Wednesday, May 12, 2010

All The Magic In The World

The question I received from Jhandar goes as follows:

“While I understand that economic spread sheet calculations represent trends and pricing guidelines for your world, I wonder at various magical spells that would have fairly large impacts on certain items. From basic agriculture benefiting from a plant growth spell which is available to both druids and mages, the impact of this and frequent application would lead crop yields centuries into the future ...”

A large impact? No, not really.

While mage spells are able to effect an immediate change upon the environment, in all reality the world is simply too big a place for it to be productively influenced by the presence of magic. There are not enough magicians, particularly of high enough level to cast spells that have permanent effects, and they are too scattered throughout the civilization of my world.

Take the first, best example, plant growth, which was specifically mentioned. According to my player’s handbook, it requires a third level druid to cast the spell, as it is a third level spell. Now, this is not so unlikely - druids are uncommon, but I would estimate there are three for every hundred levelled persons, and one third level druid (or stronger) for every eight druids encountered.

Given the previous post, the reader must remember that not every third level druid in my world would take plant growth as a spell, particularly their first spell - but there are less than twenty third-level druid spells that I use, so it would probably get taken by a fair number of druids who were eighth level or better. The ninth level druid in my offline campaign has the spell.

Plant growth is described by the book as affecting a 1” diameter square per level. I always consider that 1” = 10 feet, but the DMG is clear that in the outdoors, 1” = 10 yards. For the purpose of this post, let’s use the DMG’s definition.

This sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. Let us say a 12th level druid (call him Troy) decides to influence the local crop production by casting the spell every day on the local Lord’s fields. Each day Troy grows 10,800 square feet of ground, enabling that land to be immediately harvested. In the space of a month, Troy can affect 324,000 square feet.

However, when you consider that one acre = 43,560 square feet, this is a total of only six acres. A typical, poor peasant will normally influence the growth of 30 acres, which will grow a crop of hay in as little as 60 days. Most other crops take less than 100 days. In 100 days, Troy can affect all of 24.7 acres - less than an ordinary peasant can accomplish by applying simple labour and time.

Since there would normally be forty times 30 acres on a typical manor, and as there are literally tens of thousands of manors in my world - from which the grain supply derives - we’re talking about a paltry effect where it comes to the casting of the spell. This is reduced further when it is considered that I don’t rule that a spell has a different influence depending on whether one is outdoors or not, so that a plant growth spell in my world cast by a 12th level druid only affects 1,200 square feet per day. Troy would be far better off paying attention to other things, and letting his hired men raise crops ... and very occasionally stepping in to influence things when the weather needs a kick in its ass.

Even at that, spells like precipitation and cloudburst affect comparatively small areas of land, and produce vastly reduced amounts of rain, when compared with natural phenomena. It takes a very high level druid to really bend the weather around - and one has to ask, why would he bother?

Wouldn’t it come to light for many very high level druids that, philosophically, there is as much a logic to death, decay and drought as there is to abundance? Drought clears land and reduces the population - people being, always, the worst enemy of druids. And while not all druids would have this outlook, it again reduces the class influence.

So, when you add up the variables - the number of druids, the minimum level of the druid, the likelihood of the druid taking that spell, the very high level the druid needs to be to have even minimal effect, and the inclination of the druid ... we are talking about no real effect on the economy at all.

Remember, it is a very large economy. I think the scale of my world is really what is at question here. The vastness of what hundreds of millions of people can do in terms of manufacturing washes out the special influence of a few powerful magicians - who, on the whole, represent perhaps 0.01% of the population.

Similar examples abound. The creation of both a wall of iron or a wall of stone, for instance. These are both fifth level mage spells, and so they are naturally rarer than plant growth. The Player’s Handbook describes a wall of stone as a 5’ square surface, 3’ thick (I think - I may have to go home and look this up). While this has a marvellous use for an instant wall in many situations, and where it will help throw up a shelter in a matter of days ... but a single casting still represents only the amount of work that could be expected to be done by any ordinary labourers in the space of a day. And day labourers are MUCH easier to come by than 9th level mages who happen to have the spell in question. Construction goes on everywhere, all the time ... and I can also imagine the labourers are a LOT cheaper than finding, recruiting and compensating the mage would be.

