D&D 5E Discussing Worldbuilding: Why Don't The Mages Take Over The World?

Oofta

Legend
Being led by a guy flying through the air throwing fire at your enemies sounds a lot more inspiring than your leader being just another guy with a sword.

Yes, the queen was a symbol. And in the past nobility went so far as to claim being chosen by god or even being divinity themselves to appear as a symbol.
Imagine how much better that works when they can wield supernatural abilities through spellcasting.
Any wizard flying around casting fireballs has
A) used up all their power in less thana minuteif constantlycasting. At the most they get 10 minutes of flying.
B) made themselves a prime target for dozens if not hundreds of archers every round.
C) made themselves a big target for enemy spellcasters with counterspell or dispel magic.
D) Assumes no flying enemies.

Cool for a minute or two, after that suicidal. Also assumes standard foot soldiers find it inspiring, not terrifying.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Ixal

Hero
@Shadowedeyes to me it seems that the two sides are the people who recognise that it depends on this sort of setting assumptions and the people who for some reason think that learning magic must be objectively super easy, barely an inconvenience. 🤷
Because that is a core feature of D&D. Most classes are spellcasters and spellcasting NPCs are not exactly rare.
Spellcasting being restricted is the special setting assumption like in (old) Dragonlance or Dark Sun, but in general and in FR, the default setting nothing suggests that learning spellcasting is so impossible hard that not even nobles can do it *and if not nobles who can?)
 
Last edited:

I heartily support this. My partner is in medical school. It’s kinda amazing how much knowledge he is learning and how much he had beforehand to be able to absorb as much as he does now.

His aptitude tests were in the top 10% of applicants (not of the population.. of applicants for medical school) and he only got into 1 of his 4 choices of medical school because standards were so high. (The good news is it does only take one though)

I think being a doctor is a good equivalent for being a spellcaster that learns their craft rather than it coming from some natural spark. I.e it’s bloody hard work!
And there's a simple answer for those that don't learn it as a craft--namely, Sorcerers and Warlocks, since all the others do require training. It's pretty easy to address the gap. E.g. Sorcerers, as already noted, are unreliable at best--many people who have draconic ancestry (or the like) don't know it because it's several generations back, and all the intervening generations in living memory didn't manifest any powers (common origin story is suddenly finding out you have Sorcerer abilities.) That depicts both the unreliability of such powers, and the degree to which they sort of "appear" and have to be managed. Simply put, it's the reason why mutants haven't taken over the world in X-Men: the X-gene is rare, it activates in weird ways and for weird reasons (genetics is super complicated like that), and it's a roll of the dice exactly what happens and why.

Warlocks are, of course, a bit trickier, but there are two ready-to-hand explanations. First, it is simply not true that just anyone can become a Warlock: you need to find some way to establish the connection to a patron first, and then you can make a deal. This is, as above, a pretty common baseline concept, that the Warlock gains their power not from rigorous study per se, but from delving into forbidden libraries and stealing dark grimoires, or breaching sealed temples to forgotten gods, or performing a devil-summoning ritual, etc. Like how eldritch power spending bills are legally required to start in the US House of Representatives and then go to the Senate. There are procedural tricks to massage that requirement, but ultimately in at least a formal sense, the process has to start in the House and then pass to the Senate. Warlock pacts appear to work the same way in most cases: it's not that patrons are constantly broadcasting job opportunities to the aether and any Joe Shmoe can show up for a perfunctory five-minute interview. You already have to have done some legwork to make a pact happen, or at least someone has to have done that work. Second...patrons, just like deities, have every reason to be picky about who they give their powers to. You don't want to bet on a lame horse, if you get my meaning.

Those answers--again, well-supported by most presentations of the class flavor and abilities--pretty well knock Sorcerer and Warlock out of the running for "and thus every social climber is going to be a spellcaster in basically every world." Certainly, some will be. Power corrupts, after all. But these examples are gonna be really sporadic, and keeping the secret of the warlock pact is gonna be hard if you find any way to pass it down the generations. Secrets don't keep forever--especially when you're technically displaying the secret in broad daylight, and just hoping people don't figure it out.

