The Magic Versus Technology War

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

In traditional Fantasy, the available technology (as opposed to magic that just works like technology) is generally depicted as being relatively primitive, roughly equivalent to Real Life sometime prior to the development of modern firearms. In Science Fiction, just about anything, from the paranormal to the supernatural to Sufficiently Advanced Aliens with technology that acts like magic is allowed, except magic. In the rare fiction where magic and advanced technology exist in the same universe, they rarely get along. In some cases, they merely interfere with each other for unexplained reasons. Sometimes it actually comes to blows, and that's where this trope comes in.

To be this trope, a series needs to have as one of the primary conflicts, an actual shooting war between a faction upholding magic and a faction upholding advanced technology and science. Typically one side is using magic spells, cavalry on dragons, etc., and another that prefers technological weapons like guns, tanks, Humongous Mecha, etc. Note that "Advanced Technology and Science" is a relative term: It may be as little as Industrial Revolution-era (compared to the standard Medieval European Fantasy), or even higher than modern times. A good rule of thumb is at least one "age" of technological development over that of the Magic-using civilization.

Often tied to a Masquerade. The war could be the result of The Unmasqued World; the Masquerade can serve to protect an Endangered Species or avert a Genocide Dilemma. Expect to see a Corrupt Corporate Executive, Evil Sorcerer, Mad Scientist or Wicked Witch. Compare: Science Is Bad, Magic Is Evil. Contrast Magitek, where magic and technology merge into one field of study.

Examples of The Magic Versus Technology War include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Princess Mononoke, firearms users are at war with the 'gods' of nature.
  • In Wolf's Rain the Nobles' science fails to open Paradise, although it is responsible for creating Cheza. She and the wolves search for Paradise by apparently magical means.
  • Most of the story of A Certain Magical Index is about a war between the Science side (consisting of the psychics/ESPers in Academy City) and the Magic side (consisting mostly of religious groups such as churches).

Comic Books

  • "The Magic Wars", in which the forces of Sorcerer's World (aka as Zerox) attack the rest of the technology-using galaxy was a major storyarc in the Legion of Super-Heroes series.
  • In Fables the Fables living on Earth eventually retake the homeland thanks to assault rifles and a healthy supply of 500 pound bombs.
    • Although this might be a subversion, as they do so in an airship powered by Flying Carpets and make judicious use of the Magic they can muster. So it's ore "A judicious use of Magic, applied with modern technology trumps magic" than a straight up "Technology beats magic".
  • The short-lived Manifest Eternity was to concern a technologically-advanced human-led empire which, after having conquered its own universe, finds itself a target for conquest by an empire of magical beings from another universe.

Eastern European Animation

  • There is a nice Soviet cartoon called "Ivashka from the Palace of Pioneers", where a technologically skilled boy is kidnapped by Baba Yaga as a dinner for her mythological guests - and uses his bag of gizmos to make short work of her and the guests within minutes.

Film - Animated

  • In Ralph Bakshi's Wizards, there is a war between the mutants and demons of Scorch, armed with machineguns, lasers, tanks, artillery, and fighters, and the elves, fairies, and dwarves of Montagar, armed with Medieval weaponry (swords, bows and arrows). Slightly subverted in that the technological side is actually led by an Evil Sorcerer whose main weapon is a magically-enhanced Nazi propaganda machine and whose generals he has summoned from Hell. Also, the fantasy creatures rarely use magic in battle and have no problem with using guns when they ambush a Scorch convoy. And the war is ended by the good wizard using a gun to kill his evil brother.
  • The Flight of Dragons deals with this element in a way, although the inevitability of the arrival of technology disempowering magical energy is the true force behind the war, which is entirey magical. The forces of magic become involved in a civil war over whether to destroy man's faith in science through fear and superstition or seal the remaining magic away behind The Masquerade where science cannot harm it.
  • Dragon Wars has this, in a Crowning Moment of Awesome in an otherwise terrible movie. The evil snake-demon-demigod thing is about to kill the protagonist and ascend to godhood, and is coiled near the top if an LA skyscraper with ominous stormclouds rolling in as it moves in...and then a flight of AH-64 gunships appear, blowing away the magical stormclouds with their rotors and opening fire on the snake. It manages to kill one of them, but their response? "Switch to Hellfires." The formerly unstoppable avatar of destruction actually screams in pain when it takes a hit from an anti-tank missile, and the Apaches don't let up.
    • Also a much smaller example: earlier in the movie, the small-scale Reality Warper villain is temporarily incapacitated when the protagonist runs into him in a accident. He recovers quickly, but when he's about to finish the hero off, he gets hit by another car.


