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Fantasy Trope Question

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1 Fantasy Trope Question on Sat Apr 18, 2015 5:28 am

I vaguely recall Arch talking about this in one of his Skyrim roleplays. Why is it that magic and more fantastical elements seem to fade over time in most fantasy settings. In the Elder Scrolls setting it has been said that there were spaceship thingies making voyages to Aetherius in the third era. In morrowind you can fly around and do a bunch of cool stuff, like teleport. While in Skyrim magic is extremely rare, even outside of the province. Even in LOTR you can see this degradation in fantastical elements E.I. Smaug, the last dragon dying before the events of the first trilogy.

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2 Re: Fantasy Trope Question on Sat Apr 18, 2015 9:49 am

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Last edited by Wethewax on Thu Sep 03, 2015 5:57 am; edited 1 time in total

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3 Re: Fantasy Trope Question on Sat Apr 18, 2015 10:58 am

That understanding more as you grow older is a great point imo. Some brief points that I thought of concerning fiction would be:

Establishing what is possible and the limits within the universe, but because it doesn't have to involve every aspect at all points in the story, it seems like entropy.

While knowing that these fantasy elements are possible, the feats of the people in the story might seem mundane or not have the desired impact if it were common place as in the "good old days" (what could be an easy way to establish whats possible in the setting, which could be close to a trope if true lol).

It might just be a pre-emptive way to justify fantastical elements you put into (and plan to imagine almost any myriad of things in the future), without having to plan that hard to explain it.

I guess a lot of lore that's out of reach can also be interesting, like in dark souls. You have to really dig for that and all the way thorough that I felt like this amazing story was out of reach. Like the dragons in that. You know the story of their defeat and the end of their domination (not a spoiler), but the remnants of what's left is damn interesting to experience. Also Its interesting to consider new challenges in new eras where there is a chance for the character to overcome the entropy of events or have stand out actions and effects on the world.

Trying to think about it, I would guess that a slow build up of introducing the elements would be good and keep it steady throughout. I might plan to ramp up the elements for a crescendo depending on the story, but that might be quite predictable. I honestly think that a lot of times they just have to switch their focus from establishment to the narrative. In a similar way that character establishment gets replaced with arcs and their part in the story. I do think with games especially we can see when something may be just a device.

Not sure if I stayed on topic there, but that's my train of thought lol.

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4 Re: Fantasy Trope Question on Sat Apr 18, 2015 1:27 pm

There's another reason to do this type of thing in fiction, which is actually why I tend to employ it in my stories; it's an excellent way of leveling the playing field in terms of overall power so that it's fundamentally, forgive me, 'better' when you present a threat to individuals in your setting. It's a fairly classic problem that when you have strong characters, coming up with ways for them to be challenged is a difficult and frustrating thing to do as a writer, and lots of writers fail at this basic task (for a simple example, see a lot of early TNG and Voyager where the ship is brought to its knees because of Plot and nothing logical so the crew can have something to overcome). It also gives you an ace up the sleeve; the idea that if anyone found someone or thing from those older days of power, it'd be a major setting changer. This is actually the entire storyline concept behind what I call The Incident series of works in The Imperium (which includes my Primus campaign).


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5 Re: Fantasy Trope Question on Sat Apr 18, 2015 2:13 pm

Good point. Don't write yourself into a corner so you have to do the "character has lost their powers, oh no! Now it's a challenge again."

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6 Re: Fantasy Trope Question on Sat Apr 18, 2015 2:25 pm

Ah I see. Kind of like Madara Uchiha from the Naruto anime. It was never actually said that he was soo powerful, but he was one of the old ninja, one of the legends. When he was bought back no one of the heroes could hold a candle to his power.

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7 Re: Fantasy Trope Question on Sat Apr 18, 2015 3:55 pm

^Although that was partially the case because he was stronger after his resurrection than he had been in his lifetime.

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8 Re: Fantasy Trope Question on Sun Apr 19, 2015 6:40 am

That's an interesting observation.

I haven't really payed it much attention, but a setting where something's being done to at least a comparable level to what was done long, long ago, much less actually doing something better, especially in magic-focused settings, is... rare.

I see the out of universe reasoning for doing so like Arche has mentioned above, but, after thinking about it some, I have to say that this kind of setup irks me. If the setting absolutely has to have something simply 'better' dug out of the days long past than anything that can be achieved in the current day, then present it as a... more assymetrical match than 'simply better'.

A 'strong vs. skilled' matchup maybe?

For example, if the ancient civilization(s) had a deeper grasp of the workings of magic or starship construction or what have you, then their solution to the problems these devices/techniques are designed to solve are likely to be more elegant, cost effective, easier to use and mass-produce, etc (or not - it all depends on the line of reasoning you choose to take). In that case, modern day solutions to the same problems, on account of not having access to the know-how and/or resources of the ancients, would have to resort to much more crude, brute-force solutions to achieve anything comparable.

Or maybe have it in reverse? If precursors had access to something really powerful, then they may not have saw a reason to be subtle about their super mecha or blasters, bother with finesse and whatnot. Don't fix what works, right? Conversely, their descendants, lacking in powerful gadgets or magic, would have to show some ingenuity in order to survive, overcome obstacles with clever engineering and such where raw power could no longer carry them through anymore.

I dunno, I'm probably saying something really obvious to you guys, but I still felt the need to type it out.

XXX

I have to disagree with explaining it as simple nostalgia though. There are a bunch of very significant parts of IRL that do get constantly worse with time, after all. The vastly accelerated speed of junking up the planet over the last several centuries and people's increased awareness of it thanks to wider basic education, radio, tv, internet, etc, etc may have had an effect on this, however.

