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D&D 3E
Changing Expectations 
21st-Feb-2008 07:51 am
dice from Melanie
Someone recently brought up the idea that magic, in Greyhawk and 1st Edition, was writ large across the world, but outside the experience of normal people. It's like military hardware in modern America. I'm a private citizen in the northern Midwest; I go years without seeing military ordnance. I read about its common use elsewhere in the world, but it's not a part of my day-to-day life.

Magic in 1st Edition is like that. 1st Edition spends a lot of time on pole arms and poisons, on diseases and the hiring costs of people who'll build you a castle. These are real-world medieval concerns.

Where do you find magic in 1st Edition? It's lost in caves, protected by nighmarish things, rare, exotic. There are "war-zones" where it's common.

Magic in 3rd Edition is much more common. The baseline assumption is that anybody with a couple hundred gold pieces can just walk down to the local magic shop and buy a magic wand. Many of Eberron's detractors look to the commonality, the banality of magic there.

And this change in the perception of magic also alters the way the game is played. If magic is an easy commodity, you can play faster and looser with dangerous situations, because you just bought 50-CLWs-on-a-stick. If you want to do kewl things with boots of spider climbing, you don't need to go to the Silent Hills and confront the goblin nomads, you can just make a pair.

I think I prefer the earlier mindset, but Exalted outsells Tribe 8.
21st-Feb-2008 02:32 pm (UTC)
The baseline assumption is that anybody with a couple hundred gold pieces can just walk down to the local magic shop and buy a magic wand.

Actually, the baseline assumption was "anyone with gold can track down a wizard, so there should be a fair price listed that the wizard can charge or overcharge from."

Or to put it even more succinctly -- "There's an actual system for creating magic items, so there ought to be a fair price attached."

Remember that the "baseline" D&D always has characters starting at 1st level, with no magic, and going from there. The idea is that a character of a certain level will have a certain amount of magic, so the entire game assumes that the magic is there instead of somehow, well, not assuming anything but kind of scrambling along.

Oh, and magic in Exalted is right in keeping with 1st edition's rarity. You just happen to be playing a demigod instead of a nobody.
21st-Feb-2008 04:43 pm (UTC)
planesdragon's last line sums up my perspective; when determining ubiquity of magic, you have to decide whose viewpoint to use. Heroes of the tales inevitably encounter magic and monsters more frequently than the average citizen.
21st-Feb-2008 04:28 pm (UTC)
I'll freely admit I don't like 3E's magic item creation rules, but not because it makes magic too commonplace (I like the ubiquity) - because it makes it hard to play a PC enchanter (of the magic item creating variety, not the specialist wizard).

One long-standing concept I've had is the professional enchanter, who cajoles her adventuring buddies to help her craft things for fun and profit. It's an impractical concept in 3E due to the XP costs associated with item creation, and Eberron artificers aren't quite the same thing. Close, but not quite. The version of artificers from 2E's "Spells and Magic" splatbook was more appealing, but I never had an opportunity to roll one.

Wild tangent, but hey.

Edited at 2008-02-21 04:28 pm (UTC)
21st-Feb-2008 05:55 pm (UTC)
In my time playing, DMing, and working as an administrator for Living Greyhawk, it had become pretty much assumed that just about anybody could solve any day-to-day problem with "a simple spell." That makes magic pretty much commonplace.

I have always personally preferred to portray what you describe here: magic is there, but most commoners only tell tales of its existence. They rarely actually encounter true magic, and if they do, they are quick to express their fear thereof.

But, I cannot count the number of times, when I have attempted to portray this flavor, that players have complained that common folk should have been able to forestall certain events with spells that just anybody should know.

I agree with the assessment about the risks players are willing to take knowing that they have "happy sticks," as we used to call wands of CLW in the RPGA. It was even worse with the knowledge that the player could merely pay a fee from their treasure list, lose a level, and come back from the dead.
21st-Feb-2008 06:55 pm (UTC)
I dunno, I think it depends more on the DM than anything. I personally like to make magic much rarer in mycampaigns, but it seems like the PC's are always looking for the corner magic shop.
21st-Feb-2008 07:11 pm (UTC)
So it sounds like the next logical step to your discussion is that how magic is treated in D&D is basically connected to American social attitudes towards technology (any technology, significantly advanced...);

1e came into being at a time when computers and electronica might be something a select few gamers might tackle on the job, and 3e is basically influenced by our ability to just run down to the store and easily obtain, say, a new scanner or a cell phone capable of calling anybody in the world.

So it's sort of the flip side of your "war zone" analogy. We expect the fantasy world to be America/Canada/NZ/wherever, rather than some place like Pakistan or Kenya, where you'd have to seriously bust ass and get lucky to score a new scanner or cell phone.
21st-Feb-2008 10:32 pm (UTC)
The description of magic in 4e suggested that the average commoner knew that magic existed but the most he's experienced is Planter Zed's magic plow and that could just be hogwash from Planter Zed. No telling how this will work mechanically, but Item Creation has become part of Rituals (e.g., long spells) and XP loss was an admittedly backwards way to balance item creation.

I think Eberron gets exaggerated a bit. Small magics are common, but magic as the PCs know it only exists in places with big money. Poor farmers still pull their plows with oxen. Eberron's boondocks could look just like Greyhawk's, it's all a matter of the wealth level.
22nd-Feb-2008 09:37 pm (UTC)
I like your point here. I've played in a couple of high-magic worlds, but I always get distracted by the items. (I'm such a mechanics whore.) I'm currently planning a Changeling campaign for a change of pace--more social stuff and less focus on magic, per se.
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