Lack of scientific advancement in DnD is always puzzling to players and DMs. When you think about it, why doesn’t the setting of DnD advance beyond basic medieval technology? There has to be a reason, right?
Lack of scientific advancement in DnD is caused by magic taking necessitating precedence over technological necessity.
This isn’t the only reason, but it is the main reason why society has not advanced. At least, technologically. We will go into other potential reasons, but we will first delve into why this is such a big reason.
The RAW reason
Believe it or not, DnD has addressed the lack of scientific advancement in DnD before. Here is what they have stated about why the DnD universe never seems to advance from the Forgotten Realms Adventures (FRA).
“Firearm technology has never been extensively (or even adequately) researched and developed, however, save for a few crackpots and eccentric wizards. The reason is simple – who needs firearms in a world with fireballs? (The answer, of course, is people who can’t cast fireballs.) No major nation or organization has invested time and money into producing of smoke powder weaponry on a large scale.”
The answer is pretty lengthy, but it can be summarized like this. Why go through the effort, centuries, and resources to make guns when a better alternative already exists?
There are other reasons that you can use, of course, and we will go over them after we dive into the validity of the RAW (rules as written) reason.
We will first delve into the psychology of why the RAW reason works or doesn’t work, and then delve into why society might perpetuate the lack of scientific advancement. This will also show that there is advancement in the DnD universe, just in a different way than we are used to.
Finally, we will go over alternative reasons for why science has not advanced, and how you can use an extreme sci-fi setting in DnD with scientific advancement.
I would highly recommend taking a look at the incompatibility section. It is possibly the strongest reason aside from the reason given by official sources for the lack of scientific advancement in DnD
Imagine this. You have worked of the backs of giants from the past. These giants have dedicated their entire lives to making new creations, and slowly have built upon what others have learned. Now, it is your turn to continue that process and maybe reach the next step.
That sounds difficult. Would you like to be the first in that line? What if that process has already begun, and has been going for thousands of years? Would you rather start that process or just join one already in progress?
I personally would rather just join the already proven successful process and I assume you might as well.
Magic has been innovating for thousands of years, while technology has become stagnant.
This tradition of advancement makes it already hard and almost stupid to focus on scientific advancement. This alone is enough to create a lack of scientific advancement in DnD, but there are other factors at play.
Driven by necessity
You only have 10 years to make a new creation. This creation must help you travel as fast as possible to a destination. You have two methods to develop this creation.
A. You try to increase the speed of standard modes of transportation, like the carriage to make you go faster.
B. You use magic to speed up the process of travel with flight or something else.
With magic you are able to increase the speed of something just like you would using technology. That is easy to do, but magic’s benefit doesn’t end there. Magic can instantly transport you to another place, and it is easier. Think of how long it has taken us to get where we are. Why would you go through that when you need results now. In your lifetime.
The need for necessity already is given to magic, but the fact that life is dangerous due to monsters and other races makes magic it’s own arms race. Such an arms race that they wouldn’t even consider technology.
After all, why consider technology when an easier and better solution is available? Lack of scientific advancement in DnD can be attributed to this as well, but there are societal factors as well.
In our world, we only really started to advance our technology when everyone was able to be educated. This allowed geniuses to sprout up from anywhere in society and advance technology. They didn’t have to be part of a privileged family to get an education.
In the DnD world education is not very high. It is an unnecessary skill for daily life, and only what is needed is taught.
Part of the reason for this is wealth. The medieval society isn’t as wealthy as even the renaissance societies of our history. This doesn’t allow the commoners to focus on more than their immediate problems. Thus, there isn’t a drive to learn about technology. At best, there is a drive to learn about magic.
Lastly, science has a trickle down effect. As the inventions improve, they are able to be easily produced. This ease of production driven by demand causes a surplus of supplies. The surplus goes to the common working class, and quality of life improves.
This doesn’t happen in DnD.
Magical items do not have a trickle-down effect. They are used and then discarded, making them valuable and unlikely to get into the commoners’ hands. This helps the nobility and ruling class stay in power, so why would anything change?
This is a strong reason for the lack of scientific advancement in DnD, but what would a wealthy society look like in DnD? How would commoners be able to use technology or magic?
A Golden Age
In DnD, there have been many past empires and settings that embody the ‘Golden Age’ of a race or species. These ages involve magic being pushed to new bounds, and technology remaining the same.
This lack of scientific advancement in DnD is once again due to magic, but why? Why isn’t technology improved to at least improve the quality of life? It takes training in order to cast spells, but no training to use a microwave or very little to drive a car compared to the years of magical study to fly.
A Golden Age in DnD involves a public education system that allows commoners to learn basic magics at a young age, and continue to use common magic for the rest of their life.
We see examples of this in the ancient empire of Netheril and the setting of Eberon.
In both settings, they are in a golden age of discovery. The use of how to integrate magic into society on a basic level is exactly like how we use technology. Magic makes daily life easier, and even magical tools are made so that people don’t need to learn every magical spell on their own.
Once again, the Golden Ages of DnD mock technology by showing how superior magic is to technology. But what if instead of a Golden Age, we are in a Dark Age in the DnD setting?
Being in a Dark Age
Now we have gotten into the different reasons for why there is a lack of scientific advancement in DnD. We are diverging from the explanation already given by official sources, and coming up with ideas on our own. After all, that is what DnD allows for us creative DMs.
