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.


  1. Sure it's continual - but since my father was running games in the 70's - it decays whatever you cast it on. Only the ancients could make substances that could resist the decay.

    So it's not continual - just longer length then a torch.

  2. In one-shots I generally don't worry about it, but in long-term campaigns I require the spell to be cast on a gemstone. The continual light spell burns up 1 gp value of the stone per day, +/-1d6 days per 100 gpv of the stone. Thus, a 100 gp stone glows for 93 to 106 days. The light cast is in the shade of the stone; amber is orangish, clear crystal is natural light, garnet is purple-red, etc.

  3. Surely making them camp and recast gives you an opportunity to introduce another adverse circumstance, though? I'm trying not to construct this as adversarial (too much wargame blogging), but as a principle, I find anything that disrupts the momentum of 'the other side' allows you to start building it for your own ends.

  4. http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=44150


  5. That Dragonsfoot rant was righteous, Bighara. I could have just cut and pasted.

    I'm seeing a theme in my past couple of posts - Roger GS had outed the Meenlocks last year, Dragonsfoot folks have already railed against the Tyranny of Continual Light - in a few years, the whole blogosphere could be rehashed topics.

  6. Re: Beedo, you mean it is not already? ;)

    If you make it expensive enough to cast, requiring gems, gold, whatever, it will not be common outside of noble's houses, temples and maybe a few guilds.

    If you have it decay, it will need to be recast but will still change things a bit. It is not as if farming, still the major occupation at the standard D&D tech, will be greatly effected by them.

    If you use both, they will only be used by the very wealthy. Re: James Mishler, a 100 gold for a 100 days of light in very expensive for most.

    And you could always make it a higher level spell as well, making it far less common.

  7. TL;DR: Why make up special rules when all you need to do is tweak your expectations a little?

    I can think of a pretty prosaic justification for CL being rare. First, if we follow Justin Alexander's discussion of levels, a third- or higher-level caster should be rare; they're already masters of their craft from the point of view of a beginner. Not every town will have a caster capable of producing CL.

    Second, in a standard D&D society, a lot of the casters who are capable won't even consider using their spells for the masses in an industrial manner. Some will be loners, holed up in their towers and not caring about the common man's lighting conditions. Some will be busy with research, lore-gathering, apprentices, etc., and conserve their precious spell slots for uses associated with those tasks. Others will be on retainer to nobles or the rich and be forbidden from any public commercial enterprise. And many of the rest will be in adventuring parties... making only as many CL items as their party needs, and eventually getting devoured.

    Clerics might not care to share their gifts with anyone outside the faith (or the purchase of CL might be reserved for a few wealthy church patrons, sold at inflated prices in the manner of indulgences -- you could have a church scandal grow around the topic!), and be kept busy by various church-related duties that keep them from industrial light production.

    Not to mention... simply casting as many CL spells as you can each day would quickly become drudgery. And we can be sure that most casters are bright and eccentric enough to shy away from drudgery; why produce common tools when you can become richer faster through adventuring or vying to become a court wizard, etc.? Expecting CL to become super common could be the same as expecting Electrical Engineering PhDs to go around performing PC tech support!