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9 Re: Fantasy Trope Question on Sun Apr 19, 2015 8:43 am

I think we need to be careful with video game lore, where a lot of writers are rushed or have too many cooks in the kitchen, I feel like we're giving quite a lot of credit. Not that I could do better or give them crap for being in that position if I can help it. Im of the mind that presentation might not be at the forefront of their mind, even though it's lore rich and I do enjoy it. It's just the sort of things that fans will always run with and a lot of the people involved just want to ship out a game. Elder scrolls is a poor example for me to use as I feel that they do put effort into crafting their lore.

Im not a big follower of written fiction, but a song of ice and fire seems to be doing something similar, even though the series isn't finished. As with most stories there's great history involving fantasy elements (even Dragons in the past, strange), but a lot of it is either myth or heresay. It does work though as it makes the character plots make so much sense and helps build towards what should be an epic finale. It's obvious to me that it's there for a reason and digging into the history that it's crafted with a lot of care and takes a long time between books. But still it reminds me a bit of the trope we're talking about. It's not gone, but in the background, waiting for our epic characters to give the world a kick in the ass and remind them that it exists lol. Really interesting question imo.

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10 Re: Fantasy Trope Question on Sun Apr 19, 2015 9:37 am

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Last edited by Wethewax on Thu Sep 03, 2015 5:58 am; edited 1 time in total

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11 Re: Fantasy Trope Question on Sun Apr 19, 2015 3:16 pm

Wethewax wrote:
Also, yes things do get worse IRL, there is such a thing as entropy after all, but you have to concede that the sorts of things that get degraded by this fantasy trope DON'T tend to behave the same way IRL. Throughout history our civilisation has grown, our technology has improved, as have our health and life expectancy, and our intellectual and physical achievements have also become greater, which is in stark contrast to the fantasy trope we're discussing.

I guess this is a cultural and/or economical difference, but, where I live, the assumption of every following generation being 'worse' - as in shorter average lifspan, shakier knowledge and experience base, you name it - is very widespread.

Same with aging infrastructure, deteriorating ecological situation and all that jazz. There are some very significant improvements in general quality of life, but, overall, the situation is net negative. (Or, at least, is usually perceived to be so.)

XXX

How does any of that has to do with the trope being discussed?

Well, are there are any artisans (and/or mages) of times long past in the setting that could surpass anything their modern colleagues can put out?

Any artefacts of superior craftmanship left over from those times and/or durability that remain unmatched still?

Are there any wonderful species that has gone extinct?

Does the magic somehow just... fade away over time, all this wondorous bounty of the world disappearing irreversibly?

I'm not saying that each and every work that includes this approach has a 'Green Aesop' in mind (Arche has already mentioned a much more pragmatic and down to earth reason for this above), but we are shaped by our experiences, aren't we? It may bleed through into people's works completely unintentionally.

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12 Re: Fantasy Trope Question on Fri Apr 24, 2015 3:40 pm

The "trope" exists as it does because the fantasy genre, as it exists now, is basically all inspired by Tolkien. And the reason why Tolkien used this "fading magic" in his work was because Tolkien was not writing Fantasy--he was writing mythology.

Specifically, a mythology for our world. Middle Earth wasn't supposed to be its own setting: rather, it was intended to be Earth's mythological past. Tolkien had to explain why there aren't Elves and Orcs and Hobbits and Wizards gallivanting around today, so that's why the magical elements of the setting are slowly fading.

And subsequent writers simply chose to copy this aspect of Tolkien's setting without bothering to think think about WHY.

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13 Re: Fantasy Trope Question on Fri Apr 24, 2015 5:01 pm

Some writers liked the concept of magic fading away from the world and decided to use it for their own setting. It is a compelling idea after all. But sooner or later, as people get more and more tired of reading stories with the same kind of premise, writers will go the other way. I'm one of them.

Don't get me wrong, I still like the concept of "magic fading away" or "ancient advanced civilization has disappeared" when executed properly (see Arch's campaign) but, for the setting I'm building for an eventual D&D campaign I might run with some friends, I would prefer to do something different. Magic appeared in my world and basically destroyed the ancient civilization. It left very few ruins to explore which won't even be holding any ancient threat that has to be defeated to save the world.

Variety is good.

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14 Re: Fantasy Trope Question on Fri Apr 24, 2015 6:24 pm

I actually ran a D&D campaign once which had zero magical elements in it, purely mundane medievalism. Then the party had a few things happen to them and accidentally unleashed 'magic' on the rest of the world (similar to what happened over in The Primes story actually, just manifested differently) and suddenly the world had to accommodate this slowly encroaching fantasy element to it. Fun campaign.


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15 Re: Fantasy Trope Question on Sat Apr 25, 2015 12:02 pm

Zeiss wrote:Some writers liked the concept of magic fading away from the world and decided to use it for their own setting. It is a compelling idea after all. But sooner or later, as people get more and more tired of reading stories with the same kind of premise, writers will go the other way. I'm one of them.

Don't get me wrong, I still like the concept of "magic fading away" or "ancient advanced civilization has disappeared" when executed properly (see Arch's campaign) but, for the setting I'm building for an eventual D&D campaign I might run with some friends, I would prefer to do something different. Magic appeared in my world and basically destroyed the ancient civilization. It left very few ruins to explore which won't even be holding any ancient threat that has to be defeated to save the world.

Variety is good.

Thing is, if you're inventing your own setting that's different than reality, there needs to be a point--a reason--for each thing that differs. If you make magic fade from the world, that needs to serve some larger thematic or narrative purpose. But all too often it's just a meaningless trope. Just like every single time a Fantasy author writes about the sun rising in the West and setting in the East.

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