And there is a consideration in terms of engineering acumen. A mage may be able to throw up a twenty foot stone wall, three feet thick ... but who’s to say it has been properly settled on a good foundation? Would that wall have exactly the necessary shape, taking in account of the stress factors that tons of stone creates? I would wonder how many foolish mages would spend weeks throwing up a castle, only to die in the night as it collapsed under its own weight. A mage would also have to be a mason if any structure magically created in this fashion was expected to exist permanently. And that combination makes the likelihood even rarer.

There are similar concerns about a wall of iron. Most players would imagine that the iron could be used to easily plate the outside of a tower - but iron is many times the weight of stone. Medieval iron is not equivalent to the prehensile steel we use to make office towers. Any permanent fixture made of iron would have real problems.

These are the sorts of things that I know many other players disdain to consider. But I find my pleasure in thinking about how these things would work within the existing frame of reality. There it is, and if you read this blog you won’t be surprised.

Now, coming to Jhandar’s question about technology - yes, there is much to be said for the effects of magical research. Magic would allow for considerable investigations into every scientific field ... including mathematics, but I will let the theoreticists argue about that. I believe that a magically fuelled world would be technologically beyond the natural world as it was in the mid-seventeenth century (my world’s time frame). Chemistry and medicine would in particular be understood to a far greater degree. And this is why I do consider, fundamentally, that every imaginable technology could conceivably exist on my world, however difficult it may be to find.

That difficulty I believe is based upon another consideration in magic, which does not exist in the real world - not all magic works for good. Yes, a group of magicians should be able to research the method and build a ‘space elevator’ into space. Hell, why not? It is cutting edge technology for us, at the moment in development stage by a company working in Seattle. But that company does not have to deal with something that a magical world must consider - that any apprentice fool with a change cantrip can weaken the chemical structure of the metal holding up said elevator, such that it need not crash down this minute, but at any time. Anything delicate could, quite easily, be spoiled by the simplest of magic - the very magic that a boy is taught before he learns his first full spell.

If you accept the existence of cantrips (and I do), then the argument must be made that as a mage gathers knowledge, he or she learns these little cantrips. And there would be many more half mages or quarter mages running around with a cantrip or two than there would be actual mages in the world.

And so if the world had flintlocks and arquebuses, it would only take a few apprentice mages to dampen their powder and cause those weapons to blow up in the user’s face. Any sort of delicate instrument, from motors to light bulbs to whatever you will would be at the mercy of unravel, tarnish, tangle and so on. This is a main reason why a fighter might be more interested in a durable, reliable broadsword than in a pistol.  A crossbow, fucked with, just falls apart.  A pistol, fucked with, blows up.

The power of magic to destroy invented technology is far more pervasive than its power to create technology. It is not only the magic we would like to have, but ALL the magic, possessed by every kind of creature - and many more creatures and actual gods (unlike this world where we have only mock gods), all with an agenda, with a purpose, far beyond what the players can realize.

For every force increasing crop yields, there are forces capable of poisoning or curdling the world in order to keep the peasants starving and weak, to undermine kingdoms or to bring down other competitors.  The only thing that keeps this chaos in check is that, over it all, there exists a supernatural hierarchy having one all-consuming interest:



Roger the GS said...

> This is a main reason why a fighter might be more interested in a durable, reliable broadsword than in a pistol. A crossbow, fucked with, just falls apart. A pistol, fucked with, blows up.

Great, magic-naturalist thinking!

Lord Gwydion said...

>I would wonder how many foolish mages would spend weeks throwing up a castle, only to die in the night as it collapsed under its own weight.

Seems to happen all the time at the end of cheesy movies. Of course, the mage in question has usually just been slain by the hero at just the moment the place starts to come down...

So the idea might not work well for your game, but it works really well for mine!

Good thoughts and reasoning on why magic shouldn't be substitute tech, though!

Oddbit said...

This entire post I found absolutely riveting.

Jhandar said...


Thank you for the wonderful insights. There are a couple of things that I would like to mention for discussion purposes.

While certainly the scope of the economy is massive, this does shed light into the presence of magic, especially given your house rule that a character can only memorize one of each spell, so that yes Troy would not get the maximum results casting a single Plant Growth each day, however, if this rule were not present, which I am not arguing for or against, he would be able to increase his effectiveness by five times, if he memorized Plant Growth exclusively.