  • The Darksword Trilogy: Unusual in that the mages are terrified of human non-mages (effectively viewing them as the undead), the sides aren't depicted as evenly matched, and the war is about ending rather than completing the division between them. It's also one of the few times the magical society is ultimately shown as being clearly in the wrong, albeit through excision of their historical records.
  • In Neil Gaiman's American Gods, Odin's quest was all about this, with the "old school gods" (like Oestre, Anubis, Horus, Anansi, Coyote, and so on) representing magic on one side, and the "new gods" (like Television, the Car Gods, the Technical Kid, and so on) representing technology on the other. Turns out, it's all a big con job on the part of Odin and Loki.
  • Mark S. Geston's The Siege of Wonder takes place on a world divided into scientific and magical power blocs, each of which is trying to use its type of power to defeat the other.
  • Roger Zelazny's Jack of Shadows takes place on a planet that has a magical night side and a scientific day side. At the end of the book the planet begins to rotate, destroying the status quo.
  • And Zelazny's Changeling is a pure incarnation of this trope. As an alliance defeats an evil sorcerer, they exile his newborn son to another plane (Earth) by exchanging it for an engineer's infant. Both end up in the original world as pawns of forces insistent on expressing this trope as thoroughly as possible. It's pointed out by several characters that the only problem with technology here is that for the war to happen properly, somebody had to make a Face Heel Turn.
    • The sequel, Madwand, appears to mostly be about other things, but a dimension traveler does mention that the events of the previous book provided the momentum to shift the world even farther, towards a Lovecraftian realm. The conflict there is smaller in scope and plays out entirely in the magic end of the scale.
  • David Weber and Linda Evan's Hell's Gate series is a war between people who use technology of around 1910 and "psionics" versus the people who use magic and magitek exclusively. Word of God says the next book (when it eventually comes out) will introduce a third purely technical side.
  • Interworld, by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves, takes place in a continuum of parallel universes, with a purely scientific society at one far end and a purely magical counterpart at the other fighting over the totality of existence.
  • Phil Jimenez was working on a book called Otherworld for Vertigo Comics, where a group of friends are whisked away into a war between two worlds—a traditional fantasy world and a post-singularity culture. It ended when he was slated to do illustrations for Infinite Crisis, though.
  • Mary Gentle's Grunts! involved Orc Marines armed with machine guns and helicopters as one force in a traditionally magical Good vs Evil Final Battle to Decide Everything. The Magic vs. Tech aspect comes into early on - the orc marines weaponry, not being magical has no inherent defence against even the simplest of spells to make it stop working. It becomes imperative that the orcs find a way to nullify the effect of 'fail-weapons' spells on their firearms.
  • The Amtrak Wars series by Patrick Tilley is set hundreds of years after a nuclear war has divided the United States into the underground Amtrak Federation and the above-surface 'Mutes', who are on the technological level of American Indians, but some of them also have telekinetic and telepathic powers. The Amtrak Federation are engaged in a genocidal war to retake the surface, and despite pushing a racial agenda are secretly using genetic engineering to try and acquire the Mutes' powers and resistance to radiation.
  • The Sidhe series, by Kenneth C Flint, is a retelling of the legend of Lugh Lamfada and the magical Sidhe againt the mutant Fomorians and their leader Balor being forces of Technology.
  • In Eric Van Lustbader's Pearl Saga, this war was over quickly, and magic lost a century ago. Now there are only a tiny number of magic-users helping La Résistance.
  • Octavia Butler's Patternmaster centers on a conflict between two breeds of Demihuman, the psychic Patterners and the technology using Sphinxes.
  • Jack Vance's Dying Earth features technology and the scientific method being rediscovered in a post-tech age dominated by pseudo-magic.

Live-Action TV

  • In Merlin, using magic in the wrong kingdom is a capital offense.
    • The other side usually comes off as less tech-savvy though. If you improve some process or medicine, you had better be able to prove the effect isn't magic very quickly.

