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Like Eberron? Chat with us

posted Friday, March 31st 2006 by Jonathan Drain
Links and ResourcesNews, Reviews & Culture

Here’s a quick advertisement for an IRC channel (chatroom) dedicated to discussing the Eberron campaign setting. We’ve only a few regulars yet, so we’re hoping the place will get more lively once we get more dedicated fans, and we’d like you to join.

The channel is #eberron at irc.psionics.net – that’s the Psionics-Anlarye IRC network. If you’re an Eberron fan, please add it to your auto-join list and stick around.

Wizards? In my mediaeval society?

posted Monday, March 27th 2006 by Jonathan Drain
Fluff/InspirationThird Edition

I’ve been thinking lately of the place of wizards in mediaeval society. It began with a discussion of the gold piece limits in settlements, wherein for reasons of realism and consistency the player characters can’t expect to buy or sell ten-thousand gold piece magic items in a small village. Applying this same need for realism to a mediaeval world that features spellcasters and monsters, we must consider their place in the world and the impact they might have.

Focusing specifically on wizards, the option for a person to become one relies almost entirely on how complex magic is to learn in the game world and whether or not they are intelligent enough to handle that complexity. In order for a young man or young woman to become what the game terms a 1st level wizard, the most basic prerequisite is that they complete a period of apprenticeship under a more experienced wizard. Provided that there is a steady market for his spells, a wizard can make several times as much money as a common farmer or the like – a single first level spell fetches 10gp, twenty times a day’s wage for many workers.

In rural areas, however, few people are rich enough to be able to afford a wizard’s prices. Most wizards will therefore naturally opt to move to the city, meaning that prospective apprentices are likely to migrate to the cities to find a mentor to study under. No more ploughing fields for these young men. When they complete their apprenticeship, the opportunities for making money as a freelance wizard in the city encourage them to remain there. Mage guilds are likely to spring up in these cities to regulate the profession of wizardry and to provide a way for wizards to share spells. If demand for apprenticeship is high enough, perhaps mage universities will become popular centres of learning and magical research.

With so many benefits, why are there wizards at all in small villages, as the Dungeon Master’s Guide suggests? Presumably, not all graduating wizards are interested in the big money available to most of their profession – perhaps they lack the magical talent or business sense to compete with all the wizards in the big city, and would rather return to their home village to share their income with their family. A village also has the opportunity for buying and owning land, and provides a nice quiet seculuded place for research. Perhaps better to be someone special in a small town than a relative nobody in the nation’s capital.

While it is unlikely that a single village has sufficient money and people to support a wizard, it’s quite likely that the local lord or baron would hire the local wizards for a reasonable retainer fee in exchange for free use of their magic. Indeed, I see these low-level rural wizards researching a great many spells of their own which, while of little or no use to adventurers, perform useful tasks that cannot be done more easily by mundane methods – summoning rare spices on food, entertaining the lord, impressing his visitors, and any manner of effort-saving abilities.

On top of this, many standard low-level spells are of great use to the local lord. Comprehend languages assists in the translation of messages and allows the lord to establish trade or alliances with foreign countries, alarm makes for some nice home security, and detect thoughts assists him in diplomacy or dealing with accused criminals. Even if the wizard isn’t expected to fight alongside the lord in the event of a battle, bear’s endurance and the like can buff up the lord or his best man before the fight, while magic missile might let him pick off the opponent’s leader at the start of the fight – and shield would make the lord immune to his enemy using the same tactic.

A common suggestion is that magic users are feared and hated in rural, less civilized areas, and that they would likely be witch-hunted. Realistically, I don’t think this is the case. Witch-hunts took place in the real world in part because people never actually saw magic and thus feared that it was far worse than real magic could have been; a mage with the approval of the local lord might be envied, but not mistrusted.

