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

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Hussar

Legend
Personally, I blame Tolkien for a lot of this. :D

Before Tolkien, with writers like Howard and the like, the fantasy world really was mostly like our world, just with a smattering of magic. The world's population was human (mostly) and fantastic races were mostly limited to a single location. There was no "fantasy races". ((Yes, I know I'm painting with a wide brush here))

But, then comes Tolkien with Middle Earth - this fantasy world that makes absolutely ZERO sense but everyone loves where you have dwarves and elves and goblins all with their own nation states and cultures and whatnot (that are mostly just human cultures grafted onto races). Almost no thought given into how having living immortals (elves) would absolutely rework everyone's cultures - didn't matter. We get the faux-medieval setting and, so long as you don't start picking at threads, it works for the story.

And, then, after that, everyone and their mother writes their fantasy world like this - Moorcock's Melnibone, Donaldson's The Land, Brook's Shanarra - all built on this same model where the implications of the setting are completely ignored in order to get this ren-faire medieval setting.

Now you see all this pushback against it too. The whole "Cantina scene" criticism of D&D worlds. But, the Cantina scene makes just as much sense in a fantasy world populated by dozens if not hundreds of intelligent, sentient beings as a world where apparently everyone believes in Apartheid. People just don't like the fact that it's just as plausible that you have races freely mixing as having a setting where everyone wants to keep all those "other types" out of their communities.
 

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Cadence

Legend
Supporter
But, then comes Tolkien with Middle Earth - this fantasy world that makes absolutely ZERO sense but everyone loves where you have dwarves and elves and goblins all with their own nation states and cultures and whatnot (that are mostly just human cultures grafted onto races). Almost no thought given into how having living immortals (elves) would absolutely rework everyone's cultures - didn't matter.

In the Silmarillion, did the elves not particularly care about the others, as long as they gave whatever services were needed when asked and stayed away otherwise?
 

Hussar

Legend
In the Silmarillion, did the elves not particularly care about the others, as long as they gave whatever services were needed when asked and stayed away otherwise?
But, that's my point. For some bizarre reason, you have this fictional world where all these different races are living side by side, and not mixing.
In the real world, there's a very good reason you didn't see a lot of Han Chinese in 10th century France - it's too far and there's a couple of honking big deserts and seas and mountain ranges in the way. Ok, fair enough. Although, if we're going 15th and 16th century, then the gloves are off. The Dutch and the Portugese are now sailing all over Eurasia and Africa. Victorian era historians, which a lot of fantasy is based on, would have us believe that each of the different races of people all stuck to their own people and there was no mixing going on.

Of course this ignores things like the Metis in Canada, the survivors of the Spanish Armada in Ireland, the Crusades and all that other inconvenient stuff that tells us that this is simply not true. There was a LOT of mixing going on.

But, in our Tolkien worlds, the elves and the dwarves and the orcs and the humans and the halflings all live in an area about the size of Europe (and maybe a bit smaller), have no real physical barriers to trade or mingling, but, inexplicably all stick to their own. Why aren't there Halfling communities in Gondor? Why aren't there human houses in the Shire? Fantastic farming land, right beside human lands, but, no one goes and buys a farm in Hobbiton? Ever? No enterprising dwarf heads into Laketown and sets up a smithy? Or Bree? On and on.

Look, there's a giant elephant in the room reason for why early and mid-20th century fantasy is written like this. We all know exactly why it was written this way. It's not exactly a secret.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
It doesn't give a number, but you said 1 in 100 is common. Since the default is rare, it cannot be 1 in 100. Rare =/= common.

There aren't that many in a typical world. Very few have the population and size of Waterdeep and not all major cities will even have a wizard's guild.

What difference? It's not like they're selling spells. Even spells of 1st and 2nd level cost 10-50gp. The vast majority of workers are unskilled labor and make 4 gold a month. Out of that they need to pay for rent, food, clothing, taxes, some trips to the ale house, etc. They're pretty much never buying a spell. A skilled worker makes a lot more, but still isn't going to want to spend up to an entire month's gross wages(they still have to pay all that other stuff) on a 1st or 2nd level spell. That leaves just the wealthy merchants and nobles, who are few in number, won't need spells often, and may have a caster friend because of their status.

At best a caster or three will be able to make a living in a city, and they will be higher level. The low level casters can be in the city or not and nothing will change.

Blacksmiths don't charge 1-12 months gross wages(spell level and worker type) for their products, either. Many more of them will be supported by a city.
Almost like…the worldbuilding assumptions the game uses to generate low-magic worlds don’t make much sense.

Again, telling me what the assumptions are doesn’t really counter my claim that the assumptions don’t make sense or lead naturally to a coherent world.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
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.

I'd like to make sure we all have the same idea of what "very rare" might be.

What percentage of the population do you think were mathematicians in Europe in, say, the year 1600 CE? Isaac Newton was born in 1643.
 
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Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
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.

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.

where this is 100% true, it is not what people think of when they hear guild...


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.
The most famous name to ever come out of Dragonlance (who isn't a death knight) is a caster. And all the major conflicts involve the gods heavily, if not personally.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Are PCs special is a fundamental question that various GMs do not agree upon. It has a big impact on game, class and world structure.

5e, both in style and rule set, seems to favor the "PCs are special" - NPCs use different rulesets for instance (you fight veterans and bandit captains, not fighters and rogues). But it's not an absolute.
I certainly don't believe that PCs are special, and am willing to adjust the rules as needed to make it so. The default does not matter to me.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I'd like to make sure we all have the same idea of what "very rare" might be.

What percentage of the population do you think were mathematicians in Europe in, say, the year 1600 CE? Isaac Newton was born in 1643.
I'm not about to do a whole research paper to figure out how many colleges existed in Europe by then, some dataset to try to extrapolate how many Catholic clergy outside of institutes of higher learning were in Europe in a given decade,

I am also unwilling to nit pick the details, especially as it will inevitably turn into people arguing over minutia of the question you're positing, rather than discussing the actual topic of the thread.

Instead, I will happily engage with a discussion of what "very rare" means that doesn't rely upon worrying about whether 5% is only rare while 2% or less is very rare, or whatever.

I would say that very rare means rare enough that it is more likely to be a significant challenge than not to find one, even if you have the ability to travel. Mathematicians in 1600's Europe might be rare, but it wouldn't be a significant challenge to find one, especially if you can travel (which most Europeans could). 6
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I would say that very rare means rare enough that it is more likely to be a significant challenge than not to find one, even if you have the ability to travel. Mathematicians in 1600's Europe might be rare, but it wouldn't be a significant challenge to find one, especially if you can travel (which most Europeans could). 6
I think that's a very flawed definition of very rare. There is only one General Sherman tree in the entire world, but it's not at all hard to find it. An estimated 3.04 trillion trees in the world and only one of them is the General Sherman, but that to you is not very rare.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I think that's a very flawed definition of very rare. There is only one General Sherman tree in the entire world, but it's not at all hard to find it. An estimated 3.04 trillion trees in the world and only one of them is the General Sherman, but that to you is not very rare.
Individual is not the same thing as rare.

Beyond that, I think I'm done here. It seems to have devolved into not much more than pedantry. Have fun folks.
 

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