Another spell that is equally effected by this, and not mentioned in my email, is Monster Summoning spells. These are a favorite of mine because they are wonderful wonderful game breakers. Ignoring the fact that a wizard can summon an endless source of xp for him and his companions, OD&D especially this spell is particularly heinous. This is because it was not until 2nd Ed that the corpses of the monsters disappeared after the spell duration was over/monster death. Thus has spawn the ever banned ‘Summon Cattle’. Semantically cows are in the monstrous manual and given the location of the spell at the time of casting, cattle could be an out come. And an enterprising mage may research a variant specifically for this purpose. Returning to your wonderful post about Pricing Ghoul Hearts, you mentioned that the price of a cow in Dachau would be 45gp, multiplied by the 2d4 results gives players in a single spell campaign 90-360 gp per day selling it on the hoof. Heaven forbid the industrious mage study with a butcher or meat monger for chance at increased profits (also not including selling hides and the like).

Now it may be easy to say that the cows get ‘pulled’ from local stock and that this could be magical cow theft, which is a fine and crafty way to limit this. However, when combined with unlimited castings (either by release of house rule or the creation of scrolls) this can generate a significant income, and potentially impact local markets fairly quickly.

The combination of spell plus skill can also be said for the Wall of Stone example. It would be very easy to have peasant labor mock up a structure with timbers, and then a mage, with masonry training, come in and wall of stone up the construction.

For Wall of Iron, ignore the defensive and structural capacities for it, as I agree it is horrific idea, but instead think merely of simply re-smelting the wall down. You would just need one structure capable of re-smelting the iron which comes happily free of slag or waste. That factor alone would make it a valuable asset even given the incredible ease of mining iron in that it is portable on demand and needs little to no refining.

And while Tory the 12 level druid may not care that much about the crops on his fief, the Duke who has kept a mage retainer, and carefully cultivated a spell list for him of spells useful to the betterment of his manor may reap dividends of such investments.

And perhaps that is the better question, while PC casters may care little, money grubbing NPCs looking to better their lot through exploitation may have little qualms over it, especially given the other benefits (prestige and militarily – don’t get me started on clairvoyance/clairsentience’s impact on diplomacy!) I do believe that there is economic value added as well.

Anonymous said...

Your last point in the post above struck me as rather relevant, Jhandar. Taken at the macro-level, the impact of magic aiding production or commerce might be limited as Alexis has shown... but how do spells such as clairovoyance, detect lie, speak with dead, etc... impact broadly when uses at crtitical moments in time?

How would the fortunes of a nation or king change if the exact moments and manners of acting were made clear? Would the sum of the effect be one of cancellation, as each side in a conflict used magic to its benefit?

How much more important would mages become to the fortunes of governments and would they truly be allowed the free reign of the other classes? Do nuclear nations allow their arsenals or intelligence apparati to walk the streets pursuing their own ends?

This is an idea I've often struggled with in my own campaigns. The power behind the throne in a medival kingdom was the military and the strict social structure... how does that structure get fouled when you've got 1% of 1% of the population running around with fireballs and monster summoning spells?

In a setting such as Alexis's, where you're essentially playing in an alternate version of earth that cleaves rather closely to our own, answering these questions takes on particular importance when you're striving for verisilimitude and simulation.

Carl said...


I'm curious about how you determine the number of leveled persons versus non-leveled persons?

Also, once you determine those leveled persons how do you calculate the distribution of the class and the levels of folks belonging to them? Presently, I'm trying to decide how many magic users exist in a population of about 750,000. 250,000 urban and 500,000 rural people live in the area. What would the maximum level be? Would there be more than one of them? This stuff is rapidly becoming more important to my game.

Great post here, Alexis, and to ask you something more on-topic I have this.

Given that a peasant can actually be more productive than a Druid in working the fields, what are the effects of a Druid living among a group of peasants? I would assume an overall increase in crop yields and general animal health, but how much? Would it support a 10% increase in population? Maybe a higher birth rate would be present in this community, or a more likely presence of leveled individuals.

Now that I ask this, I realize that I could probably figure it out from the math you've presented here.

What I'm driving at is that it's not the big-bang effects of magic on a world that I think should concern a DM running a simulator game, but the little-bang effects of a 10% crop yield increase over the course of 20 years due to the presence of a druid in the community, or a 10% lower instance of annual disease occurrence (or a lower fatality rate due to injury) when a cleric is present.

