The Drylands (Pathfinder)
Magic and Society
Magic in the Drylands is prevalent, but integrated. The existence of magic affects how society operates in both war and peace. Given the power and utility of magic, almost every social grouping more complex than an isolated tribe is either led by a magic-user, or has magic-users pulling the strings from behind the scenes.
Magic is not simply a skill that can be learned, but a talent that only certain people have. While the prevalence of casters vary by race and culture, it’s typically about 1 in 1000. The odds of any given person being a caster are low, but the odds of their being a few casters in a population of any size are high. It’s not just magic that’s like this either, the spark that allows one person to progress as a player class fighter while another progresses as simple warrior despite his personal martial ambition is just as rare and valued. PC classes are special.
Certain rich, influential, and/or desperate people without the talent seem to have gained that spark after a significant effort. This has led to so many rumors and superstitions about what grants that talent that it’s hard to tell truth from rumor. For various reasons, established casters encourage the ambiguity.
A few other magical quirks: spells and abilities that involving traveling to, summoning from, or generally interacting with the Outer Planes (home of gods and such) don’t work. Interacting with inner or transitive places does work, but there’s a strong cultural bias against doing so in all cultures. Spells that return people to life are hit-or-miss, with no obvious pattern explaining why. Spells that create undead do work, but there’s a strong cultural bias against doing so in many cultures.
A handful of powerful wizards, druids, sorcerers, and the like can stand against non-magical armies almost single handedly. Even lower level casters can swing a battle in their side’s favor.
Consequently, there’s a tendency to try to stack armies with such people. National scale warfare in the Drylands doesn’t much resemble the medieval warfare their tech level might otherwise suggest. It’s more similar to a modern combined arms approach. Sides struggle to gain intelligence as scryers and diviners clash with occlusion and obscuring spells. Combat operations often resemble combined arms operations, as strike teams try to eliminate the main casters of the opposing side, while the remainder of the army engages in small unit tactics threatening economic and civilian targets. Wars generally end in victory for the invader when the opposing high-level caster(s) is killed or if the enemy surrenders/makes peace to avoid further destruction of it’s people and economy. The defender wins if it destroys enough of the attacking units to force a withdrawal. The worst outcomes come when the invaders kill the population, burn the cities, but the enemy casters escape. At that point, it’s almost guaranteed the invader’s home cities will be burning shortly as well. In short, it tends to be similar to modern mutually-assured-destruction, except that there’s enough of a change of victory that it’s more tempting to try.
Most of the above is theory. With the exception of the wars against the scourge and the boggard, there haven’t been any large scale wars. Those wars had slightly different dynamics. That hasn’t stopped military theorists from figuring out how it would go, though.
The magical focus of warfare helps explain the development of world society, notably the tendency until recently to avoid city building. Concentrated populations have a big flashing target on them, just as in a traditional medieval setting, but lack the compensating advantages, where high population and industry provided military strengths made largely irrelevant by the existence of magic.
Until the emergence of the Dromites, there were no cities in the Drylands. The Grippli and Moldfolk lived in small tribes much as they do today. The Entobians formed breeding mounds that dispersed into nomad bands as soon as the children were old enough to do so. Occasionally travelers will stumble across the ruins of an ancient city in the desert or the borders of the swamps, suggesting that city building was tried several times and always ended in ruin. Whether this was due to the nature of war as described above, or because when you can’t pick up and move out of the way of a rampaging wing of dragons, your home tends to get flattened. This was the state of the world for hundreds of years before the Collapses.
Tribalism, except in the case of the Moldfolk, should not be confused with primitivism. Magic provided a disincentive to form cities, rather than mobile, concealable tribes with less reasons for conflict. It also provided incentives for tribal living. A low-mid level caster can create items like sustaining spoon, a handful of which, accumulated over generations, largely negated the necessity of hunting or gathering, allowing the tribe to specialize in arts, crafts, and of course magic. The first cities in our world were formed around agriculture, and without the need for agricultural development, the motivation for city building just didn’t exist.
This raises two questions. First, why isn’t there a level 20 druid/mage/wizard in every village f the value of magic is recognized and cultivated? Secondly, why are there cities now?
The second question is the easier one. The only cities of any size in the Drylands are Dromite and Mogogol cities.
The Dromites are the first psionic race to emerge in the Drylands (not counting monsters like the scourge), and their mental connection to each other makes them significantly more comfortable and productive around large numbers of themselves. It also promotes social cohesion, making wars between Dromite cities unlikely. The power of the Dromite cities deter almost all monsters from attacking, negating the main forces of destruction behind previous city building attempts.
The Mogogols, by their nature are socially cohesive. They’re physically locked into a good alignment, which generally reduces the source of conflicts to misunderstandings, and makes responding to those conflicts with force unlikely. The Mogogols are a less powerful civilization than the Dromites, but they are surrounded by allies and living in a region generally cleared of it’s biggest threats from centuries of Grippli and then Boggard inhabitation. They also have more of an incentive to agriculture than other races, as they are relatively new arrivals without the backlog of artifacts other peoples have.
In both cases, stationary habitation has led to advances along the lines of traditional industrial development, with research into golem automation and mass-production of non-magical items edging into reality. Society hasn’t undergone a magic-industrial revolution yet, but it seems likely such an event is possible.
The question of why magic users tend to cluster around the mid to lower levels of power is a more difficult one to answer. There are probably less than a dozen high level casters in the entirety of the Drylands. It’s not for a lack of trying for the mid-level casters either, but no matter how much they train, they just can’t master the higher level spells. This is true of dromite psionic users as well.
The high-level casters rule (or are the power behind) the Dromite cities, Entobian Guilds, Gippli alliances, and the Moldfolk of the Underground. The Mogogols are a special case; while their casters are accorded a great deal of respect and do interact with other casters as members of an elite club, their magic doesn’t grant them extra political power domestically. It has been noted that casters only tend to advance once they’ve gained favor with the current elite. This is suggestive, but no one outside their inner circle knows for sure what the situation is.