Friday, June 27, 2014

Why don't wizards rule your campain world?



Why don’t wizards rule the world?

Why don’t unscrupulous members of the class that can scry to determine when their opponents are at their weakest and then teleport to destroy them, assume political power? 

Sure, there is some exaggeration to this depending upon your preferred set of crib sheets, unspoken assumptions and thumbed volumes (aka the rules).  Ars Magica is one of the few that takes this fairly seriously.  But how many campaign worlds, especially of the faux medieval type, fail to provide an answer to this question?

It’s on my list of standard questions when evaluating campaign worlds.  Jeff asks “who is the mightiest wizard in the land?” I wonder, “and how come he hasn’t decided that the crown on the king should be his?”  I mean, there’s enough gold and gems in that gaudy thing for a buttload of spell components even if you’re not looking for an upgrade in headgear.

So, for my upcoming campaign, here’s my answer:

The Edict

XXX_TBD  (what’s in a name?), god of law and founder of the Empire, declared that arcane magic, “sorcery” was to Chaos as ‘lascivious hairstyles were to the seduction of men from their vows of chastity’ and banned its practice.  The god, in his wisdom, provided the Empire with adequate amounts of hellfire and damnation to enforce this in its borders and the expansion thereof.
Centuries have passed and the Empire was not what it once was, and the apparent lack of hellfire and damnation that XXX_TBD had provided is only one of so many causes.  None of the other gods, whether lawful or otherwise, had such harsh condemnation of arcane magic, even if they were never too fond of wizards; wizards being mortals that had the temerity to re-arrange the physical world in ways that the gods thought should only be their purview.

But XXX_TBD’s priests are still preaching this gospel in so many pulpits across the scattered remnants of the Empire.  The coincidence of so many calamities that could have indeed been the work of arcane magic, from Farmer Brown’s sadly infertile Bessie to the Creeping Death have also played their part.
You want him over for dinner?
While few citadels of the Empire have the strength to enforce the Edict strenuously, especially to the more proficient practitioners of magic, most folks in the Empire have reactions against arcane magic.  Even more enlightened folks and the occasional enlightened (or greedy or desperate) ruler are rare.

So, when magic is practiced within sight of folks, a reaction roll is made.  (Typically, reaction rolls are: 
roll 2d6:  2-5: negative, 6-8: uncertain, 9-12: positive)

If Positive, either Avoidance or a Request is made according to the strength of the reaction.
If Negative, then Offense is taken according to the strength of the reaction.


Avoidance:
Mild:  Avoid eye contact or seating, ignore if possible
Middling:  Back away, make warding signs against magic, choose the other side of the street
Strong: Flee in panic, taking others with them

Request:
Mild: Gossip about the event to others
Middling: Request that the wizard fix some malady or lack that hasn’t or can’t be addressed by local clerics for whatever reason
Strong: Plead that the wizard fix some malady or lack that may be great in scope

Offense:
Mild: Announce the presence of the wizard and stare them down.
Middling: Demand the wizard leave.
Strong: Attack.

How the use of the magic affected the observers of course matters – but not to the point of being welcomed.  Excepting clerics of the god of law, player characters are not bound by this widely held but not universal reaction.  Those few NPCs that have the strong innards required to accompany fool hardy adventurers into the metaphorical dark will only be somewhat influenced by this phobia, and if magic aids them and the party’s survival the phobia will be erased.  A fumble or mistake in magic could lose this favorable disposition. 


I not only want an answer to why wizards aren’t in control – they’re not welcome by most society.  I also want magic, and magic practitioners to reasonably be rare and feel that much more mysterious.  Yes, yes, clerical magic will exist, as will magical items created by clerics and gods.  But on the whole, even in a game of murder hobos, I want a certain f’d up feel to the world.  One way to make sure that this is clear to the players is through rules.  I hope it's fun and not just meaning that I'm a twisted person to DM this way.



Questions
Other ways to answer questions of why there aren’t more wizards, especially wizards in positions of power?
Critique of my proposal – other ways to achieve these goals