D&D 5E How common are "petty" spell casters?

bloodtide

Adventurer
I go the other way. More then half of the world population has access to magic. I dislike the idea that magic exists and 99% of the world sticks their head in the sand and says "nope it does not exist". It's like someone in 2022 saying "electricity does not exist" so they live without it for everything.

It does not mean that the world has a trillion arch spellcasters. Most only have a little magic and they don't have the intelligence, wisdom, willpower or skill to do much. Though some have some powerful, but highly focused magic. Also like all magic, it's wild and dangerous. A lot of them also have "non standard" magical abilities, and most of those have a drawback or even a curse.
 

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DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
I dislike the idea that magic exists and 99% of the world sticks their head in the sand and says "nope it does not exist". It's like someone in 2022 saying "electricity does not exist" so they live without it for everything.
To be clear, for myself anyway, when I say 1 in 100 creatures can "do magic" doesn't mean in ANY SENSE that the other 99% think magic does not exist, etc.; just that only don't know how to do it. Most people understand that there is electricity but the vast majority don't know how it works or understands really what it is, let alone know how to produce it!

So, in my games all (or 99.9999% or so LOL) know magic exists / believe in it/ etc., but the vast majority can't do it.
 

I know this is a 5e thread but...I don't run it and still feel like blabbering about my home game, which is Dungeon World.

"Petty" casters make up the vast majority of spellcasters in the Tarrakhuna. I would call them capped at level 3, maybe level 5 for the notably powerful ones. Truly archmage-level spellcasters are rare and significant.

Thing is...many important magical effects aren't spells in the standard sense. They're rituals. Some rituals are arcane in nature (e.g. teleportation circle usage, putting an enchantment on an existing magical object), some are primal (putting down the spirits of the unquiet dead, enriching the land, binding native-plane spirits), some are divine (resurrecting the dead, creating food and water, purging poison/disease), some are no particular school (creating magical traps/sensors, divinations, purifying materials/alchemical reagents.) You don't need to be potent in the "archmage" sense to be an excellent ritual spellcaster. The party has an ally, Hafsa, who is a gifted artificer-type Waziri mage; she's big on theory, analysis, and engineering, but weak on regular spellcasting. They've worked with druids and shaman who were similarly ritualists WAY more than they were spellcasters.

Refining your magical senses, learning to read and manipulate the flows of magic, developing the intuitions necessary to identify sources of power and exploit them...these are skills almost anyone can learn, they just take a lot of time or dangerous exposures. The vast majority of humans cannot "directly observe" magic--they might feel a weird vibe in areas where magic is super strong, but to most people, a fireball just seems to sprout out of the fingers of a wizard casting it. To someone actually trained in magic, who has awakened their magical senses and developed them sufficiently, the actual "mana" or "aether" dynamics that lead to the fireball happening can easily be identified. Such training takes several years for most folks, and even the gifted still need multiple years to truly reach proficiency.

Experience can certainly help as well. I've leaned into the Druid having a better idea how spirits work, while the Bard is more in tune with things that affect, or arise out of, people because that's what Rawuna (aka Bard) magic does, it's all about the ebb and flow between people. A Wizard will be generally good at identifying the components of something, the "what" and "how," but less adept at identifying "who" or "why" unless it's fellow-wizard magic (in which case certain signatures are identifiable.)

Our party Battlemaster--who explicitly did not have any magical training prior to our adventures--has just recently embraced a dark power that touched him in the past. This is allowing him to awaken his magical senses in a dramatically faster way than most folks, but it also means his intuitions will be weak because....he just doesn't have the experience yet. Learning to master this skill will be a growth process for him, and I'm looking forward to how that plays out as we develop his Compendium Class.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Before we start, I would like to preface this by saying there is no right answer - this is a "world design" consideration, and of course different DMs will come to different conclusions. But it's still useful to talk about it.

5e has given us several means to generate "petty" casters:
1: Someone who is a very low level caster and has "peaked" (ie won't go up in level and is "stuck" at that low level)
2: Someone who has a bit of magic via another mechanism - racial magic, or the magic initiate feat (a great way to make a "hedge mage" or priest), or a number of other feats that grant magic via a number of mechanisms - a peasant could be fey-touched for example!
3: NPCs don't have to follow precise rules. If you want a local fisherman to have a seagull familiar and not bother to explain how, go for it!
4: Someone could have an "external" source of magic they use - perhaps a magical item, or a magical being that can use magic on their behalf.

So these aren't people who are slinging fireballs and summoning angels - they just have a bit of magic that is useful to them and/or their community.

Personally I think it would be a mistake to have everyone have a bit of magic, but having every village have a local petty caster can be pretty interesting flavor. Of course once heroes reach tier 2 these will fade into the background, but they could be important NPCs at low levels. Just with magical initiate you can craft a great number of casters, who's style/flavor is based upon the spell list and the spell taken: "the ice mage" - someone with prestidigitation (for cooling and food preservation), ray of frost and ice knife, who's a rival of the red mage - a wandering tinker with mending, a raven familiar and firebolt. In an urban setting, there could be dozens of these. The Red Mage might have found employ at a petty noble, who wanted to emulate the king and get his very own "personal wizard".

Lastly, I'll mention that when I started writing this post, I had forgotten about racial magic, which would really change the dynamics in a community where this race is prevalent, but also how they are perceived. If there is one mage per village but every (high) elf knows magic... elves are magical beings!

Anyway, thinking about these "lesser casters" and how prevalent they are can really inform your world design and how the common people react to magic. Personally I like the "1-2 per village" level, as it helps with my personal "the PCs are not special at first but will become special" taste -at low levels you can cast firebolt, cool I guess, but when you start flinging fireballs people notice.
Per the DMG the default assumption is that spellcasters are relatively few in number and a remote village may not have seen a magic spell used in generations. This of course only lasts until you change it to what you desire, but that's the default.
 

