Worldbuilding Qs you should be asking yourself guide II

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Crystal Spires
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Worldbuilding Qs you should be asking yourself guide II

Postby Crystal Spires » Tue Feb 05, 2013 1:27 am

Worldbuilding Questions you should be asking yourself Guide II

The Do it Yourself Guide To Fantasy Tech

As a follow up for my previous post in a series of Worldbuilding Questions you should be asking yourself, we come to the unknown and wild realm of Fantasy Tech, which is one that many people prefer avoiding, yet exploit much of the time without realizing. Before we get into the actual discussions of what questions should a writer of a Fantasy Tech world be asking him or herself as they worldbuild, let's talk about Fantasy Tech worlds for a moment. A question that should immediately cross one's mind is:

What is the difference between Modern Tech, Past Tech, and Future Tech and Fantasy Tech?

The first question that many writers on NS struggle with, as they do not know what marks the genre, and what makes one Fantasy Tech?

First of all it is a question of a completely unusual and and original setting. We start in a world fundamentally different from ours. It may have a connection with present day Earth, such as being our remote past or future, but designing a mythology or a system of metaphystics defines the world in question, as in this case, metaphysics is an indivisible part of the world in question. The Enormous Scale of the world is often what one would read in a traditional epic poem. Power politics, wars, the death of nations, gods walking the earth, and the real threat of “The End of the World as We Know It” sing it... you know you want to is often a large trait that plays a huge role in Fantasy Tech. Then there is the big enormous role of what we call "Functional Magic" which can be played in several different ways, but often becomes a huge role in designing the Fantasy world.

What is Metaphysics?

Well, we first have to define what metaphysics are. Metaphysics in fantasy isn’t merely what metaphysics are in real life. In real life numbers, words, ideas, those are all metaphysics. They are non-physical entities which we used to describe our world. Fantasy Metaphysics are fully real physical systems which exist outside of known physical laws in real life. Metaphysics is a framing device for how this world became or is different from the world we know. It also forms what we call a Functional Magical System.

What is Functional Magic?

Functional magic frames a system of probability enhancement which the Mage takes their will to transform reality to form their desired reality.

What Defines a Mage?


In some fictions, being a mage is Hereditary. One is born a mage, and does not control whether or not they have the gift. In this case there is a defined set between a mage and a mundane person. These mundane people may react in different ways to the presence and existence of the magi. This will affect how your world perceives these entities. Then there is the Theurgic Supplicant

Theurgic Supplication or Summoning is when the mage is not merely born a mage, nor is their power hereditary, they become a mage through contact with an entity. The magic is done entirely by spirits, gods, demons, and cosmic entities with whom the caster makes deals with. The "caster" in this case knows nothing more than to contact a higher power or lower power and preferably hows to negotiate with these entities by making a Geass or Contract. The magic functions solely at the will of the higher power rather than the mage.

Then there is my favorite, which is the Mage Scholar or wizard who studies existing Magical Laws. In this instance it is neither supplication to an independent entity, nor is it heredity that defines a mage, but it is their understanding of a complex system of magic that exists in a canonical work of the writer’s choice. Anyone in this world can cast magic as long as they know the rules for casting these magics. Whether it is done by psychological components (thinking and willing change), somatic components (body movements), verbal components (whispering a spell or words in a higher language) The Mage becomes an essential component in changing the world around them.

Magics of this type can rely on intricate rituals of song, dance, scientific study, exploration, training, chemistry, or understanding the way the world works through maps, alternate physics, specialized green rocks, ether, mana, power, energy, nature, or construction of complicated devices (like a wand, blessed athame, staff, magical goblet, mini hakkero, golems, etc.). Either way, it is entirely up to you, the author to exercise your creativity, and to give your magic system the flavor you desire. This also affects how this magic is seen.

