Thursday, January 16, 2014

So Sick of 'If'

This sort of thing just so ... irks me:

"•Medical care. Healing/Cure/Remove Poison/Remove Disease/Regeneration Spells/Potions. Why aren't these mass produced in a manner which any local town healer, from all but the most backwater villages, can simply prescribe them to the townsfolk to remove any ailment that may afflict them. In many fantasy settings such potions are assumed for PCs. They aren't even rare or special treasure. The assumption of these items means there shouldn't be sickness in the setting at all, unless it's some sort of magical sickness that is specifically created to be ignored by these effects. So no black plague, no smallpox, no flu, no colds. Got a sniffle? Take a small dose of remove disease, and your cold will be stopped in its tracks. Body parts should be temporary except for the poor. A regeneration spell or potion existing means that rich folk never have to worry about losing limbs, because they can simply pay to regrow them. Pirates shouldn't have peg-legs. Warriors shouldn't be using prosthetic.

•Sustenance. Create Food and Water. And all items that mimic these effects. In the Pathfinder rules I can find half a dozen examples from cursory study that create food and water out of nothing. To clerics it's a third level spell. And many items that mimic it. So why are there farmers? Why is farming even a viable vocation when a family could reasonably obtain some way of creating food and water out of nothing? Shouldn't all towns have an unlimited supply of water, at the very least? A decanter of endless water (Pathfinder) is 9000 gp. Shouldn't this be a town's first priority when collecting taxes? It is literally an endless clean water supply, add in some water wheels, and you have endless energy generation as well. All but the most poorest of towns should have clean running water at all times.

•Material Creation/Transmutation. There are spells in Pathfinder that allow creation of any non-magical substance. I imagine it to be much like Full Metal Alchemist's Alchemy. You transform some matter into other matter. Easy peasy. The static gold values of creating this matter is ridiculous. Especially when you can make more gold, or diamonds, or platinum, or what have you. Why would anyone use 'real' money? A minor creation (Pathfinder) spell can replicate up to 1 sq. ft. of gold coins. Why would anyone trade in raw materials, when you can just make your own with a little preparation. Transmutation is a cheaper way to make desired materials."

The thinking demonstrated above is very much like the sort of logic politicians employ when they start to talk about incentivization. The proposal goes, "If we pay doctors per patient, they'll work harder to make sure they see more patients." Cue all the politicians acting surprised when it turns out doctors aren't seeing patients long enough to give proper diagnoses, or faking the existence of patients, or double-booking patients to make sure they're not in a situation where they can't make money because people haven't arrived in time for their appointment.

Take the question about a town getting 9,000 g.p. together in order to obtain a decanter of endless water in order to run the town's waterwheel. That's right, there it is, dangling above the waterwheel, all precious and valuable and useful, and naturally no one in town, or the environs around, see any reason to steal it. Moreover, every town in the world can get one of their own, right? There's no problem manufacturing thousands and thousands of these things, it's not like they're made of rare materials that can only be found in one small corner of the world - certainly the supply of those materials is UNLIMITED, right? Of course right. Don't be stupid. And never mind that water is FREE, and that anyone with a bit of skill and the willingness to work can build a waterwheel of their own using the completely natural flow of water that happens to be draining from the nearby mountains. Nope! When a town's got to be built, no one thinks, let's build it next to the free water and use that to run things, they think immediately, let's appeal to the high level mage and build the town in a totally random place. After all, there's nothing else to be gained from the presence of water beyond that it will run the town's water wheel. It's not like there's fish there in a mountain stream, or nearby forests supported by the stream, or animal life, or mines that need sluices and such. Hell no. We've got a water wheel run by bottle. What the hell else do we need all that other shit for?

Every now and then some roleplayer will produce a series of questions like this with the air of, "Hey, didn't think about this, did you?" As if, somehow, by asking the question they've instantly demonstrated the silly preconceptions we have about magic or its influence on economics, politics, health, etc., etc. It matches the occasional question some fanboy asks in the IMDb user review session, where they think they've discovered some plot hole, but in fact they just weren't paying attention.

