Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Ooh, Magic Missile

Faustusnotes has an interesting post today on, essentially, why "fantasy writers don’t take advantage of the cosmology of their worlds to examine how social, political and economic relations would change in a magically-imbued world" - that is, why is it that in a D&D-esque campaign setting where clerics and wizards can cure any illness, and literally change reality, do you still end up with a "filthy, primitive, ignorant feudal world, where life is hard, racism and sexism is rife, and injustice is the order of the day"?

To be fair to fantasy authors, I think in actual fact that D&D-style magic is extremely rare in fantasy fiction. In the "core" texts of modern fantasy - Vance, Howard, Harrison, Moorcock, le Guin, and especially Tolkien - you just don't get magic that can cure diseases, shape stone, and create food and water willy-nilly. Arguably, the fact that magic can't make peoples' lives materially better is kind of the point; and usually it is depicted as a destructive force that probably makes peoples' lives worse - certainly more corrupt.

But it's a nicely done post and true, I think, when it comes to D&D itself. Technology has, over thousands of years, made life many, many orders of magnitude better for us than our ancestors living in neolithic times. Why wouldn't the same be true of D&D magic, except many, many orders of magnitude faster?

The obvious answer is just that "it isn't fantasy that way". And, let's face it, it isn't. The fantasy genre, expecially D&D (which is a genre unto itself) has a set of tropes that make it what it is, and to expect it to be different is to expect romantic fiction without the square-jawed Mr. Darcy-lite, or space opera without the space ships. Complaining that D&D magic doesn't result in the kind of society that Faustusnotes thinks it might do is a bit like complaining that in a Stephen King book we're expected to believe in supernatural entities even if we don't personally believe they exist. Well, yeah, but where's the fun in that? You suspend disbelief for the sake of enjoying the work as an example of its genre.

But I also think there's an interesting point to be made in relation to this: D&D magic is really, really banal. Over the editions the "magicalness" of it - the specialness, the rarity, the wonder - was sucked out of it and it became increasingly about utililty due, let's face it, to the demands of the game and the players. Spells like "create water" and "cure light wounds" exist not because they are cool and wondrous but because they solve in-game problems like "my character needs to drink to stay alive" or "my character lost too many hit points".

There's nothing wrong with this, per se - it is a game, after all - but there's no point in pretending it's all very exciting. It isn't very exciting. D&D magic is as bland as anything - just look at the names of the spells. Cure light wounds. Purify food and drink. Sleep. Magic missile. I know, I can hardly stand the sense of awe and wonder either.

It's for these reasons that I'm all in favour of two things: the non-magical campaign (where magic is the preserve of NPCs, thus implying great rarity) and the spell-forge generated spell name campaign, in which mage characters are told they start off with spells called things like Sage Eyes, Earth Mountain, Underground Child or Vicarious Weaver, and they have to negotiate with the DM about what the hell they do.

This has the added advantage of stopping the logical-minded of us worrying that we have priests and magic-users running around everywhere, while society remains mired in leprosy and filth.We get to keep both.

33 comments:

  1. As ever, thanks for the link, Noisms. I agree broadly (especially about the banality of D&D magic), though I think a lot of other RPG systems have the same problem - even the supposedly "gritty" ones like Warhammer.

    On the topic of inspirational texts, though - are the books you reference here still the "core" texts of fantasy? Or at least, as its relevant to my complaint about the imaginary space the genre occupies? A lot of bad genre crap has flowed out of the sewage outlet since those books were written, and they no longer define the genre so strongly. Modern fantasy is more rich in magic, I think (though obviously we'll both argue about this through our biased reading lists). The magic of the average modern fantasy trilogy has, I think, bloated out a lot since the original texts where it was very rare and tricksy. I think a lot of modern fantasy novels have adopted some of the flavour of banal that infects D&D, without considering how that would affect the society contained therein.

