Wednesday, August 31, 2011

D&D Cures World Hunger; Global Disease is Next

I enjoy articles where folks take the implied D&D setting out to its logical conclusions.  What do the cool kids here in the blogosphere say?  "D&D is Always Right".  Well, when you think that through for a half second, opportunities to rationalize D&D start to creep up… why are copper pieces 1/10th of a pound - the size of tea saucers, or why sell torches when continual light spells exist?  It can be fun trying to explain D&Disms in your setting.

This article, Post Scarcity Fantasy*, is an entertaining stroll through such problems.  The author presents a sample D&D medieval town (Faustville) and applies D&D magic to mundane problems.  In short order, we see that the level of magic in a good-sized town provides universal healthcare, eliminates infant mortality, ends crime, ends hunger, and provides a life of leisure for all.  Forget about 21st century America, I want to live in a D&D setting.

I would submit that the affect of magic on the world is a campaign setting ACID TEST; it's something a setting creator needs to address for the setting to make sense.  If the writer is going to use Medieval or Renaissance assumptions about the world, he or she needs to explain why there are mundane problems in a setting plentiful with clerics.  In the AD&D 1E system, for instance, the bar to be a cleric is fairly low (9 wisdom?)  Clerics should be everywhere.  The Faustville article uses the 3.5 era demographics, which explicitly support a magic rich world.

There are some straightforward solutions; the easiest is to make NPC magic rare, and ban all the troublesome spells, like the LOTFP approach (James Raggi's Weird Fantasy Roleplaying).

I like the ACKS (Adventurer Conqueror King) approach; sure, there are classed characters everywhere, but the demographics severely limit the levels of those classed characters according to the required XP factors (which mirror the economic system).You can read the full bit here - The Demographics of Heroism.  If you apply the chart below to all classes, you can see there shouldn't be enough higher level clerics to stop an aggressive epidemic.  In addition, the size of a settlement dictates the base chance that NPC spell casters are even available; a village might have a caster up to 4th level per the demographics chart, but the chance is further broken down to 50% for a level 1 caster, 33% for a level 2 caster, 15% for level 3, and only 5% for a 4th level caster in a large village.

Demographics Chart, from ACKS:
0th: Most able-bodied humans
1st: 1 in 12 – The best in an extended family
2nd: 1 in 40 – The best in an estate or hamlet
3rd: 1 in 100 – The best in a tiny barony or village
4th: 1 in 200 – The best in a small barony or large village
5th: 1 in 500 – The best in a barony or large village
6th: 1 in 2,000 – The best in a march or town
7th: 1 in 6,000 – The best in a county
8th: 1 in 10,000 – The best in county
9th: 1 in 30,000- The best in a small duchy or big city
10th: 1 in 100,000 – The best in a duchy
11th: 1 in 500,000 – The best in a principality
12th: 1 in 1 million  – The best in a small kingdom or large principality
13th: 1 in 2,500,000 – The best in a kingdom
14th: 1 in 7,750,000 – The best in an empire

I eat the dog food; spell casting clerics are rare in Gothic Greyhawk, and that has made the party's cleric a traveling celebrity like some kind of Biblical prophet; distrusted by institutional religions and beloved by the common folk for his healing prowess.  We'll be using the ACKS domain rules and adopting the Demographics of Heroism assumptions, as they support quick calculations and pass the sniff test on describing a model for NPCs and power levels across realms.

Spending energy to explain why magic hasn't changed the D&D world from the Medieval assumptions begs the question:  Why don't the collective we (D&D players and Dungeon Masters alike) develop settings like Faustville that substitute magic for high technology?

*I just started reading a blog called Monsters and Manuals and actually found the link cross-posted there; it's remarkable how many giant D&D blogs are still out there that I'm just discovering.  Ever feel the same way?


  1. The majot questions here, IMHO, are:

    1) What do you gain experience from? Could you gain experience from everyday work, or only from adventuring and combat?

    2) How common are adventurers in the setting?