Take that first one. Of course the town healer can manage the whole town, right? Heck, I don't know anything about Pathfinder, so I'm just going to assume from this that in that system the healer can heal all day long, continuously, no matter what the problem or issue the residents might conceivably have. "Cut your finger? Sure, come one, we'll take a look. My, looks like you've broken your arm. No problem. Lazy eye - sure, get that fixed up for you. Oops, kidney failure. No worries, lay down. That looks like a pretty serious case of being dead. Heck, easy as pie. No, no worries, come one, come all, I've got healing to spare, every kind of healing, no maladies too weird or difficult for me!" And what the doctor can't cure, why he's got a shelf just chock full of unlimited potions of every kind, 'cause those suckers aren't made with rare materials either.

Sometimes I think that role-players think a town of 400 people describes the whole population. "Yep, that's right, there's the town, and ten feet beyond the town, there's NOTHING. No camps, no farms, no cottagers out there in the woods, no hunters or woodsmen or people eeking out a living hunting and gathering. Everyone around HERE lives in town, ain't no other way to live. What's that you say? Roor-ral? What the fuck is that? Ain't nobody roorral. We don't believe in it. A man would have to be an idiot to build a cabin out in the woods, by themselves, where there weren't no taxes, laws, restrictions on space, rent, vagabonds, thieves or elders to tell him what for. Why, that'd be like living in a free country! Where's the damn sense in that?"

So naturally, there's no roorral people to fill up the healers time, never mind that the roorral population made up 90% of the total during the Medieval period. And every 'backwater village' can afford a healer, they've got nothing better to do - we know from our OWN experience that doctors LOVE living in butt-fuck nowhere and attending to every town with 100 or less people. That's the real life, none of this in the city living for them. And the potions they need to fix up the locals - why, those roll in on carts that are just full of them, thousands of potions a month, piled so high that's there's no need for anyone to think about stealing them. Why, if someone really wants potions of their own, they can plant a potion tree in their back yard and be fixed up for life!

Yep, sure can't be any of them nasty pestilences, no sirree! More than enough potions and healers to manage the swell of 25 million dead that Europe had to suffer. That ain't nuthin to healers in Pathfinder, uh uh. Why, as soon as a rat with fleas even lives with a family in the local ghetto, the healer snaps awake in the night, knows instantly where the danger is and flies on a magic carpet (heck, everyone's got one!) to the soon-to-be diseased house and puts a stop to that nonsense. In its goddamn tracks. Right you are!

Yep, there's anything you want, just for the asking. Makes you wonder why players go out to fight monsters. Why, we can build theatres and conjure up the monsters right here, let you smack em around for the local people, who don't have even have to pay to see it. No one's employing any of those modern practices of phony scarcity. This is the middle ages! That shit hasn't been invented yet! There's food enough for all, money enough for all, raw materials of every variety for all, and an entire magic using slave class to provide As Much As We Want. No charge, no expectations, no serious remuneration, just plenty to go around. And if some town gets it into their mind they're going to make people pay for stuff, why them wizards just turn up, pour material wealth on the population and end that local economy right off! We ain't having none of that shit here, not in a Pathfinder game.

There's a bunch of ways I could have written this. Like, I could have mentioned that being able to produce gold doesn't necessarily mean being able to produce coins of perfect weight, size, artistic merit, etc., or getting the alloy balance right - since, as the author plainly doesn't know, gold coins are not made of 'gold.' Pure gold is soft and useless for coins, and the metal stamp defining its wealth would quickly be destroyed by the coins bouncing together in a sack. The whole artistic thing, though - it has always seemed to me that magically created food isn't necessarily 'great' or that magically created flutes possess perfect pitch. Just because one can conjure a painting doesn't make the mage Matisse. There's more to the production of finery than the conception of finery, and those out there who cannot understand the difference have clearly never tried to make something they've conceived. It is always better in the mind that it in in reality ... and I see no reason why a wizard shouldn't be as subject to this rule as anyone else.

But rather than beat that point home, I have tried instead to interject a bit of silliness here. There will forever be masters of the fanboy mechanic who will dismiss the actual structures of human behavior and economics, or the lessons of history or politics, in order to pronounce their extraordinary genius in cracking the 'science' of what-would-the-world-be-like-if. The practice, if the reader must know, is perhaps the worst sort of masturbation in the internet community. It has the appeal that anyone can bullshit their way along with it, without there ever being any danger of being proved right or wrong - it is the perfect angels on the head of a pin argument. I'll stick to Occam's Razor, thank you. The simplest answer - that in fact, nothing would be changed, because we would all still be human - seems best to me.

