I'm trying to design a world in which (for the storyline) magic has evolved along with technology (ideally at a somewhat equal rate if this sounds coherent but I'm flexible) until the world has reached today's technology (and an equivalent advancement in magic). I'm assuming it takes research, skill, time, luck and practice to advance in both domains.

What should I consider when designing such magic and such society?

I'm not asking for a solution, just for the right questions to bear in mind, the right things to think about. I like having coherent worlds, as close as possible to a science-based fiction.

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    $\begingroup$ What should I consider when designing such magic and such society? Could you be more specific ? $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Nov 13, 2014 at 16:16
  • $\begingroup$ If you want to see a master take on this issue, look at Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn books. The original trilogy was set in a high fantasy setting, but he's continuing the work in later periods of the same world's development. The Alloy of Law is set in a late 19th century technology equivalent, with railroads figuring prominently in the plot, and it deeply explores (as Sanderson does in all his works) how the magic system interacts with and shapes all aspects of society. The sequel to The Alloy of Law is due out soon, and I expect this process of insights and worldbuilding to continue. $\endgroup$ Nov 13, 2014 at 18:54

7 Answers 7


In short, Economics.

A world with both magic and science will utilize the most efficient (fastest and/or cheapest) methods of mining, production, etc. So if a forklift (fuel costs, materials to build, training) are more expensive then someone with a "high school" level of telekinesis; why would any company use forklifts?

This may not be 100% true across all industries but it would certainly be the normal procedure; many sword smiths now use modern steel and techniques but some traditional sword smiths still craft things the old fashioned way to preserve traditions and techniques.

In such a way some difficult things to achieve with magic will still be practiced for the challenge or achievement; but not on global or industrial scale.

Further since economics is easy to calculate for modern industry/science (material cost + fuel or energy + maintenance) magic would need to be similarly comparable in a "dollars and cents" kind of way.

Operate a forklift for 8 hours = 20 dollars of fuel, reduces the "expected life" by 1% at the cost of the machine of 1000 dollars = 10 dollars, and a maintenance cost of 1 dollars is a total of 31 dollars.

Does the magic have material components that add up to equivalent costs? Castings times? A forklift can just "work" for 8 hours if the spell takes 1 hour to cast and then lasts for 7 hours you're doing slightly less work.

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    $\begingroup$ So true, yet so many popular settings ignore this. Note that this goes all ways: any combination of technology and magic may surpass other techniques, and the vast majority of possibilities are combinations, not exclusively magic or technology. $\endgroup$
    – Vandroiy
    Nov 13, 2014 at 15:05
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    $\begingroup$ Economics is good, but in the real world it is often trumped by Politics and by Leverage. We've known for a long time that fossil fuels are a horribly inefficient energy source, for example, but the fossil fuel industry has long been powerful enough to suppress this simple fact. $\endgroup$ Nov 13, 2014 at 18:58
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    $\begingroup$ How long have we known? Well, way back in 1931, Thomas Edison said: We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature's inexhaustible sources of energy — sun, wind and tide. … I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that. So yeah, there are other, less worthy things that guide decision making and frequently trump efficiency, unfortunately. $\endgroup$ Nov 13, 2014 at 19:00
  • $\begingroup$ @MasonWheeler You seem to be using the word efficient to mean "less sustainable" or perhaps less "clean" however a gallon of gasoline (or other similar fuel) is far more efficient in terms of power/time. This is why heavy machinery is diesel or gas, it does the same amount of work faster. $\endgroup$
    – Culyx
    Nov 13, 2014 at 19:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Culyx: No, I use the word efficient to mean "efficient". All environmental concerns aside, combustion is a horrible way to generate energy, as a huge amount is wasted as heat. Also, a gallon of gasoline is a heavily processed material; it doesn't just come out of the ground that way. There are huge up-front costs associated with extracting, transporting, and refining raw materials before it can be used as fuel, and talking about it as if it were a raw material is not a fair comparison. $\endgroup$ Nov 13, 2014 at 19:32

The first thing is that you need to know what magic is, quite precisely - if you're going mix it up with technology then it needs to have a clear and limited definition. Some good examples of this might be the ones you see in Patrick Rothfuss or Brandon Sanderson's writing, where magic is governed by clear and understandable rules. Even if those are never made explicit within the setting, you need to know what they are for yourself.

