More Lore – Time Will Tell

Today we’re going to delve into the subject of time on Golarion – specifically, what the effects of time tell us about the way Golarion works. We’ll look at this from a few different angles in future articles, but today we’ll view it through the lens of technological development.

Earth vs. Golarion – A Comparison

On real-world Earth, it was less than 350 years ago that the first human left the ground aboard a flying machine (a tethered hot-air balloon). At that time, humans had not yet discovered or invented many pieces of technology that drive the modern world: computers, satellites, cars and trains and planes. In fact, humans hadn’t even figured out important predecessor steps to those technologies: electricity, , aircraft, the steamboat. And yet, today humans send nuclear-powered spacecraft to the stars, carry supercomputers in our pockets, and play games across the planet with shared audio and video. Just 350 years. 

Look at a longer timeframe, and the progress of humanity is even more impressive. One thousand years ago the height of transportation technology was a wooden boat that had both sails *and* oars. Our understanding of the world was remarkably shallow in some areas of the world, and amazingly progressive in others – but without reliable forms of transportation or communication, such knowledge remained regional (and often secret), allowing it to be lost with the outbreak of a plague or even a change in a given nation’s leadership. 

5,000 years ago, humans had just started to develop the very first written forms of language. Mud bricks and copper were the technological materials of the day. Given that the Earth has been around for about four and a half billion years, we went from grass huts to skyscrapers in a remarkably short time.

And then there’s Golarion.

In Golarion, civilizations are recovering from the massive impact of Earthfall, which occurred about 10,000 years ago. The god Aroden raised the Starstone and the Isle of Kortos from the depths of the Inner Sea less than 5,000 years ago. Since then, much of the Inner Sea region has… not really changed much. We have a wide range of technology levels in different regions, but what we *don’t* see if the sort of rapid progress science and engineering have made on Earth. 

[Before we go farther, let’s get a couple of things straight here – I’m not bashing Golarion for not being “accurate” or mirroring the real world. And, I don’t expect games to be at the level of detail we have in real history. I’m conducting a thought experiment, to help figure out what the situation we see implies about the unpublished lore of Golarion. The goal is to build upon Golarion lore to create something that fits in, but is also new ground for players and GMs alike.]

[I also realize that the variety of tech level is there so that groups can play in the type of setting they enjoy. You can play stone age, bronze age, the golden age of pirates, wild west, or aliens and spaceships, and there’s a place in Golarion for you. That’s not bad design, it’s good marketing!]

Behind the Scenes

So what is going on in Golarion that appears to slow technological progress?

“Magic!” you’re shouting at the screen by now. “Golarion has magic!” And yes, of course, magic is canonically the reason that technology didn’t flourish on Golarion. The greatest engineering progress has come in Alkenstar, where a dead magic zone forced the inhabitants to turn to technology. And this makes a good deal of sense: why build a railroad if you can teleport? Why launch a spy satellite when you can use invisible spies, or magical constructs, or divination magic, or summoned outsiders, or a host of other magical means to obtain the result you desire.

I can’t help wondering, though… is that all there is to it? 

I mean, look at firearms. On earth we went from muskets to machine guns in a few centuries. Alkenstar invented firearms at least that long ago, in an area where magic is an unreliable tool at best, and we’re still using muskets. Sometimes magical muskets, with a host of magical accessories and ammunition, but still, no revolvers or magazine-based guns, let alone a Gatling gun or an A-10 Warthog. Of all the places in Golarion, you would expect Alkenstar to favor engineering solutions to things, and yet progress is incredibly slow. No, there has to be something else at play to explain this.

[It is at this point that I am beginning to realize that the line between “extrapolated lore” and “conspiracy theory” is thinner and less well-defined than I thought it would be…]

And this is my point: here is an incredible potential world-shaping mystery for your players to solve, or that can be ignored completely. It’s on the scale of “how did Aroden die?”, and is completely within the realm of the GM to determine for their own game.

Is there something about the use of magic that affects the brain of sentient creatures, preventing some of the creativity and out-of-the-box thinking that developed in magic-free areas and spurred technological invention? Is there divine intervention occurring on either the magic or technology side that is subtly guiding progress? For that matter, is there non-divine intervention occuring? (“It’s all a conspiracy by the mage’s guilds, to keep power in their own hands and control the people!”) Or perhaps the devastation of Earthfall had hidden consequences that are still playing out. Maybe the dearth of technology is one of the goals of the long game that the algollthus are playing in the shadows, still intent on wiping out or controlling the humans and other life that survived the impact.

Longevity versus Technology

I should also point out the positive side of this situation. In most civilizations we have as examples (all from Earth), the concentration of power in one group over another leads to “haves” and “have-nots”, and eventually a societal collapse based on revolution or decadence of the ruling class (or both). In technology-driven societies, there is a race between the benefits of technology and the pollution and waste that it can inspire. In the last 350 years, humans have not only invented great things, have several times flirted with mutual destruction through war, disease, famine, and the toxic effects of our industrialized society. It remains to be seen how long a technological society such as ours can last. 

Somehow, most of Golarion has avoided that for at least twice as long as any human civilization – even though they got hit by an asteroid and had a millennium of nuclear winter, and had a much-more advanced race intent on their extermination. That’s pretty impressive, and probably also speaks to something going on that Earth doesn’t have. (I suspect the hands-on divine intervention in Golarion by dozens of highly-advanced magical beings has helped a bit, but perhaps the lack of technology in everyday life reduces the risk to civilization as a whole?)

Where does Golarion’s future lie? While it remain a primarily magical world and leave technology as a minor side note to history? Is the advance of technology inevitable, or is there something that will blunt its influence on the next century? What external influences may appear or interfere? 

Only time will tell… but it rarely tells all.


Scott Young