I'm sure if the world really could be made better for the existence of magic, we'd find a way to fuck it up.


JDJarvis said...

Lot's of folks can't grasp the fact that magic items are magic and special, never mind silly things like economics or healers just plain having something else to do.

Cure disease is a 3rd level spell in D&D (as i recall). It takes a few thousand exp to be able to cast that spell. If doctors had to go to The Tunnels of Likely Death and not just avoid getting killed but profit from the experience there would be darned few doctors.

Giordanisti said...

Adding more power to a human sustem never distributes that power equally to all. Someone figures out how to draw it to themselves, then uses or abuses it as they see fit to the expense of others. Having technology and power available to you in abundance does not automatically spur charitable development.

Charles Taylor (Charles Angus) said...

I think there's a big difference between 1e and other old-school games and Pathfinder in this regard.

In Basic Edition (what I'm most familiar with) it takes a 2nd level Cleric to cast Cure Light Wounds once a day.

In Pathfinder, a 1st-level Cleric can cast Cure Light Wounds twice per day, AND cast a healing burst 3 times a day (plus Charisma modifier) or some such thing that heals everyone within 30ft 1d6 Hp. Oh, and they can auto-stabilize a dying creature 3 times a day.

So, a single Cleric in Pathfinder would be equal to maybe 20+ 2nd level Clerics in Basic edition.

Any day where they're not required to cast one of their healing spells, the cleric can spend their time writing a scroll of cure light wounds for future use (costs 25gp).

Seeing as regional specialization and assembly-line mass production were known in at least the 1400s, if not earlier, I think it's pretty hard to swallow that in a world with Pathfinder-level magic availability that we wouldn't see an equivalent of the industrial revolution.

With old-school levels of magic, I can definitely see things not changing much, but Pathfinder posits a much, much greater availability of these things.

Alexis Smolensk said...


The lack of understanding about rarity is a result of the egalitarian culture, that assumes magic is just another technology that anyone can purchase from the local chemist's. The idea that this so-called magical industrial revolution would have to be driven by persons with unusual intellectual characteristics being willing to work for the benefit of people incapable of producing magic only seems obviously right and proper. That ordinary people would be exempt from using the magic freely is inconceivable.

The English and other class-based cultures, I think, understand the reality of this differentiation more clearly.

Talysman said...

I have a similar interpretation, and had similar disagreements with people who felt that magic should have a widespread impact on the world. I attribute this to people having a short-sighted view of history, a belief that every time period and culture worked exactly like urban centers in the West during the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

In fact, I got a lot of flack for suggesting that you could still have a medieval, mostly non-magical society even if anyone could learn a spell by (a) being literate, (b) finding a copy of the spell, and (c) paying the research costs to learn it. Because, obviously, there's no barrier to entry for literacy, so everyone would be literate, and copies of spells should be as common as advertising flyers, and everyone has 2,000 gp to spare to learn at least one 1st level spell. Because it's ridiculous to assume that anyone would ever restrict literacy to a small class of people, or that books might be rare or their secrets jealously guarded, or that there might be different economic classes.

Essentially, the magical-industrial utopia is the arcane equivalent of the technocracy movement of the 1930s. Obviously, the technocracy movement succeeded in its goals and there is now universal health care and technological benefits for everyone in North America, exactly as planned, so the same thing should happen in a world where magic exists instead of technology.

That's what history tells us, right?

Alexis Smolensk said...

So, Charles, you assume:

1) That a doctor servicing a client-base of 240 patients sees no more than 8 patients a day. Three of which cannot be treated until the day after.

2) That clerics in a feudal culture, where social responsibility has never been posited as a philosophy, would be willing to do so even if they were paid.

3) That there is some kind of pay that poor people could manage for this healing that would justify the cleric's time and effort in the cleric's opinion (without, again, the forementioned philosophy being in place)

4) There is no other force or power in the universe that would have another use or application for such healing that might have superior authority.

