D&D General D&D, magic, and the mundane medieval

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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Okay, but you’re replying to me, and I’ve been arguing that it doesn’t make sense to imagine a world where the player options exist and PCs can use them and have all the available backgrounds (minus setting specific ones), where personal magic is also very rare.
I think this is very table dependent. In my game there are only ever 4 PCs in the entire world, so having them be among the small handful that can learn magic isn't an issue, especially since not all 4 will.

If you run a game where PCs aren't really a thing and are exactly the same as NPCs, then it can make sense or not, depending on how you run it. Since spellcasters are rare in my game, were I to run a game where PCs and NPCs are the same, I'd have the players roll percentile dice and if a 00 is rolled, then that player would have the option to be a spellcaster.

That kind if game seems boring to me, I choose to just assume that 00 has been rolled by each player and give them the choice to pick a spellcaster or not.
Because it takes generations upon generations of mathematicians sharing knowledge, learning in schools and by way of tutors, ie it requires mathematicians not being very rare, to produce Isaac Newton. So even if we absurdly assume that the PC wizard is the only wizard in the world, or one of 5 globally, there has to be something less than a wizard proper who can cast some basic spells and understands enough fundamentals to teach them to kid wizard.
Why are you assuming spellcasting is as complex as physics? If talent is the primary limiter, it could be really, really easy to use magic and it would still be rare. Or it could be moderately difficult after 1st level, but practice and experience allows increases in power and knowledge of spellcasting.
That isn’t a coherent world, IMO.
Whether it is or isn't is entirely up to you. It functions both coherently and well in my game.
This is nitpicking. Magic here refers to personal magic that a person is doing.
Then under that definition, magic is rare. Even if every adventure that WotC makes has multiple spellcasters in it, that doesn't in any way invalidate what I am saying for a number of reasons.

1. PCs encounter a much higher concentration of rare creatures and beings that the general populace. That's just how the game is played in order to not be really boring.
2. For every spellcaster in the adventure, there can be a million people outside of it that aren't spellcasters.
3. Like often attracts like. If you were the rare one in a million person, you'd want to be around someone who could relate, so you'd seek out other spellcasters to hang around with and talk to. Those three spellcasters in the abbey could be working together because of that.

Or if you want magic to be common, you can assume that there are tons of spellcasters outside of those adventures.
Irrelevant, the guild in question is much larger than that.
Says who? Nothing in that paragraph says that there are dozens or hundreds of arcanists who want to make magic more accessible. It could just as easily be 5 who are looking for the next 1 in a million apprentice.
It does. The 5e default has always been the multiverse, people just ignored it or didn’t notice until Fizban’s. And even the paragraph you quoted that talks about magic being rare does so in a way that makes it explicitly clear that only a vague “most” worlds actually fit that description.
Most still = default. When I got my Lexus, the default model was the base one that was most commonly sold. I wanted the blind spot mirrors and proximity sensors, so I upgraded to one of the non-default models.
 

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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I agree in theory, but when in the default setting (FR) you can't throw a rock without hitting a chosen of X god and or an archmage (and yeah some are both) it doesn't help.
It also doesn't make them common. Just noticeable. There are a lot of chosen and archmages running around, but for every one of those there are tens of thousands or more people who aren't spellcasters. Hell, even if it was only 100 to 1, they would still be very rare.

The Forgotten Realms just catapults them 1) into the limelight, and 2) to very high level. That makes them seem more numerous and more influential than in a lot of other settings.
One of the things I was hopeing for with Dragon Lance (and maybe if we ever get Birth right and dark sun) are worlds where the big names are NOT gods and casters.
Yeah. A variety of setting formats is a good thing.
where this is 100% true, it is not what people think of when they hear guild...
One of my players bought me the Strixhaven campaign setting. Reading it, you don't even have to be a spellcaster to get into the colleges. A Battle Master with the magic initiate feat and a two cantrips can get in. A barbarian with a connection to the spirits is magical enough to get in. Guilds would be the same way. You might have 4 or 5 spellcasters and a bunch of members who a cantrip or two, or some other quasi-magical ability that allows them membership, giving the guild a 50-100 members.
JUST FYI, I run diffrent homebrew settings all the time, and I play 7 out of 10 times in homebrew settings... so in the last 37 years I have played in "burn the witch" games, and "Oh everyone has cantrips" games and everything inbetween... so I get that homebrew throws this all out.
(y)
 

