Friday, March 13, 2015

Intelligence Makes the Wizard

Before we can begin looking at how magic would change society, we have to determine how much magic would be available to begin with. The prevalence of magic determines the extent of its impact. Yet how can we begin tackling this question?

As written by Pathfinder, the only limitation on how powerful a wizard can become is:

To learn, prepare, or cast a spell, the wizard must have an Intelligence score equal to at least 10 + the spell level. 
Spell levels range from 1 to 9, so to be able to cast you would need the opportunity to study magic, and an INT of at least 11.

What's the bell curve on intelligence in society? Oh, here's a handy graphic:

Let's apply those percentages to 13th century France. Demographics show that the population was about 13 million by the end of the century. Let's do some very rough sorting. Mortality rates were very high in the medieval world. I think we can say that half the population was below the age of 18. That leaves 6.5 million adults. Since only men could receive an education, we can further narrow that number down to 3.25 million adult men. Let's further say that 2/3rds of these men are serfs or simply the working poor, and we're down to about 1 million potential mages who make up the nobility, the clergy, and the wealthier merchants and traders of the upper middle class.

According to the bell chart, half of those men would be of below average intelligence, so we're working with 500,000. 68% would have an INT of 10 - 11.

Our potential wizards would have to be drawn therefor from a pool of 160,000 men. 70,000 of them would have INT 12 - 13. 10,000 men would have INT 14 - 15. 650 men would have INT 16+.

Our final results:

INT 12 - 13: 70,000 men
INT 14 - 15: 10,000 men
INT 16 - 18: 650 men

These numbers would probably be a little larger as there would be 8,450 INT 16+ individuals in the society as a whole, and that level of intelligence would be noticed and groomed for magic, regardless of gender or class. But overall, we can work with those inexact numbers to get a sense of the ratio of potential wizards to regular people in 13th century France. Would each of these men become a wizard? Hardly. But with magic being so lucrative and powerful, the drive would be there for all men of intelligence to at least learn the rudiments, and the more intelligent the man, the more likely he would be to devote his life to earning power.

What this means is that casters capable of magic up to 3rd level spells would be relatively common, appearing in all cities like most traders do. Casters capable of magics of up to the 5th level would be much rarer, but still readily available to those willing to pay for their services. Wizards capable of casting spells up to the 9th level would be very rare, probably known by name, and reside in positions of power across the land. Their services would only be available to the truly wealthy or those in power.

Of final note: zero level cantrips would be common, as any of the 500,000 INT 10+ men could learn them with a little effort and dedication, becoming in effect a 1st level wizard with no potential to cast 1st level spells. 

New Project

Brandon Sanderson's Third Law of Magic is: expand what you already have before you add something new. He explains:

Often, the best storytelling happens when a thoughtful writer changes one or two things about what we know, then extrapolates purposefully through all of the ramifications of that change. A brilliant magic system for a book is less often one with a thousand different powers and abilities—and is more often a magic system with relatively few powers that the author has considered in depth.
In epic fantasy books, it’s not the number of powers that creates immersive and memorable worldbuilding—it’s not even the powers themselves. It’s how well they are ingrained into the society, culture, ecology, economics, and everyday lives of the people in the stories.

My new project involves a slow examination of how the magic spells available to wizards would change the world they live in. Too often D&D settings are merely a simplified medieval setting, with magic limited to a handful of wizards in their towers and mystical weapons and wondrous objects. Careful thought can extrapolate how even simple spells would change the way this world works, much less more powerful spells such as teleport and magic jar.

I'm going to start with a society based on 13th century France, and then slowly introduce one spell at a time, starting with cantrips and working my way up. As I go, I'll continuously modify my theoretical society, extrapolation and changing it to reflect the cumulative consequence of the spells available to wizards.

Why 13th level France? At that time, France was the largest and most powerful country in Europe. Unlike the disastrous 14th century, the 13th century was a time of growth, invention, and cultural flowering. With a firmly established king, an entrenched system of powerful nobles, a wealthy and extensive clergy along with its downtrodden base of peasants and serfs, France from that time serves as an ideal model to what most DM's inadvertently think of when they imagine a medieval setting.

I'm going to start with some basic questions, and then move to the spells. How prevalent would magic be? Whom would learn magic? What would their limitations be, and what role would these mages play in society?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ravenloft was Rock 'n Roll

What is it about the Ravenloft campaign setting that draws my attention, decades after I was introduced to it? What strange magic fascinates me with the moors and dark forests of Barovia, the glittering waterfalls and unforgiving peaks that circle around the rustic towns where villagers fear the coming of the night? Whether it's forgotten tombs or haunted country lanes, or even the the dread castle of Baron Strahd von Zarovich itself, the setting is replete with locales and ambience that just cannot be beat.