This directly relates to the "instability" stuff I spoke of in an earlier post. Sure, due to the vagaries of life, you'll almost certainly eventually run into a spellcaster with the lowercase-c charisma, narcissism, and skill to try to take over a region, but without the delusions of grandeur that lead to trying to become the Dark Lord of Everything and thus getting ganked by a plucky band of heroes. The problem becomes, their power won't outlive them unless they can either achieve immortality (which, uh...has a really bad track record in terms of avoiding the aforementioned Dark Lord tendencies) or ensure their offspring share their talents. Those classes which avoid the need for long training are also the ones least likely to be easily preserved across generations without issue; those which are easiest to preserve and transmit to offspring are also the ones most likely to detract from learning the skills and forming the connections necessary to rule effectively.

Again: that doesn't mean this is impossible. Magocracies will probably form. But, in a lot of cases, they'll either be unstable, or naturally shift toward an oligarchic kind of government where a council of mages will call the shots. This, as noted, is at perilous risk of oppressing non-magic-using members of society, and not even purely by intent. A world where every person is expected to be able to purify food and drink is a world where you don't have Poison Control Centers. I definitely think that intentional oppression is going to be the much bigger concern most of the time, purely based on what minimal things people have used to justify slavery and other horrors IRL, but unintentional stuff like that is going to be a real problem too.
 

Ixal

Hero
Any wizard flying around casting fireballs has
A) used up all their power in less thana minuteif constantlycasting. At the most they get 10 minutes of flying.
B) made themselves a prime target for dozens if not hundreds of archers every round.
C) made themselves a big target for enemy spellcasters with counterspell or dispel magic.
D) Assumes no flying enemies.

Cool for a minute or two, after that suicidal. Also assumes standard foot soldiers find it inspiring, not terrifying.
A. Yes, thats the point of being a symbol.
B. If there are any archers around. Considering he is flying above his army that is unlikely
C. So the superhuman nobles fight it out among themselves while the regular human fights down in the mud wit sword and spear. Sounds exactly like what the common soldier would come to exoect and only reinforces the impression of nobles being of a "higher breed",
D. Assuming you din't have flying troops

And why would in a magical world someine find this terrifying?
But inspired or terrified, as long as it prevents him from fleeing its a win.
 

Oofta

Legend
A. Yes, thats the point of being a symbol.
Big difference between fighting for hours and doing a cameo. Don't get me wrong, a wizard could be inspiring. So could a warrior type.
B. If there are any archers around. Considering he is flying above his army that is unlikely
Archers have always been a big part of most armies. A longbow has a range of 150/600, fireball is 60. In order to hit enemy troops they have to expose themselves to significant risk. Unless the caster is casting fireball at his own troops which doesn't seem particularly inspiring. ;)
C. So the superhuman nobles fight it out among themselves while the regular human fights down in the mud wit sword and spear. Sounds exactly like what the common soldier would come to exoect and only reinforces the impression of nobles being of a "higher breed",
The enemy casters don't have to be superhuman or nobles. But if we assume casters are relatively common, both sides will have casters. Dispel magic range is 120 feet. All you need is a caster 60 feet behind enemy lines to counter your flying wizard. It doesn't have to happen all the time in order for flying over the troops casting fireballs will be too high risk.
D. Assuming you din't have flying troops

And why would in a magical world someine find this terrifying?
But inspired or terrified, as long as it prevents him from fleeing its a win.

A wizard could be inspiring or terrifying. A noble who only wears armor but has no combat ability can be the same and have been throughout history. The noble themselves are virtually never the direct enforcers of discipline. Rulers pass judgment, their henchmen and followers enforce the rules.

But the whole point is that the strength of an individual, no matter how strong, is a drop in the bucket compared to the strength of a nation as a whole. Yes, wizards could be leaders. Just like any other class, or no PC class at all.
 

