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 The world-changing effects of magic: devil's advocate

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SteveL
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PostSubject: The world-changing effects of magic: devil's advocate   Mon Nov 30, 2009 1:08 pm

While the existence of almost any spell would probably result in a world significantly different from the typical fantasy/medieval depiction (as we've discussed), the DM perspective is different.

The DM doesn't want the world to be transformed by the creative use of magic. He wants the world to be pretty much as he designed it.

So, magic shouldn't change the world even though we know it would.

Similarly, a giant can't exist because of the physics of scaling--yet we ignore the laws of physics so we can believe in giants anyway.

In my view, the world should be as realistic as possible given the existence of x, where x = magic, monsters, etc.

But now it looks like we should take a step back from this, and make x = magic that doesn't change the world unduly. I agree that this is unsatisfactory, but is there any other choice?

In the world of Mailed Fist™, magic is rarer, is jealously guarded, and has costs. A side benefit of this is that its world-altering effects are limited. I think this is sufficient to satisfy the players.

A related question is the inventiveness of players like Carter. It's great that he "pushes the envelope" of what a medieval-style person might do, given the realities of the game world. On the other hand, the DM's outlook described above requires that the ripple effect not get out of hand and cause a major change in the world. (Not that it has, or threatens to--unless I've missed something.) There are two ways to deal with this:

  1. Bring on realistic repercussions, as Craig mentioned earlier. This enriches the game, in my view. A drawback is that the DM is also asserting control of his world, and must strike a balance between realistic NPC reactions to player inventiveness and heavy-handed (i.e., unfair) intervention to maintain the status quo. That is, the DM will be biased against the players in this respect if he deems a world-changing idea is afoot but cannot manage it within the game's reality. This is certainly a challenge for the DM, but one that could make the game better.
  2. Tell the players that neither their PCs nor the world's NPCs have the modern entrepreneurial outlook by which one may systemetize creative knowledge into something revolutionary, nor do they have the necessary knowledge in physics, engineering, or even the radical Newtonian idea that all phenomena is controlled by a fixed set of laws. We moderns make many unconscious assumptions of which pre-moderns were ignorant. (One of the virtues of studying history is to uncover these assumptions, which are otherwise not apparent to us.) I'm not suggesting that Carter or anyone is doing this, but it's a future possibility given our players' interest in engineering, and our access to funds and magic.


Last edited by SteveL on Mon Nov 30, 2009 3:59 pm; edited 3 times in total (Reason for editing : to improve clarity)
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PostSubject: Re: The world-changing effects of magic: devil's advocate   Mon Nov 30, 2009 1:39 pm

Having recently watched The Matrix, Return of the Jedi, and Return of the King, some observations:

Magic in these films is reserved only for the true elite. Magic's world-altering consequences are woven into the plots of these stories; they are not mere after-effects. Only the select few who can harness and wield magic can change the natures of their respective societies. Compare with a typical FRP world where even the light spell, which can be cast by almost any magic-user, would (might) result in a society where, for example, nighttime activity is safer, profitable, and productive, etc. Unless classic FRP magic-users are reigned in, the benefits of magic would transform civilization.

P.S. An interesting game world would be one in which magic has made life easier for everybody--no disease, no death, no oppression, etc.--or is in the process of this (skeptics in the game world might be more pessimistic and mistrustful, and could form an opposition). One could argue that different outcomes are possible, of course. I venture to say that disease and death would be eradicated because I think that eventually those spells would become affordable for most, just as most can afford TVs, cars, etc. today given the benefits of technology. Yet clerics could refuse to raise the dead on demand because their real connection to the divine grants them a measure of independence from more mundane realities like money. This would limit the "universal access to life" provided by spells that raise the dead and would seem to counter my prediction; on the other hand, the resourceful could still "buy" virtually any needed spell, even if they have to play off one god's clerics against another in order to have a spell cast--e.g., "If you raise my friend, he will perform deed x (or retrieve item y) on your behalf. This will counter the disciples of god z". One doesn't need cash to buy things, and no religion is--or even tries to be--independent of the larger society; they can be influenced.
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PostSubject: Re: The world-changing effects of magic: devil's advocate   Mon Nov 30, 2009 3:14 pm

People have always been entrepreneurial and even a small technological advance will be jumped upon by someone looking to exploit a buck out of it, or someone who knows that his iron swords, or recurved bow will change the balance of power.

there are many revolutionary technical ideas in history that are conveniently ignored by the game system and fantasy fiction. Greek fire being a flame thrower, Roman self loading rapid fire mini ballista, concrete, winches, elevators, cranes etc all used in roman times but lost after the fall, and some not recovered for 1000 years.

