I started reading about a new 24 Hour RPG contest some time ago and came across an intriguing setting idea in *the list*. It was Fantasypunk - Cyberpunk ideas in a Fantasy setting.
As I pondered it, I found that I was thinking more of a magic + steampunk scenario instead. I had the rough idea in my brain of an engine that had two dimensional portals, one to a dimension of fire and another to a dimension of water. It produces steam, and thus provided locomotive force for any kind of vehicle.
It seemed so simple and too complicated at the same time. I didn't like the idea, but I couldn't figure out why.
No matter, I said to myself, just some crazy ideas that come and go.
Then I was on Twitter talking to Stargazer when he mentioned a steam fantasy setting he had worked on. More because it was twitter, I shortened it to magipunk, a term we both seemed to like.
I presented an idea or two of how magic and steam power could mix and left it to percolate for later.
I came back to that goofy dimensional engine I mentioned earlier. I figured out that it was too magical. It would require permanent openings to two different dimensions. No sane person would create more than one, much less mass produce these things!
Still, magic can serve to tweak an engine and deal with issues. What kind of 'just enough' magic system could improve an engine?
Thinking about locomotives, one of the main fuels, before coal or diesel, was wood. A wood burning locomotive and coal burning locomotive were built largely the same way. Improving the wood burning locomotive through magic seemed an appealing idea, so it was time to research.
Dimensional fire is silly, however, creating heat through magic should be fairly common. The d20 fireball is a huge source of fire and heat - taking that much energy and spreading it out over time seemed a reasonable and lower magic way to provide the fire.
Then I thought, "what if the wood was self-healing"? In other words, as it burned, it healed itself, making it possible to burn the same piece of wood almost continuosly.
The wood would have to heal slower than the rate at which it burns, otherwise it wouldn't produce much heat. That would mean a train couldn't run continuously, but after a night time stopover, the fuel would have completely regenerated, allowed for a quick exit.
So far, so good. Self-healing wood as a long enduring form of fuel. Ash, red oak, white oak, beech, birch, hickory, hard maple, pecan, and dogwood are good hardwoods that produce a lot of heat and little smoke. Get some magically treated, self-healing hickory or white oak, and you have a train that can go pretty far. Eliminating the fuel car provides a little more tractive power because it's weight that is unneeded. No need for manual stokers to shovel wood, it is self-contained.
This gives you a train that requires very little crew, has great range, and can get started quickly.
In a different way, thinking about self-healing wood lead me to the creation of seamless ships. In other words, build a ship out of wood, and over time, it would form into a solid block.
With two major uses for magically-treated wood, there was now a commodity that could make folks quite rich, it tweaks, but doesn't entirely replace two major forms of transportation, and it has that 'just enough' amount of magic that it could just work.
More details later, just jotting down notes so I don't forget them.