IF for example you have a magic system in which your components are the tears of sacrificed orphans to the God Ulork, you will likely have non-mages who hate and scorn the art of magic in every way... or a nation that hates orphans. Either way, you will have completely different reactions if Magic’s well known component is love and the power of friendship and joy, or the insight into reality of the world etc. You’ll have an entirely different approach and nations will also approach your nation differently as well.

Then there is the bit about scale in which many people have often a hard time to think over, creation of a fully considered Magical setting:

Now, what do I mean by a magical setting?

There is a lot of things which define a magical setting, and one of these things are Magical Races. But wait Spires, what do you mean by magical races?


There’s many ways to approach a magical race. Often times the easiest thing to comprehend are Magical Elves and Magical Dwarves. These are ripped from old mythology and are refashioned by many fictional works again and again. Talking sapient animals is also one that comes in many ways in fictional works, going as far back as some of the oldest folk tales whispered by some of the oldest civilizations known to man. There is fashioning your own which I will go into in more detail later, and then there is other different types of non-anthropomorphic non-humanoid beings one could create. This entirely relies on your own creativity. The same goes for Magical Critters which are creatures that exist in the setting you have created.

Then there is the relationship between magic and technology in a setting. This is often thrown about as there is no one-rule-fits all answer. The relationship between a high fantasy magic setting and technology is often a contentious issue in NS, and I wish to address this matter directly.

What is the relationship between magic and technology?


Does Magic, with its own rules and laws cause technology to stagnate? In some fictional works, Magic is seen as the ultimate way to transform life in a positive manner. Where there would be air conditioning, there are ‘cold runes’ which perform the same role as air conditioning but instead replace the device? Where there would be a grenade tossed, there is a spell of “flying-cloud rending thunderclap” which when cast it would possess the same effect, so why then would a magic society advance or see the need to advance? The result of this type of thinking leads many fantasy worlds to exist in Stasis. Stasis means that technological study and advancement falls behind. The result is often a past-technology world. Sometimes, some nations are able to have their magical and technological interests coincide. The desire to advance comes from the desire of mundane people to ‘play on an even playing field’ as the mages, and then you have a modern technological world, with fantasy magic intertwined.

Sometimes setting altering gets what are called anachronisms. Anachronisms are things that seem out of place or things that exist in the world, but don’t seem to mesh into the setting. So it would be like having horseback travelling being a common phenomenon, no cars, but then having advanced objects like GPS. These Anachronisms often mark what is called ‘tech soup’. Tech Soup is when there is not a defined or set technological limitation to a specific world setting, so there might be future tech ‘war of the world’ like setting, coinciding with medieval past tech shieldwalls and duels, and cell phone conversations between people in the same ‘World’. The problem often comes from either poor world-building or sometimes is done deliberately to lampshade some interesting notes by the author.

Many people are alienated by the tech soup genre, due to a common phenomenon defined as broken willing suspension of disbelief. When someone reads a fictional work, there are many things that we are able to keep in mind, things that we can let go and dismiss as part of the experience, of the world itself. But a broken willing suspension of disbelief happens when the reader, roleplayer, or person is not able to accept the ‘reality’ of something existing. This can be for many reasons; it can be a specific action, a specific setting rule, an anachronism, a storyline, or it can be the genre itself. If it is the genre itself it is impossible to reconcile willing suspension of disbelief, and it is best to not play with these persons.

Even in Hard Modern Tech in NS, itself, it is mostly an exercise in keeping the willing suspension of disbelief unbroken. Modern Tech itself is a misnomer, as we all know that Nation State X that you created does not really exist, but it is an exercise in worldbuilding a fictional country. There is also no way that any nation can have populations that are more than a billion without being China and India and one cannot have such on a land the size of the Netherlands. There is also nations that use constructed tanks, airplanes, ships, and such that are completely physically impossible unless one adds a huge dose of handwavium, and there is no nation that can have infinite resources that cannot be exhausted to allow for repeated wars. There is no way that a ship of modern design can traverse what is and insane distance covering three continent spans without hitting some sort of fueling problem OR having been spotted by some form of enemy ship when they have some ungodly number of ships etc. These factors are commonly overlooked, and they make Modern Technology a futile label in NS unless you happen to be a professional engineer in designing tanks, have a perfectly constructed world map to the letter, and have a extensive knowledge in military practice (which few really have in NS, but those who do stand out in comparison for their knowledge and worldbuilding skill). In short, this is a fairly difficult, if not futile task. Fantasy Tech, however does away with this false pretense.

