What's the most practical application of magic?

[Putting this in CS because it assumes an RPG-like environment.]

If magic really worked like in RPG’s, what would be the most practical specific application of it?

In the Middle Ages, the answer, without a doubt, is protection during childbirth. The possible classes of spells include:

– Engineering enchantments (magic weapons, devices, etc.)
– Curses/personal enchantments
– Offensive magic
– Defensive magic

In addition there are world-class affecting spells but we have to assume that they are rare since very few people can summon angels or cause earthquakes in RPGs.

I say childbirth is a more practical application than curses or offensive magic, since death from it was more common than death from violence, and if you violently oppose someone with spells at a distance commonly seen in RPGs, they can counter that by cracking your skull open :slight_smile: And curses are seldom powerful or plentiful enough to be useful against anyone but the most important AND weak entities.

There certainly can be some practical engineering applications of magic: you can probably bootstrap a computer given enough spells. But this would be time-consuming or draining of personal power in most systems, or both. Other practical engineering applications suffer the same drawbacks. I am interested in hearing other suggestions for magic in the realm of devices, though, if you think your device would not be too draining or expensive or timeconsuming to make.

Now we come to defensive spells. Generic subclasses of these include:
– Geriatric/oncological/physical therapy.
– Disease prevention/cure.
– Curing/preventing trauma.

Now, geriatric care has possibilities, and in the real world I suspect that RPG-like spells would do quite a bit to cure chronic conditions and/or heal nagging injuries. But also, at least in D+D, there is an upper limit to your lifespan so it still wouldn’t let you live forever.

Disease prevention and cure is another story. In the middle ages and even sometimes today, infections happen so quickly that they swamp anyone’s attempts to stop them. The black plague for instance would spread so fast that the healers would run out of curing spells far too quickly to be of use.

Curing/preventing trauma suffers the same drawbacks as offensive magic, namely you are often opposing someone else’s will, and it’s harder to heal someone when your opponent makes sure they are dead.

So preventing injury and disease during childbirth is the best practical application I can think of for RPG-like spells in the Middle Ages. It is:

– Unopposed by others (unless you posit an Evil Force that causes it)
– Predictable (so you can have resources ready when you need them)
– Constant (so your spellcasters won’t be swamped)
– Easy (many systems have spells of the same power readily available to low-power characters)
– Very useful (death during childbirth was a huge killer, although perhaps not as much so as in the late Renaissance to pre-Lister, when infection from doctors was much more widespread)

What say you? Anything specific, easy application that could beat it?

I read some article in Dragon magazine or something like that which explained that one of the major differences between the pseudo-medieval/renaissance Forgotten Realms campaign setting and the real medieval world was that it’s Urban/Rural population distribution was closer to the modern world than to it’s historical counterparts. This was due to crop yields that were far higher on average per-acre than was possible with Medieval technology because of the availability of nature magic from hedge wizards and druids. Low level spells can increase the health of fields of plants, predict the weather, and otherwise make raising crops a lot easier than it would be without magic. One of the reasons the frequently anti-establishment druids were not persecuted was that, for a lot of them, they spent a large portion of their time travelling around helping farmers keep their land fertile.

Magically obtained information (scrying, etc.) and long distance communication would be enormously valuable in many circumstances.

Variations on the theme of language translation spells would be both practical and handy, in business, diplomacy and emergencies.

Teleportation would be an amazingly practical ability for couriers, transferring organs from one hospital to another (possibly on the other side of the world…), and theft.

Telepathy and empathy spells would be invaluable for psychological research, therapy, criminal investigation and information theft (ironic, those last two).

Transformation or shapeshifting spells would very handy for performing arts, body doubles for political figures, and theft.



Also, I imagine everyone would run around casting auto-life on themselves.

I’m only just really getting up to speed on 3rd Edition D&D, but teleportation circle looks great to me - not unlike the Stepping Discs used on the Puppeteer homeworld in Ringworld, with time and effort some high-level wizards could create a transport system that would reduce weeks-long journeys to hours. All the advantages of international trade and commerce without nasty long dangerous journeys.

Anyone able to cast alter self could make a great living hooking. Just a brief consultation with the client and you can make yourself look like the hottest hottie he or she can imagine. Polymorph self would cater for more exotic tastes. :smiley:

Civil engineering via move earth, dig, summoned earth elementals, etc…

Street lighting.

Sewerage (there are some monsters that will happily live on human sewage and could doubtless be persuaded to accept an all-you-can-eat deal if they’ll only take the stuff away with them, and with the right spells, the deal can easily be struck).

But to the OP, Runequest has had a Rune spell exactly for this purpose. Priestesses of the troll goddess Xiola Umbar could cast Couvade, which transferred the pain of childbirth to the father. (Reader, temper your “you go, girl!” response with the realization that, in trolls, it’s the males who are dominated and pushed around already.)

Okay, how 'bout this? Imagine a curse that would cause the victim to go into instantaneous labor. Even if they weren’t pregnant. Even if they weren’t female. :eek:

Ooooo, but that could be disconcerting.

(Firing off an e-mail to my D.M. in 3…2…1…)

Are there any spells that could compress liquid in a closed system?

Farts that smell nice?

Er, to other people of course.

I’m sure there would be some use for it, it’s just that they would seem to be fairly rare. In 3.5 D+D, there isn’
t anything exactly like it: Teleportation Circle lasts only 10 minutes per level and can’t be permanentized, and Ring Gate (magic item equivalent of that) is too small. But say you could get around these limitations: how many 18th level mages are there floating around? Even if we were to do this in our world, I doubt there would be more than a couple hundred 18th level mages in this world of 6 billion people, let alone in a medieval setting.

