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Magic Affects Everyone

Copyright Eric Brad ©2002

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

Of Magic and Spell Casting

Eldred gestured in smooth, lazy circles gathering Essence. As the Air Wall began to form, the shoppers in the town square began to scream. Fear gripped the horrified onlookers, as Eldred seemed to summon the very elements to his command. What destruction could this magician rain down on the simple townsfolk?

Rayanna, with a simple glance and a smile, seemed to mesmerize the charging leopard. It paused in mid-leap and now walked toward the girl with ears lowered in a gesture of submission. As word spread of this miraculous deed, many came to worship Rayanna and all loved and feared her.

Gilrohan stood and began preparing a spell. His incantations and gesticulations did not go unnoticed. Before he could utter the Word of Casting, the city guard seized him. He would spend the next two years in the Baron's dungeon contemplating the wisdom of his actions.

Ever considered how the general population would react to what could be perceived as the small miracles that magic users perform almost routinely? The above three examples are just possible outcomes. The actual perception of magic and magic users in a world bears some discussion.

Each fantasy world has, or should have, its own unique traditions, superstitions, and attitudes toward magic and its use. Some worlds have a long history of magic and enchantment beginning with divine origins of the Elves or an Age of High Magic that defined the world. Other worlds may have limited magic as the flows of Essence have diminished over the millennia. On these worlds magic is somewhat common in the world though not all races are as adept as others in the magical arts. Still other worlds will be low Essence worlds where magic is very uncommon and must be kept hidden lest the common folk be panicked.

Let's focus for the time being on a representative fantasy world. We'll assume that this world once had a great concentration of Essence but over the centuries, this has diminished to make this a sort of "medium-magic" world. Magic here is not uncommon and so only those in rural areas or lands where the art of magic have been lost will be surprised or frightened by it. Our world has elves, dwarves, humans, high humans, and a scattering of magical creatures such as orcs, garks, pixies, and unicorns. How could we define the use of and attitudes toward magic in such a society? Here is a possible scenario.

The Elves, being first born of the Divine Creator, were the first to harness the Essence and enjoyed a long Age of High Magic where magical effects, spells, and magical items were commonplace. But after a brutal war of magics, the Elves have fallen away from their use of magic and so the Essence of the world has diminished. Magic is still practiced the world over and all three schools of magic Essence, Mentalism, and Channeling have their students and there is still a great variety of professions and spell lists within these schools. The Elves are still the greatest of the magic using races and magic is considered routine in Elven society. There are spell casters of al three schools of magic among the Elves.

The other races were taught magic by the Elves centuries ago and some have taken to it better than others. The High Humans and Humans have developed a high degree of skill at the magical arts, particularly Mentalism and Channeling magic, and are second only to the Elves in magical abilities. Dwarves have developed a specialized form of Channeling magic that is most often manifest as alchemical magic used in the manufacture of enchanted weapons, armor, and artifacts. There are also creatures of intelligence in this world that possess both general and specialized skills in various magics. Some of these are learned while others are innate abilities.

In general, on this world, magic is not a rare occurrence in populated areas. Most villages have a Healer or Lay Healer or at least access to one within a reasonable distance. Mystics and Seers are also known to sell their services as they travel from town to town. So most people will have seen real magic (although usually low level) as some time in their life.

A good rule of thumb regarding the public's reaction to magic is to think of it in the same way we think of "high culture" in modern society. All major cities have an orchestra and theatre company while smaller towns may have smaller versions of these. Even rural communities are aware that music and art exist and many will have traveled to a show or have had one pass through their area.

That said, you must also consider the sophistication and relative exposure of people to magic. Casting a complex Illusion in a tavern in a major city to avoid a bar brawl may be acceptable and may get by with only a warning from the barkeep to try not to confuse his patrons. However, something as simple as an unannounced Invisibility spell in a remote country inn may raise significant suspicion or even frighten the locals! In general, unless you make a real effort or a blatantly stupid choice, you will not find yourself in a difficult situation just because you decided to cast a spell.

There are, of course, other ways to consider how magic is used and perceived in your world. It could be that in your campaign most of the magical professions are known and understood within the guidelines of rural to urban sophistication and experience as discussed above. Alternatively, in your world magic may be a rare and precious thing. As such, you would need to consider a different approach. Perhaps that only one of the races possesses the knowledge and jealously guards it. Magic may be feared and one could be arrested for publicly casting spells. And there is always the high magic world where even the local shoemaker uses spells to help him make shoes.

The important thing is to fully understand how magic and magical effects are perceived in your world. It's kind of like understanding and obeying the law in a lot of respects. In the Old West, it was acceptable to carry a couple of 6-shooters or a rifle into the local saloon or courthouse. That wouldn't work so well today in most places. So think about how your magical actions might affect those common folk around you just in case something bad might happen.

Of Mysterious and Magical Items

Let us now turn our attention to magical, particularly from the perspective of the characters who, after a few adventures, have collected a bit of "loot" for their trouble. They have the feeling that they might have a magical item or two among the treasures. Magic items can be a relatively rare and precious commodity and so it might be useful to give you an idea of how these might be perceived in a representative fantasy world.

First of all, remember that even the lowest level magical item (e.g., a +5 enchanted dagger or Ring of Presence (a first level spell)) would be worth dozens of times the value of its more mundane counterpart. This would mean that that would mean that the common 3 silver piece dagger attains a value of 10 gold pieces or more with a simple enchantment of +5! This is due to the fact that magic items often take months and a tremendous number of power points to create, to say nothing of the special training and skills required to create them.

Next, magic items are rare. As adventurers you may be coming across items that have some magical properties on a fairly regular basis. But you need to remember that, as adventurers, you represent 25% of the population. Because of their rarity, most magic items are misunderstood. Almost every commoner has heard some folk tale of a magical urn or amulet that was found by someone that brought devastation to his or her little town or farm. Many times these catastrophic results come from the inability of the owner to properly attune to the item but this makes no difference to the commoner who perceives this as "bad magic!"

Due to the rarity of magical items, those possessing knowledge about making, operating, or identifying magical items are also few and far between. It is no accident that there are spells in every realm of magic to detect forms of magic and even the specific spells that are operating to let magic users discover these for themselves. There are Alchemists and Enchanters who make their living creating and working with magical items. These individuals, however, are often in the employ of the wealthy, the very powerful, or operate independently for their purposes. In any case, they are very difficult to access for a casual identification or quick sale of a magic item.

Since magic items are both rare and somewhat feared, it is never wise to flash a magic item around or make casual public comments about something you found or would like to have identified. It is always best to establish your own channels to people who know something about magic items and only use those you trust when working with magical items. Always keep in mind that magic items can get you killed! If not by the fearing mob of commoners, then by the greedy little buggers (GLBs) who would like nothing more than to pick your bones clean!

All of that said, your world may be different and magical items may be plentiful, easily acquired and identified, commonly bought and sold, and generally found useful and cheap. Or the odd magical item may be of fabulous value since only 100 magical items of any kind exist anywhere in the world. Like magic and spell casting, you need to understand the attitudes of the common folk toward magical items. You would also be wise to understand how magical items are created, bought, sold, identified, disposed of, etc. in your particular world.

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