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
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 2–5% 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.