Monday, April 4, 2011

So what are the enchanters doing anyway?

As I’ve mentioned before, I once had a magazine article turned down because the editor thought I was kidding. The article was how magic (and this was magic from that really big FRPG that everyone played at least once) could be used to beauty and health care - two HUGE industries. Obviously this still bothers me. So many GMs believe that enchanters are going to hide themselves away in their little labs crafting huge swords for their buddies to use. That’s ... what’s the word ... stupid? ... dumb? ... ill-conceived? Whatever!
What would a mage (or alchemist or enchanter, etc.) lock himself away in a tiny tower for? Money? OK, yeah, that would lead to big hulking swords. But I think they’d be a lot more likely to do it for personal power, fame or knowledge; and to a mage, all three of those tie together. The more knowledge the more power and the more power the more fame. Look, these guys aren’t studying so hard just to become flunkies to some sword swinging dolt. They want to be “the man”. So what do they need to do that? Well, some of them would be developing new battle magics. But I think that a lot of them would be like modern research scientists. They would be trying to find that next thing, that next development in magic that would be the start of a new generation of magic or a revolution in the way magic is practiced.
So what is the enchanter doing? I think he’s trying to use his magic to learn more magic. He’s experimenting; he’s researching. I just finished watching the entire series of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. The whole series comes down to the fact that some alchemists were trying to gain immortality, so they created a life - a homunculus. The homunculus helped them figure out how to gain immortality, only he tricked them and gave the immortality to himself. What’s my point? Well, that magic types develop their magical powers for themselves. The alchemists basically summoned up a demon in hopes of learning from it. Learning what? Learning more magic.
In my world I have created a few magic items and enchantment spells that actually help alchemists and enchanters make stuff, either easier (faster) or more powerfully. While I have to admit that I haven’t exactly created hundreds of items (only a few), I think the reality of a fantasy era would be that there were a few spells that helped the military, and a ton of spells that helped the researcher.
My last point on this - Think about the wizards in movies. You walk into their lab and books are floating in front of him because the desk is so cluttered. Little creatures wander around stirring pots and watching over his experiments. Remember Merlin in the Sword and the Stone? His “best” magic was to shrink his entire home/library so it would fit in his satchel. He didn’t create magical swords, just knew where to find them. If you think about it from the wizard/enchanter’s point of view, you’ll make them more selfish, more self-centered, and develop more magic for magic’s sake, not for a warrior’s sake!


  1. Well, one of the major issue in many fantasy games is what I call magic item dilution. If you read enough modules, seems like even the stable boy has a magic dagger. Some would argue that this high fantasy. Personally, I'm not so sure. Still with that as a background, one can only assume that there is nothing but a bunch of people doing nothing but creating magic arms and armor. Which is something that just goes against common sense. I agree that most enchanter types would be creating other things. One of my favorite articles in the old Dragon magazine (sometime in the 80's) was one on non-violent magic item. Almost 99% of them were items of a luxury nature. Things like hair dryers, insect repellents, chairs that you can't fall asleep in, and make-up balls.

  2. I didn’t hit this in the posting, but it has always occurred to me that if an enchanter were to make really powerful magical weapons, then some dishonest warrior type would show up to “buy” the weapon, then kill the enchanter and take his money back. Simply for this fear, why would enchanters make weapons they couldn’t themselves use? Sorry - probably beating a dead horse here.

  3. That is why you do not sell magic weapons to people you do not know or you use a middle man or . . .

    I entirely agree that there should be a lot of minor, non-weapon magic items out there in a standard D&Dish world. But many players do not give a fig about a wand of hair curling, an everfull sugar bowl or self-polishing silverware except for how much they can flog it for. So, unless you are playing with a group that in interested in such things, why bother?

    Just as in modern games, where tech often is reduced to the best gun possible, interesting 'cultural' magic often suffers from players' focus on combat effectiveness uber alles.