I have been fascinated by Steampunk, Flintlock Fantasy, and other forms of industrial age fantasy lately. The renaissance, the enlightenment, the Napoleonic wars, the civil war, and the industrial revolution in general all seem like fair game for fantasy fiction now. It might be that the world wars are the bookend here: In an age of drones, geopolitics, suicide vests, and cyber warfare even the barbarity of trench warfare seems far removed.
Regardless, a common element of industrial age fantasy that distinguishes it from feudal age fantasies is the inclusion of a central resource. Just as coal, whale oil, and crude all defined the ages in which they dominated, so too can a resource help define elements of your fantasy world-building.
I have an example in mind, but it is from a project that I am working on, so I am just going to pluck an idea from the ether.
Dragons as an example resource for an industrial age Fantasy
Let’s assume large, western, fire-breathing, dangerous dragons here. In our industrial age fantasy these creatures were greatly feared in the feudal age. Great warriors would do battle with them to save the kingdom, and they effectively kept large tracts of land from being settled because they were just too much of a nuisance to deal with. People always knew that dragon-blood, dragon-skin, and dragon-bone have important properties but the creatures were simply too difficult to harvest and the rewards weren’t worth the risk. Then someone discovers that the same mechanism that allows dragons to breathe fire can also be used as an efficient source of energy. Let’s follow this through to a conclusion then.
- Dragonfire Energy is the most important discovery of the day. Men of reason study the Draconic fire gland, paying vast sums to send bands of Dragon Slayers to procure specimens. Depending on your world-view of dragons this could be a rather villainous process or it could start off innocently and end up exploitative. Regardless, these studies affirm that Dragonfire glands can heat water into steam, which can then power a variety of devices.
- Dragonfire steam comes into its own after kingdoms and nation states begin to notice the commercial and military applications. Every industrialist wants to procure a Dragonfire gland or two for his projects. Hunting dragons becomes markedly more profitable. A professional class of Dragon-hunter eventually emerges, along with specialized tools to bring down the beasts. Only the largest and most dangerous dragons are safe.
- Study of the other parts of the Dragon reveal more miraculous properties of bone, blood, and skin. Demand far out-strips supply. A thriving trade begins, attracting more and more hunters. Eventually even the largest and most deadly of the dragons become targets. This is likely the best place to begin the story, since it is a junction of many possibilities. Here are several.
- The Largest of the Dragons fall, one by one. For a while demand is satisfied, but very quickly the species becomes endangered. Wars are fought over the last fresh supplies of Dragonfire while the last few members of this species struggle to survive. This would be an excellent fantasy story for a good-hearted protagonist trying to save the last of the Dragons somehow. It would also be a great starting point for a more dystopic fantasy where those with access to dragonfire power, a limited resource, have infinite wealth and lord it over everyone else.
- You could also take a different tack altogether. Dragons are generally portrayed as sentient, so perhaps they band together and make war on those who hunted them, Maybe they win, burning the vast majority of civilization to the ground, with only those armed with Dragonfire devices able to stop them. Could be interesting.
- Dragon Farming?