To put this into proper perspective, I see it as this way, if one goes to a puppet show for example, one goes for the story, the emotions displayed by the marionettes, the talent of the puppeteer, the experience of the action displayed through props, etc. A sensible person going to a puppet show does expect that there will be situations in which the marionette’s strings will be fully visible to audience. If that audience is unable to reconcile the existence of the strings showing, and is unable to enjoy the experience told through the medium of puppets, it is a wasted affair. It is the same with the Fantasy Genre. If the reader is unwilling or unable to look past the existence of your constructed metaphysical laws, your setting, your constructed races, etc. Then they are not able to participate in your world without a broken willing suspension of disbelief. It might be a problem with your worldbuilding, or it might just be the reader’s problem, for which this is not something you can help.

(I call such people realism gremlins, as I find it to be silly, as NS is all fictional anyhow unless you are playing an Alt Universe nation or just retelling history with your NS Nation, leeway must be taken anyhow for your nation to functionally exist, and they do tend to be selective with their realism claims)

Either way world-mixing and immersion with the fantasy worlds is doubtlessly difficult, but good solid world-building can be accepted by other players if the right effort is taken. It can make the experience easy and fun, or it might be an irreconcilable broken matter that is best settled by having restriction on tech or outright ignoring one another. This is perfectly acceptable form on NS, but it also has backlash in which it locks people out of roleplaying with one another. This is however inescapable so how technology and magic interact is an essential component in worldbuilding, and roleplay depends on how this relationship is deciphered.

Now that we have an idea of what Fantasy Tech is, and what some of the pitfalls are, we can actually get to the Questions! Jolly good.

The Fantasy World

What the Fantasy world is like depends on you, and certain questions must be asked when creating a Fantasy setting of any sort. First of all, there is the existence of a Terran or non Terran planet. If one is a Hard MT-er, one should have the exact world map of earth, nothing more. There will be shifted possession of the different existing continents and landmasses and geopolitical distinctions, or shifted tectonic plates of those continents. Nothing more.There is something that comes with a fantasy world. Your own map. A fantasy setting comes with its own geographical features, its own landmarks, and its own climate. If one is playing an earthlike terran setting there will be a 365 day solar year, and 24 hours to a day. In an Alternate Planet Setting, the calendar and the hours may be different. The existence of different moons and gravity may also differ in said planet. The existence of different sequence stars will also affect your planet/world as well.

What is your Solar system like?

How many Stars, and how many moons are there?

What other planets do your people know of, what do they call them?

What type of Hydrosphere and atmosphere exists on your planet and in your nation?

What is the gravity like in your planet and in your nation?

How long is your day, and how long is your year?

How do your people measure time, and what are their calendars?

Are there spectacular constellations/comets, etc. visible at night or by day?

How do differences from Earth (multiple moons, suns, etc) affect the climate in various areas?

What are some geographical features of your world, and what are some climate features of your world? (refer back to my previous guide if you want some pointers and tips)

Are the laws of nature and physics actually different in this world, or are they the same as in real life? How does magic fit in? How do magical beasts fit in?

Is the level of technology in this society comparable to that of ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, Modern Day, the Future etc.?

Are there non-human inhabitants of this planet (elves, dwarves, aliens)? If so, how numerous? How openly present? What areas do they occupy?

Is the axial tilt and orbit the same — i.e., does the world have the same seasons and same length of year as Earth?

