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


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Oofta

Legend
Fireballs and other means of magical "fighting" are far from the only way a wizard could take power. Enchantment spells can control minds. Divination could be used to spy on and blackmail figures of power. Utility spells can be used to easily gain more money than non-mages could make. Necromancy and Conjuration can be used to do the fighting without putting the mage in danger. Cantrips that deal more damage than typical weapons exist, too.

The enchantment spells have significant drawbacks. Charm person isn't all that powerful, it just makes you a friendly acquaintance with advantage on persuasion checks. People know they've been charmed after the spell wears off. Suggestions must be reasonable and, again, people know they were affected by magic once the spell is over. Modify memories? Can you modify the memories of everyone that person knows? Destroy all evidence that their memories have been modified? On a small scale and over the short term these things work well enough. Long term? If used for political gain? It's a very risky gambit.

It's one thing to use persuasion to manipulate people, once you convince someone to believe something attempting to change their firmly held beliefs often just reinforces those beliefs because they're based in other deeply held biases and preconceptions. Convince someone that you are their rightful leader through persuasion and people will die for you. Dominate someone to have them do what you want makes an enemy once the spell wears off. Inspiring leaders may be great warriors but in general they are inspiring leaders because of their vision and political acumen, not because of their capabilities at small scale encounters.

Necromancy? Create undead is a 6th level spell that makes 3 ghouls that only last for 24 hours. So you have a half dozen or so low intelligence undead under your control using spells from the book? That's not even enough for a personal guard. Obviously if you have access to some artifact or ritual you could raise an army. Are people really going to be loyal to a ruler of the dead? Unless you can create mass amounts of undead it's not relevant. You also need some way of maintaining control over them which will include some sort of leadership hierarchy and intelligent undead.

It all goes back to casters from the book having relatively small scale tactics with very limited application. I don't care if you're a high level ... any class really ... a powerful individual is still just one individual. If you don't know how to work the levers of politics or are born into a system where you are assumed to rule your personal capabilities mean very little in the grand scheme of things.

I do have an island nation ruled by a royal family of sorcerers, but it's not because a lone individual decided one day to take over the kingdom. The ruling family just happens to be magic users and are the exception not the rule. If it makes sense for your campaign to be run by casters, go for it. It's certainly a fairly common trope. I just don't think it would be the default. For every military development there has always ultimately been a counter. Whether that's an army of thousands, snipers and assassins that specifically target enemy spellcasters or simply infiltrators that do nothing but cast counterspell at opportune moments, there is no silver bullet to defeating enemies.
 

At least two TSR/WotC product lines had that happen: Darksun's dragon-kings and Vecna from Greyhawk.

Personally, I assume the clerical theocracy is the counter balance. The gods have settled into a detente state and use their followers to keep the mages in check. It is quite likely the gods of magic and knowledge rat out the burgeoning world-conqueror and arrange to send wave after wave of adventurers after them before they can amass continent-enslaving resources.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
For me it's all just silly and everyone just has to handwave it. After all... as I've mentioned before in other threads, by the same silliness token we are still stuck in these pseudo-medieval worlds despite having powerful "D&D" magic that has been around for millennia and yet has never seemed to produced technological advances with any of it.

In our real world the transistor was invented around 1947, and now in less than a century our world took that technology and evolved it to where it is right now-- with all the advancements humanity now experiences with it (education, transportation, medicine, communication, food etc. etc.). And yet we're supposed to believe in places like Faerun... a place where the "Age of Humanity" has been in existence for almost 4,500 years (let alone the tens of thousands of years the elves and dwarves ruled prior to that)... no one has been able to use the "technology" of magic up through 9th level spells was able to provide to get them past horses and castles? Just how stupid are all these people? And just how economically unsavvy are they that not a single person has been able to take the miracles of what magic could provide and actually advance the world with it? A single person with the right education and training could literally Fabricate whatever they could think of upwards of 3 times per day with the right materials and yet not a single enterprising entrepreneur ever learned about mass production and the evolution of construction to get us past wagons? Really? They've had the miracles of 9 levels of D&D magic for thousands of years and yet have remained completely stagnant with it... yet we "normies" in the real world just by using our brains have gone from the tech level of the Ancient Greeks 2000 years ago to where we are now by actually evolving our tech and our world.

So with that absolute silliness and illogical thinking of so-called "world-building" being a highlight of just how ridiculous all D&D worlds are... I've just ignored it from the very beginning for the sake of "playing the game". We players want to play in fantasy medieval fiction with knights and magic, so D&D worlds remain in perpetual medieval stasis to allow us to do so... and the true effects of powerful magic that D&D allows for us to have for gameplaying sake just never seem to do anything permanent to a civilization and instead are all just whitewashed over in order to accomplish it. :)
 

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
Question: Why don't mages take over the world?
Answer: Other mages.
1664025995147.png
 

Oofta

Legend
For me it's all just silly and everyone just has to handwave it. After all... as I've mentioned before in other threads, by the same silliness token we are still stuck in these pseudo-medieval worlds despite having powerful "D&D" magic that has been around for millennia and yet has never seemed to produced technological advances with any of it.

