My idea for a magipunk setting

Magic Anime GirlRecently I had a chat with fellow blogger pinakidion over Twitter about my Asecia setting that I usually call “steamfantasy”. He came up with the name “magipunk” that more closely described how he saw the setting. I like the word “magipunk” although I believe it creates an image that does not fit my vision of Asecia for example.

But the idea stuck in my head and I kept thinking about what a magipunk world could be. In the end I came up with a basic idea. What if you take a cyberpunk world (like the one described in games like Cyberpunk 2020 or novels like Neuromancer) take out all the high tech and replace it with magic? Then turn up the volume to eleven and you’ve got a magipunk setting!

The basic premise is that a world reached a modern state but most technologies are based on magic. Most magic research and production of magic items are in the hands of a few megacorporations. Magic and magic use are highly reglemented and mostly controlled by the corporations. Worldwide communications is made possible by the AstralNet.

The rich and the influential live in huge arcologies made from crystal, steel and glass while the poor and disenfranchised try to survive in slums sprawled around these arcologies. While the urban centers are clean, safe and protected by corporation forces, the rural areas are often wild and home to monsters, bandits and worse.

Magic augmentations are commonplace. People use magic and/or magiware to enhance their bodies. Sometimes even whole body parts are replaced to turn the common street fighter into a killing machine. Magic tattoos allow even mundane people to use powerful magics, magic items make the life easier … if you can pay for it.

For a lot of people the AstralNet has become their second home. With the speed of thought they travel in this mysterious realm, on the hunt of precious information, like newly-developed spells or alchemical formulas. But the AstralNet can be a dangerous place. Guardian spirits guard corporate secrets and there are rumors of wild spirits that attack the unwary traveller…

Corporations usually employ so-called “runners”, freelance operatives, who do all kinds of black operations for the corporations. Everything from corporate espionage to assassinations of rivals is handled by runners that often work for the corporation they worked against a week before. Runners are mere tools in the hands of powerful corporation executives.

My main inspiration for this world was the Neverwinter Nights module “HeX coda” by Stefan Gagne. I played the module a couple of years back and in my opinion it was one of the best modules I ever played. If you own a copy of NWN, you should try it out sometimes.

I am currently not sure if I will develop this idea into a fully-fledged campaign since I am currenly running my Ad Astra campaign and working on a reboot of my Asecia setting. But I am currently very fascinated by this idea and I might be tempted to put Asecia on the back burner again to develop a few more magipunk ideas.

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

9 thoughts on “My idea for a magipunk setting”

  1. I like where you are heading with this. My offer still stands to help. Just curious what system are you planing on using?

  2. My current favorite system is Chad Underkofflers PDQ system and I think PDQ can be used for just about any setting. Another system that comes to mind is D6, but I am waiting for the release of the OpenD6 SRD before I start working on anything D6 related.

    Perhaps I will just write everything down as a system-less setting (much like I did with Ad Astra) and then I can always add the crunchy parts later.

  3. So, how is it different from cyberpunk? I mean, in practice cyberpunk games treat tech as if it were magic anyway (if they don't have actual magic a la Shadowrun). I think it needs something a bit more…

    This is something that I wrestle with in my Elves & Espers setting, which is basically a take on magic as tech. To make it feel a little less like I've just done a global search and replace, I've:

    a) included fantasy races, both straight (Elves & Dwarves) and spun: G-Nomes, Ogres Magically Augmented & Genetically Enhanced

    b) went with heritable magic, leading to hereditary aristocracy and merchant families instead of corporations

    c) tried to emphasize the anthropomorphic aspects of the magic gear (e.g. a Technomancer's Pentacorder contains a bound information imp: instead of manipulating the Pentacorder by pushing buttons, the Tech has to talk to the imp)

    d) tried to spin the tropes a bit more literally, e.g. the Web is an actual web of cables spanning the arcology, and netrunners physically travel the cables using gear like rocket-skates instead of computer "decks."