Even when there is a new piece of technical knowledge (even with magic) will spread slowly due to low rates of literacy, less technical people and more agrarians, not to mention the cost of books(I take type setting is not know, and no I don't plan on introducing it) and a system of guilds and trade secrets. I think the assumption of low education/literacy levels is a must to support the stagnant society argument. Like the middle ages all or most thoughtful or technical writings must be assumed to be in an ancient and inaccessible language for the masses, and only the rich, gifted, those inducted to temple or mages guild would read any language, much less an ancient one.


While we may not think there are adequate mechanisms, conventions or safe guards as to why magic has not made our fantasy worlds much different and chaotically changing than they appear to be. When you thing it through however there are some rational reasons why things don't happen.

Magic, like technical knowledge is guarded by the guilds and I think this is the place where DMs have the best ability to retard radical change or advances (yet usually shirk the role or make arbitrary rulings rather than play them out). When you first join a guild for basic training I suspect magical oaths would be include that limit your ability to disseminate certain knowledge and secrets outside the guild. There would probably be addition prohibitions against free lancing spells for sale outside a proscribed bidding process run by the guild itself.

Should you break these prohibitions you could see your access to higher levels spells, historical research, etc cut off, or even put on a list of fair targets for other mages to hunt. At certain levels you can remove the restraints but by that time you best interests are too closely linked to the guilds business plan.

I also think that many lesser magics could be learned by the lower orders of people (if only by rote and arduous practice) but the guilds like plumbers limit membership and training to keep powers rare. This is ultimately why they charge large amounts for training in order to keep lower mages in servitude and limit their progression, lest too many mages get the really powerful and profitable spells which would bid down the prices and destabilize society.


For why the guilds don't exploit magic more in order to make lots of money there are several ways to look at it. First, I can see them not exploiting destructive magics too much because it threatens both their personal safety and place into the hiearchy of power. As a mage you are supreme but after you make 200 arrows of mage slaying not only are you in danger but you are a fucking moron.

The lesser magics don't make sense from the danger prospective, but there are ration reasons why they don't disseminate them more.

A mage can sell a cont light which cannot be used for violence, promotes higher health, increases the hours of labour productivity, lowers fire rates and in the long run saves the purchaser the cost of a lifetime of fuel. Yes it's revolutionary but it would also take generations for full market penetration and if you purposely cast the spell on fragile glass globes, the breakage rate and population growth would mean you'd always have customers.

So why have they not done it?

Probably because the whale oil lobby
the guild of candle makers
olive oil farmers all pay them off to withhold the product from the market.

In this case the guild makes a yearly salary which can support them for doing no work. The market for magic light does not become saturated allowing them to charge higher prices for nobility and the rich to have a status symbol. In the end they probably make more not becoming a light bulb factory.

For many other magical effects there would be similar guilds that would buy off the competition and set the price so only those willing to pay for speed would use the services of a mage.

In our case, in our town we can circumvent some of these restrictions if we wanted to, but at the same time skilled tradesmen would not come and settle with us if we did. If we did supply cheap light bulbs what would stop people from exporting them to the city and then go back to candles. ( I guess we could cast it on a area so they can't move it)
We need bodies, industry and a tax base so why would we.

I still see a great business for a teleporting messenger/smuggler or just plain cargo mage for high value rarities but many of the other novel uses I find for spells would find road blocks if we tried to institutionalize them.

Personally I think more mainstream magic would benefit society but a self serving and decadent system controls it too much!!
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PostSubject: Re: The world-changing effects of magic: devil's advocate   Mon Nov 30, 2009 4:56 pm

I don't see why a guild would restrict its use of magic--and thus reduce its profits. See my other post (in a different thread) about how the prohibition of destructive weaponry applies only to those who do not possess it. Magic guilds would be more vulnerable if they didn't have destructive magic.

Such a guild would be like a weapons manufacturer or arms-dealer: It would thrive in a world of aggression.

Real-world guilds like candlemakers, carriage-makers, et al, were unable to stem the advance of superior know-how. It's true that a wealthy interest could purchase a resource at a higher-than-market price and thus divert that resource to his desired usage. Gov'ts do this (e.g., the ethanol fuel mandate diverted some grain crops away from food production), but only because (1) they have the money, (2) and they don't have the same desire to make a profit due to the money not being theirs). So, in a FRP world, I agree that this could be done: i.e., magic-users are in the employ of gov'ts, who pay them more than anyone else could. But medieval gov'ts were not wealthy enough for this (not that FRP gov'ts must be the same, but this is another topic). Yet, there would be renegade magic-users. . . .

Containing magic would also depend on the demand. Make magic illegal, etc., but if people know about it, the demand will be unstoppable (cf. illicit drugs) and the supply will materialize. (Yes, another problem for me as DM. . . . but I have some solutions, which I won't reveal here.)