Tabletop Games

  • Warhammer 40,000 sometimes present this, with the Imperial Guard, the most Real Life like army, fighting Chaos sorcerers and cultists with tanks, artillery and riflemen.
    • In the backstory the war between the Necrons and the Old Ones was this, starting as the biggest case of Screw You, Elves in fiction.
    • The Order and Disorder grand conflict of the setting can also be seen as this: on the side of Order, the Necrons and Tau are purely technological (sufficiently so for the Necrons) while the Eldar and Imperium are relatively methodical and disciplined about their use of magic - and they use technology just as much if not more so than magic. The races of Disorder, by contrast, go full bore on magic (most of Chaos), Clap Your Hands If You Believe (Orks), soul-eating and general messing with of souls (Dark Eldar), and Sufficiently Advanced Organic Technology (Tyranids).
    • Happened in one encounter between Chaos forces and recently-awakened Necrons on a tombworld. The aspiring champion recounting the incident said that his cultists summoned demons to fight the Necrons, but found to his dismay that even demons couldn't stop even the most basic Necron warrior from self-repairing what should have been fatal damage.
  • Used part of the time in the RPG world of Shadowrun; sometimes the Shamans and Hackers work together, sometimes they don't.
    • Some magical effects don't affect technology, and having too much cyberware in your body destroys your Essence (an important stat for magic wielders). On the flip side, powerful technology can warp the local mana, and there are evil Toxic Shamans who draw their power from such warped sources.
  • The Ascension War in Mage: The Ascension, between the Traditions and the Technocracy, is kind of like this, except for the part where the "technology" used by the Technocracy is actually magic of a sort.
    • More specifically, in the Old World of Darkness, everything ever is magic due to the fundamentally alterable nature of reality. "Technology" just happens to be magic that the vast majority of people in the world believe in without question.
  • The Tabletop RPG Rifts has a few examples: The magic-hating Coalition and its wars against the Federation of Magic and Tolkeen, and the Cold War between the tech-hating Empire of japan vs the ultratech Republic of Japan.
    • The Japan issue is really a subversion. Despite the New Empire's dislike of the Republic's technology, they actually get along very well with each other, and will readily rush to the others aid. The New Empire simply feels the Republic is merely misguided, and will eventually come around (though the game itself says an eventual merging of the two is far more likely) Part of this is said to be the Japanese reverence for one's ancestors, and given that the Republic is a section of Japan that was warped hundreds of years forward in time just moments before The End of the World as We Know It, they may count in a very literal sense. The technological power the New Empire really has beef with (and rightly so) is the Otomo Shoganate, the former big player on the block before the Republic came back.
  • This is the entire point behind the independent Dungeons & Dragons / D20 Modern Post Cyber Punk / High Fantasy / After the End campaign setting Amethyst. Magic was the reason the world went to hell. The Bastions, isolated cyberpunk cities that consider themselves the last humans on earth, are understandably hateful of magic. Magic also causes electronics to turn to dust for no reason, which makes the conflict worse. However, magic also was what saved the world. It's complicated.

