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

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Dusty Dragon
For my worlds magic is rare and difficult to master (like AT ALL), so less than 1 in 100 creatures will be able to use any magic whatsoever.
So as common as a shoe cobbler? (based on one survey done in the medieval age, shoe cobbler was the most common type of artisan, even more so than blacksmith - there was about 1 per 127 inhabitant).

That doesn't seem that rare at all. Definitely fits the "one per every village" idea.


The High Aldwin
So as common as a shoe cobbler? (based on one survey done in the medieval age, shoe cobbler was the most common type of artisan, even more so than blacksmith - there was about 1 per 127 inhabitant).

That doesn't seem that rare at all. Definitely fits the "one per every village" idea.
1 in 100 is rare when you consider that is ANY magic at all, cantrips, spell-like features, etc. And note I said "creatures", not just humanoids/ inhabitant-types. ;)


Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
The assumption in Eberron is these types of casters are fairly common. A magewright (arcane), adept (divine), or gleaner (primal) are almost as easy to find as a guild crafter. After that it's a steep drop off, with npcs that can rival high level spellcasting characters being fairly rare.
That aren't outright evil, or stuck in one spot. Very few clerics can match Jaela Daran for sheer divine might, but only while she's within the city of Flamekeep, or the leader of a druid sect that is an awakened pine tree who also happens to be firmly planted in place.

Otherwise all of the most powerful spellcasters are evil, crazy, or both.


DMG says a village can range up to 1,000 people, which seems really big to me. In my home world I probably use one "hedge mage" per 500-1,000 person village. I don't really pay attention to the exact numbers. So if you imagine 3 villages (one bigger, two smaller) spaced about 1-2 day's travel apart along a river, one of those villages might have 1 "hedge mage", the other two might have none, and there might be 1 "hedge mage" living in the woods nearby.

My "hedge mages" generally break the rules because (a) that helps move the dial of D&D's magic more towards mystery (rather than the intensely de-mystified codification it already has), and (b) because then the "hedge mages" are still of use to PCs wielding earth-shaking magics.

For instance, take speak with dead... it requires that:
  • the corpse must be willing to talk with you
  • the corpse must have its mouth (i.e. not beheaded, disintegrated, or decayed to dust)
  • the corpse can't have been undead or targeted by speak with dead within 10 days
  • the corpse doesn't need to be honest & will be "brief, cryptic, or repetitive"
  • the corpse can only report on what it knew while alive, and may have faulty info
So I might devise a Medium or Deadspeaker "hedge mage" NPC who can compel the dead to speak as a ritual so long as you have a living relative of that dead person present.


Dusty Dragon
good reply!

For me, this is where small-time casters typically come from. I love playing (otherwise) mundane characters who have a knack -- the jump spell, or magic stone. Or using prestidigitation and mending to have a village laundry/seamstress. some small magic that they can pull out. Magic Initiate and Ritual Caster were great ways to implement it, IMO (and it is one of the ways that the revised Ritual Caster lets me down; and which I hope they change).

I like the use of "knack" - because it's a "level" even lower than the "petty mage". And I think you're making a really good point about profession. If a peasant knows the jump spell... cool, but it's not going to change his life. But prestidigitation? Cleaning everything by hand is a lot of work, and someone could definitely have made a living with that single cantrip alone. And then there are sort of "in-between" cases, where a spell could help a mundane job or be central to the person's living, like a fisherman captain who can use her seagull familiar as I mentioned, or maybe she can hire herself as a pilot on a larger ship.

This would be true of petty mages - I would imagine many of those also try to master "magic adjacent" skills like herbalism or alchemy.

The new Ritual caster feat is definitely a let-down.

In terms of world-building, among races where magic isn't baked in, I figure everyone knows someone who has a knack. So maybe 1 in 40. A town meeting will have a handful of low-level casters, though maybe only one or two with spellcasting class levels.

I think that from a world building point of view, it makes it easier if those knacks are random. If the knack is chosen, then we have to explain why every village doesn't have a magic plowsperson...

Personally, I tend to make "magic initiate" level casters fairly common, although they tend to be focused on utility spells (including utility spells that may not be available to PC's since "cure potato blight" isn't likely to be of use in a dungeon). Of course, being an evil DM, I figure if you are a magic initiate for a warlock, there is still a patron involved and the coffers of Hell and the Abyss are full of souls of those who thought they weren't really making a deal....

I also borrowed an idea from the Malazan books, and have governments try to recruit (forcibly if necessary) anyone with offensive magic. Sure, a lich, an archmage, or a bunch of druids can tell the agents of King X or the Empire of Y to pound sand and make it stick, but if the best you can do is a 3rd-level fireball, you should probably keep you head down, move out to the woods, or try to get the best deal when the recruiter shows up.

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