Fantasy Critters


Designing fantasy critters can be a crucial factor in worldbuilding and designing a particular ecosystem. Once you have your climate, terrain, and topography worked out, you can make your own critters. Some knowledge of biology in designing critters does help, as there are basic and complicated types of designs. Then there is fusing them with your world in general, and there are all sorts of manners for which one can design a fantasy critter. They can be annoying little gribblies, or enormous eldritch world ending monsters depending on the amount of thought you put into them. First of all you need to think about the setting and then relate it to the monster in question.

What type of animals are there, (dragons, unicorns, momeraths etc.) and how do they fit into the national ecology?

What do the fantasy animals typically eat?

How much and what kind of habitat do they require?

Are they intelligent and/or capable of working spells, talking, etc.?

How common are they, are any endangered species or common as a rat?

How do they organize themselves, are they solitary critters, herd animals, live in family units, or in pairs?

How big are they; How tall, how heavy, and how wide?

How much space do they take in their ecosystem?

What is their natural temperament, are they aggressive, territorial, defensive, timid, friendly, are they communal, parasitic, are they mutualists?

Are they toxic, or venomous, and if so, how do they release this toxin?

What are their natural behaviors (hunting and foraging, reproduction, defense mechanisms, and thought or behavior patterns)?

What do they look like?

How fast do they move?

How tough are they?

What is the best manner to approach this creature?

Where can it be found?

What wild animals, actual or imaginary, are potentially useful--e.g., for fur, whale oil, hides, magical ingredients, etc. Are there magical beasts, like dragons and unicorns?

Have any been domesticated?

Can any be magically created?

Fantasy functional Magic


Returning to the ‘magic’ conversation and talk of a fantasy world, we return to the existence of magic in general, and how this affects your society, and how it works. This often requires an understanding of physics, and also must often pose a physical subversion of what we know to be natural law. One way or another, the beloved physics as we know it, does not behave normally in a fantasy world. So we have to design a new physical set of laws or rules for how magic works. There is often a complex explanation to how each and every individual magic system works, and this often depends on your flavor or inspiration for magic in the world at large. It can be a complex system where there is flouting of existing natural laws (i.e. thermodynamics and Equivalent exchange and MagiChemistry) or there can be simple green rocks and natural magic energy.

What kind of functional magic is common in your world?

What Magical laws exist?

What is physically impossible in your world WITH magic, what are limitations to magic?

Is there a difference between miracles and magic, and if so, what are they?

How does applied magic function?

Where does magic power come from: “the gods”, "mana", “aether”, green rocks, the personal will-power of the magician, etc. and is it an exhaustible resource?

How does a magician tap into this magical power?

Does becoming a mage require some rite of passage or ritual (enchanting a special object, being chosen by the gods, constructing or being given a permanent link to the source of power, successfully summoning a demon, etc.) or does it just happen naturally, as a result of study or as a part of growing up?

What does one need to do to cast a spell: design an elaborate ritual, recite poetry, mix the right ingredients in a pot, think happy thoughts, do an elaborate motion, etc.?

Are there things like a staff, a wand, a familiar, a crystal ball, that are necessary or useful to have before casting spells? If so, where and how do wizards get these things?

How long does it take to cast a spell? Can spells be stored for later, instant use? Do spells take lots of long ritual, or is magic a "point and shoot" kind of thing?

Can two or more wizards combine their power to cast a stronger spell, or is magic done only by individuals?

What makes one wizard more powerful than another: knowledge of more spells, ability to handle greater quantities of mana, having a more powerful god as patron, etc.?

Does practicing magic have any detrimental effect on the magician (such as being addictive, slowly driving the magician insane, or shortening the magicians life-span)? If so, is there any way to prevent these effects? Are the effects inevitable in all magicians, or do they affect only those with some sort of predisposition? Do the effects progress at the same rate in everyone?

How much is known about the laws of magic? How much of what is "known" is wrong (as Aristotle's ideas about human anatomy were wrong, but accepted for centuries)?

What general varieties of magic are practiced (e.g., herbal potions, ritual magic, alchemical magic, demonology, necromancy, etc.)? Do any work better than others, or does only one variety actually work?