These kind of numbers may not seem like much, and you may have already done the math to determine that the overall increase is no more than say a fraction of a percent. This would seem to hinge on the number of leveled persons. Back to my initial query, I suppose.

Good health to you, Alexis! Thanks for the Plautus tip, by the way. I just read the Pot of Gold and I started The Prisoners this morning.

-Carl (the motorcycle guy)

Jhandar said...

I have had a feeling that I have also missed something that donned on me while at work, which is in fact the issue of work/labor. Let us look at the Troy vs. Peasant example again, not from a production value but from a labor hour’s standpoint.

First let us assume a 30 day month, with 4.285 seven day weeks in that period, and that the peasant is tending the lord’s land, which he would work three out of seven days upon, yielding 12.857 days of labor on the lords land per month. Now let us assume that the peasant works seven hours each day in those fields (this number is pulled from my posterior rather than posterity so if anyone has a more accurate number please do share). This means that the peasant will work a grand total of 90 labor hours for his yield over the coarse of the 30 day month.

Troy may or may not be as industrious, but for sake of argument lets assume that he works day in and day out every 30 of those days using his magic. His labor hours are a mere 180 seconds or 0.05 labor hours over the course of the same 30 days.

Does the peasant produce statistically significantly more output over the 30 day period, yes. However he works 1,800% more than Troy does, who works a mere 6 seconds a day, since he only casts the spell once.

Now this does not factor in travel time, but that was ignored for both parties. I do not know if you factored in harvesting into your time calculations Alexis so there may be a plus or minus here.

So it is not like Troy is slaving away and has an enormous amount of free time on his hands that can be used to do many things, include tend other fields non-magically if he is feeling particularly Miamoto-ish.

When raw production is evaluated, perhaps magic is not more valuable, but when looking at the equation: production / labor hours, magic drastically increases in value

Alexis said...

I will call that bit of logic and raise you more. I’d like to point out that to use the plant growth spell Troy has to be within 160 feet of existing grain (the spell does not create whatever plant you wish, it only grows existing plants). Now, I’m certain that Troy does not live within 160 feet of every field he might want to ‘grow’ ... so we are talking about some commute time on top of the 180 seconds. Plus, it does take Troy 45 minutes of prayer a day to rememorize the spell after he’s cast it. May have forgotten that.

Also, Troy does not sow the grain that he grows, nor does the spell preclude the possibility of his also growing weeds along with the grain (the spell does not selectively grow – it affects everything in the area of effect). Nor does the spell harvest the grain, nor transform the grain into flour. So some additional work will be involved if Troy wants to eat.

I can also tell you something about specialty labor. It costs. In my other incarnation as a writer I am able to work for about half an hour in order to earn a day’s pay for many other people, including my own day’s pay (sadly, I don’t have as much writing work as I’d like). And I am nothing like a 12th level druid where the writing game is concerned. That would be like a writer for the New Yorker – who earns five dollars per word.

So, this is going to make Troy’s brief moment to make grain a bit expensive – I mean, usually high talent commands a high price. Does it not?

Perhaps this drastically increased value is too expensive to be paid for?

Jhandar said...


Fair enough, let me address these point by point.

The initial note of Troy having to be within 160', that goes for the same if not closer for the peasant and I mentioned previously we should discount travel time as both are effected by it. However, if you are stating that you do not think Troy would live near a field, that is a bit of a difference in statement. Certainly you even have mentioned that the lord's fields in a village are not right out the back doors of a peasant's either, requiring a ubiquitous commute. If the arguement is their are not equivalent communtes that is seperate. However I am assuming two things a)Troy is a member of the community he is helping and b)to be an involved member of that community he does not live excessively far out of town (not that villages would be more than a couple of miles from each other anyways, baring hostile terrain which again would put Troy ahead in the long run thanks to magic vs natural process).

While I grant you Troy does not sow the grain, as mentioned in my above post circa the harvesting factor we did not lay out that the peasant's labor hours include sowing and or harvesting, so if we need to adjust for that this is fine. But I contend that logically druids would have at least a basic knowledge of how to plant. We can quibble over the differences in wild occurances of grain dispersion versus the more Native American mound style plantings to actual rowed agriculture being his basis for knowledge as well. But again, factor in any skills or knowledge gained in the coarse of his 12 levels and the concepts of skill acquisition that your have proposed (again I cannot remember the name of the post but ir references your firearm proficiency training with it being fairly short duration learning for moderate proficiency).

