, say, would computers not show up? $\endgroup$
    – DonyorM
    Commented Mar 2, 2015 at 11:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @DonyorM Because before you have computers you have to have lots of other stuff. e.g. someone noticed electricity and thought, "Hmmm... that's a bit like our magic energy but you have to hook it up with wires and generators" and so didn't bother. Without electricity, no computers. No encryption in World War 2 (because psychic messages could be sent... if there even was a WW2) means no Collossus to break the encryption, which could well mean no computers! $\endgroup$
    – komodosp
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 12:33

I'd like to add a couple ideas to other answers--blatantly stolen from the way the "Wizard's Bane" series by Rick Cook addressed this.

  1. In the magical world, the ordinary laws of physics we are used to don't apply for some reason, for a similar reason that magic (mostly?) doesn't work on the non-magical world. Electronics, guns, etc. are not developed in part because they don't function even when transported from the non-magic world. This might not work as well with your planet scenario, but there's probably a way to add properties to the planet that keep some things from working. Why, for example, does Earth not have magic but this other planet does?

  2. The large amount of power and force wielded by the evil sorcerers and non-human magical creatures have basically kept everyone in a fight for survival. The unwise/evil use of magic has caused the magical equivalent of pollution and fallout on entire areas, and the "good guys" have lived under constant pressure of being killed and/or overrun. The chaotic environment has not been good for the development of some of the things necessary for more advanced technology.


This is a timeline issue, not really a "magic or no" problem.

Those of us participating in this discussion here have views. Our ancestors had views as well. Our descendants will have views long after we are gone. They may discuss the exact same issues, but they will do so in a different context of their society's development timeline.

What do I mean by that?

Its not about tech, its about fashion

Whether the technology is medieval or not is not a function of magic or mundane forces -- it is a function of how far a particular society has progressed. But that's not really what you care about in a story or game world. You really care about fashion.

The moment you want magic in a world, you throw technology straight out the window. Don't avoid this -- its simply the rules you have created for your world. Consider this:

Q: How can my cloaks-and-armor, sword-wielding, horse-riding guys plausibly have accomplished amazing engineering feat X?

A1: The clothes, mounts and weapons don't have any application in terms of structural engineering advancements.

A2: The clothes, mounts and weapons may indicate a post-post apocalyptic state.

A3: The clothes, mounts and weapons may be an indication of a profound leap in materials science that renders present-day weaponry and the common sci-fi vision of the future irrelevant -- and that is also why building amazing structure X is readily within the capability of these people.

A4: They have magic.

Each answer is entirely reasonable as an explanation for how a story world works. Even if you gloss over some point but provide interesting decisions for your characters (and tell a good story) the audience will forgive you. The answers above can even be blended together. But when you start saying "a medieval time" as a setting, you're really talking about fashion and political systems. Feudal politics and medieval fashion are by no means tied to one another. Consider our actual history on this planet, for example. We've had democracies, totalitarian regimes, insurgency, genocide, famine, collectivist collapse, republics, federalized states, apocalyptic collapse and recovery, etc. all happen. Each time the fashions of the day were different, as were the languages and other outward expressions of culture as well as the inner expressions of culture (behaviors and unspoken expectations within families, for example).

Don't rope too many things together if you want a unique story world

Carefully identify what you mean by "medieval world". If you mean a place that's like:

  • Elder Scrolls: Oblivion
    • "Medieval" means fashion, horses and fewer guns
    • "Magic is technology" is true
    • Not technologically medieval
  • Frank Herbert's Dune series
    • "Medieval" means politics
    • "Technology is magic" is true
    • Not technologically medieval
    • Fashion is totally up to you
  • Lord of the Rings
    • "Knowledge is magic" is generally true
    • Technology is selectively far above medieval
    • Medieval fashion rules are in play
    • Dragons and mysterious beasties are in play
    • You can't let the audience examine the world logic too carefully
  • World of Warcraft
    • Literally medieval space-aged
    • "Magic is magical" is true
    • "Knowledge is magic" is true
    • "Magic is knowledge" is true
    • "Magic is technology" is true
    • Star Wars meets knights and wizards
    • More dakka can mean more guns, more bows, more magic, or more magic-gun-bows
    • Nobody really cares how insane this is

and so on.

If you want your story world to have followed the basic path of societal progression for humans that we have experienced in the real world, and "medieval" means something somewhere between Middle Earth, Game of Thrones and Europe around 1200CE, the just pick an equivalent year and be done with it. "Oh but by now they would have had the internet and landed on the moon..." <- OK, then set the story 500 years before that.

Pin down what you want out of the medieval setting concept, separate out those parts, and whatever role you need magic to play will almost certainly just fit in without any major issues.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Great job commenting on the insanity of WoW. It's a mess that combines various different, conflicting elements and yet it's a highly popular MMORPG.....I have to wonder why. $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Commented Jan 18, 2021 at 23:07

All knowledge of inner workings of things is a science. Science studies, why certain things happen, but if some things happen without understanding of why, look like magic. I presume that medieval magicians where just scientists in contemporary terms. Folks were just not too aware of what those scientists knew and to them, it looked like magic.