Perhaps it is because there is a strange simplicity to be had there. The old gothic setting is very clear about good and evil: the forces of darkness are vast and powerful and it is not a question of how the good guy will win but whether he shall simply be able to survive the night. There is evil, there is vast amounts of fear and indifference, and then there are a few scattered pockets of good fighting an impossible battle against a foe that cannot be defeated. True heroism, in other words, and true monsters.

Ravenloft harkens back to the old Hammer horror films, where Bela Lugosi intoned how he did not drink wine, where heroines ran in terror through the woods dressed only in white camisoles, where brave doctors and men of science would venture out into the night to face the unspeakable.

This world of good and evil soon gave way to camp mockery, as vampires began to be taken less seriously, which in turn gave way to the vampire of the early '90s where Anne Rice and White Wolf redeemed the vampire by making him post modern--no longer were they monsters, but now they were sexual predators, they were human yet more, scorning crucifixes and garlic and wearing leather jackets and sporting pony tails. Count Dracula was a product of human foolishness, our attempt to understand the real monsters that were modern and feral and seductive in our midst. All the old laws were transgressed, and in that act of transgression, in the ridicule for such ancient beliefs as their not being able to cross running water, we found a new paradigm that compelled our faith in these monsters of the night.

And yet. Despite our modern take, something about Ravenloft calls me back. That old fear, that old traditional take on good and evil. That's why the moors of Barovia will always sing a siren song for me, because 21st century man that I am, something about Ravenloft is truly rock n' roll.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Jack Vance is my DM

If you've not read Jack Vance you need to get a copy of his Dying Earth novels ASAP and get reading. The man single handedly inspired Gary Gygax's take on magic in D&D, but further he is so ineffably brilliant, erudite, witty, droll and fantastic that no fan of fantasy can claim to be well read without having put his works under his belt.

Can you imagine what it would be like to have Jack Vance as your DM? The worlds which your PC's would visit, the NPC's that would beguile and befuddle them, infuriate and delight them? There is no greater master of throw-away brilliance. There is nobody who can match him for scintillating dialog. Ah!

Each clerk and ruffian would become a thing of fascination. The couture of the average citizen would become an indication as to social mores and biases, and each new town that the PC's came across would be defined by bizarre yet compelling takes on values and cultural norms. Monsters would be diffident and exceptionally dangerous, and the landscapes would feature endless ridges, dense and dark forests, glorious sunsets and stunning coastlines.

Ah, for Jack Vance at the helm of a game! Not a single NPC would simply say something, but each and every one would aver, simper, growl, proclaim and demure. Women would be recalcitrant, beautiful, sullen, passionate and disillusioned with the world, villains would suffer from the most vainglorious of megalomanias and perturbations of the psyche, and the PC's would find meaning only in the struggle, and never in the reward.

Go read Jack Vance, my friends, and let his voice inspire your campaigns.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Roll a D6

This cracked me up. I'm probably one of the few who prefers this version to the original--and dang, they got some good special effects in there. Looks like a good gaming group too--makes me miss my regular table top game :P

Roll a D6 from Connor Anderson on Vimeo.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Musings: Liches

"A lich is an undead spellcaster, usually a wizard or sorcerer but sometimes a cleric or other spellcaster, who has used its magical powers to unnaturally extend its life.

As a rule, these creatures are scheming and, some say, insane.They hunger for ever greater power, long-forgotten knowledge, and the most terrible of arcane secrets. Because the shadow of death does not hang over them, they often conceive plans taking years, decades, or even centuries to come to fruition."

What manner of being would willingly forsake their humanity for immortality and power? This question might at first seem easily answered by the flippant 'many', but when you stop and give it more thought, the leap from mortal to lich is a truly terrible one.

Think: their very touch causes paralysis. The sight of them causes beings of less than 5HD (probably 95% of all living creatures) to succumb to fear and flee them. Right there they are eschewing companionship, friends, loved ones. Again, this might seem obvious, a small price for a megalomaniac wizard to pay, but think on it: to never be touched. To never have friends. For a monster, this might be no big thing, but for a human being--ah.

Some group--it might have been the Soviets--did experiments on new born children where they refused to touch them after they were born. They discovered that these children wasted away and died without human contact. When you think of our greatest psychopaths and most depraved villains, they have all been fascinated by their interactions with others. They have craved understanding on their own terms, power over others, adulation, desire. That their methods resulted in the death and worse of their victims was part of the process; still there lay at heart a desire to interact for some cause or reason.

