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.