    If you can only get experience from adventuring AND most people don't adventure (it's HIGHLY dangerous at low level, after all), high-level characters, especially casters, will be high level. Sure, a few career soldiers and mercenaries might have a few levels under their belts, but even them would probably see less combat and collect less treasure than 'proper' adventurers.

    So things will be far more medieval.

  2. So by these standards (and the numbers work out perfectly) there is 1 14th level caster in the City, but 7 12th level casters, and over 1000 7th level casters.

    I'd probably make them rarer than that, but of course there I'm dealing with a more modern setting, that has been transformed somewhat by magic.

    Why don't we develop settings like Faustusville, though? Well, why don't we have a lot of sci-fi settings like that? The traditional conflicts utilized for gaming (and gaming inspiration) are stymied by those levels of technology. New ones could be found, sure, but it requires a lot of out of the box thinking about a world fairly alien to our own.

    It's the problem of so many pre-cellphone plots being hobbled by the advent of cellphones put only made exponentially more difficult.

  3. Why don't the collective we (D&D players and Dungeon Masters alike) develop settings like Faustville that substitute magic for high technology?
    We already live in that world. We currently have the ability to wipe out hunger and disease. They ought not be issues because we have the magic (technology) to combat both. The problem is a human one: people are greedy. There are enough people in the world who fear freedom and put their own interests above others that hunger and disease continue to plague the world despite the available technology.

  4. I agree that substituting magic for technology brings D&D into the realm of futurism and sci-fi; conversely, it means every setting that keeps technology primitive should pass the acid test: Why hasn't magic yielded a futuristic utopia?

    Omer hits on one idea; do PCs and NPCs follow different rules or not? How do NPCs gain levels?

    FrDave's reply is bleak; one assumes in a fantasy world where clerics communicate directly with their deities, moral choices would carry greater weight than the real world. Maybe human nature would be the same even in the face of greater evidence of the divne? In our world, the means to end world problems are controlled by monied interests; one approach to the fantastic world would be to put the control of magical resources also in the hands of power groups - a fantasy twist on the dystopian future.

    I'll think further on this 'problem of magic'; for now the easy solutions are still constrain magic heavily (LOTFP) or constrain the NPC demographics so that magic *can't* change the larger world

  5. It could be possible that the God(s) might not like God-granted clerical magic to be used as a simple tool and interfere in the course of nature except for exceptional circumstances. Sure, Clerical magic could bring about paradise, but is Man worthy enough to receive it?

    Take the Biblical God as an example. He has the ability to make Man immortal, spare women from the pains of birth, and let Man prosper without the need of work; he let man live in paradise. But Man has sinned, and has punishment he faces death, has to bear children in pain, and has to work for a living.

  6. I made lots of low lvl, but world shattering spells such as fly, light, create food and water, esp, knock, etc, into high lvl spells, or blunted their effects. Create food and water is akin to rabbit meat or snowmelt--fills a void, but lacks necessary minerals for longterm subsistence. Cure disease is a high lvl spell; light spells require concentration, etc.

  7. '
    Why don't we develop settings like Faustusville, though? Well, why don't we have a lot of sci-fi settings like that? The traditional conflicts utilized for gaming (and gaming inspiration) are stymied by those levels of technology. '

    Also, developing a fiction setting that doesn't collapse under the weight of its own plot holes is difficult.

    I think games like Dwarf Fortress and Minecraft will fill the gap - we need computers to work out the underlying mathematical models of logically consistent fictional worlds.

  8. Thank you for the link, and I'm glad you've participated in the discussion. I think imago1 has a key point here- D&D is unbalanced. In terms of the practical politics FrDave is right, a lot of the solutions already exist and we haven't implemented them, so why expect fantasy worlds to be any different? But actually the developed world has implemented most of the solutions, so the question becomes - why don't fantasy worlds develop, especially given that their medieval real-world equivalents did?

    I've added to my post with a new one that analyzes the cost-effectiveness of divine intervention, and finds that - shock - actually getting clerics to intervene to reduce infant mortality is really cheap, really cost-effective, and really easy. It includes policy recommendations for medieval rulers.