Now, to become a lich, you must be willing to forgo all such interactions forever. What kind of mind would gaze unblinkingly at the abyss of such solitude and willingly step over the edge? For sure they can surround themselves with other undead, vampires and the like, but these will never be friends, nor even trusted companions. No; with the creation of their phylactery the lich ceases to be human in every way. It is a form of death that is truer than undeath, for with that final step they sever all connections with their past and the being they once were.

Where am I going with this? I feel that any wizard that is willing to become a lich is by definition a more psychologically complex entity than the common 'wizard looking for more power' explanation. Becoming a lich takes such a particular mind frame, such an inhuman and tortured point of view that you can't just say, "Veldemar the Ashen became a lich upon realizing that he could have immortality and greater power by doing so." That simply doesn't do the leap Veldemar took justice. Why was Veldemar willing to pay such a price? What manner of life did he lead that brought him to such a point? What are his goals now that he is a lich, what manner of goals saw him through the process and caused him not to waver?

Posit Veldemar the Ashen, horrific master of grotesque tragedies. At the age of fifty three he creates a Phylactery, undergoes the necessary rituals, and becomes forevermore a lich. Shrivels to near skeletal appearance, becomes separated from the world by his fear aura and paralyzing touch, can now bathe in electricity and enclose himself in ice, can if he avoids violence live forever in this terrible solitude. Why?

Postit Veldemar at the age of twelve. A nervous youth, delicate, beautiful. Painfully aware of the transient nature of all living things, the ephemeral beauty of flowers, small animals, sunsets, tastes of sweets on the tongue, how quickly both pleasure and pain pass. An intense child, not given to violence or evil, but simply over passionate, prone to depressions and fits, seeing no value in running around with the others, but rather spending hours stroking a cat in the afternoon sunlight, watching how its fur shimmers, or standing in the rain, or staring into the heart of a fire.

Veldemar, age fifteen. A strange, fey boy, estranged from his tavern-frequenting father and overly attached to his mother. Obsessed with different girls in the town, obsessed with the stage, the parallel to life that it forms. Tormented now by the transience of all things, prone to sweeping his walking stick through banks of blossoms so as to destroy the flowers before they can fade.

Veldemar, nineteen and sent away by his father for traumatizing a girl, the third in two years, seducing her with his visions and poetry, and then when she was his, rapt and hypnotized by his mesmerizing words, how he slowly drew a small knife down her cheek and scarred her. How he cried as he confessed to his mother that her beauty pained him so, and how his mother, terrified, thrust him away. How his father came home to find Veldemar screaming and breaking the contents of their home. How he struck Veldemar down, and the next day sent him to the city.

Four years later. Four harsh years of working in the back of a restaurant, carrying out slops, beaten by his uncle, made to sleep over the inn's stable. Four years of turning away from everybody, refusing to make friends, to think, to feel. Numb. His only pleasure in the heart of this awful city lying in visiting the playhouse when he could save enough money, or volunteering to work at a small private library as a clerk so as to have access to the books. The library's owner catches him reading when he should be working; they engage in bitter words, and Veldemar's quick wit is discovered. The owner, a wizard of middle standing, takes a liking to the bitter boy, and hires him on.

Six years pass. Veldemar is twenty nine. An apprentice magician now, having impressed his master enough to earn tutelage. Delighting in his ability to manipulate the world with his will. Irrevocably in love with his master's daughter, Salessa. He seeks to impress her in all the wrong ways, fails. Still the world pains him, but now he is able to fight that pain with his own magical advancement.

Veldemar, thirty three, a prodigy. He feels his grasp on the world slipping even as he grows more powerful. He cannot bear the sight of a hummingbird in flight, wishes to snatch it and crush it in his fist. Cannot stand the strains of pure orchestral music. The more beautiful the world, the more it frets him, torments him. Only the stage and his love for Salessa holds him together, and for her he strives. Finally she understands the depths of his love, his despair, and swept away, agrees to marry him, falling under his spell.

Ten long years. Veldemar, forty three. More powerful now than his master. Respected, a highly appointed citizen. A great magic user. Master of the local playhouse, putting on one glorious show after another. But ah, the work it takes to smile and blend in! Only Salessa understands. Only she can keep him together. He has a private garden of orchids that he takes trembling delight in nurturing and then destroying. He breeds the most rarefied of song birds so that he can sever their vocal chords when their songs bloom. He buys the most passionate of art works so that in the privacy of his basement he can slowly take them apart and destroy them. Only Salessa holds him together, a crystal goblet that is resonating ever more violently to the frequencies of the world.