    I'm not sure I'm fully successful. The players really enjoy the setting, but there's a fairly strong undertow as it were pulling them to treat things as standard SF/cyberpunk if not reminded otherwise.

    <abbr><abbr>Joshuas last blog post..Which Fantasy Writer Am I?</abbr></abbr>

  4. Good points!

    I will probably include fantasy races, too, and there will probably a lot of other fantasy tropes but it should be reminiscent of cyberpunk in other aspects like corporations and magic as technology. My idea of the "web" is actually some kind of demiplane, that is used much like the web today, but it's a "real" space where you can travel to, instead of just a "virtual" reality.

  5. where you thinking PDQ or PDQ#?

    I like them both so far.

    Also, I think it might be neat to do this as a DungeonSlayers setting.


  6. I think PDQ# could work in a cyberpunk or magipunk setting.

    And yes, using such a setting as the basis for a DS campaign could be neat.

  7. Thanks for the link! After the move this weekend, I hope to be more helpful.

    I have some random thoughts and ideas, feel free to discuss/disparage at leisure. 🙂 This is long, but it is easier than creating a post right now.

    AFAIK, the first commercial steam engines were used in mining. They basically took out the water used in certain types of mining. Trying to make the engine more efficient led to a Newcom engine – something powerful enough to move locomotives (and other things.)

    Based on that, I figure creating a magic 'drill' for mining would be expensive or require a magic to constantly 'recharge' it. In a d20 setting, you could trap a water elemental and a fire elemental together to generate steam, but getting them to come in contact enough to move pistons is tricky, indeed. (In a 2E setting, you could just open a hole to the quasi-elemental plane of steam, but who would make a living created one way gates *from* an elemental plane?)

    Instead, magic could be used to create more efficiencies. Watt discovered that a stream of cold water damaged the efficiency of a steam engine. A quick redesign, and he had a practical steam engine. Spells that change temperature of water would seem to take less 'magical' power than something else. (Heck, you could even cast a spell per piston to move it 2 inches back and forth to get a 'fuelless' engine. Still, I imagine this as expensive for the shear number of spells required.)

    Still, any kind of effective countermagics could undo an engine really quickly, so a more mechanical solution would still be in a person's best interest in order to create a more reliable machine.

    Taking a bit of a conceptual leap, let's apply magic to the fuel, instead of the mechanism. Thus, the self-healing wood, I mentioned in our conversation. Magically treat the wood used in a locomotive to 'heal' itself, allowing the same fuel to be burned over and over again. This eliminates a heavy fuel car, and allows the firebox to be more-or-less a closed system. (You still need air.) Canceling the magic turns it into a normal engine – more inconvenience than anything.

    The same kind of thing could be done with computers. The main reason for computers in the first place was either calculating navigational charts (Babbage) or counting people (Hollerith). Either way, it was driven by commerce or taxation and could still be necessary in a 'magipunk' world.

    Use magic to help manufacture the non-magical device, use magic to create a re-recordable medium (magic punch cards?), use magic as the electrical power, use magic to provide networking (teleport magic punch cards?), use magic as a programming language (search for Spell Descriptive Language) or use magic as a display device.

    As to setting, I'm sure that something that allows more predictable access to magic can come at the cost of sanity/humanity. In my head, it would be like surgically implanting a magic ring. The power of the ring (or whatever else the device is) is readily available, but the presence of the ring has affects on the body and the mind. (Kind of like Shadowrun's humanity stat.)

    For that matter, surgery has a different meaning in a society with access to magic. It's not just magical healing, but like stargazer said, magical augmentation.

    Again, sorry for the rambling. Look forward to what others think.

    <abbr><abbr>pinakidions last blog post..More Ideas</abbr></abbr>

  8. Very interesting and long comment. It really seems you've put quite some thought into the whole shebang. Especially your ideas on magical computers and magical augmentation are very inspiring.

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