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Basic Information

Artifice is the use of magic as a substitute for technology … when magic becomes industrialised and is no longer the province of a small number of wizards then it starts to become artifice … and you may very well find yourself in a dungeonpunk setting1. Potions replace medicines, magical lighting replaces gaslight and electricity, crystal balls replace televisions and magical transport moves people about2. This sort of thing is also known as magitek. Artifice based settings are often 'high tech' in everything but weapons development (if anything the reverse of real life) … possibly due to the fantasy gun control meme - which at least has the rule of cool benefit of having characters duelling with medieval swords on the roof of the magic train.

On a smaller scale an artificer is a magician in a fantasy setting who specialises in making magical items and may - if the setting is cheesy enough - run a magic shop.

Artifice may also refer to a specific school of magic that is used to make magic items - this is, of course, subject to the caveats given above.

A lot will depend on how artifice works - the cost in time, material and magical power to create a magical item, the levels of skill required and how reproducible the process is. If an identical process makes an identical product every time, then the rules of artifice will lend themselves to improvement with practice, costs reducing over time and a slow tendency towards mass production. If each item is unique, then mass production is unlikely at best - even vast work halls full of wizards making items for the same purpose will not create a truly industrial product. Traditionally artifice requires expensive and/or rare materials, usually with some signature or sympathetic connection to the purpose for which it is intended - and may need more esoteric things such as the bottling of sunlight or "hope". Parts from rare or magically powerful creatures are popular.

Note that the shamanistic practice of creating fetishes may well serve as an end-run around the complications of artifice in some settings … at the price of landing you with an item that has at least some measure of self-will.


1. novel: Operation Chaos by Poul Anderson — set in a alternate universe where science has learned how to de-gauss the effects of cold iron on magic and the resulting 20th Century technology is largely magic-based
2. game: GURPS Technomancer — a setting inspired by Operation Chaos, in which an influx of magic in the mid-20th century has led to a boom in magitek.

Game and Story Use

  • Magic-as-technology can be kind of tempting, although it can take some of the 'magic' out of it if done badly.
  • Kept within bounds, artifice can be a useful adventure hook as characters go out rummaging for parts.
  • Ideally, making a magical item should be a relatively big deal - although you can probably still get away with a setting in which a wizard can knock up something over the weekend that does the job for the problem in hand, perhaps by allowing strict limitations on its usefulness in exchange for easier construction, or giving it a limited lifespan.
    • Actually, this could still swing in a more magitek setting - the goblin artificer in the slums can knock you together an invisibility cloak which will … probably … work, but is likely to break down in a few days time. It's nothing like as good as one made by a guild artificer, but can be ready by Monday, costs a third of the price and doesn't need to be registered with the Guild. Up to you guv.
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