This is a very interesting topic. I'm enjoying reading everyone's opinions.
dudemonkey wrote:If you start with the idea of the ruleset and the magic that typically comes along with it as the foundation on which the rest of the world is built, you wind up with a much different style of world.
Different from what? From what is written in the books? But as you said, Mystara goes back and forth on this. Specifically, any two given books about Mystara often have slightly different takes on the role of magic in the world - and sometimes it's radically different.
Regarding the "building a world on the rules" thing, I agree with you when talking about 3rd edition. But for OD&D, there never really were hard and fast rules about "class levels" - my feeling is that it was very much decided by the author of each book. For Mystara, most (though not all) NPCs did get levels in PC classes, but it's not that easy to draw conclusions from it.
Zendrolion wrote:I'm a fan of OD&D, becouse it's (a) the ruleset for which Mystara was written at the beginning; and (b) becouse it's a simple set of rules, which by itself leaves much room to roleplaying, doesn't force you to mess with a huge number of dice rolls and tables, and suites itself also to some tweaks by the DM.
Nevertheless, in my campaign I have such rules work only for PCs (and for encounters with important NPCs). I think it's not good to build a campaign world over a ruleset, less so on OD&D (or any D&D, including 3.5) ones. Just some examples, taken from a similar thread opened by Ekrenor, one of the guys on the Italian MMB:
Note the emphasis I added. Simone, I completely respect your position on this, but you said it yourself: this is how things are in your campaign. We all draw our own conclusions from what is written in the official books, and change what we don't think works. In your case, the magic level is clearly one thing you changed. Actually I think it's quite a common thing for people to adjust.
In any case, I will deal with your following points from as purely an official products-only stance as I can. In many cases this may mean that my reading of those products is different from yours.
1) Why there would be armies, if a 36th-level character could kill by himself thousands of 1st-level soldiers without suffering a lethal wounds? Wars would be more likely resolved by duels between squads of the most powerful NPCs of the realms.
First, we already know that there are armies - and lots of them - because large portions of the Almanacs and whole modules were written about them. So my feeling is that there must be a reason why this is so.
But your point is a very reasonable one, which most people have probably thought at one point or another. I'm sure some of the game designers did too, because at various points they tried to defuse this potential problem. For example, there's zzonga fruit in Alphatia; wizards are said again and again to be an introspective bunch, interested more in magical research than mundane power; Companion and Master level characters are given other tasks to keep them busy; and so on.
And there are other ideas which we could come up with ourselves. For example: why would powerful NPCs want to risk themselves against each other? They may be powerful, but they're not invincible. Also, having power and using it are two different things; especially between "civilised" countries, it seems unlikely they'd want to use devastating weapons on their opponents, and risk having the same thing happen back to them. Then there's the fact that people in power still need resources (which magic cannot provide, and is often itself dependent on). They can't collect all these resources by themselves. They also need money, and one of the best ways to get that is through working economies. And so on and so forth - there are lots of persuasive arguments to counter this point, if you are willing to look for them in official sources, or think of them yourself.
2) Why have city walls, when a group of high-level wizards could teleport while invisible inside a city (or inside the royal palace!) and start lightning bolting or fireballing everything? Cities would be more likely defended by squads of high-level, well-equipped wizards or clerics capable of dispatching such threats. Why worry about building towers, city walls, fortifications? A lonely mage-tower on the border of the Altan Tepes mountains with two or three high-level characters within would do better than the whole Castellan Keep's garrison to keep at bay the humanoids...
Hey, all major cities in Mystara have anti-teleportation shields! Didn't you know?
Seriously, I came across this little gem thanks to you yesterday while looking through CM9 about Fenhold. It's at the start, talking about how the PCs get to Darokin - and explaining why they can't just teleport there.
The fact that this sort of thing exists in official sources shows that the designers were well aware of there being potential problems with magic. Moreover, I read this as an example case, showing DMs the sort of ways they can deal with these problems.
So yes, city walls have a use.
