Tuesday, September 24, 2019

MIR and Technological Revolution

Magical Industrial Revolution's PDF just hit Kickstarter backers, and as a fan of wizards, philosophy, society, and their combinatorial shenanigans, I couldn't help but partake. Glancing over the file, I find plenty of useful tidbits (which I can easily season with gonzo to my personal tastes), but none more so than the Innovations section about 20 pages in.

Here, I think Skerples hits the nail on the head for one of the most exciting core narratives for an RPG campaign can be: Revolution. Change.

Change, not so much in the way History has traditionally viewed it: with the rise and fall of Big People, with grand wars and grand empires, with technology emerging from the minds of great men like Athena from Zeus's skull and then suddenly just, like... being everywhere... But with how it alters and affects every day people, how they view and interact with the world. How it gradually and subtly worms its ways into our collective perceptions of Life.

How, for instance, the railroad revolutionized our notions of space and time, or how A.I. revolutionizes are notions of personhood.

True to its namesake, Magical Industrial Revolution attempts to capture how technology drastically alters society, bringing it to the foreground of the stage (rather than say, the backdrop, or completely ignoring it). It offers incremental escalations and adventures related to various world-changing magics, such as Polymorph, Teleportation, Flight, Scrying, and Extra-dimensional Space.

As presented in the book, each of these technologies goes through a complete evolutionary cycle. It begins obscure and unrecognized for its true potential, then the Powers That Be dig in their claws and it multiplies by the capacities of modernity and capitalism, and then eventually it forms the collapse of society. Scrying, for instance, starts as some guy being very naughty and unethical, then the state police get ahold of it to monitor crime, and then they make the Panopticon, and then everything is predictably horrible.

And most importantly, the book suggests that the players insert themselves into this process. It provides NPCs and quests and new things to play with at every stage in each technology's evolution. And I love it. A society changing on the ground is the perfect environment for the traditional shenanigans of an RPG campaign. It has been said before: a stagnant setting cannot be exploited. Nobody goes questing where everything is fine and dandy forever.

M.I.R. doesn't take its magic nor its society for granted, and neither should your campaign!


  1. Funny enough, when I started my home campaign four years ago, I made a similar list of societal-changing spells: Teleportation, Flight, Invisibility, and Resurrection. Since then the players have only initiated one of these: Teleportation, but because they kept it a secret and forewent any riches that might be obtained by exploiting it, it still remains in its mysterious infancy.

  2. One of the less talked about assumptions of fantasy is that the institutions which control magic are analogous to those that control knowledge. You usually go to a university to learn to cast spells instead of, for example, inheriting the privilege by blood right. Generally, magic is also analogous to symbolic systems, it is more often than not more like writing and speaking than skills like hefting a sword or operating a loom. What makes MIR so interesting is that it changes these assumptions about magic. What if the state and companies gained control of magic? What if magic was like technology instead of a symbolic system? What makes MIR good is that it fully delivers on these changes to what is usually assumed about magic in fantasy.

    1. It's a weird point that I'm making, but I think it might slightly different from yours.

      The exciting thing about MIR, I think, is that it inserts the narrative into the Changing of the society itself as modified by technology, not necessarily into a society whose assumptions about magic are Modernized (with a capital 'M'). There's been a lot of media, at least in my recent memory, that have dealt with Modernized forms of magic: Harry Potter immediately comes to mind.

    2. Like, the stories I've seen surrounding Modernization and Magic usually either just use it as a backdrop to explore other themes (Harry Potter) or use it to illustrate a story about the decline of traditional views (The Wolf Among Us), as opposed to being about how ordinary people dealt with the rapidly world-shifting mentality that came with industrialization.

    3. Thank you both for the kind words. I think that's an excellent summary of the core goals of MIR.