Are certain kinds of magic practiced solely or chiefly by one sex or another? By one race or culture or another?

Does a magician's magical ability or power change over time -- e.g., growing stronger or weaker during puberty, or with increasing age? Can a magician "use up" all of his/her magic, thus ceasing to be a magician? If this happens, what does the ex-magician do--die, retire, take up teaching, go into a second career?

Can the ability to do magic be lost? If so, how -- overdoing it, "burning out," brain damage due to fever or a blow, magical attack, etc.?

Can the ability to do magic be forcibly taken away? If so, how and by whom? (Traditional example: certain spells could only be worked by virgins or the celibate; raping such a witch robbed her of her power, or having sex ruins their ability for good. )

What is the price magicians pay in order to be magicians--years of study, permanent celibacy, using up bits of their life or memory with each spell, etc.?

How do your people react to said magic?

Magic and Society


The use of magic in a world does not only alter how the story is told, it can also fundamentally define how your people’s culture works. If Magic is an eldritch power that only an unholy creature would perform, or if it is an art practised by artists, bards and musicians, if it is a study practiced by the wise and learned, if it is a tradition handed down from father to son. It can completely alter how your magic is received, perceived, and handled. There will be different rules on how to handle it legally, in war, and also socially. If different societies see magic in a different way it can cause all sorts of tension and different types of discrimination and persecution. This also exists where there are non-human entities.

What existing legal code has been set in place to restrict or promote use of magic?

How does your nation treat different types of non human entities legally and socially?

How much as the presence of magic affected strategy and tactics?

Do army commanders have to use specific unusual formations or techniques to deal with possible magical attacks?

How can magic be used as part of a battle plan (example: getting a weather magician to make it rain so that the enemy movements are restricted or hampered)?

How does the presence of non-humans (dwarves, vampires, etc.) affect strategy, tactics, and battles generally?

Are special weapons or tactics required if an army is facing certain kinds of non-human armies?

How would non-human soldiers turn their physical differences from humans to their advantage?

Are particular non-human races traditionally better with certain weapons or tactics (e.g., dwarves with axes, elves with bows)? Why--because they have greater strength, better eyesight, more manual dexterity, etc?

What effect has magic had on laws? Art? Technology? Entertainment? etc.

Where is scientific and/or magical research done--universities, private labs, under the auspices of the king/government, etc.?

Can magic be used in the arts, and if so, how -- paint that glows, pictures that move, flutes that play themselves, etc. ? How do "normal" artists feel about this?

Are there separate civil and criminal courts? Is there a separate court or procedure for magical crimes? Are judges and other court officers required/forbidden to know magic?

Is forensic magic possible? Commonly used? Used only to investigate certain types of crimes (if so, which?)? Are the results of forensic spells admissible in court as evidence?

What level is medicine at? Who are the healers? Do you have to have a talent to heal? Who trains healers, herbalists, apothecaries, surgeons, magical vs. nonmagical healers, etc?

Is healing usually a magical process? If so, how does the magical healing talent/spell work (i.e., speeding up the body's natural healing mechanism vs. doing instant repairs from outside)? Does a magical healer have to consciously direct the healing process (meaning that lots of knowledge of anatomy, etc. would be required), or does magical healing simply speed up the normal, unconscious healing process in the patient? Is there more than one kind of magical healer (as there are surgeons, eye doctors, orthopedic doctors, etc.)? Are there both magical and non-magical healers, and if so, are they rivals or simply different specialties?

Are magicians a force in politics, or are they above it? Are there national politics that revolve around magic/wizards (i.e., trying to outlaw or promote certain kinds of magic, trying to draft all wizards into the king's army, licensing of magicians, etc.)?

Given the magical/technological level of this society, what is an appropriate ratio of farmers or food producers to urban residents? If this is based on the presence of magic, how many urban residents are going to starve if the spells supporting farming fail suddenly?