5) That clerics are common enough to enable this alteration to society.

I marvel that people don't just assume that clerics, having the potential to be enormous pricks by withholding such power, like INSURANCE companies operating in today's America, wouldn't just be pricks.

Charles Taylor (Charles Angus) said...

Regarding point 1, keep in mind that the cleric can heal as many people as can fit in a 30' circle 3 times a day. That's a lot of people, easily in the hundreds per day. Not 5. One cleric could easily heal everyone in an entire hamlet in a day (not that that would ever come up, but there you go).

Looking at history, medical practitioners in the Medieval era did a lot of pro-bono work - medical care was largely on a charge-what-can-be-afforded basis, from my reading. The poor got free care, and the rich got expensive care, all from the same doctor. So I don't see a problem with points 2 and 3. See also my response to point 4, if you're convinced that clerics would be purely mercenary.

Point 4 is not so much of a problem, either. What land-owning knight would NOT want a Cleric on staff for his personal healing? And, since that knight depends on the labour of his serfs for his livelihood, he would be nuts not to let the cleric serve the townspeople, as well. Serfs that are sick aren't working, and serfs not working means fields aren't being ploughed, buildings aren't being maintained, etc. etc. And that means that the knight goes poor.

Same goes for bishops, lords, etc. - in a feudal society, there's a theory of mutual obligation reinforced by the fact that the upper crust depends on the lower class directly for their livelihood. So there's actually an incentive for the ruling class to disseminate healing in a feudal society.

Also keep in mind that widespread use of healing in peacetime would make healing in wartime that much more available. A nation that forbade magical healing being used on serfs would find itself at a serious disadvantage when faced with a nation that had higher demand for clerics (and therefore had trained more clerics during peacetime).

Point 5 is the kicker. Pathfinder is a pretty low barrier-to-entry system. The prices given for hiring spellcasters and whatnot (and buying potions and scrolls, for that matter) are low enough to assume that there are no problems with scarcity - spellcasters are plentiful.

That dial is the one that really makes the difference. If 1 in 100 people are a Cleric, that makes a big difference. If 1 in 5,000,000 are, that won't make any difference at all. I think the Pathfinder default assumption is a lot closer to the 1 in 100 side.

So, given default-Pathfinder assumptions, 1300-400-ish world, I think there would be significant departures from history.

Like I said before, older editions seem to have a much lower set of assumptions for how common magic is. Low enough that I don't see there being much difference.

I don't have a good number for how many monks there were around, but that might be a good starting point for figuring how many clerics are around.

Regarding clerics withholding care much like insurance companies do, I think you're looking at it wrong: insurance companies aren't people, face-to-face with the patient. Doctors want to help people - that's why they became doctors. I would bet that most doctors in America would be in favour of a system that paid them fairly for every patient, not just some patients. And many doctors and hospitals provide care that they never get paid for in America. I would assume it to be the same with clerics.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Very well, I will forego points one and two as you've successfully convinced me how remarkably STUPID Pathfinder is as a gaming system.

Medical practitioners in the Medieval era did pro-bono work because, largely, the practice they performed DIDN'T WORK. Barbers were medicants, teachers were medicants, anyone who put up a shingle was a medicant, and for the most part they were marginally better than doing nothing at all. Not so once medicine began being effective. As soon as it was, doctors immediately started acting like superior assholes. Clerics would have to do likewise.

If the knight owns the cleric, he would be loathe to loan the cleric out. In the feudal system, the obligation was never directed downwards; the peasants were granted land, but only because they had to live. Special benefits of the lord's table were not given. Candles from the lord's chandlery were not available for all. Why would the lord's clerical services?

Finally, any argument you make opposing human behavior has to address this point - If the rich resent being generous with universal health care in the modern day, why do you assume they wouldn't be in a less generous culture?

Charles Taylor (Charles Angus) said...

Pathfinder is incredibly stupid as a gaming system. Agreed.

I wasn't speaking of barbers and other "low-grade" medical practitioners, I was speaking of doctors. Doctors in the medieval era were a lot better than nothing - they would be probably somewhere between a modern EMT and a real doctor. A lot of our modern medical knowledge dates back to the medieval era, if not before.