    And even then - if magic must be a limiting and restricted thing in the genre itself - why does this have to be so? SF could have chosen to make faster-than-light travel impossible, or cold fusion a myth, etc. It's "science" fiction after all, and a lot of the earlier authors (e.g. Arthur C Clarke and Asimov) either explicitly did this or spent a lot of time exploring "near future" tech. But later generations of writers (most obviously Banks, but many others too) really decided to explore the possibilities for social change in that tech. Ursula le Guin is a classic example of that - her fantasy is cramped by the same genre constraints, but she explores all sorts of ideas in SF.

    I suppose my question, really, is, why do we allow the fantasy genre to be so limited? Why won't more authors and gamers explore the wider possibilities in magic? Your answer - it's the genre - is correct, but my question is why?

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  2. R. Scott Bakker is the master of this. Although it wasn't really apparent to me on the first read, the metaphysics of his fantasy world (esp. with regards to the soul, and what magic is) deeply interact with the core conflicts of the fictional world. The series beginning with Darkness that Comes Before is the way to go.

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  3. The simple answer is that it pulls the work out of the genre. Once you get to the edges of the genre, your ability to woo a publisher drops dramatically. I'd bet there are hundreds of stories that do what you suggest moldering in various editors' slush piles.

    Also, authors generally want to stick to genre tropes because that's why they picked the genre in the first place. Science fiction has a common theme of "how can technology change society?" Therefore, it makes sense to take it to the extreme of post-scarcity or singularity. Fantasy has never really looked at that as a theme. The themes in fantasy tend to be more about the price of power, or resisting the corruption of power. As such, a world in which power flows freely doesn't fit the genre.

    Also, I will note that most settings have casters being much more rare than the DMG tables. Even Goodkind's novels, which are very magic-heavy, don't have a "generalist" caster even in every major city.

    That said, there are works out there that do take magic and advance it closer to the modern day. The most obvious example is Eberron, which largely brings the culture and technology up to the end of the 19th century. The Myth Adventures books by Robert Asprin introduced a lot of "magic as technology" examples (admittedly, mostly as bad puns). I'm sure that a bit of searching would turn up stories that invert Clarke's Law.

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  4. I agree, though I don't know that D&D magic has ever been anything but banal--it's just gotten worse.

    What you suggest sounds good. I could be used as a way to make magic more idiosyncratic (spells as personal mnemonics/heuristics, not computer algorithms) and less mass produced.

    @Faustusnotes - I think that doing as you suggest would make it feel un-fantasy-like for a lot of people. Even in science fiction, the best selling stuff is not of the truly explorative type, but Star Wars tie-ins or similar.

    @Ry St - Bakker does do a create job of carrying through the philosophical implications, though not as much the sociological aspects. I'm left with the impression that magic in Earwe is of limited utility outside of destroying stuff.

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  5. Magic is neither as reliable nor as broad as technology. Magic takes more time to master than simple job training, and typically requires more resources than college. Spell components are expensive — such that only the sort of people who dive into tombs and steal fat stacks of cash can afford them regularly — and magic can take several human lifetimes to master.

    Which brings up the second point: magic-users are weird. A computer programmer or a nuclear physicist can devote himself to his job, but a magus or a priest typically has other duties. These might be as simple as service to a patron god or spirit, or as complex as an overwhelming desire to see the primal forge where souls are made. That guy isn't curing cancer; he has "more important" things to do.

    Also, keep in mind that the bizarre ecologies of fantasy worlds keep magic-users busy. If a dragon shows up, you're the heavy artillery. It's like if our scientists had to quit work whenever there was a crisis, because they had to tend to the sick or combat the threat. Combine doctors, scientists, and the military, and you have the responsibility of a typical magic-user.

    Also, one might argue that the modern world is still dirty, still violent, and that the world still has prejudice and injustice.

    All that having been said, the limitations of magic are ultimately a narrative conceit, and magic can be what one makes of it.

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  6. D&D magic is as bland as anything - just look at the names of the spells
    Good point and one that supports a similar idea on yesterday's Roles, Rules, and Roles. When magic is as a bland, well-defined and predictable as it has been portrayed in D&D (and it just has gotten more so over time) then it strips out the mystery.

