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


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But why don't they learn magic? That is the question.
Because it takes a day or two to learn how to chop wood, and (for the incredibly, insanely gifted) a year or two to learn how to use magic? For most folks, it takes the better part of a decade, and lots and lots of money?

Like, you might as well say, "Why don't the peasants just learn how to be a doctor? It would save so much time and improve their lives so much!"

So no spellcaster can write a book "Spelling made Easy" or such?
Can no physician write "Differential Diagnosis Made Easy" or such? Can no computer scientist write "Operating System Design For Dummies" or such?

I honestly don't get why this is confusing to you. The only people who can pick up magic at the drop of a hat are those with special innate gifts (Sorcerers, mostly.) Everyone else needs multiple years at college/seminary/the grove/etc. to get to that point, or a magical sugar daddy willing to provide the mojo for a price. Such training is lengthy and, often, both expensive and exclusive (that is, you have to actually dedicate most of your daily life to it, rather than working.)

There's a reason Eberron's magic-industrial revolution is built on the back of mass-producing magic items that almost anyone can activate, or on bound-elemental things that operate under their own sentience.

The rulebooks have the generic setting.
And here we learn that "generic" and "featureless" are not the same thing. "Generic" comes with rather a lot of built-in baggage. "Most people don't have the time, traits, or money to learn magic" is a feature of the "generic setting," but is a distinctive feature.
 


Stormonu

Legend
As a side note, in the Forgotten Realms (pre 3E), that for wizards, they didn't only have to meet the Intelligence requirement to be able to cast, you had have a sort of special "spark" to cast magic. You may have all the drive and want in the world, but if you didn't have that spark, you'd never be able to cast a spell. (Harry Potter's world has a similar restriction, and Star War's Force seems to as well). Priests seem to be in a similar bucket - it's not enough to merely have a high Wisdom and faith in a god - you have to be chosen by that diety to be a conduit of divine magic.

Eberron, on the other hand, is rife with low-level casters and it seems anyone can learn magic if they so choose.

So campaign conceits about magic very strongly influence how common mages and the like will be.

--- How I do it my game ---
In the end, in my primary homebrew, petty spellcasters are quite rare. Though anyone of sufficient intelligence, or a supernatural background can learn magic if they've got the will to learn (and can find someone whose able to train) it's rare enough that a village might have one spellcaster who can cast cantrips or a first level spell, a lucky village might have someone of up to 5th level ability (3rd level spells).

A city might have enough to start a magic club/magic academy of 10 or so with spellcasters between 5th-12th level.

Someone whose 13th level or higher (7th level spells) is really rare whose name is known continent-wide, and there's maybe five living spellcasters who are 18th+ level (9th level spells - M'jal Stormcloud, Telsar Stormblade, Semotan the Wise, Corpion Golund and Roanoke Major) and a handful of dead ones (Black Marentail [8th level spells], Nathan Kep-tuu [the first to cast 9th level spells], Fineburr the Astronomican and Azurewrath) with one 100th+ level spellcaster existing (namely, Stormonu) who is a sort of demigod.

There are exceptions - Silkna Kingdom has a prestigious magic academy with maybe up to a hundred 0th-1st level spellcasters in school or graduated, the Ice Mages are a loose organization with spellcasters of 5th - 9th level (numbers unknown, created as needed), the Wra-Atari of Randu has a cabal of warlocks of varying level with 13 "masters" and the city-state of Doonask is filled with a myriad of folks who can cast a single cantrip or two.

In most places, magic has a bit of a bad rap, due to ancient calamities and bad players. A majority of places treat magic use like they might treat someone carrying a loaded firearm. It ranges from where it may be banned in one place (Vactorstein), allowed with permit in another (Kingdom of Vall Vega), expected in an area rife with dangers (Ice Mages), encouraged in a few places who have embraced it (Silkna Kingdom) or even considered a part of someone's heritage and a mark of the right to rule (Misake).
 

King Babar

God Learner
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.
The list really operates best when I'm thinking broadly about settlements and generic NPCs. A spellcaster who has access to 7th level spells and higher would be a very important NPC, such as a lich or archdruid; someone who is already essentially one in a million.

My campaigns have never gone above 8th level, for various reasons, so I don't spend much energy thinking about high level magic. I think 10th level as the soft cap for PCs in my setting.

On the second part, if you had to twist my arm, I would say my entire setting has about 200 million or so people (including humans, dwarves, elves, and orcs). But the well-developed bit is maybe really only 20 million (an area about half the size of the US).
 