It's perfectly reasonable to want to make a world where everybody plays by the same rules, but in that case you will always end up with something like Eberron, and not remotely like anything historical.
I disagree with this, actually. This assumes that magical processes can be industrialized. When you look at actual texts 1 much of magic is transactional in nature. The fabrication of magical items (cloaks of invisibility are a surprisingly common desire) involve supernatural aid. 2 This strongly implies that magical item manufacture is artisanal in nature and can not be mass produced.

Potions might be different. Alchemical texts on occasion make note that certain processes can be upscales, or upscaling is implicit in the stated process. 3. So there it would be reasonable to extrapolate that more industrial processes could be done. Although, you still have to take into account thermal or other flows, which could make for interesting structures to observe or investigate.


1- Not saying it actually worked, but there's been a lot of ink spilled about actual magic in our history.
2- The Picatrix, et al.
3- The Leyden Papyrus, et al.
 

Extrapolation implies correctness-conditions. There are no correctness conditions here.
Sure there are. You reference what happened with technological advances in the real world, keeping in mind what people actually believed about magic. You remember that people believed magic is mostly transactional in nature, so there is an limit based on artisanal, not industrial, manufacture. Start the If / Then loop. Examine friction points.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
It also doesn't make them common. Just noticeable. There are a lot of chosen and archmages running around, but for every one of those there are tens of thousands or more people who aren't spellcasters. Hell, even if it was only 100 to 1, they would still be very rare.
100 to 1? Do you mean that for every chosen or archmage there is 100 folks with no personal magic?

That describes personal magic as common. 1 in 100 is not rare.

But also, in the FR the chosen and archmages are more likely 1 in 100 spellcasters. d
The Forgotten Realms just catapults them 1) into the limelight, and 2) to very high level. That makes them seem more numerous and more influential than in a lot of other settings.
-blink- what.

There are spellcasters in every major city, in large numbers, as well as in secluded enclaves, and many criminal organizations, and any other organization you can think of.

They are more numerous and influential than you're letting on, though I'd say the settings wotc has supported spellcasting rarity is half and half more or less common than FR. Though, if we are only looking at wotc era FR, I rather think spellcasting is outright common, at least at a basic level.
Yeah. A variety of setting formats is a good thing.

One of my players bought me the Strixhaven campaign setting. Reading it, you don't even have to be a spellcaster to get into the colleges. A Battle Master with the magic initiate feat and a two cantrips can get in. A barbarian with a connection to the spirits is magical enough to get in. Guilds would be the same way. You might have 4 or 5 spellcasters and a bunch of members who a cantrip or two, or some other quasi-magical ability that allows them membership, giving the guild a 50-100 members.

(y)
Might be. "would" is a bold claim.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
100 to 1? Do you mean that for every chosen or archmage there is 100 folks with no personal magic?

That describes personal magic as common. 1 in 100 is not rare.
Okay, so not 1 in 100. As I said earlier, it's more like one in tens of thousands to millions.
There are spellcasters in every major city, in large numbers, as well as in secluded enclaves, and many criminal organizations, and any other organization you can think of.
Of course there are. They migrate to major cities for company and to learn from one another. That doesn't make them common.
They are more numerous and influential than you're letting on, though I'd say the settings wotc has supported spellcasting rarity is half and half more or less common than FR. Though, if we are only looking at wotc era FR, I rather think spellcasting is outright common, at least at a basic level.
You're probably right as the base assumption for the Realms, but I run them as rare in the Realms without changing much of anything. The vast majority of assumed spellcasters in the Realms are just that, assumed. They aren't named at all, so you can lose them without altering the character of the Realms.

