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

bloodtide

Adventurer
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.
Right, but your 99% of people ignore magic LIKE it does not exist. They "know" it exists, but then just live there mundane life. Magic could cook my food in minutes....but, nope I'll take a couple hours to cut down a tree into logs and then carry them back to my house and then start a fire with two stones and cook some food over the next hour.

The person does not need to "create" magic, just use it. Someone who uses electricity in a kitchen, does not have to build a generator substation with transmission towers. They just get a socket installed and plug stuff in.

The default generic setting of D&D in adventures always have tons of spellcasters as needed. When that evil group has like 20 spellcasters, well, gosh that should be like ALL the spellcasters on the whole continent , right? Oh, wait, but the city guard has like 20 spellcasters, oh and the mages guild has like well more then like five members. And on and on.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
Right, but your 99% of people ignore magic LIKE it does not exist. They "know" it exists, but then just live there mundane life. Magic could cook my food in minutes....but, nope I'll take a couple hours to cut down a tree into logs and then carry them back to my house and then start a fire with two stones and cook some food over the next hour.
No, again, they do not IGNORE magic like it does not exist. They don't have the ability (knowledge, innate ability, etc.) to CAST SPELLS!

Sure, magic might cook your food in minutes, but unless you have learned to MASTER casting spells (or have that innate ability/connection to magic) you can't DO magic to cook your food, etc.

The person does not need to "create" magic, just use it. Someone who uses electricity in a kitchen, does not have to build a generator substation with transmission towers. They just get a socket installed and plug stuff in.
Wrong. People use electricity because SOMEONE else who KNOWS HOW has already MADE it.

In D&D, this would be like someone who knows drinking a potion of speed will make them fast, but they didn't MAKE the potion. If it wasn't already made, they couldn't do it.

The default generic setting of D&D in adventures always have tons of spellcasters as needed.
There is no generic setting of D&D. Each setting is unique. There are similarities, sure, but that's it.

When that evil group has like 20 spellcasters, well, gosh that should be like ALL the spellcasters on the whole continent , right? Oh, wait, but the city guard has like 20 spellcasters, oh and the mages guild has like well more then like five members. And on and on.
Oh, please! I said 1 in 100... 20 spellcasters being ALL the spellcaster on the whole continent? Give me a break. :rolleyes:

City Guards do not routinely have spellcasters in my games, and I don't have mages' guilds, either, because only 1 in 100 creatures can do magic in any way, shape, or form... Most of those creatures have innate magic, such as fey, so LEARNING magic is difficult, assuming you have a teacher, etc. I prefer the master/apprentice model.

But, hey, you want to have lots of spellcasters? Knock yourself out. It's okay to have different styles of games. ;-)
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I prefer the master/apprentice model.
Explains a lot, that does. :p

En7OEjjW8AU-y1L.jpg
 


bloodtide

Adventurer
No, again, they do not IGNORE magic like it does not exist. They don't have the ability (knowledge, innate ability, etc.) to CAST SPELLS!

Sure, magic might cook your food in minutes, but unless you have learned to MASTER casting spells (or have that innate ability/connection to magic) you can't DO magic to cook your food, etc.
But why don't they learn magic? That is the question.



Wrong. People use electricity because SOMEONE else who KNOWS HOW has already MADE it.

In D&D, this would be like someone who knows drinking a potion of speed will make them fast, but they didn't MAKE the potion. If it wasn't already made, they couldn't do it.
So no spellcaster can write a book "Spelling made Easy" or such?

There is no generic setting of D&D. Each setting is unique. There are similarities, sure, but that's it.
The rulebooks have the generic setting.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
But why don't they learn magic? That is the question.
Not really. The same reasons people don't learn things in the real world: inability, no access, lack of dedication, other concerns, tried and failed, etc. 🤷‍♂️

So no spellcaster can write a book "Spelling made Easy" or such?
No, because it is NOT easy in my games. :D

1st-level PCs have done what many fail to do, for whatever reason (as those listed above, for instance).

The rulebooks have the generic setting.
They have options. There is no generic setting.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
But why don't they learn magic? That is the question.
From who? If spellcasters are rare, there's nobody around to teach them. Plus, if you were one of those rare spellcasters, chances are excellent that you aren't stupid enough to just go around teaching new rivals how to harness phenomenal cosmic power. You're going to keep it for yourself and maaaaybe at some point take an apprentice so that the art isn't completely lost.
So no spellcaster can write a book "Spelling made Easy" or such?
None are dumb enough. Even the good ones aren't going to make magic widespread. Even if they trust the ones they are teaching, they can't trust that the ones they are teaching won't go out and teach Sidious, Vader and Maul how to do things.
The rulebooks have the generic setting.
And as written in the DMG that default setting has spellcasters as rare.
 


doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
That's where I am as well. To me it's the only way to account for the insane variety of magic traditions in 5e.
I agree. I also think that the simple fact that you can be a caster with roughly 1/3 the potential magical power as a wizard, or just learn to cast a few spells, or just learn how to successfully cast rituals, means that spellcasting isn't more rare than, say, a weaponsmith or silversmith. Rarer than a cobbler, in many worlds, but not rarer than the less common tradecrafts.
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.
Yep. Judging from another magic thread ongoing right now, I think part of the problem is that people just assume that everyone else means the same thing when they say "rare". I mean, I don't know what percentage of the populace are smiths, but I know that they're common enough that you can go get smithwork done if you really need it and have something to trade or a good reputation for paying your debts. You might need to travel to a nearby town, and if you've bad luck you might have to go to town, but you can go get an itinerary, spend a day or two traveling, and get the work done. And this sort of travel isn't uncommon in most of Medieval Europe. Few people did it repeatedly, and fewer still traveled outside their linguistic/cultural region, but the point is that you can go find a smith if your village doesn't have one and the nearest farrier isn't confident in doing the work you need done.

"Relatively rare" as described in the DMG seems, to me, to describe roughly the same level of rarity as the less common tradecrafts, at the rarest.

I mean, you could call blacksmiths relatively rare in 900CE Wales, but they aren't so rare they don't have an impact on the world, and there are many more farriers, tinkers with a bit of basic smithing knowledge, and failed apprentices who can do in a pinch.
Plus, if you were one of those rare spellcasters, chances are excellent that you aren't stupid enough to just go around teaching new rivals how to harness phenomenal cosmic power. You're going to keep it for yourself and maaaaybe at some point take an apprentice so that the art isn't completely lost.
If you don't want to start a discussion with me after I bailed on the last one, I get it, but I am very curious about this. It seems much more likely to me that wizards in a rare-caster world would seek apprentices, not hoard their knowledge. Or rather, that there would be wizards doing both extremes and all points in between. I wonder why you think that it's likely that most would be at one end of the spectrum?
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
If you don't want to start a discussion with me after I bailed on the last one, I get it, but I am very curious about this. It seems much more likely to me that wizards in a rare-caster world would seek apprentices, not hoard their knowledge. Or rather, that there would be wizards doing both extremes and all points in between. I wonder why you think that it's likely that most would be at one end of the spectrum?
People tend to be greedy and mistrustful when it comes to power. Look at the wealthy. They rarely trust people who aren't already wealthy, because very often they are only being friendly due to their wealth. Power is the same way. Is that apprentice trustworthy to have the power or is he faking it so that he can get it and abuse it, or maybe steal more, or worse.

I think those with the knowledge would find an apprentice when they were in their old age and the vast majority of life is behind them. At that point it would be more important to see the knowledge and their life's work not go to waste and they would seek out someone capable and who they felt was trustworthy.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
People tend to be greedy and mistrustful when it comes to power. Look at the wealthy. They rarely trust people who aren't already wealthy, because very often they are only being friendly due to their wealth. Power is the same way. Is that apprentice trustworthy to have the power or is he faking it so that he can get it and abuse it, or maybe steal more, or worse.

I think those with the knowledge would find an apprentice when they were in their old age and the vast majority of life is behind them. At that point it would be more important to see the knowledge and their life's work not go to waste and they would seek out someone capable and who they felt was trustworthy.
Interesting. I don't think that this sort of power would have the same effects as political power (of which wealth is one type), and I think they'd know that their own understanding benefits from sharing between masters, and teaching new ones. Especially since if they're that rare, the populace would not trust them. At all.

A single wizard can do a lot of damage on the way to the grave, but they aren't actually that hard to kill unless they get to very high level. Nothing protects like infrastructural power. Taking that by force from people who will never trust you tends to only bring short term benefits.
 

kigmatzomat

Adventurer
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).

At the same time, there is (for my tastes) too much racial magic. One thing the revised Kobold did right was allow a single cantrip, but make it a choice: you could take a cantrip, or a save bonus, or a skill. YOu could play the race without needing to be a spellcaster.

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 have a post in another thread on what impact cantrip or 1st level ritual casters means in an agrarian society

I think more useful would be a discussion of the world building "settings" a GM would use to get the magic level they want.