Mad_Jack

Hero
I've always felt that, although actual Vancian spellcasters are fairly rare, there's also a lot of magic out in the world that doesn't necessarily fit into the "I'm an X level Y so I can cast this list of spells" model that PCs use...

When the books say that a particular village may not have seen any magic for a couple generations, at least to my mind they're generally referring to the "Holy ****, that guy just threw a ball of fire!" PC-type spellcasting.
In most of my games, there are occasionally folks (say, maybe in every third or fourth village or so) who can use some sort of very minor magic, either through natural gift or learning, but it's generally not the sort of thing that a PC spellcaster would learn (although I suppose they could, and might).
PC magic tends to be the chant-some-words/get-instant-effect sort of thing, where petty npc magic is more of the ritual casting sort where you spend minutes or hours (or even days) performing the magic to get a lesser effect or an effect that lasts over a long amount of time. If a random npc has some sort of natural magical gift, it usually doesn't directly track to a particular spell, although it might replicate parts of it.

Examples I've used in my games:

A couple individual npcs of different races have had the forest gnome's ability to speak to small animals.

Most country folks will tell you they know someone or know someone who knows someone who has the magical knack of being able to use the weather prediction function of the Druidcraft cantrip to various degrees of effectiveness.

There's a seamstress/washerwoman in one next town known for her ability to get out impossible stains and repair torn clothing like new who hums ritualized lesser versions of the Mending cantrip and the cleaning effect from Prestidigitation while working.

There was one old mountain man wilderness guide who effectively had the ranger's natural explorer class feature and a magical knack for tracking things that largely replicated the Hunter's Mark spell.

Old Man Wilkins in the next village earns part of his living by putting a "good hex" on folks' crops during the spring in exchange for getting some of the produce in the fall. He can't cast the Plant Growth spell, because he's not a spellcaster, but he can perform a two-day ritual that emulates the second function of that spell to a lesser effect - instead of all crops within a half-mile radius producing twice as much, anything within the area of an average farmer's field will produce one and a half times as much. He also knows various rituals to lessen the chances of your animals getting sick, or to cure them when they do. But unless your character is a centaur who's come down with hoof-and-mouth disease, he won't be performing any healing for the party.

Mother Graves is an herbalist and healer who has proficiency with an herbalism kit and the Medicine skill. Although she can't cast Cure Wounds, she knows a few chants that will heal an extra hit point or two over the course of a whole day, or a sprain or a broken bone in half the time...

There's a blind seer three day's ride from here who supposedly made a pact to give up their sight for the gift of prophecy. While they do have a divination ritual they can perform at will, it doesn't really replicate the effects of any particular divination spell. They mostly advise people on when to plant crops or provide insight on difficult life choices.
However, their mystical sight allows them to replicate slightly lessened ritualized versions of Detect Magic and Identify once per day. And once per week, they can perform a divination that has actual game effects - when asked a specific question, they can use a generic locate effect to find a person, place or object, perform a sort of lesser version of Legend Lore to provide various facts, and even give the person asking the question a single automatic success on one roll related to the issue.

Actual "hedge wizards" or "witches" that can cast spells and or make healing potions are fairly rare, and I generally make each of them up as a monster stat block rather than using the PC rules, since they generally only know utility spells, tend to have a lot of cantrips and I often choose their spells from more than one class's list.
 
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FitzTheRuke

Legend
The list really operates best when I'm thinking broadly about settlements and generic NPCs. A spellcaster who has access to 7th level spells and higher would be a very important NPC, such as a lich or archdruid; someone who is already essentially one in a million.

My campaigns have never gone above 8th level, for various reasons, so I don't spend much energy thinking about high level magic. I think 10th level as the soft cap for PCs in my setting.

On the second part, if you had to twist my arm, I would say my entire setting has about 200 million or so people (including humans, dwarves, elves, and orcs). But the well-developed bit is maybe really only 20 million (an area about half the size of the US).

I guess I don't quite understand your chart, then. By those numbers, AFAICT, that means that your setting has 2 people who can cast 5th level spells, 20 that can cast 4th (2 in the well-developed bit) and NO ONE who can cast spells of 6th level or higher. Is that really what you intend?
 


kigmatzomat

Adventurer
Because it takes a day or two to learn how to chop wood, and (for the incredibly, insanely gifted) a year or two to learn how to use magic? For most folks, it takes the better part of a decade, and lots and lots of money?

Like, you might as well say, "Why don't the peasants just learn how to be a doctor? It would save so much time and improve their lives so much!"