    Even "real" Vancian magic--as in his novels--was more unpredictable and strange as spells rested on the ability to bend the will of malicious little demons with minds of their own.

    EPT probably doesn't go far enough done that road as an OD&D variant but I like the fact that there is a random chance that your spells just don't work.

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  7. This is just an off the cuff opinion, but I think if you go for the more comfy, Renfaire style vision of medieval times, without all the black plague and squalor, then you could argue credibly that magic *has* changed the world for the better.

    It tends to make magic more pedestrian, and probably bends the backbone of the setting more to "modern" than "medieval", except instead of ER's and proper infrastructure you have magic making it so people aren't dying at 40 after living a Hobbesian existence.

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  8. Faustus: Is modern fantasy really that fantasy rich? Can you name some examples? I mean, aside from the really crappy stuff like D&D spin-offs. Maybe David Eddings' stuff, that's about all I can think of, and even in that there are a handful of magic users in the world, if I recall.

    As for SF... others have said it better, but I think the purpose of SF has always been to ask what society would be like, and what human nature would be like, if technology was different. Fantasy, if it has been about anything, has more often been about how power corrupts (thanks mostly to Tolkien's influence).

    Ry St: Never read any of his stuff, though I've heard of him.

    Marshall Smith: Your point about publishers is a very good one.

    S P: Spell components are very interesting. We always used to ignore them, but they're actually key to the game in many respects.

    ckutalik: What are the rules of EPT regarding spells?

    BigFella: I suppose you're right about that. D&D doesn't even have rules for disease, as far as I know.

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  9. I mean except for things like lycanthropy and such.

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  10. This has occured to me a few times and I've often felt it would make a lot of fantasy novels more interesting. It always puts in mind of the Flintstones or Harry Potter. Where you essentially have a modern society dressed as a stone-age/medieval one using dinosaurs/magic instead of electricity.

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  11. A superb example of a fantasy world evolved through a "Magic Revolution" is China Mieville's Bas-Lag. Somehow, he achieves to make it both woundrous and believable.

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  12. So apparently blogger hates my smartphone as none of the comments I post from it ever seem to make it online.

    Anyway:

    I agree, but I'd go even farther and say D&D magic has always been banal.

    I think making it a bit more idosyncratic might help. Spells should be personal mnemonics not computer programs.

    @Faustusnotes - I think people allow fantasy to be so limited because they expect different things of it, or perhaps desire different things of it. Whether it should do more is an interesting question. If it did what sci-fi did would it still be fantasy (except in the most technical way)?

    @Ry St - Bakker certainly confronts (in a great way) the philosphical and moral implications of his cosmology, but not so much the sociological. The books leave me with the impression that magic in Earwe isn't much use beyond destroying things.

    @Liza - Indeed Mieville gets us to the Victorian era. I think his answer to Faustusnotes question is powerful interests control magic and don't let it be used for the greater good.

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  13. What makes D&D seem bland is how comprehensible its seems, not so much what it does.

    Historical magic is kind o banal actually. Things like protection charms, crop blessing and love charms mostly.

    Sure there is an occasional summoning or banishing spell but most magic was a mysterious force used for pedestrian purposes.

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  14. Of the really big-selling fantasy series of the last decade, the only ones with common magic+ normalish society I can think of are the Wheel of Time and Harry Potter. Been a while since I read the former but I seem to remember the lack of post-scarcity utopia was the result of specific failings the main characters were trying to overcome, which is a good out.

    And Harry Potter escapes banality by sheer silliness to my mind- it just throws nonsense at you until you finally throw up your hands and say forget it! it's a children's book I don't care if they give time machines to teenagers to help them with their homework, and hide their super-medicine from humanity because it would get annoying.

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  15. Of course, I think that's partly because stuff like ASOIF and even the Wheel of Time were a reaction to D&D-derived elves and dragon fantasy- all that 90s doorstopper stuff where humans are the only civilised race and the single magic system is tied into the vaguely christian or neopagan cosmology, that stuff usually has a more or less well thought out place for magic in the setting.