A consequence of this is that you also need to have a reason that magic is not simply "sufficiently advanced technology" - what marks it out as different from regular technological development? Perhaps only some people have the ability to do it, or magic is governed by some kind of sentience that must be bargained with or similar, but you need to have a reason that magic isn't simply a different energy source you can use as a battery for your mobile phone.

Doing the sums

One of the biggest changes in the development of technology in the real world has been that our understanding of mathematics has allowed us to develop new tools for exploring the physical world- in particular from Newton forward, most technological advances have some kind of mathematical underpinnings. This might be a reason for magic and technology to evolve at a similar rate- assuming both are - to some extent - natural processes, similar mathematical tools are likely to be useful for exploring both.

Collision of ideas

Often what mark out a major technological step is a new idea or concept that nobody had thought to implement before. In a world where magic and technology intermingle, you have two spaces for those concepts to arise and when one emerges in either field, you might expect that the other would find ways to replicate the concept or perhaps to extend it. That spirit of replication and competition could spur a lot of interesting development.

As a corollary, it might be interesting to make different things simple with either, so things that are easy with magic are technologically hard and vice versa; maybe magic can create clear three dimensional images, but moving a heavy load between two places is really hard.

People are important

Whatever your narrative, the thing that will draw an audience in to the setting will be how people react to the conflict/complement of magic and technology. Think about how this divergence affects society- does the existence of magic divide or unite people? Does it get caught up in religion or other mass social movements? Do people take it for granted or find it to be extraordinary? The way that people respond to and use both technology and magic gives you a lot of open doors for setting up interesting stories.


The biggest deciding factor in how much magic affects technology is what kind of magic you have. Here are a few questions to narrow that down:

  • How available is magic?
    • If magic is available to everyone, technology simply won't exist in the areas that magic covers. If you can magically clean your windows, why would you buy window cleaners?
    • If magic is available only to a very select few, then technology may progress normally, since the impact of magic on the world is relatively low. In both the Harry Potter books and in "Star Wars", the number of magic users is low and/or hidden, so the impact on technology is minimal.
    • If magic is widely available, but very difficult to use, it will likely have little effect on technology, since anything powerful enough to replace technology would only be available to a select few. Of course, if those select few have god-like powers, it may be that they replace technology themselves.
  • How does magic interact with technology?
    • If magic makes technology fail, then magic and technology will never work together. An example is the Dresden Files series; technology around wizards tends to go up in clouds of smoke and a shower of sparks. That would result in a rift between magic and technology, and whichever group was bigger would force the other down, either through politics or force.
  • Where does magic come from?
    • If magic comes directly from magic users and cannot be stored, then it is slightly possible to tie magic and technology together. For example, the "bending" in the television show "The Legend of Korra" could be considered magic; one episode shows fire benders creating electricity for a power plant.
    • If magic can be stored in runes or used to create artifacts, it is possible that technology could be driven ahead rapidly, since technology could use the magical energy to power itself and to 'cheat' at technical limitations. It's completely possible for technology in that world to use 'magic batteries', magic runes that can be easily replaced as the power is used up.
  • How is magic used?
    • If magic is driven and powered solely by imagination, technology will be of little use to an imaginative user, since anything they could think to invent could already be done with magic. If there are enough imaginative people, or if schools teach how to productively use magic, then technology as we know it won't exist, as it can be completely replaced by magic.
    • If magic is driven by logical, immutable rules, then technology can coexist, or even be improved by magic; if it interacts with the physical world the same way every time, it can be used as a platform to build better technology.
  • Finally, how does magic manifest?
    • Magic composed of energy, like fire, force, electricity, or light could fit well with technology; as previously mentioned, powering electrical plants with magic.
    • Magic based on the mind or spirit world (mind control, soul-eating, possession, etc.) would not interact with technology much, except to inspire inventions to detect, counteract, or duplicate its effects.
    • Magic based on creating, destroying, transmuting, or transporting matter would have a huge effect on technology. Being able to transmute lead into gold would mean technology would never be at a loss for materials; being able to dig a strong tunnel with magic would mean transportation could grow by leaps and bounds.
    • Magically transmitting or generating sights and sounds (veils, hallucinations, crystal-ball-gazing) would probably not have much impact on technology, unless it was widespread and repeatable enough to replace televisions or radios.
    • Magic that interacts with time (seeing the future or possible future, or time travel) could have a huge impact on technology, either for or against it. If it was possible to look into the future to see which of experiment works, you wouldn't have to spend money or time to actually do those experiments, and instead could cut directly to production. On the other hand, happy accidents would be much less likely to happen, since accidents in general would be much less likely to happen.