I've written about this a little here:

Actually, obligation went (in theory) both ways in the feudal system. Theoretically (I can't say how common this was in practice, but certainly more than zero) a knight owed physical protection to his serfs, as well as justice, good management, and care in times of hardship. For instance, a knight was expected to maintain a granary and supply food to his people in case of famine.

And that kind of thing is, as I said, good business. The knight (or lord or bishop) is depending on the welfare of his serfs for his own livelihood.

Yes, he would not be giving away luxuries like candles, but there's a solid economic argument for the knight to maintain a healthy workforce - the efficiency of that workforce determines how much the knight can make off of his land. Like I said - sick serfs, poor knights.

Regarding the opposition to universal healthcare in America today, that's a far more complex issue than "the rich resent being generous", and you know it. I would argue that is has more or less nothing to do with that, really, and that it has more to do with people having found a way to game the system to make massive profits, and then them buying out the political system to stymy change.

And as I've pointed out, the economic and military incentive in a feudal society would seem to be to disseminate magical healthcare widely.

But, as you point out in your article, this is a more or less endless rabbithole of what-ifs on top of what-ifs on top of what-ifs with no real answer to any of these questions.

For me, in my world, it's simple enough to say "there isn't enough magic for things to be very different" and be done with it.

Only when proposing truly tremendous amounts of magic does this become an issue.

Alexis Smolensk said...


There is so much wishful thinking, stretching of the imagination and downright resistance to social comprehension that there's no point in my addressing your last comment.

Be well.

Homer2101 said...

The core point of the quoted text is that fictional game worlds as-written, like those of Pathfinder and Fourth Edition Dungeons and Dragons, make no sense. In Fourth Edition, a potion healing 10HP supposedly costs 50gp. Food to feed an adventurer for a day costs 0.5gp. So a healing potion costs 100 days of food -- a considerable amount for a subsistence farmer. Except that five first-level adventurers can wander into a kobold lair, slaughter some kobolds, and take away 420gp in treasure (Keep on the Shadowfell). Presumably, the local authorities have somewhat better than five low-level nameless adventurers at his disposal, and would have cleared those kobolds out had 420gp been a substantial amount. Or else the kobolds would have put that gold to use and not kept it locked up in a chest. So the real conclusion is not that potions are expensive, but that food is really cheap.

None of this is to say that a game world cannot make sense, or that players and DMs must use the publisher's numbers for prices and availability. But undoubtedly, a majority of DMs use those numbers, and so the observation is very much relevant.

Charles quite accurately notes that everything turns on the abundance of magic in the world, same as for anything else. As you have written before, magic will generally not be put away for adventurers to find; it will be put to use. The more common a thing is, and the more useful, the more widespread its use will be. And magic can be extremely useful.

Distance from town centers should not be that big of an issue in most cases. Medieval European populations generally lived at most a day's walk away from some sort of population center -- a manor, a hamlet, a village, a town, or a city.

You probably overestimate the role class distinctions would play in access to magical healing, and to other magical things, if spellcasters were commonplace. Odds are that the clergy would use magical healing to spread its influence and to secure devotion. And while a lord's wizard might not be available to his serfs, the twenty or so wizards who have formed a guild in a chartered town two days away will probably work for whoever pays them, just like a baker or a tinker won't generally look too closely at the owner of the hand which hands them the coins.

But that gets us into world-building and world-shaping.

As an aside, the rich in the United States are not opposed to subsidized healthcare and other similar benefits because they hate the 'common folk' or think that they do not deserve nice things. They are opposed to public benefits because they don't want to pay for them.

Talysman said...

What you may be missing, Homer, is that we're not flying blind, here. We have the history of writing and written knowledge. We have the history of magical practices, regardless of whether they worked or not. And we have the history of scientific and technical knowledge. We can use these to judge whether the spread and implementation of "real" magic would be regulated by altruistic economic pragmatism, or whether religion, politics, greed, and megalomania would be the dominant force. (Hint: So far, altruistic economic pragmatism hasn't had much of an impact.)

Jhandar said...