If Cirdastanis sold cheap, magical light sources to the city, they'd make a nice profit and would be richer for it. Then they'd buy more magical lights from us. Attentive merchants would come to us to buy them directly; the price would drop (compared to the price charged by our re-selling citizens to urban consumers).
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PostSubject: Re: The world-changing effects of magic: devil's advocate   Mon Nov 30, 2009 5:14 pm

The effects of magic could all play out within the game world, and the DM can invent any outcome he wants, but "realistically", I doubt that magic can be controlled through guild oaths--though, being monopolies, guilds would try. Magic is simply too valuable, and its nature as a general tool (i.e., spells are often less specialized than a guild might like) reinforces the idea that magic can be used in other applications, making it harder to control.

One idea could be that magic requires a special substance--as opposed to knowledge--that can be controlled (Ars Magica has "vis", which can be contained in objects).

Another idea: the real-world gov't controls the number of practising doctors, but it can't control medical knowledge. Yet people won't generally allow themselves to be treated by an unofficial/unlicenced doctor. Why? The effects of medicine are more or less unseen or gradual, whereas the effects of magic tend to be immediate (making it harder to evaluate medical skill). A licence is a shortcut to narrowing down a list of candidate physicians, and many people trust the gov't to the extent that they believe a lack of licence necessarily reveals a true deficiency in the physician's expertise--or at least suspect that there's a reason for the lack of official approval that has a direct bearing on their medical abilities/knowledge. Furthermore, because only doctors can prescribe drugs legally, people are inclined to seek out licenced doctors--but there's no equivalent to this for magic: magicians can be licenced, but given that magical knowledge can't be controlled, there's little reason to prefer a licenced to an unlicenced magician. True, one can buy drugs in the black market, but for various reasons it seems that this is not a widespread practice. In the real world, people often conflate official credentials with actual ability: "so-in-so is not a real doctor because the gov't doesn't officially recognize his ability"; and it's also self-evident that because no one would learn to become a doctor in order to operate outside the system, an unlicensed doctor is suspect. In a FRPG, I think people would be far more impressed with ability over official credentials, making magic even harder to control.

Also, guilds couldn't establish true monopolies. For example, medieval entrepreneurs learned to farm out labour to rural residents when guilds priced themselves out of the market (not that peasants would become wizards; my example is to show that monopolies and cartels are often temporary because of the impossibility of controlling human behaviour, which is creative, and also because there is always an incentive for a member of a cartel to break ranks due to the high potential profits that accrue to the smart competitor; see Rothbard).

In the long run, then, magic would become more and more available and would transform society. The carriage makers couldn't stop the automobile; the Roman Catholics couldn't stop Protestantism; the authorities couldn't stop the printing press; the music industry couldn't stop downloading; etc. In game terms, the GM could prevent this, and he could even come up with explanations such as yours, but in "real life", I don't think it's possible (but I like the idea that gov'ts could employ all spell-users at inflated pay). In my world, I have to face the same problems, and my solution wouldn't even satisfy me, so wouldn't it be funny if we each end up arguing the other's position if/when I am DMing (i.e., you'd want to convince me that magic must be widely available, while I'd reply that guilds, etc., were preventing this)?

P.S. Actually, current scholarship rejects the "Dark Ages" view. The medieval period is no longer generally regarded as backwards or ignorant, even though some classical writings were lost.
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PostSubject: Re: The world-changing effects of magic: devil's advocate   Mon Nov 30, 2009 5:38 pm

I do think that magic oaths, geas etc secret socitey brotherhood stuff could create strong mafia like organizations that would manage the majority of mages. Lab accidents or restriction to resources would keep the uncoperative ones from gaining appreciable power. To gain power you have to dedicate more of your free will to the organization. Yes there will be rouges but too few to creat chaos

Honestly despite having killed 50+ mages in our years of gaming, how many mages can exist in these worlds?

To justify the lack of magic access to the public it has to be very small and very exclusive profession,, making most of our 2-3 mage parties aberations, perhaps it should be 3 mages that cause critical mass not Rangers.

I guess you'd have to stick to a natural talent arguement that makes mages too rare to do mundane things. They are so busy doing their own thing, studying or filling the demands of the rich and powerful that they simply can't supply the market place with an appreciable about of magic labour. This of course makes it impossible to keep PC mages poor, as they can get a mega $ commision at the drop of a hat.