A more stable society.

Since everyone has magic, even if little, the people can use it to better their life. Farms benefit from a bit more water and better working of soil; less wood is needed when one can create magical fires. This means slightly better living, and less reason to revolt.

For better chances of survival and more production, people quickly learn to belong to a balanced group of magic users, several of each elemental affinity; this can be done by intermarriages, common association, slavery, or a dozen of other ways. This is a factor for cohesion of the society.

On the other hand, people tend to be lazy and content themselves with they already have, only innovating when it's needed.

So, with a cohesive society and no change forced by, say, famine, technology will stagnate - not at medieval tech, but at Ancient Rome / Imperial China tech, with just enough material goods to get by, and with enough culture and civilization to ensure the teaching of magical craft.


So one thought is that since there are only four types of magic, there would be little room for individual movement between functions in society based on their magic. Supposing all magices are distributed among the population of a society to some degree of equity, then a water mage, no matter how skilled, would find little serious work in the construction field, which would naturally be dominated by Earth Mages. Similarly, Air Mages would have a much more difficult career as a farm than Earth or Water mages, which have clear advantages in the ability to manipulate the soil or water to create better conditions for crops and harvest. They would have great work as sailors along with water mages, but to the exclusion of Earth mages (who have no advantage in this career) or fire mages (who's abilities are actually dangerous to sailing ships). Society would gravitate to a culture that would not allow for a diversity of skill sets in specialized careers, which in turn would create a myopia of trade innovation.

Consider in Avatar: The Last Airbender, where the Four Nations rarely had contact with each other. We were taught in that series that Earthbending required a mentaltity of standing ground and firmly planting yourself. They would often take stances and forms that relied on absorbing impact and countering. However, in the sequel series, Bolin explains his Earthbending style differently... that is, he's light on his feet, quick in his movements, and ready to dodge or attack rather than holding firm and blocking. This is a result of having to train for a system that favors faster elements like water and fire and penalizes defensive actions. In this system, Water was the defensive element because it was sturdy enough to intercept incoming attacks but quick enough to be turned into counter attacks. Fire was the element of distracting opponents as it had little push back but was still a threat, and earth was the primary offense, because it had little could still break a water defense (but was slower moving from defense to offense) and provide a more solid force than fire could. It was advantageous to use elements from other styles to rethink the use of your own. We saw this hinted earlier when the previously accepted fact that lightning attacks couldn't be stopped was challenged by using water's reliance of redirecting energy to not block, but redirect lightning. This didn't occure until better understanding of the magic was show because fire was focused on aggresive offensive actions and had little use of of defensive studies.

Without the knowledge sharing of different styles between two different schools of thought, stagnation will occur. Consider our own world and the ability to transit knowledge. In the 90s-00s televison series "Boy Meets World," Mr. Feeney points out the changes in information sharing that allowed new thoughts and ideas to flourish. In the 1600s, in the time of Gutenberg, the public would wait 6 months for a new book. On the dawn of the internet, a new web page went live every 6 seconds. Today, a terrible tradgedy anywhere around the world is "Breaking News" half a world away in the matter of minutes (there's a fun little youtube video that shows a real time comparision of several internationally known news networks as they broke the initial events that would become the 9/11 attacks. BBC's London based broadcast would carry coverage of the event before certain NYC based broadcasts (NBC was one of the last of the big carriers to break it, because the bulletin hit their desks right as they were about to go to commercial break and the producers decided to let the comercials air so they could get a slightly better handle on what was going on). And as hard as it is to imagine, Mr. Feehney's observation of the speed of information travel predates advent of smartphones, which now brings the entire sum of human knowledge to our pockets... anything is there to know for those who seak it.

Societies like the United States, which favored anyone one willing to put in the effort to learn the skills to do anything they wanted and this offered a greater exchange of ideas and innovations that improved society. But these societies required that stagnation be questioned and pushed out. A society that does not value outside thinking for a solution will stagnate.


Don't forget the one thing which sustains our current technological revolution: patent and copyright law! An inventor is encouraged to continue research and development because intellectual property laws make his efforts worthwhile. Magicians, meanwhile, go to great lengths to hide their incantations and magic ingredients. Therefore in a world where magic can get most of life's chores done, few people would want to invent a cell phone or a horseless carriage which requires frequent oil changes. They wouldn't be able to protect their inventions because the magic underlying their novel ideas would be considered public property, just as all other magic techniques are considered public property.


Frankly, as a quite firm believer in the humanity, I cannot imagine that people would willingly ignore the powers, technics and science give to us. I have one boring and one more... interesting option.

Boring: magic is irrational

It's just impossible to find a rationale in magic. It fails scientific method. It is impossible to get an impression of how it works other than by intuition and sixth sense.

