Dungeons & Dragons, Magic and Technology

Are Magic and Technology Compatible?

Often it seems as though we, the role-playing enthusiast community, tend to think of Science and Magic as two wholly separate things at desperate ends of “what is: and “what could be.” We limit what can happen in our fantasy games by stating that Magic cannot exist where Science thrives; and in so doing, we limit the possibilities of what our games can do.

Why are we like this?

In the Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis noted:

The fact that the scientist has succeeded where the magician failed has put such a wide contrast between them in popular thought that the real story of the birth of Science is misunderstood. You will even find people who write about the sixteenth century as if Magic were a medieval survival and Science the new thing that came in to sweep it away. Those who have studied the period know better . . . The serious magical endeavor and the serious scientific endeavor are twins: one was sickly and died, the other strong and throve. But they were twins. They were born of the same impulse . . .”

Lewis, pg 38

That popular notion still applies for many of us as we tend to lock our games into set patterns. Either there is Magic, and little technology to speak of, or there is Science and little magic. Yet that doesn’t have to be the outcome.

As Lewis mentioned above the two were twins, and while one died in reality, that doesn’t have to be the case in our games. We can embrace technology and science, melding them together in our games without things falling apart. We can be the Iron Kingdoms, Eberron, Warhammer, or the World of Warcraft. We can have guns, trains, dragons, and wizards casting arcane spells.

We don’t have to limit ourselves.

Works Cited

Lewis, C.S. The Abolition of Man or Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools. Samizdat University Press. Quebec. Originally 1943. Republished in 2014. pg. 38


6 thoughts on “Are Magic and Technology Compatible?”

  1. Shadow run and Starfinder both mix magic and science. I’m sure there are other examples.
    My start and stop Gurps game was also based on that idea. I don’t think that gurps campaign ever going to get played, but it is fun territory to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh now you’ve got me thinking about it.

      Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play has guns, helicopters, and dirigibles.

      Iron Kingdoms has guns, mechs, railroads, and steampunk tech everywhere.

      Earthdawn has tech remnants everywhere.

      Eberron has railroads and all kinds of semi modern technology.


  2. This really works well if you especially lean in to the metaphysics of magic, the way it “works”. (vs simply explaining magic via physical laws).

    In magic tradition, things work the way it does almost by virtue of the rules of magic being driven by external intent, though, emotion. Poking a pin into a waxen figurine tied with a strand of hair shouldn’t cause any effect via normal physics, but it would by the laws of magic (i.e. sympathy, contagion).

    For example, in WH much of orc “tech” is driven by magic rules, by sheer brute force of belief. The orc “gun” which is just a wooden facscimile with a nail for a trigger. (law of correspondence: the image is the thing).


  3. I know there’s a lot of fantasy stories in the mid-20th century that seem to explicitly state that magic and tech can’t co-exist; I wonder if this trope comes from the fact that a lot of the people writing fantasy by the 50s onwards were sci-fi writers branching out as fantasy got more popular, but I have absolutely nothing to base that off of (even a coherent timeline).
    Weirdly, you can even see this in Kung Fu movies – I’ve been watching a lot of late-70s Shaw Brothers movies lately, and I’ve noticed that, unless it’s specifically based on a book, the movies to their best to almost never refer to special techniques. Instead, it’s almost always a super-special new weapon, which can only be defeated when the hero manages to invent his OWN super-special new weapon to counter it. One of the few movies in which you see near-magic techniques used, ‘Legendary Weapons of Kung Fu’, goes out of its way to paint the more mystical martial artists as deranged weirdos who can’t get with the times.
    So, all of that aside, what does this mean for Greyhawk? I mean, yeah, there’s plenty of ‘future tech’ around, between Blackmoor and the Barrier Peaks (and the old empires with their M.A.D. devices, and the drow descriptions talking about ‘radiation’). But, there’s nothing in particular putting magic and tech at odds, other than an odd mention somewhere (maybe?) that gunpowder doesn’t work. So, where is the rise in tech and industry most likely to come from? The Iron League, looking for an edge against the Great Kingdom? The humanoids of the Pomarj, wanting more power in war (and leaning into Tolkienesque ‘goblins make engines of destruction’ tropes)? Some wizards, finding a way to sell their intelligence and skills without giving up their magical secrets?
    (Personally, I see the old Baklunish Empire as having been a very Ottoman-flavored, clockwork-filled society; my personal take on Warforged in Greyhawk is that they’re a secret Baklunish weapon, forgotten in buried vaults centuries ago and only dug up recently)


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