Don’t Support Your Local Wizard
Posted by hyperpat on April 10, 2007
The average fantasy novel typically has wizards running around, doing various things to either help or impede the protagonist. Often, especially with wizards who hail from the dark side, the motivations of the wizards themselves are not all that clear or comprehensible, but that’s a small item compared to the large hole of just what do wizards do when there isn’t some great battle or quest or dragon to fight?
Consider the typical one-horse town of middle ages technology that seems to permeate this sub-genre. It has some surrounding farms that provide the edibles, some tradesmen (smith, barkeep, miller, butcher, tinker, midwife/veterinarian), and an economy run as much on barter as on money. Things stay pretty much in balance: people normally get enough to eat, they raise their families, discuss the weather (not an item of trivial conversation), and in general go from day to day with little change or desire for change. Now into this mix let’s introduce a low-level wizard. He can’t do the great spells that change the landscape forever, but he can do little things: something that improves the crop yield for Farmer Smith, a little spell to make the beer and wine at the local tavern always taste great, heal minor ailments, provide love potions that work (most of the time, anyway). What effect will doing these things have?
Farmer Smith suddenly has an unfair advantage over the other local farmers. His lands now bring in twice the crop per acre as everyone else. This translates to greater wealth for Farmer Smith, which he uses to buy up more land, producing even more. This is a positive feedback cycle, and eventually Smith will be the proud owner of all the farmland around the town, and the rest of the farmers aren’t going to be too happy, as by now they’re just sharecroppers on land they used to own.
Barkeep Simon feels happy about the great drinks he serves, and all his patrons agree that getting that spell laid was the best thing he could have done. The tavern’s reputation spreads far and wide, and people that used to go the Henry’s tavern in the next town over now come to Simon’s. Henry, naturally, is not too happy about this loss of business, and starts plotting ways to ruin Simon’s great taste (but just as filling!). So he goes to the wizard, and in return for his first born child (why wizards want such things in payment is a mystery), the wizard agrees to cast a spell on Simon’s patrons that will make them gain five pounds for every tankard of beer they drink at Simon’s. Very shortly the patron’s are so heavy they’re unable to walk from their home to Simon’s (or anywhere else), and Simon’s business collapses.
All these heavy people naturally start developing other health problems associated with being so overweight, and they all contract with the wizard to help cure them of clogged arteries, varicose veins, and the occasional broken bone contracted from trying to sit in chairs that suddenly collapse under them. Of course, this means that all their wealth ends up in the wizards hands, and it would seem that the wizard and Farmer Smith now effectively own the whole town. Then, too, with a wizard on hand to cure everything, the local vet is also out of business, and he leaves in a huff for a town far away, one without a wizard, where the farmers appreciate his skill.
Now the local king gets word that Farmer Smith is very wealthy, and decides he wants a piece of this action, so he enacts a burdensome tax that only applies to very wealthy farmers. Farmer Smith, faced with the prospect of sudden confiscation of a good chunk of his holdings, goes to the wizard to get a spell to make the king’s tax collectors forget how to get to the town. This seems to work – no tax collectors show up. But the king, after a little while, realizes that something has gone wrong, so he goes to his wizard (all kings have signed long-term contracts with at least one wizard!) to find out what’s going on. When the wizard reports, after duly scrying out the landscape, that the king’s tax collectors are spell-befogged, the king decides that this means war, and directs his wizard to unleash all his powers against our little one-horse town wizard. The king’s wizard is naturally far more powerful and knows all kinds of spells that our little wizard has no defense against, and very shortly he is no more, disappearing in a cloud of atomized smoke. Unfortunately, the spell that disintegrated our wizard also does the same thing to all the buildings and inhabitants of our little one-horse town.
And that’s why you shouldn’t support your local wizard.