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

Voadam

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?
No, I am talking about the high level D&D type party that calls themselves the Justice League. :)

Also while there have been times he has been hunted by police, I'd say usually vigilante Batman is portrayed as being considered a respected hero and not 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 really do not consider that the basis of political power.

Most people follow rulers because the rulers have power and the systems are set up for the incentives to get people to comply with the authority. Propaganda about superiority can support entrenching power but it is not necessary or universal.

Many people do not feel their boss is the workplace leader because they are superior, the roles are systemically that the boss has economic power over the employee and the incentives are for the employee to work for their boss.

Many people in a Democracy may feel they elected the best of the choices given, but still feel that their leaders are not superior beings who must not be questioned.

You can even take a Hobbesian view that an absolute monarchy is structurally the best system of government and should receive your support, even if the individual monarch is a terrible inferior person who got there just by inheriting the position.

Divine right claims and superiority propaganda can be tools to get and maintain power, but I'd say the general entrenched social systems of the transfer of political rulership such as dynastic inheritance of positions of power is more of a factor in general. A second powerful model for political rulership is the power structure of being a conqueror.
 

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Fanaelialae

Legend
Such societies won't survive for long in a D&D world.
The society that uses mages in secret can't possibly last any significant length of time, but the society whose nobles are overtly casters definitely would endure? Sure.

I've been trying to meet you half way by discussing things based on the terms of your premise; that of a world where magic is easy to learn. Despite that I don't actually agree that easily learned magic is a necessary or even default state for a D&D setting. I feel like you're not actually interested in engaging in a discussion on the topic, so consider me done.
 

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)
That makes sense only in worlds where magic is rare and hard to master. If it is common and easy to learn it is not "superhuman" nor any more miraculously impressive than any other skill.
 

I think history has proven that kings are most certainly NOT the wisest, smartest and most charismatic of their people. Not even close.

Ruling a state requires the consent (forced or otherwise) of at the very least the elites of society, but ideally the populace at large. Rulership is granted by what you provide (or prevent) stability, protection, reduced likelihood of invasion, lower taxes, national pride, law and justice etc.

Very few of these require intelligence, wisdom, or charisma. They just require other people to have them. They help of course, but I suspect most rulers were described as these things whether they were or not.
I have it on good authority that supreme executive power derives from a mandate of the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
 

Ixal

Hero
That makes sense only in worlds where magic is rare and hard to master. If it is common and easy to learn it is not "superhuman" nor any more miraculously impressive than any other skill.
No matter if its hard or easy, common farmers, so 90% of the population won't have the time and money to learn it.
If they even know that spellcasting can be learned and is not only a divine gift or expression of exceptional heritage.
 

Also, do people who think magocracies would be super common or even inevitable and magic would be widely employed on all levels of society think that this would be a fun setting? Because if yes, then, cool, do that! Make assumptions about the ease of acquiring magic that produces those results.

Personally I don't find that fun. I want magic to be at least somewhat rare, special, weird etc. I don't want it to be just another technology. And my setting has a City of Sorcerers, and it has a kingdom ruled by a divine Priest-King. But if every place was like that, then these things wouldn't feel miraculous, would they? So that's why I make setting assumptions that result magic not being super common.
 
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No matter if its hard or easy, common farmers, so 90% of the population won't have the time and money to learn it.
They just take all those freely available warlock pacts then! Or they all become druids, because why not? I'm sure mastery of nature magic would be pretty helpful in farming!

If they even know that spellcasting can be learned and is not only a divine gift or expression of exceptional heritage.
So you suggest some bizarre dystopia where the knowledge of the true origins of magic is supressed? This doesn't seem plausible in the long run.

Also, commoners don't have access to a lot of things the nobles have. So why would they be any more impressed by magic than they would be by fancy clothes, mastery of sophisticated poetry or warhorse and armour?
 