It might be helpful to frame this question in terms of how your world's secondary schools might teach several subjects differently from our own:


We've all heard Clarke's maxim that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," so how would people in a merged world teach magic? If it's a fundamental law of nature, why wouldn't it be taught in science class? How would it be taught? It's not pseudoscience if it's real. Would "divination" be included in the scientific method?


If one of the magical abilities present in your world is the ability to read or control minds, then the nature of history becomes difficult. If the Archvizier of Dunlop suddenly became a murderous despot in 1277, who's to say that she wasn't brainwashed to aid her cousin's coup later that year? Maybe her cousin wasn't the saint she's always been portrayed as. Think of all the crazy crackpot historical theories in our world - Bigfoot, the Chupacabra, the Illuminati - and realize that in your world, they're all possible.


On the face of it, this would seem to be the same in your merged world as it is in ours, but if a divination spell can instantly prove any theorem or solve any algorithm, why would complex mathematics such as calculus have ever emerged? However, if there is an "arithmancy" that governs magical work, the line between science and magic begins to blur and the two might aid one another.


As other answers have noted, the economics of such a world would be vastly different than our own. If something is cheaper when done magically, the scientific supply of that good or service will dry up. However, if science does something cheaper than the magical equivalent, what happens to the person who can perform that service inherently? For instance, if scientific transportation is cheaper than magical teleportation, what happens to the people who have the magical ability to teleport others through space? Do they ply their trade to the wealthy, or do they try to earn money by other means?


"ilinamorato, that's silly," you say, "this question is ABOUT technology!" But hear me out. Cheap conjuration of basic objects would mean that mass manufacturing never developed, so other forces would have to have driven scientific development. We might see a much earlier development of digital information systems. Conversely, if magical conjuration could be applied to the manufacturing process, you might find yourself in a world with far cheaper, more quality-built manufactured objects.


In such a world, science fiction and fantasy would not be a pseudo-subcultural genre, but a genre that encompassed their everyday lives. So what would "genre fiction" be like? Do nerds read books about life in a magicless world - our world?

Foreign Language

If the magic in your world allows for quick travel to distant lands, foreign language will be a much more important class to take. If it allows for time travel, the dead languages of the past and uninvented languages of the future must be considered. You wouldn't want to offend your future self.


Don't think that just because magical spells can heal injuries and diseases that health won't be a concern. Think about the processes that will be accepted in this world that might be considered homeopathy or witch doctoring in our world. Medicine will likely be a partnership between the magical and scientific, with much of the diagnostic work in the scientific realm while treatments are conducted by the mage. How will their interaction be? Will it be like in the TV show Scrubs, where surgeons and internal medicine doctors are often at odds? Will hospitals include altars for sacrifices and incantations?


Do humans integrate technology into their bodies? Do they try to select for magical attributes in their offspring? Do magical creatures such as griffins and dragons exist in this world? Is there a demihuman race such as dwarves in this world?


Does everyone integrate both magic and technology into their lives, or are there "technologists" and "magicists", neither of whom trust the other? Is technology considered "old fashioned," used only by hipsters and grandparents who are hopelessly out of touch with the new generation?

Politics and Government

How will the politics of this blended world work themselves out? Are the mages governed by a different body than the scientists? How does a government prevent magical tampering with elections? Are officials even elected, or does a diviner simply cast spells to discover who the people want to be elected, or who would be better to rule? How do different nations interact with one another? Is magic more prevalent in one country than another? Can magical power make a country a superpower?

Physical Education

Is there a sport that consumes the world (like football, or maybe football)? Is it scientific or magical? Is it considered poor sportsmanship to use magic in sports, or is it considered "just part of the game"?