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  16. Noisms, I'm guessing that you and I have entered the same "post-doorstopperism" reading era, where we have largely forgotten the huge number of crappy tomes that we read in our late teens and early 20s, and though we both know there's a fuckton of the stuff, all reproducing the same ideas, and we've read a lot of it, we can't think of names. We remember the first few (Eddings), the worst (Goodkind) and the best, and everything else is forgotten.

    I agree about Mieville and bas-lag, and I think he has made this point before too, that fantasy can do more to explore the consequences of its own genre conventions. Obviously he's better than your average fantasy writer, but if he can do it so can others.

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  17. Also, about the DMG tables over-stating the number of magic-users in the community, let's try a little thought experiment.

    Japan, a population of 120 million, has about a million childbirths a year. If we assume 10% of these go potentially wrong, that's 100,000 a year, or about 270 a day. So to have every one of those childbirths covered by a cleric capable of casting cure serious wounds (to prevent immediate death) and remove disease, you would need a maximum of 135 clerics of 7th level or higher. That's if you wanted to have every single hazardous birth in Japan covered. Increase it to 8th level clerics, you need about 90.

    135 clerics out of 120 million is really not a very large percentage, is it? And 120 million people is 1 quarter of the earth's population in the 14th century. Even if 1 person in a million could become an 8th level cleric, you have the potential to eliminate infant mortality (at least amongst a large percentage of the population). I'm willing to bet that almost every fantasy novel has a greater proportion of magic users in its population than that.

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  18. Magic was essentially a secret. It belonged to club of geeks, and they really weren't willing to share. Like a metaphysical Project Mayhem, alchemists didn't share their secrets with just anyone. They did their best to keep their texts properly obfuscated.

    Alchemists wouldn't have called their transmutations by simple, flavorless names, like "stone to water." Here's a little inspiration about the history of alchemical texts: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDMw69uWRRc

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  19. "the spell-forge generated spell name campaign, in which mage characters are told they start off with spells called things like Sage Eyes, Earth Mountain, Underground Child or Vicarious Weaver, and they have to negotiate with the DM about what the hell they do."

    I started down just this road using fairy tale names as spell names. It adds some nice flavor, but I found I took for granted all the things the banal framework did for me. What spell level is "The Thorny Road of Honor"? Well, it has downsides that balance its benefits so maybe it is essentially level-less. But then how many times should I allow the 2nd level mage who found the scroll cast it? And I wonder if I've unleashed game-breaking craziness that I just can't see yet. The old spells are tried.

    I haven't given up on making magic less predictable/more interesting, but it needs some work.

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  20. Faustus: The statistical argument just goes to show why you should never trust statistics and it's basically modern-day shamanism.

    Let's imagine the 14th Century world - taking at face value your assessment that 120 million is 1/4 of the global population at that time. That gives us a total world population of 480 million.

    Now let's imagine that 1 person in a million becomes an 8th level cleric. That's 480 8th level clerics in the world. Think how big the world is. Think how long it takes to travel, on foot, between Tokyo and Osaka. I have a friend who cycled the length of Japan and it took him 3 months. And that's on a road bike.

    How do you imagine that all these 8th level clerics could possibly cover the population of the earth, spread out as it is over such vast distances separated by such rugged terrain, often where there are not even any roads linking settlements?

    You might counter that, well, the 480 8th level wizards in the world would be busy casting teleportation spells and mending roads with rock-to-mud (or whatever). To which I'd counter: this is a world in which there are dragons and giants and tarrasques, making life even more difficult for both the clerics and the wizards.

    And this is to set aside the fact that there is no planet-wide authority capable of directing the high level clerics and magic-users to do anything; and that even if there were it would probably be worse than useless, pretty much like the UN is worse than useless because of what we know about the knowledge problem.

    And that is to set aside the most fundamental problem in your logic: the fact that an 8th level cleric can only cast cure serious wounds what, 5 times a day at the most? (I don't have the DMG to hand.) So even ignoring all the many other issues, how do you suppose it is possible for 480 clerics to cover all the problematic childbirths in the globe, simply as a problem of man hours? And that's just if they focus on child mortality and do nothing else.

