Poor Antipaladin. World-shaking events are afoot. Heroes from all of the major parties are involved. And here he is stuck on the sidelines. Even his poor MacGuffin-puppy gets more plot action! And it’s not as if Antipaladin is totally mundane. Let’s not even contemplate those poor magicless rogues and fighters cluttering up the multiverse without so much as a 4th level spell slot. When you play through enough campaigns, this mess eventually become a pattern. And even beyond the well-worn battle lines of martial/caster disparity, it can feel like the less-magical PCs get the narrative shaft.

I think this has something to do with fantasy as a genre. Jon Peterson’s excellent history of fantasy gaming, Playing at the Worldhas this to say on the subject of the fantasy setting as a bedrock of the hobby:

The genius of the creative apparatus of Dungeons & Dragons is how it lowers the bar for contribution to the fantasy genre: it creates, in effect, a do-it-yourself kit, a checklist that prospective monster-makers or spell-weavers need merely fill in with their own fancies… Within the support system of the taxonomy, players and referees who would never attempt to author a novel can accrue fantastic narrative and worlds on an installment plan, to share in the pleasure of invention (Peterson, 201).

It’s a fascinating take. But then again, it doesn’t quite explain fantasy so much as role-playing. After all, it is possible to invent “taxonomies” based in any number of genres. The wacky lists of spy gadgets in Top Secretthe archetypal western classes from Deadlandsand the exotic alien species from Traveller all fit the bill. But what I think puts fantasy over the top is that oft-derided phrase “a wizard did it.”

Within fantasy, magic functions as a self-contained explanation. It’s a narrative Get Out of Jail Free card. And that means all us ‘prospective monster-makers and spell-weavers’ are left with a fancy that is truly free. The insane trap rooms of Grimtooth fame and the cartoon dungeon-scapes of Dragon’s Lair are not particularly bound by logic. Neither are laser-beam eyeball monsters. Neither are the literally-thousands of spells appearing in the ur-basement of our collective splat book collection.

And so, when it comes time to imagine the well and truly bizarre elements of high fantasy fame, an unfettered imagination naturally settles on magic. That means powerful rituals. That means dealing with demigods. That means ascending to the pantheon, wishing new realities into being, and infusing primal magic directly into the bloodstream of a setting. All of which leaves relatively little room for the guy at the gym to share in the spotlight.

This brings us to our question of the day! When is that last time you’ve seen a high-level D&D plot that focused on mundane rather than magical elements? How can you build adventures to make the less-magical members of the party more relevant? Sound off with your own takes on fighting-mans living in a magic-user world down in the comments!


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