So, I was over on Reddit, you like I often am, and found this question. And answered it, like I do. However, the answer I initially gave was a simple generic answer. If you want to read my original answer unaltered, simply click on Reddit's embed feature links which Reddit provides for webmasters to be able to post their answers on their websites, while linking back to the original thread on Reddit (if you didn't know Reddit offered and encouraged the use of this feature, look for it in the "share" features underneath every post, comment, and reply on Reddit).
I am answering random questions today about world building, over on Reddit and decided to take my answers from there and expand upon them even further over here. So that's what this page is. Me rambling on about various aspects of world building techniques I use when writing the Quaraun series. The questions I am answering are embedded here. Clicking the link in the embedded question will take you to the original Reddit page where you can see the original answer along with other people's answers. If you wish to comment, you can do so on the Reddit page where a place to do so is provided.
In any case, as with all of my Reddit answers found on my site here, my original post on Reddit is much shorter then the article here.
I'm questioning, based of what you say here, if you've ever actually played D&D, if so, what edition, and how much homebrewing did your DM do with the rules as it really sounds like you have no clue at all what a D&D wizard is, what they are capable of, or how incredibly limited and weak a D&D wizard actually is.
>>It would be hard to repress people who can do those things, I'd say. Sort of makes you wonder why they never form the ruling class in the D & D stories, right?
Because D&D stories use D&D rules. And by D&D rules, strictly by the book, with no home brew alterations, magic users are VERY weak.
>>D&D mages have plenty of violent spells which would be very useful, for instance. Even when they don't fight directly though it would have military applications. Simply relaying messages by magic is an advantage when otherwise people would have to wait months for this. Coordinating movements of troops would be far easier, and that's just one thing.
Wizards in D&D are better at protecting then fighting. For example, casting a wall of fire around weak/wounded party members to give the healer time to heal, casting glitter dust to blind an opponent to give the rouge a chance to run past and get deeper into the battlefield.
You'd have to be an extremely high level (prestige level 40+) wizard to have the violent spells learned yet.
In D&D the word mage and wizard are not interchangeable and are 2 separate things. Mages do not have violent spells. Mages are far less powerful than wizards. Mages are basically healers who can cast more divers mage then a priest can.
You keep describing Wizard class spells, skills, and powers while saying Mage, which is a completly different class and has more incommon with a Priest.
Sending messages by magic in D&D is not a Wizard skill, but rather it is a Druid skill. Druids have familiars - owls, wolves, and such, who act as magical messengers.
>>I was thinking here magic would be an innate talent only some could do, with a fairly random distribution over the populace. Therefore the nobles couldn't just study it. Otherwise most probably would I think, since it would make them powerful. I like your thoughts however.
Not by D&D rules. A wizard doesn't even begin to rank as powerful until lvl 27, and in game-time years, it takes a wizard about 50 years to reach lvl27 power. Meaning if you were to take D&D wizards as the basis for your setting, it is highly unlikely that nobles would try to become wizards, just because the training would take them most of their lives.
In D&D, any race can become a Wizard, but Elves, Illithids, Fey, and Gnomes are all Fey Wild Beings and thus are born with natural magical abilities, thus these races level up faster, learning spells quicker, and earn 2 spells for every one spell other races learn.
>>They could be a huge asset to a king, but at the same time kings might be afraid mages would take over secretly and rule from the shadows (by mind control spells, say).
Again, if going strictly by D&D rules, psionics/mind control is INSANELY RARE. Only the highest powered, highest level wizards can learn it. You are talking about a lvl40 Prestige power.
The only way a lesser lvl Wizard is going to be a Psion (mind controller) by D&D rules, is if they are by race Illithid, Drow, or Elderine (High Elf) as these are the only races with natural born Psionic powers. Illithids (Mind Flayers) are only allowed as player characters in SpellJammer setting, and Drow are only allowed as player characters in Underdark setting. Both Illithid/Mind Flayers and Drow are copyrighted and trademarked characters, that you can not use in a novel (Wizards of the Coast WILL sue you ass off if you do, they have a worse reputation then Disney does when it comes to taking people to court over copyrights... just look at what they did to their own founder, Gary Gygax!)
>>I'm thinking that in different societies mages might have various roles. With some they might rule, as in a magocracy. Others they likely wouldn't. This could add some variety to a story.
In D&D the term mage and wizard are not interchangeable. They are 2 very distinct, and distinctively different types of magic wielders. Both are divided into sub-groups known as "schools" and within each school are several gulds, then with in each guild are several subgroups divided by which deity each wizard worships. It's a highly detailed hierarchy with massive charts. You'd have to have access to the wizard building splat books to know all of them. The red covered 2ed AD&D Guide to Wizards is the best one with the most detailed charts, but the 3.5ed Wizard Handbook is pretty good as well, and the 4ed has a whole series of books one for each type of wizard school and each type of wizard deity (there are about 200 books in the 4ed magic user guide book set and they run at $45 to $75 each so it can get expensive if you start buying them all)
>>though I think military application of their power is a big asset too.