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  21. Another possibility is that the benefits of magic and the horror of monsters just about balance out. You could have less deaths from disease and childbirth and more deaths from violence.

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  22. Noisms, it's a demographic argument, not a statisical one. And you're right, of course, that those 500 clerics can't be everywhere, but this is a problem that the real world faces with non-magical solutions to infant mortality. Sri Lanka faced many of these problems in the 1970s and still managed to significantly reduce infant mortality, as did the UK in (I think) the 50s. One of the reasons I chose infant mortality as my example is that the solutions to many of the problems of infant mortality are known not to require high-tech solutions, which means that it's soluble through a combination of clerical activity and good organization.

    I've extended the demographic argument in more detail in comments in my own blog, using concrete demographic data from Afghanistan, and it's clear that even if those clerics are only in the major cities, it will still make a huge difference to infant mortality with the corresponding long-term changes in birth rates and wealth that implies.

    Imagine a society organized along the lines of Britain in the Victorian era, with a priest in every parish and probably about 400 parishes across the UK. If divine magic were real then most of those priests would at least be able to cure light wounds. They'd all be based in a population centre where they could have an immediate effect, and within a half day's ride of several more. The bigger cities where most births occcur would naturally have more, higher level clerics.

    If the argument is simply that organizational details mean D&D-style magic won't lead us to utopia, that's hardly a killer problem, is it? It just means that the post-scarcity economy would be limited to those towns lucky enough to have a high-level cleric. How would London look under such circumstances? Not much like anything in the Forgotten Realms, is my guess.

    And isn't there only one Tarrasque?

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  23. @Marshall Smith “I'm sure that a bit of searching would turn up stories that invert Clarke's Law.”
    Didn’t Prachett have at least one novel that explicitly said that any sufficiently advanced magic looks like technology?

    @ Noisms “Maybe David Eddings' stuff, that's about all I can think of, and even in that there are a handful of magic users in the world, if I recall.”
    Eddings series have either a) heaps of magic users (Grolims), but they worship an evil god and have a job description of “cut hearts out”, or b) lots of magic users (priests of the Gods in the Sparhawk series), but they belong to a race that is oppressed by a larger population and forced to live in squalor – where they aren’t oppressed they live a Atlantean style life [1], or c) not many mages (some of his later series).

    Now if only I could forget them.

    “Fantasy, if it has been about anything, has more often been about how power corrupts (thanks mostly to Tolkien's influence).”
    In its YA guise I’d say it’s more wish fulfilment. “You could go on wonderful adventures and make a difference because of your good heart/special powers/hard work.” In that it resembles Shonen mangas. But that’s what I’d want to tell young people about themselves.

    And this is pretty common in older fantasy novels too. Look at Goodkind for an Objectivist example.

    @Trey “I agree, but I'd go even farther and say D&D magic has always been banal. I think making it a bit more idiosyncratic might help. Spells should be personal mnemonics not computer programs.”
    I understand why you can feel that way, but D&D needs to be written so that it supports being a balanced game. If the fighter can reliably do X points of damage a round then the mages and clerics need to be able to do something of equivalent value. If you wanted to make all magic usage a bigger risk then you need to either a) up the power of magic, which leaves us the same problem or b) accept that you’ve gimped the magic users in the party.

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  24. @Faustus “Japan, a population of 120 million, has about a million childbirths a year. If we assume 10% of these go potentially wrong, that's 100,000 a year, or about 270 a day. So to have every one of those childbirths covered by a cleric capable of casting cure serious wounds (to prevent immediate death) and remove disease, you would need a maximum of 135 clerics of 7th level or higher.”

    To expand on Noism’s argument: No, we also need enough clerics to cast Augury on each one of those million childbirths a year asking “Will this childbirth need a 7th level cleric on hand?” and then for all the ones that get “Yes” you need a follow up set of questions for the day and time. Then you need 135 wizards who can cast teleport at least twice a day to move the clerics and themselves between the two births they’re covering. Then you need approximately 4 clerics who can cast resurrection once per day to cover the wizard and cleric being teleported into solid rock from teleporting in low or splattering over the landscape from teleporting in high (and that’s assuming the wizard knows the target area well).