Great example! You need a 4 year degree plus a couple years of medical school plus residency before you really become a doctor! Only 0.4% of US population are MDs (1 million).

Boy, wish we had some "petty" medical staff. One doctor per 250 people is a lot of work!

So its good that aside from full medical doctors here in the US we have 300k advance practice registered nurses (e.g. nurse practioners), 3 million registered nurses, 600k licensed practical nurses , 1.6 million certified nursing assistants, and 200k paramedics. Then there are the millions of other medical techs like phlebotomists, sonogram, xray tech, etc. Which is why there are like 10 trained medical professionals for every full MD.

Why? Because not every has the chops, the resources, or access to be a full MD. Much like a wizard.

And yet, there are several million people in the US who can provide useful medical services without being an MD.

If only imaginary magic were as flexible as the real world.
 
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bloodtide

Adventurer
I honestly don't get why this is confusing to you. The only people who can pick up magic at the drop of a hat are those with special innate gifts (Sorcerers, mostly.) Everyone else needs multiple years at college/seminary/the grove/etc. to get to that point, or a magical sugar daddy willing to provide the mojo for a price. Such training is lengthy and, often, both expensive and exclusive (that is, you have to actually dedicate most of your daily life to it, rather than working.)
You have a 5E source for any of this? Where is the rule that says studding magic takes a long time? Do you see a rule for spellcaster starting ages that says "you must be old"? And where do you find the cost for spellcaster training?
 

You have a 5E source for any of this? Where is the rule that says studding magic takes a long time? Do you see a rule for spellcaster starting ages that says "you must be old"? And where do you find the cost for spellcaster training?
You are asking for rules in the edition that proudly says rules are for losers.
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
You are asking for rules in the edition that proudly says rules are for losers.
I think that's kind of the point, though. I mean, you can choose to have magic be something that only a select few have the aptitude for (I'd do that too) but if you like, you can make it something that anyone can pick up if they're taught by anyone who has the knack.

It depends on the world, really, which is what 5e is going for with a lack of rules on the subject (even though 95% of their published adventures are for the Forgotten Realms). Still, they expect your world can be however you like.
 

I think that's kind of the point, though. I mean, you can choose to have magic be something that only a select few have the aptitude for (I'd do that too) but if you like, you can make it something that anyone can pick up if they're taught by anyone who has the knack.

It depends on the world, really, which is what 5e is going for with a lack of rules on the subject (even though 95% of their published adventures are for the Forgotten Realms). Still, they expect your world can be however you like.
But people in the thread, and bloodtide specifically, have spoken about the "generic" setting. Which the books do talk about. They just don't use rules to do so.
 

Great example! You need a 4 year degree plus a couple years of medical school plus residency before you really become a doctor! Only 0.4% of US population are MDs (1 million).

Boy, wish we had some "petty" medical staff. One doctor per 250 people is a lot of work!

So its good that aside from full medical doctors here in the US we have 300k advance practice registered nurses (e.g. nurse practioners), 3 million registered nurses, 600k licensed practical nurses , 1.6 million certified nursing assistants, and 200k paramedics. Then there are the millions of other medical techs like phlebotomists, sonogram, xray tech, etc. Which is why there are like 10 trained medical professionals for every full MD.

Why? Because not every has the chops, the resources, or access to be a full MD. Much like a wizard.

And yet, there are several million people in the US who can provide useful medical services without being an MD.

If only imaginary magic were as flexible as the real world.
And in the "generic" fantasy setting that was explicitly called for? That is, one that is pseudomedieval faux-Europe Tolkienesque with ahistorical lack of various technologies?

Your registered nurses are the product of the modern world. They didn't exist 200 years ago, let alone a thousand.
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
But people in the thread, and bloodtide specifically, have spoken about the "generic" setting. Which the books do talk about. They just don't use rules to do so.
I guess the generic setting is so generic that it doesn't care about these sorts of questions. PCs can do what PCs can do and NPCs can do whatever the adventure (or the DM) says they can do and why/how is up to whoever cares, assuming anyone at the table does.
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
And in the "generic" fantasy setting that was explicitly called for? That is, one that is pseudomedieval faux-Europe Tolkienesque with ahistorical lack of various technologies?

Your registered nurses are the product of the modern world. They didn't exist 200 years ago, let alone a thousand.