Part of the lunacy that exists with magical items and the proliferation of magic comes from the actual mechanics of Pathfinder / D&D (in their modern incarnation). The game is built, mechanically, around the assumption that players will get magical items on a fairly regular basis. Heck D&D 4E has a handy dandy chart in the DMG detailing the progression of items that a character should get.

This is a huge ideological shift from previous versions and it speaks to a completely different view of magic and magical items. And woe unto the new generation should they somehow find their way into games with different assumptions.

I am stingy bastard myself when it comes to magic items, and they typically show up rarely if ever. But I see permanent magical items as known quantities; noble family heirlooms, items of power that are used by the strongest person that can hold on to them, and/or adventure seeds for seeking the Lost Helmet of That One Guy.

My players are used to this, and can appreciate it but they have come to see this as normal. And if anyone is starting a game I personally advise people to very specifically go over the role of magic in the game. Things like what percentage of the population are casters and how does their level distribution work. This can nix assumptions like Fred the Monk is 1st level and Richard the Bishop is 5th level. Not to say that sometimes that doesn't happen, but in my world a lot of kings are 0th level people as I don't ascribe to the title = level as an unbreakable truth. How to casters see their spells, are mages willing to swap spells with each other or are they closely guarded secrets that mages will kill one another over?

Magic, is like most other aspects of a campaign, a sliding scale for what people enjoy, but I firmly believe that it is the DMs job to broadcast and announce where the bar is set from the highest mountain he can get to for his players. And if the gentleman on Reddit wants a world where mass produced magic makes everyone immortal, I am glad it will keep him out of my game, because he will not find it here.

kimbo said...

it would seem that the discussion is not so much about the availablility and impact of magic but the magnitude of the Machiavelli Constant and the Humans are Bastards Index for each individual game world.

Universal availability of life saving technology (magical or not) would indeed be fantasy.

Similar argument: if all-powerful, all loving God exists why is there suffering? (because the Cathars were right).

Charles Taylor (Charles Angus) said...

Talysman, you've got it all backward.

Arguing that magic wouldn't change the world is arguing that Watt invented the practical steam engine, but there wasn't an industrial revolution; that antibiotics were invented, but people continued to die of bacterial infections; that plate armour was invented, but everyone kept wearing cloth; that guns and cannon were invented, but everyone kept using bows and trebuchets; that double-entry bookkeeping was invented, but people kept wondering where their money was; that the computer was invented, but that we didn't have an information revolution; that we invented a polio vaccine, but kids still die of polio.

Writing and magic? Writing was not widely disseminated for a long time because it didn't make a lick of difference whether a farmhand could read or not. Magic was not widely disseminated in the real world because it didn't work.

Compare that to medical knowledge, which (despite Alexis's skepticism) almost certainly did work, and was widely disseminated.

Any important tech is going to make an impact on the world, and is going to be fairly rapidly disseminated to the people who can use it (unless, like I said, there's some kind of artificial constraint on the amount of magic). Will there be universal dissemination? No. But it will be widespread, and it will be world-altering.

This is what history teaches.

Not that technology is kept in some tower for the use of one guy.

Charles Taylor (Charles Angus) said...

For a wealth of evidence of the dissemination of technological knowledge in the middle ages, I might point skeptics to this overview:

There are dozens upon dozens of revolutionary technologies that came about in Europe in the 600-1500 period.

None of them were hoarded. All of them saw wide application.

I honestly can't think of a single example of a revolutionary technology with wide application being successfully hoarded, but would be interested in examples if any are out there.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Let it be, Charles. You've made your assertions four times. You haven't said anything new since the first comment. You continue to assert that history is "this" or history is "that" but as a historian I don't find any of it has the ring of truth.

You write as though you have some special blessed knowledge of the effects of magic on real history. Please read the title of this post again. I wrote that I am SICK of this sort of bullshit. Your four responses have been exactly the sort of bullshit I'm sick of. Could you please go pile it higher and deeper somewhere else?

Alexis Smolensk said...

Well, I didn't mean to actually delete that last comment. That was a keying error. Could we please have that link again, Charles. I don't mind it being up. There are only millions of pages on the web where everyone from conspiracy theorists to Harvard professors have chosen to rewrite history to suit their present-day agendas. In fact, that used to be a course that was offered in university when I took my Classics Degree: Historical Fallacies & Reinvention 401.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Ah. Apparently I didn't delete it. Good. Blogger just jumped it above my 8:25 comment and I lost it.