    Remembering that there is an opportunity cost on all of these guys time, we can start to price this based on how many fighters the wizards can replace. Teleport is a 5th level spell, so the wizard can probably kill about 200+ people from their spells (depending on how close the targets are when the fireball/cloudkill hits). If we say these wizards are worth 200 zero level fighters, then the wizard resources for this are worth 200 x 135 = 27,000 soldiers. We can double this to account for the clerics (even though clerics are worth more - they’re all brain surgeons + ear nose and throat doctors + dermatologists + every other expensive specialist you want to name). Therefore the rough cost is for 54k troops. This is a 5th the size of Japan’s SDF, so we can assume it’s a fifth the cost [2]. That equals about $10 billion a year.

    And that’s just to solve child mortality. Frankly it’d be cheaper to invent science.

    And this still probably low balls the wizards and clerics value. If I was a cleric or wizard in this system every time our wage negotiations came up I’d Shocking Hands you, and I think you’d find you’d be paying me a lot more than just 200x the base salary.

    In fact I suspect I’d just Shocking Hands you then take your stuff.

    [1] In the sense that they seem to swan around massive marble buildings in a magical wonderland. - This reference goes with the prior comment post.

    [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japan_Self-Defense_Forces

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  25. Paul: There's also a transaction cost involved in employing all these clerics and magic-users - i.e. the cost of getting all the gold together in one place to pay for them. Then there is also the cost of making sure nobody steals that gold, none of the magic-users decide they might want to teleport themselves into wherever the king of Faustusville keeps his gold reserves, etc. etc.

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  26. Paul:

    No, we also need enough clerics to cast Augury on each one of those million childbirths a year asking “Will this childbirth need a 7th level cleric on hand?

    We could employ a skilled birth attendant, and follow the guidelines for reducing infant mortality identified by the Lancet, and ditch the Augury spells.

    In fact, an alternative model is to employ skilled birth attendants (a cornerstone of modern models to reduce infant mortality) and then give them potions to use when things go wrong. Under this model the cleric doesn't have to be present at all, so most of the logistical issues disappear. If you have one birthing attendant per 2000 people, the cost per life year saved is 10.4 Gps.

    I've done the analysis. The cost per individual childbirth is 72 Gps, so there is not really much of a transaction cost - there are many countries in the world today where people have to pay out of pocket for their maternity care (I think this is true of a non-vanishingly small number of Americans). Such a model would require at most one 7th level cleric per 55000 people. This is based on the stats for a country like modern Afghanistan. As I observed on my blog, if Divine Magic was real it's pretty reasonable to expect a country like Afghanistan could furnish one 7th level cleric per 55000 population - wikipedia tells me there are 10,000 madrassas in Pakistan, you join the dots.

    Practical objections to the model are fairly easy to dismiss. The best objections are the ones Noisms originally raised - D&D magic is banal, it wouldn't work this way in practice, and D&d is a fun place to hang out but only if you take a very reflexive and conservative approach to the genre.

    (An approach, I might add, that we all enjoy, because it makes our PCs special and no-one wants to play in a campaign world where we spend our days making potions for skilled birth attendants).

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  27. The cost per individual childbirth is 72 Gps, so there is not really much of a transaction cost

    I think you misunderstand what "transaction cost" means - a transaction cost is a cost arising externally to the transaction itself. For example, a broker's fee is a transaction cost. What are the transaction costs associated with your scenario?

    Also, do the clerics perform cost-benefit analyses? How much is a 7th level cleric's time worth? Might they consider it more worth their while to go adventuring and hopefully earn themselves thousands upon thousands of gold pieces in a much more efficient, fun and exciting manner than sitting around blessing loads of healing potions? Who decides the price of the healing potions? Do the peasants get taxed in order to pay for them? Do we fix prices or let them float?

