Monday, February 8, 2010

Two Views of Magic-Users

A few weeks ago, DW and I were discussing magic-users. The context of this discussion was how the various classes mapped to suits of cards.

Fighters are easy: They match up with spades, the traditional symbol of swords and the nobility. Clerics are likewise simple: they match with hearts, the traditional symbol of the chalice (symbolizing the Eucharist) and priesthood.

Rogues and Magic-Users are harder. I instinctively matched rogues with diamonds -- the symbol of wealth, and the third estate more oriented to crafts. Artisans, if you will; guilds, urban development, and so on. I then matched mages to clubs, which is a symbol for wands and is commonly associated with the common agricultural peasants. Plus, there tends to be LOTS of peasants, which explain why they have more mages than other classes; if even 1% of people have some sort of magical talent which shows up independent of social class or education or rearing, then the pool of 1,000,000 peasants will produce more magicians than the pool of 1000 nobles, 1000 priests, or 10,000 artisans.

In this schema, rogues are dashing urban ne'er do wells and magicians are dangerous. Magic gives great power to a typically passive and downtrodden class. The fact that magical talent shows up in the lowest of the third estate would be a reason for barons and bishops alike to keep careful tabs on their peasantry. This schema introduces a great potential instability into the traditional medieval power structure.

DW however jumped to a different pairing. She associated rogues with the peasantry of clubs, as they have no real skills of their own. They are vagabonds, vagrants, knaves, and drifters. This is also archetypal. Magic-users then got associated with diamonds. With this scheme, magic-users are much less troubling to the setting: they can be a guild, like any other skilled artisan group. A ruler dislikes a powerful merchant's guild but must put up with them; the same goes for the pesky magic-user's guild.

Honestly, you could go either way. I kind of like the former as I like to think fo magic as unstable and dangerous but am split maybe 60/40 -- I can also see a high magic setting where magic is just another guild. Anyways, I thought it was an interesting way to see how the basic conceptions of a simple mechanic can have profound influences on the setting.

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