That said, a couple dedicated mages working on this full-time could set up a good emergency transportation system within a couple decades or so. And if they are truly permanent (barring dispelling and/or massive physical trauma,) in a couple hundred years you will have a very good network.

Now that is definitely true. :smiley: :eek:

Not sure if that wouldn’t require too powerful a magic, depending on how powerful magic is. Now, since militaries in nearly every society are almost always gold-plated, doubtless there would be plenty of military engineering projects involving magic, and some could double as both e.g. city walls, roads.

Yes. It would be much safer than torches, at the same or even cheaper price range.

Or you could put a permanent gate to the 666th layer of the Abyss at the end of your sewer :slight_smile:

In fact, most D&D adventures set in cities do have a resident population of otyughs in the sewers.

It’s pretty high level, but my favorite applications involve the Reverse Gravity spell (especially if it’s permanentized). Put a flywheel on the edge of it, and you’ve got a perpetual motion machine. Or bore a vertical tunnel through a mountain, curving to 45 degrees at the top, and you’ve got a rapid-fire defensive catapult.

In the book Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, a magician finds himself in the employ of the Duke of Wellington during his campaign in Spain. Wellington scorns many obvious applications as impractical. Eventually, the magician makes himself useful by creating roads out of nothing for the English armies to march on. It improves their travel time immeasurably, and then vanishes behind them. Napoleon’s armies are spooked by the magic, and are so afraid of disappearing with the roads, that they refuse to march even on ordinary roads!

One spell? Hell, one Rolemaster Companion book introduced the Midwife* character class*. With several dedicated spell lists, including ones that let you transfer the foetus.

Rolemaster often went too far with the character classes.

as to the OP? I’d say “continual light” would make for a very different “Dark” ages.

As for childbirth, how many healers are we talking about? Do they get to be everywhere at once? Otherwise, it’s just a slightly less obvious parallel to your objection to using magic for plague prevention.
Do spellcasters have endless mana? No material components? Othersiwe, only the rich will have it, too, when they’re the people who probably need it least.

In a middle-ages type setting, a simple “clean hands” spell would probably do a hell of a lot of good a hell of a lot more often than you’d think.

That, or…could you set up something (a spell? Some low-complexity or lobotomized spirit?) that would just read text? Say, you cast it (or use a magic item, or something) on a sign, and a disembodied voice reads back “Waterdeep, three leagues ahead. Wemic’s Club, Swordcoast Legion, Wheel of Pain International clubs. ‘Petroleum Free-Zone.’” (Or whatever)

Being the only person who thinks of this stuff (including the DM) is a good way to lead to multiple simultaneous would revolutions.

Now, I’m assuming as a basic framework D&D 3.5 magic.

Now, the biggest thing that you can probably do for a world is invent the undead-pulled carriage. You take a wagon, strap a skeletal horse to the front, and order the horse to run. You’ll need either mechanical or magical ways of stopping and steering the horse. Both are actually fairly simple to implement; a very primitive steering system will serve to guide the undead horse, and given its lack of flesh, muscle, and water weight, you can fairly easily cease acceleration by just lifting it off the ground with a winch.

You now have a vehicle that can move at about 24 miles an hour, without refueling, forever. In the short term, biological horses can outrun your wagon, especially if it’s heavily laden. In the long term, those horses will tire. Yours won’t.

Now, imagine a fleet of these vehicles. They can bulk-transport things like wood and grain from areas where they are rare to areas where they are scarce. While they lack that elemental perfection of the teleportation circle network, they don’t require 17th-level casters, they can be sold to individuals at reasonable rates, and (the most beautiful thing) they can’t be dispelled.

Hell, you could even create a deluxe version with exotic undead, and market them to rich adventurers.

Basically, think back to the effect that the introduction of the automobile had on America, then think about that happening without the actual need for gasoline.

Magic Mouth, a measly little first-level spell, can deliver a message up to 25 words long when triggered (you choose the triggering conditions; for a talking sign, it’d probably be “Whenever a traveller approaches on this road from the east”, or something like that). Unfortunately, it only delivers the message once, and then the spell ends. It can be made permanent, but that would require a 10th level caster and 1000 XP, and 10th level wizards are much rarer than first level. Alternately, if it’s outside a wizard acadamy or somesuch, you could just make going out and re-casting it whenever it’s discharged one of the chores for the acolytes.

Hmmm…dang, it doesn’t really beat Gutenberg for bringing literacy to the masses, does it? :smack:

Let’s see, wracking my brain, here…I’m assuming there’s some problem with transmuting lead into gold, right? What about turning gold into some “worthless” element (like lead, or elemental sodium, or carbon, or something) then later turning it back into gold? With the right amount of precautions, and if it’s difficult enough (but not deadly expensive or impossible), you might have a novel security system for storing or transporting treasure or payroll. (Who’d bother robbing a cart full of lead ingots if you need a high-level Wizard to turn them back into something valulable?)

I’m intrigued by that “undead horse carriage” idea…and maybe it could be adapted to other uses. Like if you put a cheetah skeleton in a treadmill, for the equivilant of a high-speed motor. You might use rodent skeletons to run smaller “motors”…or use their skulls, enchanted to continuously “gnaw,” for kind of a Dremel or a weed eater, or some such. Maybe you could rig up some fish or shark skeletons (possibly with prosthetic fin attachments) to act as a boat motor.

In Darwinian terms, the most practical application of magic would be getting laid. If magical genes (assuming magical talent can be genetic) appeared in the human gene-pool, they would confer a differential reproductive advantage on their holders, especially the males.