Regarding using "weapons of mass destruction" inside towns and cities, I'm sure it's possible, but it doesn't take that long for even a group of magic-users to run out of spells, and if not everyone in the settlement is dead by then, they're going to be taken down very quickly. Besides, there's the whole motivation thing again. Why would they do this? What would they gain from it? What other consequences would it have if they did go about doing such things? Even if there weren't any high level characters around to stop them, you can bet it would get the attention of some in the area pretty quickly.
Not to mention the fact that people don't wear badges to show their level, so it's never going to be an entirely safe bet.
3) Wizards would probably dominate everything if they could use magic unchecked, just by casting charm spells at everyone. You wouldn't have a single noblemen or powerful person which wasn't under the control of a wizard (even a medium-level one) or be a wizard himself. At the end, a powerful class of clerics and wizards would rule the economy and the politics (like in Alphatia and, partly so, in Glantri).
See point 1 - the designers went to great pains to put in multiple reasons to make this not
be the case in Mystara. Besides, we already know it isn't the case in Mystara, because magic-users aren't
in control everywhere.
Your suggestion is to change the role of magic-users and clerics in the setting from the officially defined role, right? But that is changing the setting, which is of course fine for your own campaign. I'd rather we kept things as they are (at least for the sake of discussion), and try to work out (and find in official sources) reasons why it is
4) What about thievery, crime, and deceptions? Thieves would have a difficult life if clerics and wizards went around casting detect lies, locate objects, ESP, and so on.
Who's to say that thieves don't have very difficult lives anyway?
But there are probably a lot of thieves, and they will likely always outnumber the local clergy in the same way that criminals outnumber real police forces. And in the case of the clergy, finding and chasing down thieves is not by any means their only responsibility.
As for magic-users, given what is said about them in various Mystara sources, I doubt they'd be too happy chasing petty thieves. Even if they were willing to help, like the best detectives in real life they'd probably be limited to serious crimes.
And there are many defences against scrying already built into the rules, so crystal balls and ESP are not as powerful as they might otherwise sound. Bruce Heard makes this reasonably clear in the Princess Ark series - itself a fascinating look at how the rules and setting interact, and how certain problem situations are resolved.
5) Back to demographics, what will happen if a cleric curing wounds, removing diseases, and creating food and water was behind every corner? No plagues, no diseases, no bad harvests, no bad weather, no deaths of infant childrens, no short life-expectancy.
As Robert Malthus teaches us, if growth was unchecked by negative factors, population will double at every generation. Then the question is: why canon population numbers on Mystara are so low?
But why are you assuming that clerics are everywhere? No official sources claim so. In fact, it seems likely to be rather the opposite, and they will really have their hands full. Compare them to real-world doctors, and you start to see that they are just as limited by time and resources. They can't afford to waste any spells, especially if it means they will end up not being ready to deal with a serious case later in the day. Create Food and Water may help in the short term, but it's not going to appease the starving, rioting masses - we even have clear evidence of this in Wrath of the Immortals and the Poor Wizard's Almanacs.
For diseases too, clerics are not almighty. And there are probably also magical diseases that take extra measures to cure - see the Trail Maps for some examples.
So what I'm saying is that we already can see that it's not like you say it is; the problem is with us, not with the official sources.
One could answer: there are negative factors, and they're evil wizards and cultists, undead, dragons and monsters coming out of the wildernesses. Right, but there's a thing to consider. If such were the common threats (and they should be common, if they were the factors that kept the population level so low), dwelling in places where help by high-level NPCs could arrive would be extremely dangerous. Whole border village could be laid waste by dragons, monsters, undead hordes, or be controlled by evil wizards and their minions.
But... but... but... there are
all of these threats, and more!! This is D&D, after all.
And yet we also have evidence that they are not necessarily everyday threats to isolated communities, as they do survive from year to year. So they are generally held in check, but not always.
So, the logical consequence would be that no one normal man would live outside the place where powerful NPCs operate. This means that there would be only few, overcrowded communities where local population lived under the protection of powerful good NPCs. These NPCs provided the locals for food and most of the goods needed for sustenance. Living too far from such settlements would mean almost certain death for a common person.