Pulling out my 3e Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting and looking at the major(and more magical than usual) city of Silverymoon there are 13 named spellcasters with about half of those being multiclassed fighter/wizards or fighter/clerics, so only about 6 or 7 named full spellcasters in a city of 37,000+ So about 1 in 5000. The rest are nameless numbers, and that's in one of the most highly magical places on Faerun.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I think this is very table dependent. In my game there are only ever 4 PCs in the entire world, so having them be among the small handful that can learn magic isn't an issue, especially since not all 4 will.
That level of rarity makes it harder to make sense of the available PC options, not easier, IMO. There are like a hundred spellcasting subclasses, hundreds of combinations of spells gained via feats, etc. As well, it turns spellcasting, a major part of the character at the table, into something with little or no tie into the world around them. The warrior can have a lodge or a liege who has given them leave to seek something far afield, or old camrades that still meet when they can in the old veterans tavern in the city, but the wizard has at most known 1 other wizard, ever? In terms of story, that robs the class of most of it's narrative purpose, to me.
If you run a game where PCs aren't really a thing and are exactly the same as NPCs, then it can make sense or not, depending on how you run it. Since spellcasters are rare in my game, were I to run a game where PCs and NPCs are the same, I'd have the players roll percentile dice and if a 00 is rolled, then that player would have the option to be a spellcaster.
I'm not sure what reasoning lies between premise and conclusion, here. Can you explain?
That kind if game seems boring to me, I choose to just assume that 00 has been rolled by each player and give them the choice to pick a spellcaster or not.
Likewise, the idea of a "you're heroes because you were born special" game is...worse than boring, to me.

But either way, nothing about the assumption that PCs are in the end just folks, not inherently special supermen, requires anything like the rolling percentile dice or whatever. Hell, I don't even know why you're so bent on this line of discussion, when the point you are replying to with it isn't even about PCs being basically the same as NPCs. It's about PCs having to have come from somewhere, be part of the world around them. If the knowledge of forging is extremely rare, you'll have few sword-fighters, and vanishingly few swordfighting traditions. That isn't rationally compatible with a game system wherein the rules present both mechanics and lore for dozens upon dozens of such traditions as unrestricted player options.

The game can state whatever they want to write in the DMG about the rarity of spellcasters, thier actual design work directly and strongly suggests that magic is common enough in most worlds to have infrastructure of some kind, people to learn spellcasting from, and dozens upon dozens of traditions one might learn from. In a thread wherein the OP assumes a premise that we are discussing the reasonable outcomes of the rules as presented in the books, such as the ability to till 5ft cubes of earth as an always ready at-will ability.
Why are you assuming spellcasting is as complex as physics?
I'm not, I'm continuing on the path of discussion that was taking place when you replied to me on this topic. In which it was posited that magic is like quantum physics, and that's why only some people can do it. In the comment you're replying to, it's simply being used as a comparative example of how great things are underpinned by minor things, and it's difficult to make sense of a world wherein that isn't the case.
If talent is the primary limiter, it could be really, really easy to use magic and it would still be rare. Or it could be moderately difficult after 1st level, but practice and experience allows increases in power and knowledge of spellcasting.
Talent is just drive + time, but sure.
Whether it is or isn't is entirely up to you. It functions both coherently and well in my game.
That you make the world function at your table does not mean that the assumptions are broadly functional, or makes sense in the general case.
Then under that definition, magic is rare. Even if every adventure that WotC makes has multiple spellcasters in it, that doesn't in any way invalidate what I am saying for a number of reasons.

1. PCs encounter a much higher concentration of rare creatures and beings that the general populace. That's just how the game is played in order to not be really boring.
2. For every spellcaster in the adventure, there can be a million people outside of it that aren't spellcasters.
3. Like often attracts like. If you were the rare one in a million person, you'd want to be around someone who could relate, so you'd seek out other spellcasters to hang around with and talk to. Those three spellcasters in the abbey could be working together because of that.
That's a stretch.