Sorcerers, on the other hand, I imagine that they would be more apt to wander freely across the country, able to rely on their personality to get them through life. Their reduced spell selection makes them less useful to someone who requires tailor-made non-combat magic, and as such they are unlikely to work as a retainer for a local lord or rich city merchant. They are more likely to join up to a military service of some kind, where their frequent daily uses of combat magic can make them powerful individuals and thus earn them a high place in society. Alternatively, they may invest in other skills and other forms of magic than the typical combat-oriented adventuring sorcerer, easily competing with others of their profession with the advantages of magic. Divinations, enchantments and illusory disguises might make for an excellent spy or detective, and defensive spells an excellent bodyguard.

In either case, there’s a strong possibility of nations creating laws based on spellcasters, especially given how powerful they can be. Most realistic, I think, is registering with a mage guild in order to be properly licensed. Another likely opportunity is a tax on magic items and spell components. Combat magic, since it’s very powerful, might also be licensed, although I’d imagine that the mage guilds would hold significant power and help to keep restrictive laws like that out of the way, at least for members of their own guilds.

When Players Read Your Books

posted Saturday, March 25th 2006 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering Advice

I’ve been thinking lately about the trouble that comes when your players end up knowing more about your campaign setting than you do. While there are thankfully few Eberron books, we Eberron DMs still have the trouble that our players may very well have read the Eberron Campaign Setting and Keith Baker’s Dragonshards on the official website, and may thus know just as much as we do about the setting. That means the players will find themselves knowing the secrets of our campaign setting – Kaius III’s secret, the existence of working creation forges, and all manner of information on creatures who should be entirely unknown to the player characters.

Fortunately, there’s a simple way to solve this. Change your Eberron. It’s your campaign after all, and there’s nothing to stop you from making sweeping changes to the world as written, provided that you consider the repercussions of your changes realistically. A recent message board post I read recently had the warforged stop working the instant Cyre was destroyed, placing the mystery of what animates them squarely in what is now the inaccessible Mournland – and the Lord of Blades knows how to bring them back to life. Just like this, the history of Eberron is yours to change, as are the details.

Another useful technique is to make up your own secrets. Let the players be smug in their knowledge of the book’s game secrets; the secrets in the book aren’t even one tenth of the secrets in your Eberron. So your players know about Oalian, the awakened druid tree. They don’t know that King Boranel’s most trusted advisor is one of the Lords of Dust. Some of the secrets in the book might even be false. Perhaps some of the fantastic things, places and people in the world are just myths, and it turns out that the Lord of Blades never existed at all.

While players don’t enjoy being cheated out of their knowledge, it’s equally poor form for a game’s plot to be spoiled just because some of the players already know the world’s secrets. Rather, your players only think they know the world’s secrets – remember that any of them can be lies, and even so they only know a tiny fraction of all the world’s secrets.

Poison shouldn’t be evil!

posted Wednesday, March 8th 2006 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering Advice

I don’t think poison should be evil. It’s not lawful, in terms of alignment, and it’s certainly dishonourable, but hitting someone with a poisoned sword isn’t any more evil than hitting them with a magic sword. This is my opinion.

I think the reason that people think of poison as evil is that in real life, weapon poison would probably be lethal and fast-acting in order to kill a person. It’s a pre-meditated, saying in advance, “Whoever it is I fight next, I don’t care who they are or why I’m fighting them, but I want them dead. Not just incapacitated, or defeated, but dead.”

In D&D, most poisons are nonlethal and tend to have a weakening affect instead, perhaps like tear gas. Poisons are not lethal unless they act on Constitution. If Strength damage poison is evil, then Ray of Enfeeblement should be evil too!

I would consider poison use evil only under certain circumstances. One, if it’s a poison which deliberately causes pain. Two, if it causes ability drain, which is permanent and causes undue suffering for the rest of the creature’s life. Three, if it deals Constitution damage, and even then only if it is employed such that it is likely to kill whoever it is used against, regardless of circumstances.

Thus a paladin will avoid the use of poison not because it is evil, but because it is dishonourable, and because certain poisons cause unnecessary suffering.

What is One Gold Piece Worth?

posted Friday, March 3rd 2006 by Jonathan Drain
None of the Above

So how much is the currency of Dungeons & Dragons worth in the actual money of today? Read on to find out.

Continue reading this article »

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