In terms of the 'non-selective growth' that is accurate, but it also does not grow what is not there either. So Troy could just stick the seeds in bare ground and grow just the crops as well minus the presence of other vegetation.

So again perhaps a clarification of what is included in the peasant's labor hour will help settle a better part of this, but with that I also assume that Troy will have basic understanding of what he needs to do, and a powerful desire to eat as well (and I don't imagine 12th level druids 'eating out' every meal and would likely be with every other citizen in having a personal garden).

I too am in a specialized labor field and my personal labor does not come cheaply at all. Where our roles are different is that I have high demand. My field is privatized mental health treatment, which while not paying per word, I do bill 14.6 times the minimum wage for hour worked on top of other ammenities and expenses furnished.

However I am gladly paid, and often requested to work well above and beyond my set hours by my pay source/liege if you will. I am not comparing myself to a 12th levle druid either, but I think we are encoutering a difference in professions and how they effect our view of high skilled labor.

I would think that communities would beg and plead for druid's to take up residence (not to mention clerics and wizards), and make great efforts to secure their presence. But I view this as not necessarily all being in coin, building a nice home, livestock, prestigue and social accolades can serve as their pay plus the satisfaction of helping others.

Is my glass half full or my rose-colored glasses on, perhaps. But that is the paradigm another influencing factor in defining the game world, yes. I see high level characters as both able and willing to assist the plebs without a 'where is my compensation, bitch' moment.

Anonymous said...

"How would the fortunes of a nation or king change if the exact moments and manners of acting were made clear? Would the sum of the effect be one of cancellation, as each side in a conflict used magic to its benefit?

.. would mages s... truly be allowed the free reign of the other classes?"

The most likely effect would be one of internal cancellation. That is, rulers with mages at their disposal most likely would focus the mages' powers on suppressing internal dissent and intrigue - as we have seen repeatedly in the U.S. with our own apparatchiks. A ruler need merely characterize political opponents as inspired by some foreign enemy, and all means of suppression are legitimized.

In terms of knowing the exact moments and manner of acting - presumably this is with reference to clairvoyant knowledge of what "the other side" is doing. But clairvoyance (at least in my conception) is like satellite imagery: you must know where to look, and you must know how to read the picture. These natural limits can make the spell's employment more interesting than a mere "Mr. DM, engage plot-advancement mechanism #1".

In particular, envision the clairvoyant mage as the technician who can steer the satellite and get a clear image. A separate specialist, perhaps a general or a farmer or a stonemason, would be needed to interpret for the ruler what the mage "saw". Perhaps a bit of augury would also be needed, in order to have the right specialist on hand in order to interpret the mage's visions.
"porym" said the battered fighter to the bar keep. "keepym poryn til me head stops hurtyn."

Anonymous said...

Further, reliance on a mage + specialist combination for accurate advice introduces many agency problems. If, for example, one's mages have been bought or coerced by one's enemies, then how can their magic mirrors be verified? If one's generals are determined to have a little war, then who else has the expertise to question their belligerent interpretation of the neighboring king's hunting expedition?
misment: a wasted definition.

Alexis said...

Damn, this thing is getting deep.


Lest we forget, this began with the effect of casters on economics. I don’t dispute what you say, but it doesn’t encourage me to believe that the expense account of a high level druid would positively affect even the local economy. If I could produce twenty people who could do the work you do or that I do for a lot less money, we would both be out of work. We aren’t, because we can’t be replaced by labor. There are a lot of things high level casters can do that can’t be replaced with labor - that is what they would put their energy towards.


I tend to agree with Pcount Sigils argument of cancellation, but I’d like to add another argument of my own. A Renaissance world has far fewer circumstances in which spying (of any form) would have the sort of effect we are familiar with in this era. Army movements were so slow that it was well known they were on their way; the arrival of the Armada in England was broadcast months ahead, when it was known that the Spanish were preparing their ships. Technological advances were hardly kept a profound secret; the main surprise that Constantinople experience with the arrival of Suleiman’s cannon was not that the cannon was on its way, it was that the cannon did as much damage as it did. But then, cannons had been in existence for a century prior to that time.

In terms of economics, I think the principal value would be in certifying the existence of one’s shipping interests, and knowing for certain when one plunged to the bottom of the ocean. Remember that in Merchant of Venice, Antonio did not know if a ship was coming to save his finances, and this put him at the mercy of Shylock; in a magical world, this is no more a dramatic play than a modern horror film is with cell phones. So I concede that yes, some influence ...