Also, do people who think magocracies would be super common or even inevitable and magic would be widely employed on all levels of society think that this would be a fun setting?
Glantri, which got written up for both BD&D and 2E, suggests that it would be.

But it's not a Flintstones scenario with otyughs (which don't exist in BD&D) under every peasant's sink. Glantri is a magocracy where the mages are jealous of their power (and have outlawed clerics!), suspicious of each other, and surrounded by nervous frenemies, at best, on all sides.

Common magic no more defines a setting than uncommon magic does. There's always a lot more to it than that.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Glantri, which got written up for both BD&D and 2E, suggests that it would be.

But it's not a Flintstones scenario with otyughs (which don't exist in BD&D) under every peasant's sink. Glantri is a magocracy where the mages are jealous of their power (and have outlawed clerics!), suspicious of each other, and surrounded by nervous enemies (or frenemies, at best) on all sides.

Common magic no more defines a setting than uncommon magic does. There's always a lot more to it than that.
Glantri is only a small region of Mystara though.

I don't think anyone is questioning whether a campaign world with one or two magocracies would be fun. It's more a question of whether a setting where pretty much everything is a magocracy would be fun.
 

Ixal

Hero
They just take all those freely available warlock pacts then! Or they all become druids, because why not? I'm sure mastery of nature magic would be pretty helpful in farming!


So you suggest some bizarre dystopia where the knowledge of the true origins of magic is supressed? This doesn't seem plausible in the long run.

Also, commoners don't have access to a lot of things the nobles have. So why would they be any more impressed by magic than they would be by fancy clothes, mastery of sophisticated poetry or warhorse and armour?
Because commoners know what clothes are and have at one point in their life seen and maybe even handled horses or at least an oxen. They know that nobles have the better stuff, but those things are still mundane.

But do commoners know about magic and that everyone can learn it? Or would they be in awe when a noble does something that is completely impossible for them and might only know something similar from that one priest they heard about (or if they are lucky seen themselves) who is directly empowered by the gods?
 

Glantri is only a small region of Mystara though.

I don't think anyone is questioning whether a campaign world with one or two magocracies would be fun. It's more a question of whether a setting where pretty much everything is a magocracy would be fun.
Look, Alphatia is doing its best, muggle. If you'd all stop resisting, you too could enjoy the fun of a worldwide magocracy.

(Alphatia not conquering the world is arguably the least believable part of Mystara and a relic of how late they fleshed it out. That many 36th level magic-users are an awfully big advantage.)
 

But do commoners know about magic and that everyone can learn it?
This statement is fraught with issues. It is ignorant of real world practice and choices that are highly setting dependent.

Do commoners know about magic? Witch bottles were a very common thing. A bottle filled with nails or iron, urine poured over the iron, and the bottle sealed and hidden. The bottle drew curses and ill intent and neutralized them. So, yes, I would say that commoners had an excellent understanding of the existence of magic and knew of low-level practitioners for access. For a period of time it was very common folk magic.

Can anyone learn magic? I don't think so. I think it is pretty rare in the grand scheme of things. Sure, sorcerers exist as do magician guilds. But to what level and amount is DM fiat. Examples of magician superiority involving first level spells is laughable. As far as I remember, the first "You Can't Hurt Me" spell is stoneskin at 6th level. That's why I mentioned 12th level as a start to have a reasonable shot of having a wizard coming to rule just by the virtue of being a wizard. You have to think of how you would defeat your peers of the same level.

How would a fighter deal with spoiled grain and poisoned wells? Same way we did. Take the grain and feed it to livestock, compost it, or roast it and make beer. Poisoned well? Walk a hundred yards and dig a new one, filling up the old.

I'm not saying you can't, or shouldn't, have magocracies in your game. They're just not inevitable; whether or not they truly are is an interesting topic but ultimately it depends on a number of setting assumptions. Or, "adjudications", if you will.
 

Oofta

Legend
Because commoners know what clothes are and have at one point in their life seen and maybe even handled horses or at least an oxen. They know that nobles have the better stuff, but those things are still mundane.