Are different races/intelligent species good at different kinds of magic? If so, what types are associated with what species? Are there species that use magic more or less unconsciously--for instance, dragons using magic to fly without consciously being aware of it, or werewolves using magic to change?

How are illegal magicians or those who use illegal magic detected? apprehended? Punished? Is this the responsibility of the magician's guild, or do ordinary law enforcement agencies have to deal with it?

Does it require a license to be a wizard? A driver's type license (something nearly everyone gets upon coming of age) or a doctor's-type license (something that only a small portion of the population will ever get)? Who certifies wizards: the government, wizard's guild, local priests, independent accounting firm?

Magic and Technology

Beyond the realism gremlins there is a world where different types of magic affects the way the world works, and there are more than normal stories which can be told. As I said there are several ways that technology can work, it can either be restricted to a specific time, it can be vague, it can be set in a specific time, it can advance, or it can be in stasis. Then the question is where you fit in with said genres and magical technology. Clarke's Three Laws also come into play, which are three "laws" of prediction formulated by the British writer Arthur C. Clarke. They are:

When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

These can be used to preface the discovery of magic that we do not yet know about, and it can even preface the discovery of magical detection and instrumentation. We can also look at these ideas and there emerges another principle; sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from science, in that its study and practice acts in the same way as the discovery of new technology. While I don’t want to abuse science too much (as I do like it) one could forego our own conventional knowledge to create a fantasy world with new speculative rules, and this is what Fantasy Tech is about. The following is something that must be kept in mind:

How does magic affect technological advancement?

Are there magical means of transportation (teleport spells, magic carpets, dragon-riding)? How do they compare in speed, safety, and expense to non-magical means? Are there any drawbacks (e.g., air sickness)? How commonly are they used, and for what purposes (industrial shipping vs. travel for fun)?

Are magical weapons available? Can magic be used in warfare? In what ways? Are spells fast enough to be useful in hand-to-hand combat, or is magic more of a siege weapon, useful only for long, slow things?

Are there magical artifacts (rings, swords, etc)? If so, who makes them? How? Are they permanent, or does the magic wear off after a while?

How has the presence of magic affected weapons technology? Do you have to do anything special to armor, weapons, walls, to make them better able to resist spells?

Can ordinary objects be enchanted to make them extremely lethal (Instadeath Sword) or will this work properly only on things that are already weapons? Can ordinary objects be enchanted to make them (or their user) much, much better at whatever they do (the always pass a test pen, or the frying pan of always delicious pasta)? How prevalent and useful are such enchantments?

To what degree do magical objects and the presence of wizards and spells replace technology (e.g., a chest that is enchanted to stay cold replacing refrigerators)? Duplicate technology? Supplement technology?

Can spells and/or magical items be mass-produced? Are there magic carpet factories and boutiques selling magic rings?

Can spells and/or magical items be used to increase the efficiency of manufacturing or mass production? Do businesses keep a wizard on retainer, as modern businesses might keep a lawyer or efficiency expert? What, exactly, are they paying for?

Are there magical means of rapid communication? How commonly are they used? For what purposes?

Are there magical means of remote sensing, and where does a mage’s ethic come in respecting privacy?

Are there magical learning aids which come into teaching?

Are there types of magical entertainment?

Are there types of Environmental Magics and does Magic affect the environment?

Are there types of magical aids to mining and drilling or finding valuable things (dowsing)?

Are there magical means to make large objects smaller or small objects bigger?

Are there magical means to extend the thresholds of normal senses?

Are there types of magic that can be used as energy that can be exploited?

What types of waste or inefficiencies does magic produce?

What kind of treatments are there for this waste, and for that matter, normal waste?

How does magic affect cyber knowledge if it exists?

Do different appliances exist for similar real life purposes, and what about appliances that exist for purposes that do not exist in real life?

Do devices exist to measure and detect magical use or power?

Do devices exist that can nullify, redirect, absorb or negate magical power or use?
Last edited by Crystal Spires on Sun Mar 03, 2013 11:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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