But the spells themselves are fraught with problems; you can’t teleport safely to any place you are not perfectly familiar with; you can’t use clairaudience or clairvoyance without simlar restrictions; every powerful spell has a limited number of users; and any individual group of casters who begin to seriously influence the world around them will draw attention from many enemies who will have their own agendas. In effect, too much overt magic use is threatening, and the world becomes a mass game of whack-a-mole, with casters being beaten down as soon as their heads pop up too obviously.

Alexis said...


I have a table for that very purpose, determining the number of leveled persons vs. non-leveled, and I will throw it up on the weekend as soon as I get some time.

I think the real value of a druid living among peasants begins with the healing effects that a druid can provide for injured persons, the combating of disease, the possibility of offering a hunter off to kill a local boar the benefit of barkskin, and so on. A single precipitation spell (first level) applied to threatened crops in dry periods, as well as predict weather (also first level) would be far more valuable to the support of local labor than plant growth. As well, consider that the latter spell would probably be more useful in replacing trees cut for timber than in growing crops - since trees grow at a much slower rate than grain. There’s a greater argument that wood would be more available to the system than cereals - and my economics have made adjustment for such things.

Also, the overall system would be more static that the real world’s. We suffer from droughts, floods and various other disasters - but a tornado could be put down with the flick of an eye, a river redirected and so on ... with all the considerations in the world, the 12th level druid would be off doing these things, and leaving the lower orders to worry about producing food in comparative peace. This would more likely create the 10% crop increase you speak of, more than a direct hands-on approach. This I like, because it enables me to have an economic system which is stable.

Anonymous said...

While enduring natural systems tend to remain within stable behavior envelopes, it's also true that any complex system trends toward oscillation - and that restrained oscillations trend toward explosion.

Three trenchant examples would be the well-known increase in severity of Rocky Mountains forest fires (since the advent of fire prevention), the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina (made worse by decades-long restraint of the flooding that used to replenish the barrier wetlands), and the still-ongoing global depression (set up by prolonged provision of discounted credit to maintain inflated asset price trends).

As another example, one theory regarding the desertification of the Sahara (accepting that Egypt's Libyan provinces were for a while the breadbasket of Rome) is that the soil could not sustain generations of agricultural mining without relief by natural cycles of drought, fire, and re-growth. We could posit that "plant growth", without additional thaumaturgy, merely accelerates the depletion of soil minerals and nutrients.

So overall, I agree that the forcing curves imposed by careful magic use would tend to suppress economic variations on a generational time scale, however, "watch when the two curves cross, you children Not faraway down the hawk's-nightmare future: you will see monsters". Thus magic would inevitably set up calamities equaling those offered by technology. For example a population built upon "plant growth" will collapse into hunger when the soil cannot any longer sustain the green fire of enchanted horticulture.

See, for a final example, Alexis' brief discussion of a magical space elevator. Who would bet against the likelihood that some ambitious mage, despite the possibilities of sabotage, would nonetheless try to build such a potentially useful structure?

problyp: schrodinger's polyp.

Alexis said...

Of course, this assumes there is a point where soil can no longer sustain the green fire of enchanted horticulture. There's no such depletion spoken of in the rules ... but this is a reasonable limitation a DM might apply. Apart from this small point, I can agree with Sigilac's interpretation.

Of course, a natural solution would be for the gods to agree to 'reboot' the whole system by having a single continuous flood or bringing in a sizable meteor, etc., to wipe out all intelligent life, to dredge up silt from the ocean depths, refilter the oceans, whatever. It should be remembered that any environmentalist argument applied to a D&D system falls down when it is considered that a) there are entities controlling that system which are not limited by it; and b) there are infinite other planes of existence which also can call the attention of the gods, so putting this or that particular plane on hold for a few million years while it defrags the system is not much of an inconvenience.

Mike(aka kaeosdad) said...

been waiting for this discussion to come up

wizard assisted labor = more free time = less stress = more time spent on either education or frivolous stupidity = it could go either way, depending on how you play the local leadership and history of the folk in question.

all this affects economy, but not really. it probably would even out in the longview, but there would be greater extremes of wealth and poverty.

reality, culture, outlooks all would be fantastic, or incredibly mundane depending on where you are at the moment. there would be pockets of realms that are like heaven and some like hell.

fuck, I need to read the above comments later, work now. bye.