You REALLY have never played D&D without homebrewing it big time, have you? Wizards, if played by the rules with no homebrew alterations, are a MAJOR liability in battle. To effectively use a wizard in battle, they stay off the battlefield, with a fighter, preferable a ranger guarding them, while they cast a spell. They start casting on their first move and if the battle lasts 5 moves, they'll have a spell. They are best at casting a wide range spell, near the end of the battle, to take out all the wounded enemies at once, allowing the other players to focus on the boss
Wizards are the weakest players in D&D, they have the weakest physical strength, the weakest dexterity, the weakest constitution, and can be killed in a single hit, by even the weakest of fighters. Wizards are not allowed to wear armour, because their physical strength is so low they can not carry enough weight to wear armour.
Wizards are also very poor in D&D, because of their weak strength which means they can not carry gold coins, because the weight of gold is too heavy for them. Each gold coin weighs 2lbs, 10 gold coins is 20lbs of weight and a wizard can only carry 60 lbs, and they have all their spell casting materials to carry. Unless your DM lets the wizard have a pack mule or a horse and cart to carry extras, they are going to be very poor. Silver is even too heavy for a wizard to carry. Wizards can only carry copper coins and even then are usually limited to only 10 or so. Wizards are always poor in D&D if you go strictly by the rules and don't homebrew it.
Interestingly when told this fact, MOST D&D players are shocked to learn that their DM went homebrew on the weight of items to carry and removed it from game play. In actual D&D game play with no changes, a character can only carry 90lbs of items INCLUDING the weight of their weapons and armour... all characters except wizards that is, wizards being limited to only carrying 60lbs of items.
Almost no DM ever bothers to calculate the weight players carry so unless the player actually owns the DMG they have no clue how limited their characters are actually supposed to be.
If you are playing Wizards in Ravenloft or SpellJammer where Insanity comes into play, your character increases in insanity every time he casts a spell, and once insanity is full, he goes full on chaotic and starts targeting fellow players in battle instead of the enemy.
In game, if D&D is played strictly by the rules, without any homebrew alterations, your wizard can't make a move without a fighter or rogue staying with them at all times, to protect them and keep them alive. D&D magic users by the rules are shit in battle.
Additionally, until a Wizard reaches level 10, he has to roll the d20 to find out if his spell backfires, with the DM chartered weighted to give backiring a HIGH chance of happening, thus a pre-lvl 10 Wizard has a high chance of their fireball setting their own hands on fire putting them out of commision for 3 or 4 or more rounds while they heal.
In D&D a pre-lvl10 Wizard is assumed to be a student still learning how to cast, thus why the high self damage fumble rate.
Until a wizard has leveled up to minimum level 10, they are weak as shit and a major liability to the group.
So, once again looking at your question...
>>After all, it might be hard to stop them (without help from other mages anyway).
No, in D&D, if you play the game by the book without homebrewing the rules, Wizards a weak as shit and the EASIEST characters to take down. They CAN NOT cast at will and must spend days prepping materials, meditating, and performing highly detailed rituals, while another player protects their weak asses, just to cast one spell. Casting at will is a HOME BREW rule that many DM's choose to allow, to make their Wizard players on more even ground with the other players. Casting at will is NOT a standard D&D rule allowed by the actual DMG.
Thus in a novel setting, the only way it would be hard to stop a D&D wizard, would be if you tossed out the D&D ceremonial ritual practices of wizards and replace it with the homebrew ability of casting at will.
I'm questioning, based of what you say here, if you've ever actually played D&D, if so, what edition, and how much homebrewing did your DM do with the rules as it really sounds like you have no clue at all what a D&D wizard is, what they are capable of, or how incredibly limited and weak a D&D wizard actually is. It really doesn't sound like you've ever played any edition of D&D by the actual rules and have only played some seriously home brewed DM created rules instead.
>>I'm thinking of this being the second option you stated in the story. Warfare would indeed be a major use for them. I think it would have a social effect similar to cannons, making a more powerful central state possible, even an absolute monarchy. If one person has enough mages at their command they could put down rebellious nobles and commoners pretty easily.
Again, this is completely impossible if you are going to use D&D rules, due to the fact they are useless in battle, and even a noble with an army of mages would be beaten by a Kindergarten class of 5 year olds, who could easily punch the daylights out of the physically weak mages.