Forty six, and Salessa dies. He does not kill her, though in later years he can't be sure of this. Veldemar loved her so that he found a way to cherish her beyond her ability to handle. He brought so much pressure upon her that she burst, grew mad, killed herself. But was it his hand that moved her own? Was the weight that he placed on her shoulders too much? Never mind the scores of small nicks and scars that she bore from the years of his cutting her slowly, tenderly, while they made love. One night she could not bear the thought of another sunrise, and drowned herself.

Pain. Shock. The sky too large, the stars too bright, colors too gaudy, taste too rich. The world attacks him, and Veldemar retires from the Magic College, closes his city apartments and retreats to his country estate. Has all the windows sealed and curtained. The public assumes this is his right mourning, but in truth it's his last attempt to hide from the world.

He does not wish her back. She held him to life, held him in the light, for much longer than he should have bared. With Salessa's death, he is free to flee from life at long last. To give vent to his repulsion from it, repulsion made all the more piercing from his peerless appreciation of it. To rare an appreciation for beauty that turns a half turn with her death and becomes loathing without boundary. No longer does he content himself with songbirds and paintings.

Fifty. His magic arts have been directed at necromancy. He works alone, served now by the animated remains of his previous servants. Still directs the Play House, but now the pieces performed are macabre to the extreme, nihilistic and shocking. A bachelor once more, he begins to invite young women to his home, to court them, an impeccable suitor, but alas, each girl dies of natural circumstances, and soon he is considered cursed. But he is so charming, so melancholy, that for years still he pays successful court to women far and wide. Only when an enterprising young brother investigates further and finds dozens of preserved corpses of all the women in Veldemar's basement, their bodies defaced quite literally, does the truth come out, and Veldemar is forced to flee.

Fifty two. Two years on the road. He gives up all pretense of being a refined man, and becomes a beast for a time, murderous and foul. A string of corpses and disfiguring disease in his wake.

Fifty three. He meets Belinda, a necromancer of equal might. It is love, hatred, obsession. They fight, try to kill each other, make love, attack each other once more. For two months they debauch themselves, debase themselves, and then Veldemar, seeing that he is truly coming to love Belinda for all her sick twisted ways, kills her. He cannot risk becoming attached. Amongst her possessions he finds a tome directing him on how to become a lich.

Posit Veldemar the Ashen, horrific master of grotesque tragedies. At the age of fifty three he creates a Phylactery, undergoes the necessary rituals, and becomes forevermore a lich. Shrivels to near skeletal appearance, becomes separated from the world by his fear aura and paralyzing touch, can now bathe in electricity and enclose himself in ice, can if he avoids violence live forever in this terrible solitude. Why?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Monstrous Locales: Skull Mountain

"Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair."

Millenia have past since the demon giant Korthos strode the land. The legends of his prodigious power and malefic deeds have become myth, and myth in turn has degenerated into an amusing folk tale that recounts how a clever fox turned one of the evil sorcerer's spells against him, such that the giant's bones turned to stone and his weight sank him into the ground, disappearing forevermore. Whom the fox might have been in truth remains a mystery, but erosion these past hundred years have seen the emergence of Korthos' stone skull, giving truth at least to part of the folktales.

What's more, a strange boulder pulled itself free from the soil and began to circle Skull Mountain as it came to be known, its orbit erratic and limping. It was this circling boulder that drew the attention of Anyalla, a conniving Dark Naga who recognized it for a massive, depleted Ioun Stone. After studying it from a distance, the naga found an entry into the mountain, insinuating herself through an ocular cavity and into the great cavern within. There she was transfixed by the living will of Korthos, the ghost of his mind, and so began her slow communion with his vast but dispersed intellect.

This stirring of negative energies drew the attention of a lantern archon, however, and it in turn brought a small tribe of pseudodragons to its aid. Thus far they have done little more than roost on the circling Ioun Stone, launching the occasional raid down into the skull to distract Anyalla, but these raids ceased when the Dark Naga, infuriated by the distractions, enlisted the aid of five harpies. This filthy squadron of monstrous humanoids will occasionally issue forth to scatter the pseudodragrons and lantern archon, but have thus far failed to destroy their more agile opponents.

Time passes, and Anyalla grows ever more attuned to the evil energies of Korthos, slowly manifesting his mannerisms and personality traits as they grow more aligned. Her power grows, and the lantern archon has begun to spend long evenings combing the moors searching for others whom might help end this union before it produces horrific fruit.