The problem is: this is a very conviniently odd magic. Humanity has gasped, understood, and taken control of things much more arcane then something which depends on a moon cycle, mood of the caster, and amount of corn flakes she ate as a child.

Other options mentioned here, like absence of a "crystallisation point" for science as an approach, might help. But frankly, with magic so arcane, people would rather turn to science than from science.

Frighting: a big common enemy

They have science. They have magic. They are still in the Dark Ages. Why?

Well, make it a miracle, that they are yet in the Dark Ages and not in Stone Age. Or extinct.

Humanity has a big enemy. Be it aliens, ethereal beings, mother nature, or something completely different. There is a force that threatens and obliterates humans. Though it's said that a big war intensifies technical progress, it's not quite true with this enemy. Knowledge gets destroyed. Many people die. It's a miracle, that they can stand ground.

(Actually, it would not be Dark Ages. It would be Leonardo's time. The blossoming of Renaissance. Because all you need to start Renaissance is Leonardo (and Co.) and wood. As long as you still have knowledge – and some people tend to survive in non-fully disrupting apocalypses, by the very definition of non-fully disrupting – you can start Renaissance again. If you were more advanced than that before, it's even better. You also have scrap metal! And plastics! And half-working antigravity engines! But I digress.)

So, this civilisation is no fun. But it has science. It has magic. And does not progress very fast, because people tend to be eaten by a Grue en masse every then and now.


In order to imagine how technological disparity might occur, we should probably understand some of the underlying mechanics of technological advancement.

I would note that a huge part of technological advancement is tied to conflicts, or the importance of military advancements. This is because research requires a huge amount of funding or resources. Generally leaders in society would only divert resources to technological advancement if it will give them an edge militarily; either for an existing conflict or a perceived one which might happen in the future. Otherwise, those resources will be spend to develop existing infrastructure (to help them gain more money), for luxury, or to consolidate power for stable governance.

Many examples can be seen throughout our history whether recent or in the past. For example let us take China's history and compare it to the Europeans. China was stuck in what I would note as feudal/imperialist age for the most part starting from AD all the way to end of the Qing dynasty (pre WWI ish). Even though huge advancements like gun powder, compass, etc. were developed. There was not enough of a societal and military change that historians would use to demarcate the dawn of a new era. On the other hand Europe went through several ages like Medieval, Dark, Renaissance, Imperialist. Due the constant source of conflicts, clashes between various culture group, and revolutions, Europe's technological advancement grew. While China's stable government due to a huge base of similar culture, mostly just changed leaders marking the dawn of a new dynasty. There wasn't much of a societal change because of the efficiency of the central bureaucracy in consolidating the power of the leader.

Even in our current time and age, many new technological advancements were a result of military funding. Computers for instance were developed in order to crack German code. No explanation is probably needed for atomic bombs. GPS developed by US Airforce was later commercialized for civilian use. The space race, was also as a result of clash between major powers at the time. Inventions come and go, but they will only have a significance if it is either a military or commercial success. And for the most part, huge budgets are allocated to the military for wild technological goose chase, thus sparking radical changes in a new technological area. (I would also argue that commercial investments tends to be on the safer side, going on safe bets in areas that would make immediate money).

Now tying this back to your question. If your magical world is mostly peaceful or conflicts can somehow be resolved with a direct comparison of magical powers. Then perhaps funding into technological advancement is not needed. More resources would probably be used to find/locate powerful magic users. Or the development of infrastructures and cities, so that there is a huger population (if population is tied to the amount of magic users). On the other hand, maybe there are technological advancements but not enough of a societal change. Thus similar to China's history, perhaps in the magical world there is just a change of leadership every now and then. Therefore, even though there might be advancements in computer, or other advance tech; because the governing structure is still the same, time would be split by dynasty rather than ages.


I can think of three reasons, one Jim butcher style mages, magic and technology in the Dresdenverse don't mix on a fundamental level, if everyone was a mage a lot of the technologies we take for granted wouldn't function and never would have been invented because of how much they didn't work. Two innovation, lack of, if magic can do anything you want or need it to you have no reason to look towards technology to solve problems because there aren't any. Three scientific thought, lack of, scientific thought and methodology are diametrically opposed to magic (and religion incidentally) due to the fact that magic works because it works. It's a matter of "I want it, I get it" when it comes to the effects magic creates not I get X result because of Y effect.

Just a thought, I'm not sure how long a society of humans who can all use magic would actually last before they all killed each other.

  • $\begingroup$ These options don't seem very well fleshed out. I'm trying to get reasons why they don't work, not technology just doesn't work. Especially with this magic. Your second point seems reasonable but very short. Some real world evidence would be great. Also, your third point doesn't really follow, scientific methodology isn't opposed to religion or magic. Maybe they can't be explained by it, but the scientific method isn't meant to explain absolutely everything. $\endgroup$
    – DonyorM
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 16:24

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .