Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Tyranny of Continual Light

Lately my imaginings have been wending towards campaign settings that are more technologically sophisticated (Renaissance or later) and maybe even higher magic - which is odd, because I've been a Dark Ages advocate since returning to old school gaming a few years ago.  The recent poll here on "Which historical setting is your D&D game most like" had 60% of the folks responding Dark Ages and Ancient World - a lot of you like the grittier worlds, too.

So here's my question for the day - and maybe I think about this stuff too much, or maybe the rest of you solved this one long ago - how do handle such common, yet seemingly world-changing spells, as Continual Light?

I'm no historian, but the wise folks out there that write books indicate things like artificial light freed up labor to work around the clock and not be limited to the hours of daylight.  Continual Light, a cheap, permanent form of light, can be cast by any 3rd level magic user; the clerical version is a little harder to achieve, but I'd happily set up a shop selling Continual Light stones down at Beedo's Light Emporium and rake in a fortune.  Wouldn't that spell, by itself, turn the whole Dark Ages paradigm on it's head and launch humanity centuries along the tech ladder?

In my games, my crutch is artificially keeping magic rare.  Fear of spell casters and fear of magic keeps folks from studying magic or trafficking with enchanted items, that, and the persecution of the church.  But the implied setting of D&D is certainly much more forgiving of the arcane arts than my dreary Dark Ages settings tend to be, and implies demographics that have a higher proportion of casters than my games.

I'm also not overlooking the great sense of accomplishment I feel as a DM when the group has to micromanage their torches and oil flasks, wondering if their resources will hold out.  All that bean counting and logistics, potentially undone by a level 2 magic user spell.  I think all future dungeons will need at least one "continual light wiper", kind of like those things at the checkout counter that depolarize magnets - although then I suppose the group would just camp and recast the light spells.

Some time back I put up a post eulogizing The Principalities of Glantri, and one thing I've both loved and hated about that Gazetteer was it's unabashed assumption that magic was common and plentiful.  People zoomed through the canals using gondolas powered by trapped water elementals, basking in the glow of continual light orbs on the street corners.  It's the anti-Dark Ages.  Glantri how I loathe you, yet can't stop talking about you.  Opposites sometimes attract, I guess.

Anyway, I also put up a new poll - if there's no good answer that fits your approach, feel free to drop a comment instead.