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Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Published by IHaveNoName in the blog IHaveNoName's blog. Views: 115

I'm going to backtrack a bit here. Since I started off with fantasy, I didn't really see a need to worry about technology, so I skipped over that part. Some time after doing the basic world development, though, I asked myself that magical phrase "what if?". In this case, it was "what if the world had more advanced tech before the Sundering, akin to Final Fantasy?" (Refer to this post for more info about the history.)

That got the gears turning. Since I'd already determined that the characters would be travelling a lot, having faster modes of transportation would make things a lot easier. Also, it's been 3000 years since the cataclysm, but records would've survived and people would (eventually) be able to adapt pre-Sundering tech (and really, I wanted to avoid medieval stasis). So, long story short, I ended up with magitech.

The problem was, I had no idea how to do it, so I let it sit for awhile until I was struck by inspiration. Here's how it works:

List several fields of technological innovation, and determine the most advanced innovation (item, process, whatever) in each field. I would stick to commonly available things, unless they have an impact on the story (that new weapon the neighboring kingdom is developing, for example).

My list goes like this:
  • Agriculture: Crop rotation, irrigation methods, pesticides, biotech; also which crops are cultivated where.
  • Architecture: Buildings and materials - advances from the arch to the skyscraper, stone blocks to concrete and steel. How are buildings made? If magic exists, is it used to aid construction, or to fortify buildings? Is it slave labor, conscripts, or guild workers?
  • Communication: Obviously, this covers everything from the telegraph to the telephone, but it also includes things like TV, computers, radio, etc.
  • Education: Do schools exist, and if so, how advanced are they (primary/secondary/college)? Who can attend them? What subjects do they teach?
  • Medicine: Procedures and treatments, knowledge in general, hospitals. How advanced is medicine in your world - do people still think sickness is due to an imbalance of the humors and leeches are a good treatment, or do they know more modern techniques?
  • Science: I know, this is really too broad a category, but you really only need to figure out what's important to the story. This includes physics, chemisty, earth sciences (all the -ologies), metallurgy (especially important if you add new materials!), astronomy, etc. How do people see the world around them? Is science only studied by a few scholars, or is it taught in schools? Is science even a thing, or do people believe alchemy works (maybe it does!) and illness is caused by an imbalance of humors in the body? Where does the knowledge of various sciences lie, vis a vis Earth's timeline of discoveries and inventions?
  • Transportation (land, air, sea, space): This is a big one. Has the populace advanced past using draft animals, and if so, what do they use to get around? Fun fact: In the Los Angeles valley in the early 1900s, there were plans to make an electric train system for mass transportation; car companies bought out the train companies and shut them down, which forced people to buy cars.
  • Weaponry: Medieval, modern, futuristic. This will be informed by the type and level of magic - if it's easily incorporated/adapted into weaponry (or replaces it entirely), arms and armor could evolve entirely differently than in our world. Coupled with transportation, this could open a broad field of new innovations.
Once you figure out the greatest advances in each field, decide who has them. If said innovations are possessed/controlled by a single entity or a limited group, figure out the hows and whys (how they got it, and why they're the only ones who have it). It'll usually be something basic like "it's a state secret (nukes)", but a more elaborate explanation ("it was deciphered from a series of carvings in a temple") might spark some ideas that help develop the world further or even kick-start a story.

It takes a lot of effort to keep an innovation secret (see: nukes), and even more to suppress all knowledge entirely (there are almost always rumors, truthful or not). Ironically, the more advanced a culture becomes, the harder it is to hide things from the public due to the presence of mass media, instant communications, and improved methods of spying and bypassing security protocols.

Keep in mind, too, that most innovations are spread through contact with other cultures (through trade, conquest, or espionage) - gunpowder, for example came to Europe from the Orient via the Silk Road.

Helpful Links
* The Diffusion of Innovations: "a theory that seeks to explain how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread".
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