Ixal

Hero
Big difference between fighting for hours and doing a cameo. Don't get me wrong, a wizard could be inspiring. So could a warrior type.

Archers have always been a big part of most armies. A longbow has a range of 150/600, fireball is 60. In order to hit enemy troops they have to expose themselves to significant risk. Unless the caster is casting fireball at his own troops which doesn't seem particularly inspiring. ;)

The enemy casters don't have to be superhuman or nobles. But if we assume casters are relatively common, both sides will have casters. Dispel magic range is 120 feet. All you need is a caster 60 feet behind enemy lines to counter your flying wizard. It doesn't have to happen all the time in order for flying over the troops casting fireballs will be too high risk.


A wizard could be inspiring or terrifying. A noble who only wears armor but has no combat ability can be the same and have been throughout history. The noble themselves are virtually never the direct enforcers of discipline. Rulers pass judgment, their henchmen and followers enforce the rules.

But the whole point is that the strength of an individual, no matter how strong, is a drop in the bucket compared to the strength of a nation as a whole. Yes, wizards could be leaders. Just like any other class, or no PC class at all.
And because individual strength is just a drop in the bucket the king makes a cameo and does not fight for hours. And as a spellcaster he is much more effective in that than a simple warrior as he displays superhuman abilities instead of just being a regular person. (The cameo is of course done before the battle starts, so no risk).

Either in war or peace a king or other noble who can cast spells has a massive advantage over ones that can not. Not because of individual strength but by appearing superhuman in the eyes of common (and uneducated) people which makes it much easier to claim legitimacy as a ruler. (I can fly/close wounds with my bare hands/perform other superhuman feats. Its obvious that I am destined to rule while you common human toil the fields at my command)
 




Fanaelialae

Legend
And because individual strength is just a drop in the bucket the king makes a cameo and does not fight for hours. And as a spellcaster he is much more effective in that than a simple warrior as he displays superhuman abilities instead of just being a regular person. (The cameo is of course done before the battle starts, so no risk).

Either in war or peace a king or other noble who can cast spells has a massive advantage over ones that can not. Not because of individual strength but by appearing superhuman in the eyes of common (and uneducated) people which makes it much easier to claim legitimacy as a ruler. (I can fly/close wounds with my bare hands/perform other superhuman feats. Its obvious that I am destined to rule while you common human toil the fields at my command)
This sounds more like an evil magical overlord, than a normal magocracy to me.
 

Ixal

Hero
I'll admit I am a bit confused on what the flying is here to accomplish.
1. It lets your soldiers see you.
2. Shows them that you have superpowers on your side, so surely you will win.
This sounds more like an evil magical overlord, than a normal magocracy to me.
Thats just a normal monarchy except that in a magical world its not enough for a priest to say that rulers have a divine right to rule (or are divinity themselves) and instead the nobility has to go the extra mile and show that they are better than normal humans by developing superhuman abilities (=spellcasting)
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Thats just a normal monarchy except that in a magical world its not enough for a priest to say that rulers have a divine right to rule (or are divinity themselves) and instead the nobility has to go the extra mile and show that they are better than normal humans by developing superhuman abilities (=spellcasting)
You realize that having superhuman abilities doesn't actually qualify one to be a better ruler, don't you? If it turns out that the court jester is actually a max level bard, does he automagically get to usurp the throne in the setting you've imagined?
 

Shadowedeyes

Adventurer
1. It lets your soldiers see you.
2. Shows them that you have superpowers on your side, so surely you will win.

Thats just a normal monarchy except that in a magical world its not enough for a priest to say that rulers have a divine right to rule (or are divinity themselves) and instead the nobility has to go the extra mile and show that they are better than normal humans by developing superhuman abilities (=spellcasting)


In a high magic world soldiers will know the other side has magic as well, it's not nearly as impressive an inspiration. That's the problem with the idea that it's a justification compared to how it was used it our world.
 