Not counting those with racial magic, such as the elves, likely only one percent of one percent of civilized populations are low level casters. This number gets skewed, however, once you start adding up all the races that get some form of magic, but it's still going to be less than 1 percent.
 

cbwjm

Legend
Depends a lot on location. A small village or hamlet might have only a single spellcaster, likely a druid or cleric who tends a small shrine a tends to the needs of the locals.

A larger town or small city might have a few petty casters, as well as maybe a few more powerful practitioners. I'd figure they'd have a few rituals or spells that aren't of much use to adventuring but are helpful in a civilised environment, less attack magic and more make your life easier magic.
 


Plaguescarred

D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
I'd say about 1% of the population in my campaigns are spellcasters, meaning a thorp don't likely have any, a small village might have 1 or few, a city a couple and larger town many.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Per the DMG the default assumption is that spellcasters are relatively few in number and a remote village may not have seen a magic spell used in generations. This of course only lasts until you change it to what you desire, but that's the default.

I used to think this was viable, but now with racial magic...

A lot of people are saying "oh 1% that's pretty rare" but that means that a small hamlet of 80 people is more likely than not to have a someone that can cast some magic.
 

Oofta

Legend
People that can do magic with a snap of their fingers is rare, but ritual magic that people may not even realize they are doing is fairly common. For that matter, people heal magically fast from injury as well, they just don't realize they're healing magically fast because they've never known otherwise.

Humans have evolved and adjusted to local climate so that we have people like the Inuit who can handle freezing temperatures that would disable most people. I assume humans have evolved and integrated magic into their lives as well. That doesn't mean many people can cast cantrips, it's the blacksmith chanting as they hammer out a piece of iron so that it doesn't rust or the farmers that sing a traditional song as they plant their crops that give the plants a bit of a boost.

There's not really any industrial magic as in Eberron, almost all magic is still personal and requires effort and intent on the part of an individual.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I used to think this was viable, but now with racial magic...
I don't view racial magic as "spellcasting." Yes in 5e it's the ability to cast spells, but I still view it as a spell like ability, rather than formal spellcasting.
A lot of people are saying "oh 1% that's pretty rare" but that means that a small hamlet of 80 people is more likely than not to have a someone that can cast some magic.
Again, I don't consider racials to be spellcasting, and random villager in a hamlet isn't going to spontaneously develop magic more than once in a blue moon, unless it's a PC sorcerer.
 


Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
That never seems to be how they write adventures, though.
Yeah. I mentioned either earlier in this thread or another one of the caster threads floating around, that they need to write their official adventures with too much of things in them. Too many magic items. Too many casters. And so on. It's much easier for DMs to just yank out the extra casters and items to fit their game preferences, than it would be for a DM who likes more magic than the defaults provide to add in a bunch of items and casters. Doing it this way allows WotC to do the best they can for the widest number of playstyles.
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
Working as intended, at least for my purposes.
You mean nobody can cast 9th level spells? (I suppose no one has in any of my games, but I guess I assume that there's still someone out there who can.) Unless you're leaving spells of that high level to gods/celestials/immortals/etc. Actually, I'd be on board with that.

I guess the thing that surprises me about your list is the implication of vast populations. Ten billion is a lot of people, in particular if you're only talking about the humans.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
Yeah. I mentioned either earlier in this thread or another one of the caster threads floating around, that they need to write their official adventures with too much of things in them. Too many magic items. Too many casters. And so on. It's much easier for DMs to just yank out the extra casters and items to fit their game preferences, than it would be for a DM who likes more magic than the defaults provide to add in a bunch of items and casters. Doing it this way allows WotC to do the best they can for the widest number of playstyles.
I severely doubt that WotC is intentionally going against their supposed defaults in their adventure writing so as to better support different DMs. It's far more likely that they write what they want to write, and ignore the defaults.
 

In my campaign the standard spell progression only applies to people who learned or at least practiced their spells via the School of Hard Knocks (a.k.a. adventuring). For other groups there are other progressions - for example the Transportation Guild is full of people who make a nice living and they only need to have a single spell (Teleportation Circle) to qualify. Which means that your average member of the transportation guild can cast Teleportation Circle (which they practiced for a few years' straight), a couple of cantrips and probably a first level spell like Unseen Servant although a number do a sideline in Identify.

To use another example Plant Growth is a 3rd level spell with an 8 hour ritual variant. There are literally dozens of other ritual variants that do not in fact require someone who can cast third level spells - but they require anything from seven village elders to the best part of the entire village throwing a twenty four hour party (and not all of them work).
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I severely doubt that WotC is intentionally going against their supposed defaults in their adventure writing so as to better support different DMs. It's far more likely that they write what they want to write, and ignore the defaults.
Why would a company whose goal is to make the most money possible not build adventures to reach the widest audience?
 

cbwjm

Legend
To use another example Plant Growth is a 3rd level spell with an 8 hour ritual variant. There are literally dozens of other ritual variants that do not in fact require someone who can cast third level spells - but they require anything from seven village elders to the best part of the entire village throwing a twenty four hour party (and not all of them work).
I like to do this with rituals as well, I have a number of rituals that aren't typical spells but anyone with the right preparation and know how can cast them. Usually there are components that are prohibitive, which is why there aren't a ridiculous number of portals to the shadowfell spewing undead into the world.
 


Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Because I feel at some point they would have mentioned their intentions. It's been over 8 years and there's been no indication of what you're saying.
I strongly doubt that they would have mentioned it. WotC has not been very forthcoming about things in the past, including the recent past. They only really come out and say stuff when things go wrong, they're going to release something new, or for sage advice.
 

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