Wizards are an integral part of many role-playing games. Often they are restricted by rules, such as not being allowed to use weapons, a weak attempt to limit their unimaginable power. If we assume that the people in fantasy game worlds behave at least approximately as people in reality do, then some of the widespread assumptions and rules about wizards are more than unbelievable.

What assumptions about sorcerers are common?

These limitations try to create the infamous glass canon – a wizard that can create one great effect and then fail completely to perform in a group of adventurers afterwards. Actually this type of wizards are usually just archers with a magic bow and only three arrows left.

Why did game designers choose these and similar game mechanics? Certainly not as a design feature but as a limitation of the obviously great power of spellcasters. Even the earliest game designers knew that magic would have a dramatic impact on any game world, and that it would not develop as a slightly altered image of our historical world.

Magic changes everything

Magic is a resource and a weapon. And the most valuable and powerful of them all. You can not steal or fake magic, it is infinitely available if you know how to access it. No weapon is as dimensionless and as versatile as magic. Not just fireball spells. Invisibility, mind-reading, clairvoyance, healing, etc. are unimaginably powerful tools normally reserved for the gods only. People who can do such magic are automatically gods among their fellow human beings.

If you wield magic, you do not have to fight, buy or conquer with other means. You can manipulate people, whether you whip up the masses or make the king your puppet. The use of magic even goes largely unnoticed by third parties. In the most harmless case, wizards are guides of the powerful. In the worst case, only sorcerers will sit on the thrones of the realms.

Gods, religion and priests would lose their meaning and influence, people would no longer respect them, if there are some among themselves performing wonders.

Wizards would not all be kind-hearted old and wise men, the majority would be power-hungry, unscrupulous and self-centered – and incredibly powerful. They are hard to fight or eliminate, their magic makes them extremely versatile and untouchable. You can not send an assassin when there are magical traps and summoned monsters in that bedchamber, and a sorcerer, who just has to tell an enemy to kill himself. Magic is like ultimate high-tech with divine attributes in a Dark Age world. There is no essential difference between a Magic Dart and a laser rifle. Sword and crossbow are both hopelessly inferior.

Wizards would not

Wizards definitely would

A wizard threatened by a steel-clad warrior wielding a two-handed sword would only need to create ice right under the feet of that guy while being charged. Or he could cast a Spark Spell right into the warriors armor, setting his garment ablaze. Or magically increase the weight of the armor or the sword until the attacker could not use it anymore. Even petty magic would have great impact and the imagination of the spell caster would be the only limit (even in games that offer pregenerated spells and no wild magic).

A possible solution: costs that hurt

No, not mana in bottles – magicians would take over the mana production and optimize for themselves, there would be no shortage of mana. However, if you combine serious costs with the use of magic, a wizard will consider whether to use his abilities to take someone’s lunch.

A spell could have expected or random effects on the sorcerer and his environment – physical damage, mutations, violent effects, illness, madness, conjuring misfortunes, etc. Any spell could be an unnatural absue of the fabric of reality and it could be striving to make up for it. Thus, although each spell could have the desired effect, sooner or later, it would haunt the caster or relatives with equal intensity. The handling of magic should be done immediately more responsibly and considerately, even old master magicians in their tower would not be immune to experiencing drastic consequences even in critical success. Even „good“ magic would be affected, a healing spell could then kill the patient or the healer. Whether magic is still fun then, just try it out.

If the costs are too low, the almighty elite will emerge, if they are too high, only crazy people would try magic. If magic is only safe to use if it is slow, the direct effect in the field is lacking, but in the long term the same power structures would appear as explained above.

No matter how you incorporate magic into your game world, you should definitely think hard about what long-term and inclusive effects the existence of magic might have and whether you will be happy with such superficial and implausible constructs as the classic D & D Magician with his limitations.