Even if you haven’t heard the term before, all fantasy fans are familiar with the concept of “medieval stasis.” Pick your poison if you want the full diatribe from TV Tropes or 1d4chan, but the basic idea is that history has stopped inexplicably in Medieval Europe. Thousands of years into the fictional past and indefinitely into the fictional future, castles and knights and feudalism dominate the setting. Never mind the fact that this era lasted a bare handful of centuries in our own world.

This becomes an especial problem when you stop to reflect on the material conditions that produced the industrial revolution. Factor in the comparative advantages of advanced dwarven metallurgy, arcane energy sources, and the friggin’ fabricate spell, and you begin to wonder why no one invented a printing press or some clacks towers over the course of several thousand years.

There are a few standard explanations to keep in mind. If you want to explain why your homebrew world has dirt-farming peasants and a dearth of firearms, you can argue that magic outcompetes technology. Or maybe the lifespans of your long-lived races repress the new ideas that come with generational turnover. Perhaps the church considers tech heretical, or you’re living on one of those ancient earths where tech has come and gone multiple times over countless eons, or cold iron suppresses magic, making the stuff contraband.

My own go-to solution is to simply ignore the problem. You only have to worry about this business if your setting has a very long history, and that kind of detailed world-building just isn’t my jam. I’m out here for the adventure story, and it’s enough for me that the world exists. The fact of it is its own explanation. Throw me one of the mildly plausible explanations above and I’m a happy camper. Conversely, I’m very much not a happy camper when a setting insists on overexplaining itself.

What about the rest of you guys though? Do you have a go-to explanation for why your sword and sorcery setting never manages to invent modernity? Are you content to jettison the 10,000 year setting history if it means you don’t have to worry about cultural materialism and technological determinism? And for all the very-serious worldbuilders out there who do engage with this problem, do you have a model setting that lets you whack dragons with sharp objects without sacrificing your suspension of disbelief? Tell us all about your own battles with medieval stasis down in the comments!


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