Video Games

  • This is the root of conflict between Hammerites and Pagans in the Thief series, except that both sides use magic. The key difference are their goals: the Hammerites want technology to spread and see magic as a stepping stone for that, whereas the Pagans want nature to triumph over civilization and use full-power druidic magic.
    • And the Mechanists are even more technocratic in their worldview and religious teachings than the Hammerites.
  • In Metroid Prime 3, you find a record of such a war on the planet Bryyo. It had much the same effect as a nuclear holocaust- the Lords of Science were all but slaughtered, while the Primals degenerated into savagery and lost most of the magic they once had. Only then did the last Lord of Science learn to combine technology with magic and manage to stop the planet from literally falling apart. (and create one hell of a landscape) And then, thousands of years later, something else arrives...
  • The Machina War in Final Fantasy X. Both sides eventually created a superweapon of magic or technology. Only one side ever used theirs, since both Superweapons were overpowered and capable of ruining the world and only one side was losing bad enough to use theirs. Ironically, the spiritual superweapon was never intended to be a doomsday weapon in the first place. Though the technological superweapon WAS constructed as a doomsday device, it was too difficult to properly use and unlikely to win against than its spiritual counterpart either. Being able to rebuild itself even after absolute destruction as long as it's not spiritually banished gives it the edge against pure technological weapons...
  • Rise of Legends is all over this: Vinci are Steampunk European (mainly Italians), Alin are magical Arabians, and Cuotl are Mayincatec with Ancient Astronaut alien gods thrown in.
    • Note that Alin vs Vinci happens mainly in the opening cinematic; the campaign is principally Vinci vs Vinci, Alin vs Alin, Cuotl vs Cuotl, and Alin AND Vinci vs Cuotl, making it more of "Science and Magic vs Sufficiently Advanced Technology".
    • The ending, though, implies that the Alin are looking to expand Westward into the weakened Vinci principalities. The sequel, presumably, would fit this trope.
  • Averted in Tales of Symphonia: two worlds sharing the mana of one world so one world is always in decline and one in ascent and the one that's in ascent uses technology and the one that's in decline uses magic. Howevert, the setting is Magitek, and we're never shown any major technology that isn't powered in some way by magic. Furthermore, it's stated that magic also gradually becomes unusable in the declining world; it just takes longer to happen, because magitechnology uses more mana than magic does.
  • A key component of Arcanum, because magic and technology physically interfere with each other. Not an actual war, but scientists and mages don't get along well, due to constantly inadvertently destroying each others' experiments, etc...
    • An open war is a part of the backstory, when feudal, clinging to old ways kingdom of Cumbria and modern, technically a republic Unified Kingdom went to war over some kingly affair. However, neither army was (at first) particularly bent in any way: Cumbria fielded old-style knights (quite probably, some of them with magical weapons), while UK conscripts with occasional gun thrown in. Only later did UK issue rifles to every recruit; as you can guess, things went downhill for Cumbria.[1]
    • Much later in the game, we find out about another magic versus technology 'war'. By war is meant that one powerful mage threatened a high-technology city over its factories and other signs of technology and, when it refused to back down, single-handedly destroyed it.
  • The free RTS game Glest features two opposing factions, simply called 'magic' and 'tech'. In this case, though, the 'tech' faction is the one making use of swordsmen, knights, catapults, etc, in addition to motorized zeppelins and bipedal war machines, while the 'magic' faction is almost exclusively limited to various spells and summoned monsters.
  • Total Annihilation Kingdoms is built on this trope, but interestingly in two different ways. The vanilla game consists of two factions who follow the old proscriptions against magic except in extremis (as a magical war destroyed a primordial civilization) and instead have invented gunpowder, against two others who freely use magic. The sequel then pits all four of these factions against a fifth with a much stronger Steampunk technological bent and an absolute ban on all magic.
    • The ending is a very awkward peace treaty signed after it is revealed that both groups were founded by the same man.
  • This has happened twice in the setting of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. The first was a battle between the weapon-smithing based Lilties, and the magical yukes. The latter won, the Lilties only real defeat before their empire collapsed. Some Lilties intended to learn magic and specialize in both fields, but it was never a wide movement. A millenia or so later, it happened again. This time the Lilties were far better equipped, and the yukes were driven to near extinction, and magic banned in most areas. The Lilty technology in this case classifies partly as Magitek, due to using crystals for power, but is not considered to be magic by the population.
  • Spellcross. Here, the conflict has nothing to do with worldviews and everything with a fantasy invasion of modern Earth. Orcs versus marines, tanks versus golems, booyah.
  • Mousehunt has Zugzwang's tower, where Mystic mice and Technic mice are battling each other, locked in a never-ending game of chess.
  • In The Longest Journey two parallel worlds exist: the scientific Stark and the magical Arcadia. A balance is kept so that no technology goes to Arcadia an no magic goes to Stark.
    • In the sequel the conflict between magic and science is heightened: Stark suffered a magic "invasion" disrupting it's technology and starting chaos, while a new empire brimming with technology (of the steampunk variety) is bringing unrest to Arcadia.

Web Comics

  • Even if it's not the central focus of the comic, Juathuur shows this trope clearly: Sev'vil wants to use technology to effectively give magic powers to everyone (instead of only juathuur).
  • The Court (technology and "etheric science") and Forest (magic, though no one ever calls it that) in Gunnerkrigg Court are basically in this situation. Thanks to cooperation-encouraging mediums like Annie and her mother, it's mostly a cold war at this point, but the two groups were not nearly so peaceful with each other in the past (Coyote dug out the giant ravine between the Court and the Forest in an attempt to stop the fighting).

Web Original

Western Animation

  • In Jackie Chan Adventures, Section 13 has its agents fight magical creatures with high tech arsenal. These weapons prove to be not very effective, and as Uncle said it "Magic must defeat magic."
  • In Transformers: Beast Machines, the heroes are partially organic, mystically inclined robots trying to restore organic life to Cybertron, while the villains seek to make it a purely cold and logical world of nothing but machines. This theme was previously to a lesser extent in Beast Wars II, wherein the heroic, technorganic Maximals fought against the evil, purely technological Predacons. Robots in Disguise flipped the Beast Wars II conflict, by featuring heroic, all-robotic Autobots fighting evil, technorganic Predacons.
  • Averted in Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers. Magic users and psionics like the Queen, Mogul, and Niko freely use technology or use technology to focus it. The Circle of Thought (Niko's people) don't embrace it and consider it inferior to their mental powers, but they don't hold it against anyone for using it, either.
  1. In case you ask why didn't Cumbria throw stronger magic in -- one of game's themes is that technology wins, as mages can't be mass-produced and rifles can.