Random Musing – The March of Progress in a Campaign World

This notion just struck me a few moments ago, so I figured I’d put it down on pixel while it was fresh in my mind. I was thinking about the transition of a medieval-style fantasy campaign world, my own in fact, to a Renaissance level of technology and society – nation states, masses of firearm-armed men-at-arms, printing presses – and then to higher levels of advancement – the Victorian Age, etc. Invention in most fantasy game rules, at least in terms of invention by PCs,  is relegated to the creation of new spells. Naturally, a Referee’s NPCs can invent anything they want, but if we assume that everybody in the world uses the same spell creation rules, the more high level magic-users there are, the more spells will be invented. In my own world, I have the Scientist class, so the same concept would hold in NOD for pseudo-scientific inventions. Therefore – while invention in our world has generally relied on the strength of civilizations and their ability to share information and amass resources, the march of progress in a fantasy world would rely on the existence of powerful monsters and hidden treasures – the very things that provide experience points for adventuring magic-users and scientists. Now, again, I know that NPCs aren’t shackled by the same rules as PCs in most old school fantasy, but bear with me – this is just a matter of a guy following an idea around to see where it goes. So, if we take the necessity of powerful monsters as the basis for invention, as a campaign world’s PCs gradually whittle down the powerful adversaries, the pace of new inventions should slow down. As civilization expands in a campaign world, invention slows down – an interesting concept.

It also occurs to me that as all those high level and mid-level monsters – the more unique sorts that don’t multiply like rabbits (or goblins) – are killed off and as large treasures are discovered, the ability of any PC to advance in level becomes restricted. Once you get past the lower levels, not being able to take out mid-level monsters means getting through those mid-levels becomes much harder, and it makes those few powerful monsters that avoided the old high-level PCs more secure. Maybe the natural evolution of a fantasy world would be:

1. Small civilizations, lots of wilderness, many monsters, high potential for high level advancement.

2. Mid-sized civilizations, less wilderness, fewer powerful monsters, less potential for high level advancement.

3. Large civilizations, very little wilderness, very few powerful monsters, almost no potential for high level advancement.

Once you enter stage 3, the likelihood of powerful monsters laying waste to civilization might be pretty high, sending the fantasy world back to stage one and setting the scene for all these old school campaigns where low-tech civilizations always seem to be built on the ruins of ancient high-tech civilizations.

Illustration by Alexander Leydenfrost

10 thoughts on “Random Musing – The March of Progress in a Campaign World

  1. Interesting topic, though I'm not following you're reasoning.

    At Stage 3, you have very few poweful monsters, and large civilizations. Why would the likelihood of monsters laying waste to cvilization be high?

    Fewer monsters and widespread civilization would suggest to me smaller harm, over all.

    On the other hand, Stage 1 with more isolated, fragile civilization, and many monsters would mean whole cultures could be snuffed out easily an perhaps all of mankind hangs on the precipice.

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  2. Because the existence of many powerful monsters also means the potential for high level heroes, whereas if you only have a few little, low-powered monsters, it would be very difficult for PCs to earn enough experience points to become high level, powerful characters. Thus, if you happen to have a ancient red dragon wake up one day and go on a rampage in stage 3, the chances that there is any hero capable of standing up against it are slight – ditto on arch-devils, liches, etc.

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  3. Ah. I see. But wouldn't a large number of powerful monsters at Stage 1 just wipe out communities before heroes got to high levels? Or are you presuming powerful monsters are still fairly rare even at that point?

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  4. Well, I'm couching this in terms of playing D&D, where the heroes usually go to the monsters, rather than the monsters behaving even remotely rationally. As soon as you begin to apply reason to pulp fantasy, things break down quickly.

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  5. STOP IT! STOP GIVING ME INSPIRATION!
    (hehehe)

    I don't know how but this set off a whole chain of thoughts that ended with me scratching down notes on my trusty always booted analog clipboad at 3:00am.

    Thank you! I just solved the problem of what comes next in my campaign series.

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  6. This is interesting…

    Can the classic content be mixed into different 'eras'?

    I'm picturing Call of Cthulu characters exploring Gygax's D-Series of modules… or the Temple of Elemental Evil placed beneath the basement of a skyscraper…

    Remix heaven.

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  7. Interesting take on this process. Love the graphic above. It's nice to see how other routes and other choices develop. Your assumptions (in regards to cultures, civilization, monster-density, etc.) are nicely arranged and ought to play out nicely. The remix-ability of things, as Scottsz points out, is very compelling. Looking forward to how you further develop this!

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