In our real world the transistor was invented around 1947, and now in less than a century our world took that technology and evolved it to where it is right now-- with all the advancements humanity now experiences with it (education, transportation, medicine, communication, food etc. etc.). And yet we're supposed to believe in places like Faerun... a place where the "Age of Humanity" has been in existence for almost 4,500 years (let alone the tens of thousands of years the elves and dwarves ruled prior to that)... no one has been able to use the "technology" of magic up through 9th level spells was able to provide to get them past horses and castles? Just how stupid are all these people? And just how economically unsavvy are they that not a single person has been able to take the miracles of what magic could provide and actually advance the world with it? A single person could literally Fabricate whatever they could think of upwards of 3 times per day with the right materials and yet not a single enterprising entrepreneur ever learned about mass production and the evolution of construction to get us past wagons? Really? They've had the miracles of 9 levels of D&D magic for thousands of years and yet have remained completely stagnant with it... yet we "normies" in the real world just by using our brains have gone from the tech level of the Ancient Greeks 2000 years ago to where we are now by actually evolving our tech and our world.

So with that absolute silliness and illogical thinking of so-called "world-building" being a highlight of just how ridiculous all D&D worlds are... I've just ignored it from the very beginning for the sake of "playing the game". We players want to play in fantasy medieval fiction with knights and magic, so D&D worlds remain in perpetual medieval stasis to allow us to do so... and the true effects of powerful magic that D&D allows for us to have for gameplaying sake just never seem to do anything permanent to a civilization and instead are all just whitewashed over in order to accomplish it. :)
On a side note ... technology was pretty stagnant for thousands of years throughout most of the time humanity has been running around. What level of magi-tech we should have is a separate topic, but I think magic would actually suppress technological advancement in all sorts of ways. Why fiddle around with early applications of gunpowder when even a low level wizard can already exceed the effects with a simple cantrip? Perhaps there is just a limit to how magic can be applied and those rare 20th level wizards have reached it?

My own campaign world has a fair amount of low level magic that's not in the books. Nothing radical, certainly not Eberron level. But if you already have a magical mousetrap, why try to build a better mechanical one especially if it would take generations to build one that works better than the magical one? What if that magical mousetrap, as good as it is, really is the pinnacle of success that can be achieved by magic?
 

HaroldTheHobbit

Adventurer
For the same reason nuclear weapon scientists haven't taken over the world: because they're nerds.






No but really, as in our world most mages are probably more interested in other kinds of power and prestige than ruling over a bunch of peasants. And at least in my fantasy worlds many regions and realms ARE ruled by mages. And if some of them are evil it often become the partys burden to do something about it. Unless the party are power-hungry evil mages themselves of course.
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Those in power wish to remain in power, and will go to great lengths to do so. In the Forgotten Realms, the spellcasters actively deter people from spilling their secrets- Volo's Guide to All Things Magical, for example, had the infamous Bard running for the hills for several years, as spellcasters of all stripes hunted down all the known copies.

While some nations, like Halruua, commonly use magic, where even normal citizens know a cantrip or two, and they can create wonders like skyships, they guard their trade secrets like any guild would, so these things remain mostly found in their own borders.

The Gods are perfectly capable of stepping in to dictate how new advances are allowed to impact the setting as well- during the Time of Troubles, Gond shared the secret of "smoke powder" and the ability to create arquebuses with his followers in the nation of Lantan.

However, after spelljamming ships brought wheel lock pistols to Faerun, and they became widespread, apparently the other Gods thought this was taking things too far, and Gond told his followers to stop making smoke powder- as a result, firearms still exist in the Realms, but are super rare, as opposed to 2e, when anyone could purchase them if they had the money.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
For me it's all just silly and everyone just has to handwave it. After all... as I've mentioned before in other threads, by the same silliness token we are still stuck in these pseudo-medieval worlds despite having powerful "D&D" magic that has been around for millennia and yet has never seemed to produced technological advances with any of it.

In our real world the transistor was invented around 1947, and now in less than a century our world took that technology and evolved it to where it is right now-- with all the advancements humanity now experiences with it (education, transportation, medicine, communication, food etc. etc.). And yet we're supposed to believe in places like Faerun... a place where the "Age of Humanity" has been in existence for almost 4,500 years (let alone the tens of thousands of years the elves and dwarves ruled prior to that)... no one has been able to use the "technology" of magic up through 9th level spells was able to provide to get them past horses and castles? Just how stupid are all these people? And just how economically unsavvy are they that not a single person has been able to take the miracles of what magic could provide and actually advance the world with it? A single person with the right education and training could literally Fabricate whatever they could think of upwards of 3 times per day with the right materials and yet not a single enterprising entrepreneur ever learned about mass production and the evolution of construction to get us past wagons? Really? They've had the miracles of 9 levels of D&D magic for thousands of years and yet have remained completely stagnant with it... yet we "normies" in the real world just by using our brains have gone from the tech level of the Ancient Greeks 2000 years ago to where we are now by actually evolving our tech and our world.

So with that absolute silliness and illogical thinking of so-called "world-building" being a highlight of just how ridiculous all D&D worlds are... I've just ignored it from the very beginning for the sake of "playing the game". We players want to play in fantasy medieval fiction with knights and magic, so D&D worlds remain in perpetual medieval stasis to allow us to do so... and the true effects of powerful magic that D&D allows for us to have for gameplaying sake just never seem to do anything permanent to a civilization and instead are all just whitewashed over in order to accomplish it. :)
This obviously won't apply to all campaigns worlds, but I'm fairly certain that none of the campaign worlds I've ever run have focused on the apex of civilization. In fact, usually, my games take place in the period after a collapse, often around the time when civilization is beginning to claw its way out of a dark age.

In fairness, a lot of the DMs whose tables I've played at tend to do the same. Those that haven't done so usually didn't seem to have bothered much with world building to begin with.

It doesn't have to be that no one in thousands of years has thought of it. Just that the current age has not advanced to that point yet.
 

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