Society could just be in a Dark Age. Instead of being in a Golden Age like the Netherese or the citizens of Eberon, your DnD world is in a rough spot. If it is like the Forgotten Realms, there have been empires that have risen and fallen. Many amazing societies have collapses, and the most powerful magics are remnants of what once was.
This puts us in a Dark Age and allows the world to advance in any way. It could be that we have only re-discovered the magical parts of lost societies and are getting by on that knowledge. We also might need to progress the world in some way, and technology could be an option.
There are many different ways to get out of a Dark Age, but what if there isn’t a Dark or Golden Age? What if the world hasn’t had the chance to have either yet?
A Young World
This theory for a lack of scientific advancement in DnD is just that the world is too young to have really made any progress. I believe this was the explanation that Mat Mercer gave for his setting, and it is a valid reason.
We ourselves took forever to advance technology. Look at how long it has taken us to get to get to where we are at. Thousands of years of history, and getting past the medieval technology was almost an accident.
It is possible that as your world matures the chances of accidental discoveries or crazy madmen increases. This makes technology increase, and over time it just makes sense that these events happen even if they are .000001% or less. Here is a good example.
If the world is young, lets say 3,000 years old, it hasn’t had as many chances as a 1 million year old world/species.
Note! I am not a scientific expert, and these numbers are just to provide an example. None of what I say should be taken as fact for our world.
If you multiply that .000001% chance by 3,000 you get a .003% chance of it happening. Not very high, and that is just by using years and not other factors.
However, if you multiply .000001% by 1 million, you get a 1% chance of that occurring.
Now a 1% chance is slim, but it is much better than a .003% chance. Add 99 million more years and you get a 100% chance of a crazy person inventing something.
This goes to show that an older world is just more likely to have more advancements, so having a young world in addition to magic being easier makes a great argument for the lack of scientific advancement in DnD.
But what if the world is old? There are old races afterall.
Long Lived Races
Long lived races could also directly contribute to the lack of scientific advancement in DnD. For a great example of this, look towards the elves.
We went over Elven lifespans in an article and why those races don’t rule the world. It goes over many reasons and talks about different topics, but the one we want to focus on is tradition.
Elves and even dwarves live for a long time. This makes it so that things don’t change very quickly. For organisms like bacteria, they advance quickly due to generations going by at a rapid pace. We also as humans advance quicker than elves since we are driven by mortality and try to do as much as we can.
Elves value keeping things the way that they are, just like our politicians and others in power would if they lived for 10x their lifespans, and don’t want change.
Scientific advancement is a huge change, and these long-lived races might be extremely opposed to it. Therefore, they do their best to make sure that scientific advancement does not happen.
This is more of a conspiracy theory than anything else, but it could work in a DnD setting.
There is one other great reason for why technology hasn’t advanced.
We have established that magic is great and all, but why not advance both? Well, what if you couldn’t? What if you had to chose?
In one of my homebrew worlds, it follows the rules of the game Arcanum. In Arcanum, magic and technology were fine up until steam power. Once steam power was discovered, it made magic not work with technology. Anything above basic blacksmithing for example, interfered with magic.
At this point, you have to chose. Do you want to advance magic or tech? You cannot advance both. This can cause disputes, conspiracies like the assassination of inventors, etc.
Incompatibility is possibly the most interesting reason for a lack of scientific advancement in DnD. It makes sense in the world and is hard to dispute. After all, it is hard to dispute physics like gravity.
If you do want technology in your DnD setting, there is still a way to do add more technology than magic and make it completely sci-fi with the addition of magic.
Sci-Fi and magic
The best way to use technology in your DnD setting, and not just magic, is to use Spelljammer. Yes, Eberon combines the two but Spelljammer is where you can completely make the universe go insane. Here is an example.
I have a human empire in my Spelljammer setting. This empire was created on the premise that humans were being oppressed by other races, and wanted to go to a place of their own. Their emperor made a ban on magic once they saw how quickly humans adapted to technology. This technology was advanced without ethics and driven by xenophobic hatred.
This empire now goes into the rest of space trying to conquer it while eventually purging all alien life. The emperor is a god, knows magic, and has facilitated anti-magic weaponry like gloves, swords, etc.
This is one faction in my Spelljammer universe, and other worlds integrate magic and science. For example, using a magical gem as a battery for ‘boxes’ that light up with enchanted panels to use and store information.
If you want to learn more about Spelljammer, check out our article on playing Spelljammer in DnD.
I just find that Spelljammer is a fascinating way to make technology and Magic work together in DnD. Completely discarding the lack of scientific advancement in DnD.
There are many reasons for the lack of scientific advancement in DnD. Official sources have come out with a pretty strong reason, but there are others as well.
The convenience of magic, societal drives, and nature of magical advancement is different than how technological advancement affects society in our world.
Incompatibility to magic makes scientific advancement more of a taboo, and there are many other reasons you can use.
If you want technological advancement with DnD magic, there are ways to do so. Eberon is the best example of this, but even that is limited.
If you want true integration of science and magic, I would highly suggest Spelljammer.
With that, I hope that I answered why there is a lack of scientific advancement in DnD, and how you can still add science to your DnD game.
This has been Wizo and until next time keep rolling!