Thursday, October 30, 2014

Iron Kingdoms, Part 2: The Philosophy Behind the Iron Kingdoms

Iron Kingdoms Charter Guide Cover by Matt Wilson

How do you distinguish yourself in a crowded field of settings that have been produced both professionally and independently? For Privateer Press the answer to that question came in the form of a complete re-evaluation of how a fantasy setting should handle the magic-technology dualism, where one can only thrive at the expense of the other.
". . . Typically in genre of fantasy, there is an implicit, preconceived notion; magic and technology are so vastly different that one cannot exist if the other is already firmly entrenched. Some of the principles in the writings of literary masters of fantasy such as J.R.R. Tolkien, H.G. Wells, and Michael Moorcock allude that one encroaches upon the other; that one must give way for the other to take hold. Epic wars are fought, with the sides and their beliefs serving as allegorical agents of magic or technology, chaos or law. The creators and developers of western Immoren - the homeland of the Iron Kingdoms and other territories - have made the conscious decision to sidestep this notion and approach their fantasy environment from a contrasting perspective. In western Immoren, magic and technology not only co-exist, they complement one another. Certain technologies in this environment bend the laws of physics through the application of magic.  To date, mechanika - a melding of science and sorcery, technology and magecraft - is the foremost example of these complimentary forces in the Iron Kingdoms . . ." (Martin, pg. 7).
By abandoning the traditional magic-technology dualism that has dominated the standard fantasy role-playing game setting and instead embracing a new philosophy for the setting where the two are able to not only co-exist, but thrive, Privateer Press has freed themselves from many of the typical constraints found in fantasy role-playing games. Guns, traditionally a taboo in most fantasy role-playing games, can not only be easily found in the Iron Kingdoms but are actually a critical component for one of the new core classes (the Gun Mage, CG pg. 104) and for two of the new prestige classes (the Pistoleer, CG pg. 124, and the Rifelman, CG pg. 128). Mechanical war-machines reminiscent of Japaneese anime are found throughout the setting with two classes dedicated to servicing and improving them: the Arcane Mechanik (CG, pg. 88) and the Bodger (CG, pg. 93). 

The change in philosophy behind the magic-technology dualism has an added consequence for Privateer Press in that they have completely changed how the people within the Iron Kingdoms understand magic.
". . . Without a doubt Caen [the world of Iron Kingdoms - Charlie] is very much a fantasy world, but it is one that has proceeded into a new era of development. Rather than cast off the mantle of magic and spirituality, these elements are firmly embraced by the proponents of science and technology. Rather than viewing the concepts as incapable of coexistence, the inhabitants of western Immoren assimilate everything together, seeing magic, spirituality, science, and industry as parts of a greater whole. They have developed ways for everything to work in tandem, tapping the arcane and fueling it with science, taking mechanical apparatuses and enhancing them with magic. Even the principles of magic are seen as a physical science of sorts, every bit as real and applicable in the kingdoms as the principles of physics, biology, chemistry, engineering, and mathematics . . ." (Martin, pg. 7).
For me this was one of the first moments when I began to truly fall in love with this setting. When Privateer Press elected to make magic another form of physical science it was essentially saying that through hard work and a concerted effort anyone can learn some mastery over magic. The move to a systematic form of magic that can be replicated as uniformly as creating baking soda is a move that quite frankly reinvigorated my imagination and love for the hobby at a time when I desperately needed to find some reason to stick with it. 

Yet as I'm rereading the Character Guide for the first time in several years I'm struck by the notion that this understanding of arcane magic could easily be extended to divine magic as well. The idea that ". . . the inhabitants of western Immoren assimilate everything together, seeing magic, spirituality, science, and industry as parts of a greater whole . . ." (Martin, pg. 7) seems to lend itself to the notion that divine magic is approached in the same way. That's something that I had never noticed before, and quite frankly it's an idea that I really like.

For the moment let's consider that with magic, spirituality, science and industry all being codified into organized systems where every spell can be as easily replicated as building a factory or making soap that the world of Immoren is on the cusp of a major Renaissance. Indeed it probably should have already happened were it not for two factors that will color all else that comes after: the Orgoth occupation, and the Wars of the Iron Kingdoms. In the next part we'll be looking at the Orgoth and their impact on the continent of Immoren

Feel like you're missing something?
Part 2: The Philosophy Behind the Iron Kingdoms
Part 3: The Orgoth

Cited Texts
Martin, Joe and Matt Willson. Iron Kingdoms Character Guide. Seattle, WA: Privateer Press, 2004. pg. 7

CG - Character Guide
WG - World Guide
LL - Lock & Loaded
LM - Liber Mechanika
MM1 - Monsternomicon v1
MM2 - Monsternomicon v2
WFT1 - Witchfire Trilogy 1
WFT2 - Witchfire Trilogy 2
WFT3 - Witchfire Trilogy 3
NQ# - No Quarter Issue#

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