Never stood a chance ...

Never stood a chance …

Today while looking up a picture of a Tarrasque  I found this entertaining and excellent post on how to kill a Tarrasque (hat tip to the blogger at cataloguing shadows). This Tarrasque-slaying thought experiment has some really excellent ideas about how to do it – my favourite is the plan to create simulacra of the Tarrasque and have it be killed by itself, but the scheme of equipping 50 first level fighters with +5 longbows, polymorphing them into Annis Hags (wtf?!) and then relying on natural 20s to kill the Tarrasque is pretty funny, as are the convoluted tricks required to get the Tarrasque to drown by swallowing 100 tons of iron and falling into a massive pool of water (created by the PC, of course).

This excursion into creative use of magic reminded me of my past discussions of post-scarcity fantasy, and how strange it is that the D&D universe is predicated on a mediaeval style of living, because such a style just would not exist in a world where magic was available. In the linked post, a single wizard can build a huge pool of water, move a river, and create 100 tons of iron; or he or she can give 50 men the power to fly and slay a monster that can eat villages; but somehow all this occurs in a world that hasn’t solved the challenge of disease, manual labour or rapid transportation. This just doesn’t make sense, does it? If the same effort of creative spell use were put to work on solving the world’s problems, they would be fixed almost overnight.

Consider the simulacrum trick in the Tarrasque-slaying guide. Very cunning. Now suppose that a single 28th-level mage exists in the world, and that mage wants to do good. That mage can cast simulacrum twice per day, so she does so – on herself. The two resulting simulacrum are 14th level, and can also cast simulacrum twice per day. They do so – on her, producing four more 14th level mages. These mages produce eight, and so on. Within a couple of weeks there will be a horde of 14th level wizards – all capable of casting, amongst other things, Permanency, Soften Earth, Move Earth and other major spells that can be used to significantly reshape environments. Enough of them working together could power a major power plant with Wall of Fire and Wall of Ice spells; there’s almost nothing they can’t achieve working together in this way. And these are permanent – so as soon as a single wizard reaches 28th level, anywhere in the world, your society can produce an almost infinite supply of 14th level wizards to solve any problem magic can be thrown at. Note how this also applies to reproducing high-level clerics: Heal is a 6th level spell, so as soon as a single Cleric reaches 22nd level, anywhere in the kingdom, all those 14th level wizards who have been created by simluacrum can be sent a lock of his hair or a nail clipping, and every town can be supplied with a simulacrum Cleric capable of healing any affliction affecting anyone in town. Even the XP problem is not hard to overcome: creating a single 14th level Simulacrum of the 28th level Wizard plus a single 11th level Simulacrum of the Cleric will cost each wizard a total of 4600 experience points, not enough to cause them to lose enough levels to lose the Simulacrum spell (for this they need to lose two levels); so each wizard can produce a new simulacrum before they lose their 13th level, and thus produces more wizards than the xp loss will penalize them for.

To give a sense of how powerful this effect is, there are currently 1,200,000 babies born in Japan (in a population of 120 million) every year. At pre-industrial levels of infant mortality, perhaps 10% of these will die. That’s 400 a day. It would take much less than one year to produce enough simulacrum clerics to prevent every baby in Japan from dying, i.e. after one year of generating simulacrum clerics, Japan’s infant mortality rate would be reduced to zero. In the process the world would have generated about 400 14th level wizards, capable of huge works of infrastructure construction. Each of those clerics can also heal disease, and any baby they failed to save can be brought back from the dead the next day using Raise Dead (in essence meaning that those 400 clerics can handle three fatal births every day, so are able to support a population of 360 million at Japanese birth rates).

This also means that as soon as any wizard anywhere on the planet reached 28th level, they would be able to create an army of 14th level wizards. Within a year, probably they could produce a couple of thousand without exceeding food supplies. Of course food supplies could be solved by creating simulacra of an 8th level Cleric at a rate of one per three wizards (and the cleric doesn’t have to be willing!). The 28th level Wizard would then be able to set up two teleportation circles and send the entire army anywhere in the world. Imagine that – you’re sitting on your throne, looking over your army of 10,000 soldiers, and then an army of 1000 wizards and 300 clerics pops out of thin air, dominates the first 1000 soldiers and sets them to slaughtering the next 1,000, then drops 1000 fireballs on the rest of your army. Then the wizard leader comes through, dominates you and takes over your kingdom. The wizards that die get replaced in a few days by the living ones, who simply cast simulacrum on the wizard leader. Rinse and repeat!

Of course, these kinds of silly scenarios are a consequence of the impossibility of magic, which essentially breaches the laws of conservation of energy. But it’s a sign of the paucity of thought in the fantasy world that these powers are seen in isolation from the society in which they’re embedded, and very little thought goes into the moral and social consequences of living in a world where basic problems of human existence can be solved with a word. There’s a strange contradiction here: as gamers we want to play characters in a world of high magic, of lightning bolts and fire balls and healing; but we want this setting to be somehow mediaeval, despite the fact that almost every problem of mediaeval life would have been eradicated. It’s as if the setting is fundamentally contradictory to the mechanism of that setting. Perhaps this is why so many fantasy settings are predicated on huge inequality, out of touch elites and ignorant, cowering peasants: not just because this is the environment we envisage magic developing in, but because the only way magic can be prevented from turning our gaming world into a conflict-free utopia is if the general population are prevented from ever experiencing its benefits by heirarchies of oppression.

And I think it’s a sign of the conservative and stunted nature of the genre that after 40 years of D&D, this contradiction hasn’t been resolved. I wonder if it ever will?