>>D & D mages are insanely powerful, and would probably form the ruling class unless there was a serious campaign of repression against them.
ONLY with a homebrew alteration to their casting abilities. Their fumble sets are so over the top handicapped that their chances of casting a spell properly are not good.
>>I think they would be sought after commodities, as magic is very useful for many reasons. They might be enslaved in some cases, but that seems like a dangerous proposition, since once a mage grows more powerful that could go badly for the owner. Fellow mages might help each other out as well, and not tolerate that. I think them being like clergy is a good idea. Well, the good mages at least.
>>However, I'm wondering how they would fit into a medieval setting exactly.
Researching real world medieval wizards might help/.
>>As loyal servants for nobles without magic?
>>Or would they be the nobles?
>>After all, it might be hard to stop them (without help from other mages anyway).
Not if you are using D&D instructions by the book. There are NO cases of a wizard in D&D just randomly POOF and it happens... they have to collect the items, meditate to build up energy, make the spell, then perform a ritual to cast the spell. In most cases it takes 2 days minimum to prepare a spell, provided the DM has first let your wizard gather/buy the materials to prep the spell. Then in battle, it takes 2 moves minimum to cast the spell and up to 5 moves depending on the spell - 2 moves if the spell is pre prepared and installed in a wand - 1 move to meditate, plus 1 move to cast it, it doesn't go into effect until the 3rd move. It takes 2 moves to prep the spell if not pre-prepared and already in a wand.
It however is not uncommon for DMs to home brew how Wizards cast spells and allow the player to just cast as a move, same way the fighters attack as a move.
(I'm a DM, btw, as well as a player who plays a wizard in 3 different game groups. I own more then 2,000 D&D books, and have played and DMed ALL edition 1ed, 1AD&D, 2edAD&D, 3ed, 3.5ed, 4ed, 4.5ed, 5ed, as well as Pathfinder, GreenRonind20, and several others, and have been doing so since 1982. And as a player, I ALWAYS play wizards.)
In any case, Wizards are incredibly shitty in battle because they require a fighter to be protecting them for their first 3 moves during a battle, costing the group 1 fighter, thus why it is recommended to have 2 fighters in your game group.
>>A bit of both perhaps. They could be sort of warrior monks, or at least clerics. I'm keen on the archmage pope idea :D
Only in 4ed are magic users allowed to dual class with a fighting class. Warrior Mages, Battle mages, etc, do not exist in any other D&D edition, and even in 4ed they are a prestige class that you have to reach lvl40 before you can add the warrior class to your sorcerer class (only sorcerers can dual class to become battle mages)
>>I'm writing a fantasy story with mages who have abilities roughly like those in the standard D&D game.
You do keep saying mages, which is dramatically different from a wizard, and never gains any high level or powerful rank at all, at east not in D&D. There is no reason for people to fear a D&D mage the way they would fear a D&D wizard, due to their very weak power set.
All of that said, there is no reason why you must stick with D&D rules for your story, especially considering I can't see that you are using any D&D rules at all to begin with, which is why I'm confused as to why you started out by saying you were using D&D wizards to begin with.
In any case, it sounds like you have a pretty good idea of where you want to take your story, so I don't think you need to rely on D&D rules to help you out, in fact, the D&D rules being so very different from the mental image you seem to have of wizards, makes me think that if your were to use D&D rules as a guide, you'd probably be seriously holding yourself back.
I think you should toss the idea of using D&D as a basis aside, and run with your own ideas about wizards instead, because it sounds like you've done quite a bit of thought into this already and I really just think focusing on D&D to guide is gonna hold back your creativity here.
I think you'll write a better story if you let your imagination run wild and follow it. I really think you are limiting yourself too much if you focus on D&D when you have such a broader idea of how you want to handle wizards in your novel.
When I think of real world Wizards, I think of very religious men, who, devoted to their god, became soothsayers and visionaries, interpreters of dreams, spirit mediums, who talk to angels and demons and believe they are doing the will of god. But are seen by the church as blasphemous heretic pagans.
Most real world mages were outcast by society and hunted by Templars. Only a few were embraced by Kings and employed by nobels.
Because I write wizards, I did a lot of research into real world wizards, and it was incredibly helpful in formulating my own ideas about what I wanted my fictional wizards to be like.
Have you considered researching real wizards, soothsayers, etc from the time period? John Dee and Edward Kelly would be a good place to start. They are two of the most famous real world wizards (a Necromancer and an Alchemist), and I think Nostradamus is perhaps the most famous real world wizard of all time, followed by Jacob and Daniel and Joseph.
Real world Grimoires used by real world wizards:
Real world magic:
More info about real world wizards:
Also, look into various real world magic arts of the era:
Hopefully these links will help you out.
Good luck with your book!