Like:
  • Spellcasting constrained by bloodline or spiritual nature - Arcane casters require some born legacy (six fingers, orange eyes, a third nipple, etc) reflective of some ancestor or inherent attribute. Divine casters must have some spiritual component (and old soul, a purple aura, high midichlorians, etc). None of this can be learned or acquired without a god's intervention
  • Divine detente - the gods have come to some agreement where they enforce a limit on the numbers and types of spellcasters. Perhaps they want stasis, maybe casters learned how to become divine, maybe there is a giant god-eater they need to remain imprisoned. Regardless, the gods enforce this decree.
  • Training/devotion. Arcane casters need immense amount of training and/or resources to advance, making it infeasible for most races to get past level (X). Divine casters require extreme devotion to their gods, much like the Olympians. Any signs of uncertainty, lack of faith, or just making their god unhappy can result in immediate level loss or even some kind of transformation (i.e. medusa)
  • Delicious to a predator. A thaumavoric species feeds on mortal casters. Maybe super-vampires, mimics , deep crows or kaiju. Whatever it is, it requires someone at higher level than the one where most casters come to the predators' awareness.

Each of these creates their own plot drivers.
  • Training means a slow-breeding, long lived people (elves) that would normally be wiped out by bloodthirsty human mayflies is horribly terrifying as they are the only people with high level casters
  • Delicious to predators could result in people fearing finding out they have magic personally (they always die mysteriously!) or the entire population could treat it as a curse (burn the witches before the kaiju awakens!)
  • Detente can result in mid-level casters being visited by emissaries who suggest they find alternate topics of study, being declared persona non grata by various powers, or divine assasins like Nemesis are sent. It could evn be mundane assasins, hired to free up a slot so a wealthy caster can progress.
  • Bloodline - people may seek out those few ways to grant a bloodline, like True Polymorph. Or those with the bloodline are enslaved as children. Or killed. Or treated as royalty.
There is no "right" answer for how much magic there should be. However there is, imo, a minimum amount of coherency required or a world will feel wrong, as the players start finding irreconcilable conflicts in the setting lore.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Interesting. I don't think that this sort of power would have the same effects as political power (of which wealth is one type), and I think they'd know that their own understanding benefits from sharing between masters, and teaching new ones. Especially since if they're that rare, the populace would not trust them. At all.
I think it's worse than political power. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Wizards compared to commoners wield absolute power and a wizard would be worried about creating a monster if good, or creating a deadly rival if neutral or evil.

And yes, I agree that some sharing among masters would happen, but they would also keep secrets in reserve in case they ever come head to head in the future. Best not to let a rival know all your tricks.
A single wizard can do a lot of damage on the way to the grave, but they aren't actually that hard to kill unless they get to very high level. Nothing protects like infrastructural power. Taking that by force from people who will never trust you tends to only bring short term benefits.
If you can prepare for the wizard, sure. If the wizard gets to pick the time and place, they're very, very hard to kill. Launch a few quick fireballs at buildings in town in the dead of night and then vanish into the darkness invisibly or by teleportation magic. There's a reason why in the stories people are terrified of wizards.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I think it's worse than political power. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Wizards compared to commoners wield absolute power and a wizard would be worried about creating a monster if good, or creating a deadly rival if neutral or evil.
Eh, an overrated saying people take as axiomatic, when it isn’t.

And the divide between wizards and commoners is only so great when comparing an individual commoner to a wizard with at least several levels.
And yes, I agree that some sharing among masters would happen, but they would also keep secrets in reserve in case they ever come head to head in the future. Best not to let a rival know all your tricks.
Some would think this way, sure.
If you can prepare for the wizard, sure. If the wizard gets to pick the time and place, they're very, very hard to kill. Launch a few quick fireballs at buildings in town in the dead of night and then vanish into the darkness invisibly or by teleportation magic.
And then get murdered by the entire countryside, or at best driven from the realm on pain of death, and ensure that that realm and all its neighbors legalize the killing of wizards with very little need to justify the act for the next several hundred years.
There's a reason why in the stories people are terrified of wizards.
And the reason is that it makes a fun, chilling, story, to have the wizard be very scary and mysterious, and we don’t have real wizards to actually formulate strategies against IRL.

The behavior you posit would quickly provide its own solution, and then the world would indeed have very few wizards!

EDIT: again, I do think there would be some wizards behaving as you suggest. I just think at least as many, but probably many more, would seek legitimacy in the eyes of the masses, and for said masses to not fear the average wizard, and to not be near-completely isolated from the rest of the world.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
City Guards do not routinely have spellcasters in my games, and I don't have mages' guilds, either, because only 1 in 100 creatures can do magic in any way, shape, or form... Most of those creatures have innate magic, such as fey, so LEARNING magic is difficult, assuming you have a teacher, etc. I prefer the master/apprentice model.

Just an aside - by saying 1 in 100 creature ... it really makes it hard to know how that would look like, because we don't know your "magical creature" distribution vs the "general population". First of all, what is a creature? Is an ant a creature? Second, if say 1% of sentient beings are fey, and all fey have magic, then no one else does. If fey are 1 in a million, then all of them having magic barely impacts human frequency, etc etc.
 