But do commoners know about magic and that everyone can learn it? Or would they be in awe when a noble does something that is completely impossible for them and might only know something similar from that one priest they heard about (or if they are lucky seen themselves) who is directly empowered by the gods?
There are many things people never see and have only heard about. Whether they would be in awe, think it was interesting but not spectacular or flee in terror just depends on the campaign.

If someone was flying under their own power in our world it would be amazing. In FR where you can't throw a rock without hitting a caster, less so.
 

But do commoners know about magic and that everyone can learn it? Or would they be in awe when a noble does something that is completely impossible for them and might only know something similar from that one priest they heard about (or if they are lucky seen themselves) who is directly empowered by the gods?
But that won't be the case in a world where magic can be learned easily and reliably. The idea that only nobles have access to magic and thus non-nobles are in awe of them is not particularly plausible. You could of course create fiction which resulted such a setup, but it is far from obvious outcome.
 

Shadowedeyes

Adventurer
One thing I've been thinking about it this idea of exceptionalism. It's being assumed that casters, by virtue of having magic would be the only ones receiving this, but any high level class is going to seem almost godlike to commoners. "Sure, that guy can fly, but did you hear about the knight that slew that ancient dragon. You know, the one that wiped out a village a few summers back?"
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Look, Alphatia is doing its best, muggle. If you'd all stop resisting, you too could enjoy the fun of a worldwide magocracy.

(Alphatia not conquering the world is arguably the least believable part of Mystara and a relic of how late they fleshed it out. That many 36th level magic-users are an awfully big advantage.)
They more or less tried.

Alphatia made war against the combined forces of Thyatis and Glantri. As a result, the Immortals sank the continent of Alphatia.
[Glantri - Kingdom of Magic - The Grimoire, pg 16]

Alphatia isn't likely to be conquering anyone unless they all had Water Breathing memorized.
 

Also, do people who think magocracies would be super common or even inevitable and magic would be widely employed on all levels of society think that this would be a fun setting? Because if yes, then, cool, do that! Make assumptions about the ease of acquiring magic that produces those results.

Personally I don't find that fun. I want magic to be at least somewhat rare, special, weird etc. I don't want it to be just another technology. And my setting has a City of Sorcerers, and it has a kingdom ruled by a divine Priest-King. But if every place was like that, then these things wouldn't feel miraculous, would they? So that's why I make setting assumptions that result magic not being super common.
Glantri is only a small region of Mystara though.

I don't think anyone is questioning whether a campaign world with one or two magocracies would be fun. It's more a question of whether a setting where pretty much everything is a magocracy would be fun.
Am all magocracy (or at least, everywhere you could go is a magocracy) setting could absolutely work. Why not, but specifically you now have reasons for magic-using adventurers to be treated as special people who can wander about getting involved in things that aren't really their business and no one tries to stop them because they're nobles, obviously.

It doesn't work for survival-horror games, but could be great for a wandering hero / freelance police-like game.

Anyways, to turn the question on it's head: I don't believe magocracies are inevitable in general - it'd be weird if none appear in your setting's 10,000 year history but they don't need to be common or normal. What would be weird is a setting where spellcasters are both rare and not part of the aristocracy.

Because while the king might not be a wizard, the king absolutely keeps track of all the wizards he can find, and the easiest way to do that is to pay them handsomely. Wizards would be at least knights in the social order (if feudal - adjust accordingly to other economic structures), even if being a better wizard doesn't correlate directly with political rank.

Put another way, trying to treat a dude who can blow up your castle like a common serf often ends badly.
 

Alphatia made war against the combined forces of Thyatis and Glantri. As a result, the Immortals sank the continent of Alphatia.
[Glantri - Kingdom of Magic - The Grimoire, pg 16]

Alphatia isn't likely to be conquering anyone unless they all had Water Breathing memorized.
Or they start with taking out hostile Immortals first next time.
 


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