I hadn't realized you were only going to post the wikipedia entry, Charles. You do realize that the material there in no way supports any of the crap you've been spewing here, right?

If we're going to post links, I'll post this one:

Flavor of the Month: Why Smart People Fall for Fads"

Matt said...

To be fair, I think that a lot of the default assumption in Pathfinder and 4e D&D is exactly as stated. Magic is common. Lords and nobles are always either altruistic retired adventurers, or are villainous foils for such. Serfdom and slavery do not exist, and people generally live in egalitarian modernesque cities that only have the façade of medieval or renaissance construction.

The power scale is shifted. A first level character is a lot more fit in Pathfinder, and 4eD&D than in other games. I think that the general assessment is that a 4e D&D character plays more like a level 5-8 character in older sets of D&D. Adventurers are as common as fleas, and even the local hamlet probably has a rent-a-guard who is 4-5 levels higher than the party. That is the equivalent of a level 10-13 character in older editions of D&D who literally has nothing better to do than keep the constant stream of upstarts from causing trouble for each other.

I am more familiar with 4eD&D than Pathfinder, but in both cases I don't think that the magic line of thought is off at all. It's practically verbatim how the setting runs. The basic assumptions of history cannot be relied on because no one in these settings are human beings. They're superhuman caricatures.

Alexis Smolensk said...

FFS, I've been hearing about the glory of Pathfinder for years now, never felt any need to learn a thing about it, and suddenly I read comment after comment talking about what absolute, utter SHIT the system obviously is. Wow. I feel so gratified that up until now I've trusted my instincts thoroughly.

Charles Taylor (Charles Angus) said...

I'll lay off.

Perhaps in the future you could do a post about all of the amazing technologies that DIDN'T change the world, since there is apparently a wealth of them that I know nothing about.

Matt said...

Yup. Good instinct that.

Pathfinder is basically just 3rd edition D&D that's been modded and patched and tweaked into a new shape. Supposedly it runs easier and better than 3.5, is more balanced, and offers more options. Personally, I feel that all of the problems I had with 3rd edition D&D are still there, and exacerbated.

Mind you, I like Paizo as a company. They seem to be committed to coming out with books that are of good quality, with high production values. I've not heard any complaints about the technical writing, grammar, or layout. They also have taken a stance not to rewrite their core rules just to sell a new edition of supplements. I like that. I just don't really want to play the game they're selling.

Alexis Smolensk said...

You seem to be in a bit of a delusion there, Charles.

The thing that defines a technology as 'amazing' is that it changed the world. Moreover, discarding magic's potential changing of the world is NOT like Watt's steam engine (which Watt did not invent, but in fact improved from earlier designs invented by several other people), because Watt's steam engine actually existed, while magic did not. Because magic did not, there are no ridiculous assertions about what magic would, or would not do, while there are actual assertions about what the steam engine did. See? The whole confusion here is that what you're insisting upon as proof of the effects magic would have is just a lot of made up shit.

I'm sorry you can't step back from your own statements and recognize just how far off the beam you've fallen.

I don't know that I'll approve another comment along the lines of a last cheap shot or a reiteration of your previous points. Better just quit now.

JDJarvis said...

Magic is not a technology. Watt didn't have to worry about how local spirits, demons, and gods would react to his engine. Watt did not have to channel energies from another slice of the universe through his being with the permission of an immensley powerful being to begin the opperation of his engine. At no stage did he have to consort with aliens, elemetals, or the dead to get his engine off the drawingboard and into reality. It didn't matter if Watt or any users of his invention were seven sons of a seventh son, had the blood of first family of archons running through their veins, had spoken directly with a diety, or that is was the second Tuesday of the month. Magic simply isn't a technology that can be used and reprouced and built upon like anything created in the industrial age.

Alexis Smolensk said...


JD, I believe that is the crux of it.

5stonegames said...

Older D&D works fine as a fairly normal if well lit society (Continual Light is a fairly easy spell) if you assume magic is rare and only adventurers (who seek it out) have much traffic with it. It becomes a kind of sub society at that point.