Art and Music

This probably wouldn't be much different in the blended world than in ours, but it is worth thinking about how the arts in a magical world would look.

Criminal Justice

Clearly a magical criminal could do a lot of damage. But so could a technologically-advanced criminal. How does the police in this world fight crime? Is it an alliance between mages and techies, or is there a Magic Police and a Science Police? How does one report an emergency situation? In what manner do the magical police arrive?

Some short thoughts:

Meteorology: Will controlling the weather be as much the domain of meteorologists as predicting it?

Astronomy: Is Astrology part of this science?

Philosophy and Ethics: What is right and wrong in a world where anything is possible?

Agriculture: How is food created/grown?

Communications: How are messages transmitted?

Obviously you don't have to have an answer for every question. But as you're developing your world, it would be helpful for you to be able to answer most of the big ones, so that when the little ones come up you can make a decision based in the lore you've already established.


I think the main point to consider is making neither magic nor technology absolutely superior to the other. If magic is always the much better solution, then technology won't be used, and vice versa. Ideally, magic and technology both have areas where they are better suited to the problem than the other. For example, you could have magic being at advantage for healing (and thus having a magic-based medicine with very little technology) but technology being at advantage in transportation (so that transportation will be done using technology, and magic transportation, if possible at all, is only used in exceptional circumstances). There could also be fields that need both magic and technology (for example, you could use magic to let a production machine withstand forces which no material could otherwise withstand, but the production process itself is just a technological one that however couldn't work if the machine could not withstand those forces).

There could also have been a rivalry and competition between magic and technology which made both sides improve their abilities as much as possible to stay competitive, causing as a side effect a quite rapid development of both magic and science. For such a competition, it would probably be a good idea if it would be hard, if not impossible, for a single human to be both good in technology and good in magic.


I'd imagine it like a biological arms-race where for example the prey (magic users) would compete against the predator (tech users). This example is straight out of the avatar anime series. Roles may be different in your imagination.

The main idea is that whenever someone with magic usage is able to perform extraordinary talent and make a living out of it, someone will come up with a technology of similar effect in order to compete in wealth and in lifestyle.

This scenario would be suitable for a society where magic usage and technology balances out perfectly. If there are few casters, you may have to re-design the society, making the magic users obsolete and archaic and perhaps even feared. (idea is from the sword of truth book series by terry goodkind)

In a scenario where technology users are rare and secretive, you may have to re-design the society giving tech users ways of survival and/or acceptance. No such work of fantasy comes to my mind. Perhaps someone could make a more complete list.

  • $\begingroup$ Why would people limit themselves to using either tech or magic? That's like asking a construction company to use either cranes or people but not both. $\endgroup$
    – Vandroiy
    Nov 13, 2014 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Vandroiy Well if people were companies, I'd imagine that would be true. However you're right, there could be dual classes. $\endgroup$
    – nurettin
    Nov 13, 2014 at 15:41

I was going to comment on Culyx's answer, but it was getting too long.

Another question related to this is how rare the magic is. If one in ten people is capable of nearly free telekinesis, then the magic solution will dominate. If there's only one person in the world with the telekinetic ability to replace a forklift, forklifts will be the typical solution.

Given the story parameters, I would think that the goal would be to balance them such that both are used. So forklift-replacement telekinetics should be maybe half as common as forklifts are in our world. That should make it so that people choose forklifts about half the time. That way, the technology group takes the trouble to develop forklifts while still substituting magic for them somewhat frequently.

You also may want to make magic talent somewhat uneven. For example, if this were an Earth-like world, you might make magic common in sub-Saharan Africa, Australia, and the Americas but uncommon in Europe, Northern Africa, and Asia. So the nations that we think of as developed in the real world have to use technological solutions while the nations that we think of as part of the third-world use magical solutions. Probably less colonization in this world though. That way, the combinations would mostly be relatively new while the traditional solutions would be mostly technological or magical rather than both.

If you do not do that, then you'll have to find another reason why technology advanced as much as it did. You'd think that magic would naturally substitute otherwise. So technology would be primitive in some areas while potentially advanced in others.


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