Steve Lalanne said...


The 3E and 3.5E Dungeon Master's Guide has tables and guidelines for determining the number of leveled NPCs in a given locale.

Steve Lalanne said...

Because the wall created by the wall of stone spell can be dispelled via dispel magic, it is more vulnerable than a mundane stone wall.

To add to Mike(aka kaeosdad)'s observation, any labour-saving spell (e.g., plant growth) will enrich society, eventually (Sigilic makes a great point about soil depletion, but this problem faces mundane and magical agriculture alike). This is because it frees up time that can be devoted to other profitable pursuits. This goes for the spell-user/supplier as well as the peasant/consumer. Thus, a peasant who can save enough wealth (initially difficult) to have his crops tended to by a spell user will be able to accumulate additional profit via his surplus labour time, and will eventually be able to afford other goods and services, increasing his standard of living. Instead of spending most of his time working to produce food at a subsistence level (and never getting ahead), he will be able to specialize in some activity (i.e., the division of labour) that produces superior, cheaper products (e.g., you're better off paying a mechanic to replace a transmission than doing it yourself) that might otherwise be unavailable. This in turn increases general prosperity as other peasants will then be able to afford specialized goods and services instead of making and performing them themselves--and this frees up time and money for them, too.

In an early-medieval setting, these developments would be slow to non-existent because the vast majority of the peasantry lack surplus wealth or time. But with the rise of towns and trade during the High Middle Ages, purchasing power increases, and spell-users will be offered competitive remuneration.

Many spells would affect the economy in significant ways. Continual light, for example, would enable activity during the hours of darkness. This could allow for continuous work shifts; towns could hum along 24 hours a day. The various healing spells (any spells, really) would likely become affordable for more and more people. High profits would attract more people into the spell-using field, which would lead to competitive price reduction and general affordability (e.g., the automobile, the computer). Magical research would be funded by patrons who had specific problems to solve (craft guilds would want spells to "automate" their labour, merchants would want to reduce shipping costs, etc.), and wealthier investors would be able to afford research into higher-level spells, which would only effect a greater transformation of society.

Some developments might result in conflict (e.g., weather-control magic might pit agricultural interests vs. shipping interests; if a monarch dies, is he raised from the dead or does his heir step in?).

[Cont'd in next comment due to 4,096-character length restriction.]

Steve Lalanne said...

[Cont'd from previous comment.]

In addition to Sigilic's thoughtful suggestions, a way of countering such developments (if the DM wants his setting to remain "medieval") is to have authorities outlaw spellcasting, driving it underground, and creating ignorance and fear. Also, if people are predisposed to mistrust magic, their folklore might associate spell use with curses; thus, if a crop benefits from magic, any untoward local incident that occurs in that time frame (e.g., a stillbirth, a child struck by lightning, a death, an accident, bad luck: i.e., almost anything) might be attributed to such a curse, strengthening the superstition and hardening popular prejudices against magic.

Another technique to thwart technological transformation (alliteration only somewhat intended) is to have wizards et al be organized into (secret) guilds/brotherhoods, where knowledge is jealously guarded and therefore controlled. Their need for secrecy might be to avoid persecution (see above) or to preserve their own position as monopolists; this could generate conflict with those who wish to acquire magical knowledge for themselves.

Clerical magic could be carefully controlled in accordance with the ethos and rules of particular religious institutions: Certain forms of magical assistance might be denied to others for moral reasons ("too much luxury, wealth, free time, and pleasure is morally bad for the peasantry; salvation requires that they know the rigours of the soil, the bitter taste of disease, the sorrow of loss").

Alexis said...


I long ago ruled that the permanent creation of any natural substance through magic was not subject to ‘dispel magic,’ regardless of the books. It was a dumb gaming rule anyway, intended to limit the spell ... which I don’t find necessary. At any rate, it doesn`t apply to other spells that create water, food, plant growth etc.

I wrote quite a lot about how the availability of magic, and how there’d be so little of it that it couldn’t cause effects such as those you outline in two comments. You’ve chosen to ignore all that, rather indecently I think.

Could you please, in future, post such comments on your own blog, and save comments where you acknowledge my existence for this one? Virtually everything here sounds very nice, but has been discounted as impractical already. You really are talking through your hat.