Stormonu

Legend
If you don't want to start a discussion with me after I bailed on the last one, I get it, but I am very curious about this. It seems much more likely to me that wizards in a rare-caster world would seek apprentices, not hoard their knowledge. Or rather, that there would be wizards doing both extremes and all points in between. I wonder why you think that it's likely that most would be at one end of the spectrum?
Two good examples - KFC's secret recipe of 11 herbs & spices, and atomic power. While they're not really all that secret these days, there are all kinds of examples of masters of their craft keeping their knowledge close to their chest and not sharing its details with others. Sharing knowledge has never been a strong point of humanity, and when that knowledge grants access to reality-bending power, there's even less incentive to share that information with others, especially with a chance it could be turned against you.

Besides, magic in my homebrew can be dangerous - a miscast spell could mutilate, mutate, maim or kill the caster or those nearby by accident. Even in stock D&D there are wild mages, and that sort of uncontrollable magic can quickly give spellcasters a bad name or make would-be apprentices apprehensive about learning magic.
 

M_Natas

Adventurer
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.
I would say, 1 in a 100 is not really rare. That would mean on average every Village having at least one spellcaster. Like, my home town has 26000 policemen. With 4 Million inhabitants, that makes policemen roughly 1 in 200. So you would have more magic users than policemen.
1 in 100 is a not uncommon for any specialised profession.

Like if you have on blacksmith in every village, that's 1 in a 100.

Roughly 1% of the Population in medieval times were Lords and ladies. So with 1 in 100 you would have one magic user per noble.

With 1 in 100, everybody would know a magic user.
To be rare and mystical, you would need at least something like 1 in a 1000.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Two good examples - KFC's secret recipe of 11 herbs & spices, and atomic power. While they're not really all that secret these days, there are all kinds of examples of masters of their craft keeping their knowledge close to their chest and not sharing its details with others. Sharing knowledge has never been a strong point of humanity, and when that knowledge grants access to reality-bending power, there's even less incentive to share that information with others, especially with a chance it could be turned against you.
Actually in nearly all cases those secrets are shared within the peer group that you’ve built or gather infrastructure around. Like, we build hierarchies and rituals and gatekeeping structures to protect knowledge, we don’t hide away in towers and only ever share knowledge with the one apprentice we take on in our dotage.
Besides, magic in my homebrew can be dangerous - a miscast spell could mutilate, mutate, maim or kill the caster or those nearby by accident. Even in stock D&D there are wild mages, and that sort of uncontrollable magic can quickly give spellcasters a bad name or make would-be apprentices apprehensive about learning magic.
This is the pet I disagree with most strongly. Humans, especially young humans, do not avoid getting cool stuff because it’s dangerous. Humans are not rational or pragmatic. Also wild magic sorcerers, sure, but…mages no.
 

Fifinjir

Explorer
There around, you’re not tripping over them, but you probably “know a guy who knows a guy”. The important thing to note is that the proportion of different types of spellcasters can vary enormously from region to region. What type of magic a tribe or nation practices is a huge part of their cultural identity, and using (or seeking the user thereof) any outside of that invites mistrust and contempt. Rarely will a bard, cleric, druid, wizard, and warlock walk into the same tavern, and if they do get ready for the mother of all bar brawls. In some spaces, “we don’t talk about arcane vs divine vs primal” is the equivalent of “we don’t talk about politics or religion”. Still figuring out how any potential player is supposed to navigate that, mind you.

EDIT: This has the knock on effect that not every religion supports clerics, but that’s probably another conversation.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
Just an aside - by saying 1 in 100 creature ... it really makes it hard to know how that would look like, because we don't know your "magical creature" distribution vs the "general population". First of all, what is a creature? Is an ant a creature? Second, if say 1% of sentient beings are fey, and all fey have magic, then no one else does. If fey are 1 in a million, then all of them having magic barely impacts human frequency, etc etc.
By saying 1 in 100 creatures it gives a better view of the overall magic level of the world, not just the humanoids. If you think about how many more animals there are in our world over people, it might give you a better idea of what I mean.

I would say, 1 in a 100 is not really rare. That would mean on average every Village having at least one spellcaster. Like, my home town has 26000 policemen. With 4 Million inhabitants, that makes policemen roughly 1 in 200. So you would have more magic users than policemen.
1 in 100 is a not uncommon for any specialised profession.

Like if you have on blacksmith in every village, that's 1 in a 100.

Roughly 1% of the Population in medieval times were Lords and ladies. So with 1 in 100 you would have one magic user per noble.

With 1 in 100, everybody would know a magic user.
To be rare and mystical, you would need at least something like 1 in a 1000.
Again, creatures, not people. Also, not spellcasters, but with some magical-spell-like feature.
 

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top