Again this level of power and income potential should result in mages runing the world or being balanced by a larger but somewhat less powerful clergy. Men with swords just don't make the cut.
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PostSubject: Re: The world-changing effects of magic: devil's advocate   Tue Dec 01, 2009 11:04 am

some great points and ideas brought forth here, all of which have been discussed in varous measures over the years. The simple solution is "suspension of disbelief" ... not satisfying to some, but is the 'easiest' solution. Yes, the DM sets up a world the way he likes it. A good DM will understand that it will change and grow over time, but there will still be a fundemental way he wishes it to exist.
So, when a PC (for example) comes up with a great, forward-thinking idea that could change things in the world if implemented on a large scale (and there is no reason to belive such a great idea wouldn't be), the DM simply ignores it's implications outside the party.

I'm speaking soley as a DM here...
I mean, if a player then went on to actively promote this "forward-thinking" invention, then the DM may need to actually react to it depending on it's implications. Someone wishing to use a decanter of endless water an full to proper a small boat .. great. no problem.

But Mr. Lalanne touches upon an issue which I have always liked.. that magic using individuals should be rare and/or strictly governed by the ruler of a given land. It only makes sense. Magic is just too damn powerful to go unchecked. And the people who use it are living on HIS land, so he has the right to demand they use it for the good of his land under his command.
This is why many of you saw gradual changes happening in Habbanya in this regard ... it was my first creation, and really looey-goosey in this regard .. old-school D&D with mages and adventurers of all kinds running around amok... As I developed other lands, I came to create greater structure and understanding of how a given society might view such notions in a more 'realistic' manner. And as a result, because of all the mess that was happening at that time in Habbanya, along with the change of rule, Azerak exerted more control over magic and adventurers, which, for the most part, pleased the lords of the land...

So, in summary of my miandering essay ... as a DM I simply use what I need for a given world/land to function. I ignore any notion of advancement as we, 21 Century Schizoid men, would understand. And stay true to the 'rules' set out in that particular land.
That is not to say that certain lands have not 'developed' in a way hinted at .. Gillantrium could be viewed as highly advanced!... magic is used prolifically (but controlled by government) to 'better' society... which is why they view themselves so haughtily against other lands. ...

blahblahblah ... i ramble... What a Face
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PostSubject: Re: The world-changing effects of magic: devil's advocate   Tue Dec 01, 2009 2:21 pm

Can we conclude, then, that magic hasn't made significant inroads into the structure of society, and that, for instance, magic-users are rare enough, or expensive enough, that lords and their engineers needn't worry about siege-magic when designing castles?


Last edited by SteveL on Wed Dec 02, 2009 2:32 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Deleted first paragraph since it was only my view)
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PostSubject: Re: The world-changing effects of magic: devil's advocate   Tue Dec 01, 2009 6:22 pm

I think magic is always a 'concern' ... but I agree that it shoudl be rare or 'controlled' by ruling lord.
Any any ruling lord who knows that possible enemies may have similar resources at their beck and call, may wish to take precautions.... however, I disagree with 'inventing' something like "rock-crete"...
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PostSubject: Re: The world-changing effects of magic: devil's advocate   Tue Dec 01, 2009 8:12 pm

rock crete is not a big leap considering concrete is a 2500 year old product. Jonathan claims that concrete is available in his world so making liquid rock set hard again is not an inventive leap just a progression from the physical to meta physical.

I think a decanter of endless lava would be better for building anyway.
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PostSubject: Re: The world-changing effects of magic: devil's advocate   Wed Dec 02, 2009 2:39 pm

kubera wrote:
[...]

I think a decanter of endless lava would be better for building anyway.
[brainstorm]If as DM I allowed such a device to exist, it'd be difficult or impossible to shut off, be very hot, and give off smoke/vapour (assuming that real lava does). Fire creatures could emerge at random times.[/brainstorm]
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PostSubject: Re: The world-changing effects of magic: devil's advocate   Wed Dec 02, 2009 2:53 pm

sounds like a hoot Wink where do I get one
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PostSubject: Re: The world-changing effects of magic: devil's advocate   Wed Dec 02, 2009 11:10 pm

I want the decanter of endlaess MOABs (or Daisy Cutters).

Barring that I'll go with the decanter of endless Carrier Battle Groups.
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PostSubject: Re: The world-changing effects of magic: devil's advocate   Thu Dec 03, 2009 6:10 pm

well, ok then, sign me up for a decanter of endless 2002 Barbaresco
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PostSubject: Re: The world-changing effects of magic: devil's advocate   Thu Dec 03, 2009 7:46 pm

Quote :
well, ok then, sign me up for a decanter of endless 2002 Barbaresco

I got that in yagga babbas hut, I stole it from the witches.
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PostSubject: Re: The world-changing effects of magic: devil's advocate   Mon Dec 07, 2009 2:13 pm

Regnar wrote:
well, ok then, sign me up for a decanter of endless 2002 Barbaresco
:lol:
Would you settle for a Decanter of Endless Whine, instead?
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