But, if you won't even engage with the assertion that a learned spellcaster like the wizard implies by their existence the existence of other spellcasters both before and within their lifetime, of course you won't recognize why the presence of multiple spellcasters in every single adventure, every important settlement in a campaign setting, and by far most descriptions of the game in general, strongly implies that spellcasters aren't very rare. Uncommon, at most.
Says who? Nothing in that paragraph says that there are dozens or hundreds of arcanists who want to make magic more accessible. It could just as easily be 5 who are looking for the next 1 in a million apprentice.
It references a specific existing organization in a published and rather detailed campaign setting. An organization whose membership is much higher than 5, and whose membership is primarily, if not exclusively, made up of proper spellcasters. The paragraph in question doesn't need to detail the entire history and nature of the organization, it calls it out by name and includes what setting it's part of.
Most still = default. When I got my Lexus, the default model was the base one that was most commonly sold. I wanted the blind spot mirrors and proximity sensors, so I upgraded to one of the non-default models.
This is an apples to lawn chairs comparison.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Okay, so not 1 in 100. As I said earlier, it's more like one in tens of thousands to millions.
Says who?
Of course there are. They migrate to major cities for company and to learn from one another. That doesn't make them common.
It literally does. If they are in every major city, they are common.
You're probably right as the base assumption for the Realms, but I run them as rare in the Realms without changing much of anything. The vast majority of assumed spellcasters in the Realms are just that, assumed. They aren't named at all, so you can lose them without altering the character of the Realms.
I disagree, but it doesn't matter. Play the realms how you want. I think you're playing a different setting than what is presented in the FR books, but I also do so, just in very different ways from your game, so I don't especially care either way.
Pulling out my 3e Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting and looking at the major(and more magical than usual) city of Silverymoon there are 13 named spellcasters with about half of those being multiclassed fighter/wizards or fighter/clerics, so only about 6 or 7 named full spellcasters in a city of 37,000+ So about 1 in 5000. The rest are nameless numbers, and that's in one of the most highly magical places on Faerun.
The idea that named vs not named matters on any level in this discussion is very strange. From where do you even derive that idea as a premise?

if a book says that a given place has 1000 spellcasters, but only names 1 of them, then that place has 1000 spellcasters. Either that information informs how you run that place, or you are deviating from the written setting and making it your own version. Which is great and I encourage all DMs to do exactly that with all settings and APs and anything else they use in their game, but let's not pretend that unnamed spellcasters don't count toward how common spellcasters are in a place.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
That level of rarity makes it harder to make sense of the available PC options, not easier, IMO. There are like a hundred spellcasting subclasses, hundreds of combinations of spells gained via feats, etc. As well, it turns spellcasting, a major part of the character at the table, into something with little or no tie into the world around them. The warrior can have a lodge or a liege who has given them leave to seek something far afield, or old camrades that still meet when they can in the old veterans tavern in the city, but the wizard has at most known 1 other wizard, ever? In terms of story, that robs the class of most of it's narrative purpose, to me.
By why do they all have to exist on any given world? I mean, if you wanted to make magic really, REALLY rare, you could make the only magic using people in the whole world the PCs. There would be one true cleric of knowledge, one abjurer wizard, one paladin oath of devotion follower of the god of justice, and one eldritch knight. The rest of the subclasses existed as choices, but not in the world. At least not unless a PC dies and another one is made.

The existence of the PC options does not in any way dictate what is in the world.
I'm not sure what reasoning lies between premise and conclusion, here. Can you explain?
In the game PCs and NPCs are clearly different in the game fiction. They follow different rules, so unless the DM invokes the option to make NPCs have class levels, only the few characters controlled by your players have access to the options you mention. Basically in 3e terms NPCs are warriors, PCs are fighters. Since the options are different for PCs, the players can be those special few or at least among those special few if that's how you want to view them.