Ixal

Hero
You realize that having superhuman abilities doesn't actually qualify one to be a better ruler, don't you? If it turns out that the court jester is actually a max level bard, does he automagically get to usurp the throne in the setting you've imagined?
There is no qualification to be a noble except people seeing you as legitimate. And being superhuman helps with that.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
There is no qualification to be a noble except people seeing you as legitimate. And being superhuman helps with that.
It doesn't matter what kind of superpowers you have. If you can't do the job, you're going to lose your legitimacy. If you can even achieve legitimacy to begin with.
 

Voadam

Legend
There is no qualification to be a noble except people seeing you as legitimate. And being superhuman helps with that.
If non-magical Batman, and non-magical Green Lantern with a magic ring are considered heroes just like super-powered Flash, I don't think superpower gives Flash a perceived legitimacy over the other two.

It seems more like a level/CR thing in that high level people have more power and resources whether it is magical or not.
 

Ixal

Hero
It doesn't matter what kind of superpowers you have. If you can't do the job, you're going to lose your legitimacy. If you can even achieve legitimacy to begin with.
Thats not really how monarchies worked. Sure you can screw up so badly that people revolt or the blame for a catastrophe might fall on you (which directly impacts your legitimacy) but generally as long as the common people and other rulers percived you as being the rightful ruler you are safe.
And this being the rightful ruler included pretending that god wants you to rule and that you are better than common people.
In D&D being a spellcaster and thus having abilities which look superhuman to normal people would also support said claim of being better then them which of course means you rule and not they.
If non-magical Batman, and non-magical Green Lantern with a magic ring are considered heroes just like super-powered Flash, I don't think superpower gives Flash a perceived legitimacy over the other two.

It seems more like a level/CR thing in that high level people have more power and resources whether it is magical or not.

You mean the Batman which in half his comic appearances is a vigilante and hunted by the police?
Its not a level thing its a "Do the common people percive you as superior to them and do not question your right to rule" thing.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
It doesn't matter what kind of superpowers you have. If you can't do the job, you're going to lose your legitimacy. If you can even achieve legitimacy to begin with.
There have been plenty of bad leaders over history. More often than not they have been endured rather than overthrown.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Thats not really how monarchies worked. Sure you can screw up so badly that people revolt or the blame for a catastrophe might fall on you (which directly impacts your legitimacy) but generally as long as the common people and other rulers percived you as being the rightful ruler you are safe.
And this being the rightful ruler included pretending that god wants you to rule and that you are better than common people.
In D&D being a spellcaster and thus having abilities which look superhuman to normal people would also support said claim of being better then them which of course means you rule and not they.


You mean the Batman which in half his comic appearances is a vigilante and hunted by the police?
Its not a level thing its a "Do the common people percive you as superior to them and do not question your right to rule" thing.
I think you're massively oversimplifying. That's one possibility, but out of a myriad of possibilities. People are complicated.

Let's say that early cultures perceived magic as dangerous. This could be for any number of reasons. Perhaps magic in those days was less understood and therefore a tendency to go catastrophically wrong. Perhaps there was simply a period when a disproportionate number of spellcasters were evil, and so people lump all casters in with them.

That could easily cement viewpoints such that in the present of your fantasy world, "dabbling in the dark arts" could well be viewed as something you very much don't want in a ruler. Rulers might even need to go so far as to hide the fact that they have court mages, because having that revealed would make them exceptionally unpopular with their people.
 

Ixal

Hero
I think you're massively oversimplifying. That's one possibility, but out of a myriad of possibilities. People are complicated.

Let's say that early cultures perceived magic as dangerous. This could be for any number of reasons. Perhaps magic in those days was less understood and therefore a tendency to go catastrophically wrong. Perhaps there was simply a period when a disproportionate number of spellcasters were evil, and so people lump all casters in with them.

That could easily cement viewpoints such that in the present of your fantasy world, "dabbling in the dark arts" could well be viewed as something you very much don't want in a ruler. Rulers might even need to go so far as to hide the fact that they have court mages, because having that revealed would make them exceptionally unpopular with their people.
Such societies won't survive for long in a D&D world.
 

The Weather Outside Is Frightful!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top