That's assuming that powerful NPCs are benevolent, willing to protect the common people, AND more powerful than their own enemies. I would have thought that the opposite could also be true, in that case: stay as far away from powerful NPCs as you can, so as to avoid getting caught in the crossfire between them and their enemies!
The fact is, we know that the clerics don't provide all the food, and magic cannot solve all society's problems. So people definitely need to work the fields, and moreover their rulers definitely need to protect them while they do that.
Personally, I would have thought all the wandering monsters, humanoids, etc. would be a bigger reason not to live in an isolated spot, but apparently they don't bother you!
Well, I'm sorry but the one described above isn't Mystara at all. Not the Mystara of the GAZs, nor the one of DotE, CoM, or any of the known canon books that I've ever read.
No, not Mystara, I am in perfect agreement here. But it's your points that were off. Essentially you took bits of the official rules and setting that you have problems with, and instead of searching for a solution, you took them to their logical conclusions instead.
IMHO this means that in a campaign world that has been described as Mystara has been in the GAZs, the magic level should be kept in check and limited, the number of wizards and clerics should be kept rather low, as the presence of magical items.
This is fine - many people enjoy playing in settings with low magic levels - but don't think for a moment that it's in line with the official depiction of Mystara. Whether we like it or not, Mystara does have a fair number of wizards and clerics (hard to tell the percentage since there aren't really any rules), and it does have magical items. But I don't see why we have to use the setting as it has been defined to break its own rules.
This is not to say that there'd be not a single judge using a ring of truth at his trials, but instead that he'd be the only one in a very large region, that the ring he owns would probably be a rare magical item, and that creating other copies of it would require time, money, unusual materials, and be risky.
Now we're getting somewhere - but all of this is supported entirely by the official books. Magical research and magic item creation are
expensive, time consuming and risky, and therefore magic items themselves - and indeed magic itself - is also a valuable commodity, not to be wasted. This is how the official books say things are.
Nor this is to say that local clerics or druids didn't cure the wounded or bless the fields, but only that their patron Immortals didn't waste their energies to send them spells to be used at their whims; a cleric would cure a wounded with his divine power only if his patron deemed that act would bring some advantage to the deity's cause; a druid would bless a field with a spell only on one exceptional occasion and for a special purpose, not to feed the forest-disrupting nearby city. Nevertheless, they could both give mondane (i.e. not-spell) cures and blessing aplenty.
Again, I don't see why you need to alter the official status quo in order to do this. I don't think that Mystara's official magic level precludes this sort of situation - it doesn't make clerics all powerful, in my opinion.
This is why I prefer to have a "low-impact" magic setting, becouse I fear the consequences that an overflow of magic use in the setting could bring. In my campaign, magic doesn't work automatically, spells can backfire, magical research can bring dire results, as can magical item creation; and using the miracles granted by the Immortals only under some very special circumstances can but a cleric's body at risk, and it means for him to be watched closely by his patron (which isn't always a funny thing
In your campaign, fine. But the version of Mystara that we all share (i.e. Mystara without our own campaign's adjustments) is not like this according to the official books.
And so in my campaign I have field worked by peasants, plagues hitting countries and cities, noble rulers which are not wizards, mundane armies, city walls and fortifications - while I downplay the high-magic things (like hundreds of sky-marines armed with wands of death or thousands of soldiers armed with sword +1... ).
... in the official Mystara, there are
peasants, they do
work the fields, there are
plagues and diseases (Wrath of the Immortals, Trail Maps), noble rulers are not
all wizards, and there are mundane armies and fortifications all over the place. In my opinion, we should be thinking of why this is, rather than deciding to change the official setting in order to create that explanation.
Yes, we also have fleets of flying ships and high-magic areas, too. Let's try and find ways to reconcile these things together within the official setting!
Personally, I like both high and low magic settings, and everything in between too. Because of this, I prefer to try to work within the official setting rather than adapt it to my preferred magic level (which I don't really have anyway).