Alternatively, you can just view PCs and NPCs as essentially the same, which really makes both categories meta and not really a thing in the world. If you do that and want magic to be rare, then the PCs will be similarly limited and would have a very small chance of being able to use magic. Hence coming up with a roll for it. The vast majority would be completely non-magical barbarians, rogues and fighters, but that's pretty boring. The other way to go is just make magic common so that PCs can have all the normal PHB choices.

For myself, I prefer magic to be rare, but the PCs to just happen to be among the 1 in thousands that can use magic. There are only 4 of them, so why not just let them be in that group and have fun? It doesn't break anything or cheese anything to do that.
Likewise, the idea of a "you're heroes because you were born special" game is...worse than boring, to me.
Not heroes. I don't care if they are heroes, villains, not either and just out to make a buck or find neat stuff. That's up to them.

Unless the PCs die, they will do great things as they rise in levels. That's pretty much inevitable, so we know from the get go that they are not going to be like 99.999% of the population of the setting. They literally can't be and still beat monsters, find cool items and do the deeds that they do.

Since we know even before their stats are rolled that they are going to be great, from that perspective they are fated to be great at something, whether it's good, bad or neutral. Being among the few able to use magic is just par for the course.

Edit: Sorry, posted early and still writting.
The game can state whatever they want to write in the DMG about the rarity of spellcasters, thier actual design work directly and strongly suggests that magic is common enough in most worlds to have infrastructure of some kind, people to learn spellcasting from, and dozens upon dozens of traditions one might learn from. In a thread wherein the OP assumes a premise that we are discussing the reasonable outcomes of the rules as presented in the books, such as the ability to till 5ft cubes of earth as an always ready at-will ability.
I think(pretty sure since it makes a ton of sense) that the reason why their design work in official projects goes against the established default, is that it's easier for a DM to remove things like minor spellcasters, too many magic items, etc., than it is to add them into an already designed piece of work. WotC needs to account for as many people as possible in the best way possible, and including too much is the best approach to that.
I'm not, I'm continuing on the path of discussion that was taking place when you replied to me on this topic. In which it was posited that magic is like quantum physics, and that's why only some people can do it. In the comment you're replying to, it's simply being used as a comparative example of how great things are underpinned by minor things, and it's difficult to make sense of a world wherein that isn't the case.
Fair enough. I disagree with that line of reasoning. It can be viewed that way, or any number of other ways. :)
That you make the world function at your table does not mean that the assumptions are broadly functional, or makes sense in the general case.
I don't "make" it function. It simply does function with my assumed magic rarity. I just remove the excess minor casters from the game and poof! There's no forcing it to work as if it doesn't easily work on its own.
That's a stretch.
It's not a stretch at all. If the PC didn't encounter an extraordinary number of spellcasters and monsters and the numbers they encounter were the same for NPCs around the world, the world died after being overrun by monsters thousands of years ago. Every few days every person in the world would be running into deadly monsters and spellcasters. The world simply cannot work like that and have any official setting look the way it does. They would all be more post apocalyptic, with the dregs of the races dooms to inevitable extinction than even Dark Sun.

The game in order to work so that people have fun has a much higher concentration of spellcasters and monsters for the PCs to encounter than the NPC world at large.
But, if you won't even engage with the assertion that a learned spellcaster like the wizard implies by their existence the existence of other spellcasters both before and within their lifetime, of course you won't recognize why the presence of multiple spellcasters in every single adventure, every important settlement in a campaign setting, and by far most descriptions of the game in general, strongly implies that spellcasters aren't very rare. Uncommon, at most.
Of course there are others. They just aren't common. The PCs by the very nature of D&D being a game, just encounters them more often than most of the rest of the people in the game world.
It references a specific existing organization in a published and rather detailed campaign setting. An organization whose membership is much higher than 5, and whose membership is primarily, if not exclusively, made up of proper spellcasters.
The one magic school setting offered so far accepts many students with minimal or even no spellcasting ability. Why wouldn't others?
 
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