Pathfinder on the other hand, well Pathfinder magic is actually stronger than Charles Taylor mentions, orisons, zero level spells can be used at will in that system.

Any healer and some laymen of average wisdom can learn to stabilize any injury in a 6 second period as often as desired.

Thus in a massive battle, one caster (cleric, druid, some layman, others) can stabilize one person every 30 seconds (allowing for casting and time to move to the next person) without fail allowing possibly as many as 1200 or more per hour to be stabilized.

Assuming a decent L1 cleric with a modest wisdom and charisma bonus he can also heal 2 persons by touch (with one spell left for other purposes) and 4, 30 foot circles of men per day.

This would allow one cleric to heal the better part of an army.

Any L1 cleric or druid or some laymen can also create 10 gallons of pure water per minute, allowing for breaks as much as 5000 gallons a day or more in emergencies

He can also purify up to (allowing for breaks etc) 5000 cubic feat of food or water per day.

Also many magical items are fairly cheap to manufacture, two world breaking examples

A decanter of endless water requires a 9th level caster and 4500 gold pieces, exactly three munitions grade suits of full plate and takes 5 days work.

Such decanter do not wear out and could be for an additional 500GP or so constructed from Adamantium and such a thing will not break or wear out bascially every.

No reason over time every city and village can't have one.

Another example, the Ring of Sustenance needs a single 7th level caster, 1250GP and a couple of days to make.

These also do not wear out (make them double thick if it concerns you) . The cost comes out to about 10 years common food, a lot for a commoner but not much for an adventurer or a noble.

This might well lead to a lot of nobles simply no longer fearing famine and a lot more despotisms and pocket kingdoms where the nobles are a lot closer to North Korea than too chivalry

That will change the world if you let it.

5stonegames said...

Also one point best addressed in another post, magic is a technology.

What little historical magic from Rome the Medieval and other periods were used for rather pragmatic things, increasing the food supply, healing, protection getting sex and at times as a weapon.

It really wasn't very mystical at all and D&D magic in either edition especially that had overt real world physical effects would end up used for perfectly reasonable purposes.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Cognitive dissonance.

5stonegames, the one point here that has been definitively made by JD is that magic IS NOT a technology.

The old law from Arthur C. Clarke goes, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Clarke does not state that technology IS magic, nor does the reverse follow. But somehow this equation has gotten into the heads of the sci fi culture in the most stupid fashion; something Clarke himself would probably have resented.

Talysman said...

It's perhaps worth mentioning that the example Charles cites of the Watt version of the steam engine is a perfect example of why knowledge breakthroughs (technological or magical) would not mean immediate, widespread change.

Watt did not freely distribute his improvements. His company licensed the engine, and charged fees. And America was not on that list. America joined the Industrial Revolution when someone smuggled details of the Watt steam engine out of England.

Even then, industrialization primarily occurred in the northern states. Why? Because the South preferred a slave-based economy. And, even as slavery became increasingly unviable, what with slaves wanting to escape or revolt, the South fought to preserve it, first legally, then violently.

An egalitarian, libertarian magical society is not a guaranteed outcome.

Charles Taylor (Charles Angus) said...

Talysman, note that nowhere have I used the word "immediate". Rarely do you see immediate change on a social scale.

I would say the Watt steam engine is a perfect example of my point BECAUSE Watt didn't try to freely disseminate the idea. Watt found it very difficult to enforce his patents on the separate condensor because it was *so damned useful* people were willing to *break the law* to get their hands on that technology, and, although Watt was (eventually) able to make them pay for the privilege, the steam engine *was* rapidly and widely disseminated.

Watt licensed the engine and charged fees, yes. And steam engines powered the industrial revolution. Over the course of the next 100-150 years, the world was transformed almost beyond recognition.

Were there holdouts? Yes. And they suffered for them. The South was much less affluent than the industrialized North, and was less able to fight a then-modern and highly mechanized (for the time) war (the North produced over 90% of the countries arms, iron, cloth, shoes, and locomotives with only a little more than double the population).

And, eventually, the South industrialized anyway, as they would have even if they had won the Civil War.

Immediate? No. Inexorable? Yes.