    There are also many other costs associated with your scenario that you simply aren't building into your analysis. For instance, you posit the idea of having clerics make loads of healing potions and distributing them to cure infant mortality that way - fine, but who is making all the bottles and organising and employing the labour to shift the bottles around? Who is maintaining the roads? Who is protecting the people who are transporting the bottles from marauding bands of orcs/giants/dragons?

    And so on.

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  28. I think I understand what a transaction cost is, and here we're talking about the cost of a family saving up 72 Gps (actually it's 64, I was wrong in my last comment). They earn at least 36 Gps a year - the transaction cost of saving 72 Gps isn't that great. And unless the economy is working very weirdly, the transaction costs for saving will be negative - they collect interest on their savings from a local gnome.

    I conducted a cost-effectiveness analysis, not a cost-benefit analysis. You're talking, I think, about a cost-utility analysis (I'm not an expert on the distinction). I think modern economists argue that the utility benefits of a particular product are included in the price, so under the potion-based model I propose, if the clerics want to do something more lucrative than supplying potions to skilled birth attendants they are welcome to, but the price of a potion in the DMG reflects this utility cost. It also includes the xp cost. So 750 Gp for a Remove Disease potion reflects the real costs (in time and foregone money-making opportunities) for the cleric who made it. Thus, my cost-effectiveness analysis incorporates the cleric's personal utility-maximizing decisions. (This applies to both models - I've also used the market price for spells in the former model, but haven't included a cost for having the cleric on call. The latter model essentially incorporates this cost).

    The other costs you mention - bottles, guarding roads, etc. - apply to almost any other activity the cleric undertakes except adventuring. And again, these are presumably represented in the price the cleric charges for potions - ask Hayek if you're not sure about that.

    (Although, I'll grant you, there is a fair chance that the prices in the DMG don't reflect the market, because Gary Gygax - but I'll bet you a groat that the market prices would be a lot lower).

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  29. The phrase "the transaction cost of saving 72 Gps isn't that great" doesn't make any sense to me.

    When I say "transaction cost" I am referring to things like: the cost of determining who needs the cure light wounds spells, determining where the clerics should be, determining where the potions should be distributed; the costs associated with making sure that the clerics and everybody involved in the process actually does their job properly and doesn't either do an incompetent job or just laze around all day; the costs associated with deciding how much money the clerics should be paid, etc. etc.

    There are also a large number of assumptions you're making that don't make sense to me, either. For instance, I don't agree with this 36 gps figure for a yearly salary. Maids are quite specialised and are a highly desirable job in a medieval society; being a servant was something that most people aspired to because it got them out of the horrible grind of subsistence farming. I think it's grossly inflated, and thus the figure of 72,000 gps earned by the 2000-person hamlet you use in your example is also grossly inflated.

    (Incidentally, if you're going to do this sort of thing properly, you need to decide how much gold is actually available, because in a gold-based economy like that in a D&D world, the availability of gold pretty much ultimately determined the price of everything.)

    Also: basic supply and demand problem - we don't know how many clerics there are in the world, and this is crucial. If there is only one 7th level cleric on the planet, the fees he can charge for his healing services will be astronomical. If, on the other hand, there is an abundance of these fellows, the fees will also be exponentially less.

    This entire problem can actually be resolved by just saying: clerics are really rare. Hey presto! The average fantasy world sort of makes sense again.

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  30. Noisms, all those costs should be included in the price of the potion. That's why it costs 300gps instead of 20gps. That's why a cure light wounds spell (which, as i observe on my blog, is a trivial cost for a modern person) costs more than a year's wage for a maid. It includes transaction costs. If by transaction costs you mean the cost of assembling a large amount of gold in one place (which I think was an issue in some medieval societies) then you should say so.

    If you don't agree with the 36 gps thing, try comparing it to actual costs in the player's handbook. e.g. staying at a poor quality inn is 2 sp, so a maid can afford 180 days at a poor quality inn with her wage. A backpacker's hostel would be what, 4000 yen - so we're looking at an employee of Lawson being able to stay in equivalent accomodation for 357 days. A hunk of cheese is 1sp - she can buy a hunk of cheese with her day's wage. Do you think that's an unreliable measure of her wealth?

