Worldbuilding: the magical industrial revolution

I think where I’m hung up is that the things people can’t do aren’t as bundled as they could be in a magical industrial revolution world depending on the set up.

People who couldn’t read in the industrial revolution could operate heavy machinery.

Working out from GURPS, if magery zero is able to be picked up at some equivalent level to elementary or secondary education, and all these tool-spells have mana stones plugged in, then it seems the WEIRD would be pretty recognizable. You’ve got designers with one education level and users with another who rely on tools that function in reliable designed fashions.

If there’s a segment of the population that just can’t get magery zero and the tool-spells require that advantage, then you’ve got folks who not only can’t read, they can’t operate the technology in a factory or on a farm, couldn’t drive a car when that comes along, and possibly couldn’t use telephones when those come along. Bundling all that “can’t do” seems like a larger deal that could affect the Educated, Rich, and Democratic parts of that spectrum.

I suppose an aspect that could show up earlier in a society timeline is what we are living with as internet of things. If someone with magery 3 and proper knowledge can turn refrigerators into mind control machines then meta-magic type spells could get a lot of regulatory attention and maybe the consumer side of the industrialized part of WEIRD isn’t as strong.

That’s precisely the sort of analysis I find useful, particularly on the technical side.

I have the impression that in GURPS, many enchanted items will work for characters without magery. You pick up the wand, point it, and will it to work, or you put on the ring or the cloak, and you’re good, magery or no. That makes for a much more overtly “capitalist” setup where people’s productivity is enhanced by magic contained in their tools.

Another model I like to use is that of what GURPS calls “ceremonial magic.” You have a mage casting a spell, taking rather longer than normal, and you have up to 100 people gathered around him, each focusing their will on helping him and contributing 1 fatigue point. So your mage casts a spell with energy cost 100 points, which can be quite a lot. Even doing it once, first thing in the morning, could do a lot for agricultural output; doing it every 10 minutes for an 8-hour day would get you 288 castings at 100 points each.

Of course, you do have the problem of critical failures. By GURPS rules, a highly skilled mage would have more than one of those a week! I don’t think that industrial scale magic could really take off unless you lowered the incidence of critical failures to that for monthly job rolls: one every 54 months for an ordinarily skilled mage, or one every 216 months for a high-end professional.

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(tags in @Shimmin who’s been doing calculations on this recently)

I think participating in a ceremony that drains you of a fatigue point can’t be considered resting quietly, so that’s less “every ten minutes” and more “every ten minutes, plus the duration of the ceremony”.

Well, that’s fair. It might be only 32 a day, or 224 a week. That’s almost exactly one critical failure a week if you use the standard rules and assume a highly skilled mage.

GURPS Fantasy has calculations on agricultural output somewhere in Chapter 3 or 5.

It’s true!

The costs of casting large-scale spells are numerically vast, but proportionally good value. The difficulty is really a cashflow problem; the cap on lay participants for ceremonial casting means doing a region-wide ritual gets tricky. For example, let’s take Wales, 130 miles long, requiring a 65-mile radius area spell to cover it.

If we wanted to cast Purify Earth on Wales (perhaps there’s been an industrial accident that contaminated the whole country), we’d be looking at 228,800 energy. I don’t care how high your skill is, it’s not going to help… and roping in some bystanders won’t do much either.

This is where we turn to Thaumatology, and @whswhs is really the one to talk to. I did some playing around with spreadsheets though, leaning on the Sacrifice rules and working out a value of 6 energy per sheep. I cannot, right now, recall how exactly (and I’m technically at work).

Assuming this is a big one-time ritual for the Good of the Nation, we could arrange a tithe of three sheep per square mile. Sacrificing these would give us a massive 238,914 energy to pour into our ritual, more than enough to cleanse the soil of Wales. We have some spare sheep, but I can’t be bothered to do the calcs in detail right now.

Improving harvests is a more modest goal. At a cost of 1, we could Bless Plants across the already-blessed soil of Wales for a mere 114,000 and change. At that bargain value, a mere 1.5 sheep per square mile is more than sufficient to double our harvests! Considering more plants will feed more sheep, this seems like excellent value. Have a nationwide fertility festival once a season.


You might be able to get that many sheep… But I’ll bet there aren’t enough skilled slaughtermen in Wales to kill them all fast enough. How fast is fast enough? Well, the magical ritual celebrants are presumably going to have to keep up their chanting, dancing and invoking the whole while the energy is gathered. Even the Druids may get to wilt after a few hours…

From what I’ve heard of sheep, the problem will be keeping them alive long enough for the ritual! But that’s an interesting point and one I don’t think is addressed in the sacrificial magic rules.

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I think that’s something that varies quite a bit with setting. In some worlds the sacrifice is the climax of the ritual; in some it’s what you need to start it; in some the duration of the dying matters.

True. And it’s possible that the sacrifice itself is magical, with the sacrifices being consumed by flames or carried away by spirits, rather than killed by mundane means.