I think the point of that bit was to equate doctors with Wizards (and other full spellcasters) and nurses and other healthcare professionals with NPC spellcasters and hedge wizards and dabblers.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
I guess the generic setting is so generic that it doesn't care about these sorts of questions. PCs can do what PCs can do and NPCs can do whatever the adventure (or the DM) says they can do and why/how is up to whoever cares, assuming anyone at the table does.
Which is the way it should be. Any attempt to glean a "default" setting from the pages of the core rulebooks is a waste of precious internet time. Which is not what the OP has done, but a sidetrack that often enters these types of discussions.

There is no default setting. Any default play style you feel you're aware is merely the result of extrapolating your hyperlocalized experiences into an assumption of a more general pattern.
 


Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I've always felt that, although actual Vancian spellcasters are fairly rare, there's also a lot of magic out in the world that doesn't necessarily fit into the "I'm an X level Y so I can cast this list of spells" model that PCs use...

When the books say that a particular village may not have seen any magic for a couple generations, at least to my mind they're generally referring to the "Holy ****, that guy just threw a ball of fire!" PC-type spellcasting.
In most of my games, there are occasionally folks (say, maybe in every third or fourth village or so) who can use some sort of very minor magic, either through natural gift or learning, but it's generally not the sort of thing that a PC spellcaster would learn (although I suppose they could, and might).
PC magic tends to be the chant-some-words/get-instant-effect sort of thing, where petty npc magic is more of the ritual casting sort where you spend minutes or hours (or even days) performing the magic to get a lesser effect or an effect that lasts over a long amount of time. If a random npc has some sort of natural magical gift, it usually doesn't directly track to a particular spell, although it might replicate parts of it.

Examples I've used in my games:

A couple individual npcs of different races have had the forest gnome's ability to speak to small animals.

Most country folks will tell you they know someone or know someone who knows someone who has the magical knack of being able to use the weather prediction function of the Druidcraft cantrip to various degrees of effectiveness.

There's a seamstress/washerwoman in one next town known for her ability to get out impossible stains and repair torn clothing like new who hums ritualized lesser versions of the Mending cantrip and the cleaning effect from Prestidigitation while working.

There was one old mountain man wilderness guide who effectively had the ranger's natural explorer class feature and a magical knack for tracking things that largely replicated the Hunter's Mark spell.

Old Man Wilkins in the next village earns part of his living by putting a "good hex" on folks' crops during the spring in exchange for getting some of the produce in the fall. He can't cast the Plant Growth spell, because he's not a spellcaster, but he can perform a two-day ritual that emulates the second function of that spell to a lesser effect - instead of all crops within a half-mile radius producing twice as much, anything within the area of an average farmer's field will produce one and a half times as much. He also knows various rituals to lessen the chances of your animals getting sick, or to cure them when they do. But unless your character is a centaur who's come down with hoof-and-mouth disease, he won't be performing any healing for the party.

Mother Graves is an herbalist and healer who has proficiency with an herbalism kit and the Medicine skill. Although she can't cast Cure Wounds, she knows a few chants that will heal an extra hit point or two over the course of a whole day, or a sprain or a broken bone in half the time...

There's a blind seer three day's ride from here who supposedly made a pact to give up their sight for the gift of prophecy. While they do have a divination ritual they can perform at will, it doesn't really replicate the effects of any particular divination spell. They mostly advise people on when to plant crops or provide insight on difficult life choices.
However, their mystical sight allows them to replicate slightly lessened ritualized versions of Detect Magic and Identify once per day. And once per week, they can perform a divination that has actual game effects - when asked a specific question, they can use a generic locate effect to find a person, place or object, perform a sort of lesser version of Legend Lore to provide various facts, and even give the person asking the question a single automatic success on one roll related to the issue.

Actual "hedge wizards" or "witches" that can cast spells and or make healing potions are fairly rare, and I generally make each of them up as a monster stat block rather than using the PC rules, since they generally only know utility spells, tend to have a lot of cantrips and I often choose their spells from more than one class's list.
First I'd like to say that's a cool way to run things and I would have a great time in that setting. That said, 5e is written in natural language, so when they say a remote village has not seen any magic in generations, they mean ANY magic, not just spellcasters lobbing fireballs. :)
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
You have a 5E source for any of this? Where is the rule that says studding magic takes a long time? Do you see a rule for spellcaster starting ages that says "you must be old"? And where do you find the cost for spellcaster training?
This is in the 5e wizard class description.

"Some aspire to become like the gods, shaping reality itself. Though the casting of a typical spell requires merely the utterance of a few strange
words, fleeting gestures, and sometimes a pinch or clump of exotic materials, these surface components barely hint at the expertise attained after years of apprenticeship and countless hours of study."
 

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