    Also this 36gp can be calibrated. Do you think a maid's wage reflects teh average wage of her time? the median? the minimum? I'm treating it as the average. You can reassess the cost-effectiveness of the treatment (and the potential tax take) if you reassess it. But do you think the total income of the community will drop much?

    Of course, all of these figures were invented in the 70s by some guys. They're probably completely skewed. But the alternative is to do what you suggest and just cut back on the number of clerics. But as I said: there are 10,000 madrassas in Pakistan. There are approximately 4500 parishes in the UK. Do you think that such societies couldn't produce 545 7th level clerics, if divine magic was real? And do you think fiction writers have, in general, found effective methods for justifying this low number?

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  31. @Faustus:
    As I noted on your calculations blog post (on your blog), your analysis overlooks:

    1. That there is no economy of scale possible in the potion making market. Therefore increasing demand hits the constraints on supply and results in the price going up, not down. Therefore the DMG costs are an underestimate once you’re done stuffing with the marketplace.

    2. The only thing that changes the supply of clerics is adventuring and leveling up. But your plan calls for a steady state xp level with people only adventuring enough to cover their potion making. This massively retard advancement past the level where you can make potions – so goodbye level 7 clerics.

    3. My memory is that the DMG notes that these goods are more expensive in small towns, if they are available at all. This increase in costs in hamlets is an example of the transaction costs that Noisms is talking about. If the DMG mentions a 100% mark-up (my memory was higher) then we can assume that every potion not used in a metropolis faces a mark-up like that. Given that Afghanistan and the Dales are both a dispersed population that don’t live in cities we’ve immediately increased your costs by 100% - assuming that the good reach the target hamlet at all instead of being stolen by bandits.

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  32. Faustus: Paul dealt with the transaction cost thing, but yes, the cost of getting all the gold in one place is one issue - and I already mentioned it quite a few times, so I did "say so"! ;) (I should just add that, as Paul implied, the cost of protecting all the potions and gold as it gets shifted around dispersed settlements from bandits will be quite high. He should have added that this is a world in which there are dragons, ogres, and giants. Even orcs - an average orc is more powerful than a 0-level human soldier. The cost of simply PROTECTING potion convoys would be extremely high, because it would probably require many, many named PCs or NPCs - i.e. of level 4+ - to be hired. And you'd have to pay them a LOT of money, because they're the type of people who could gain a heck of a lot of money just from adventuring.)

    Also this 36gp can be calibrated. Do you think a maid's wage reflects teh average wage of her time? the median? the minimum? I'm treating it as the average. You can reassess the cost-effectiveness of the treatment (and the potential tax take) if you reassess it. But do you think the total income of the community will drop much?

    No, I don't think it reflects the average wage of her time, because as I said, being a servant was actually quite a desirable position for most medieval serfs. And surely what we're interested in the scenario you posit is the median rather than the mean - because what's relevant is how many people can afford treatment and how much tax is being paid.

    I think Paul made some excellent points that you also should consider. Finally, though, we have to deal with this:

    Of course, all of these figures were invented in the 70s by some guys. They're probably completely skewed. But the alternative is to do what you suggest and just cut back on the number of clerics. But as I said: there are 10,000 madrassas in Pakistan. There are approximately 4500 parishes in the UK. Do you think that such societies couldn't produce 545 7th level clerics, if divine magic was real?

    You're making a lot of assumptions about the game world, here, that aren't necessarily warranted. Gaining levels is rare in D&D - even a 1st level cleric is quite strange and exceptional. Most religious figures end up being monks, deacons, or priests (in the same sense we understand it, as head of a congregation). They're mostly 0-level.

    So, there may be 10,000 madrassas in Pakistan but how many 1st level clerics would each madrassa provide? Unless we know this, the whole discussion is totally pointless. I can just say that only 1 in 100 madrassas produces a cleric capable of gaining levels, and you can just say that every madrassa produces a cleric capable of gaining levels, and our game worlds will be totally different as a result.

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