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- Dec 2014
Re: What would the top magic item picks be for a Commoner / Expert NPC? ^^
This post and subsequent discussion is about food supply in a high-magic society. Bottom line: It's going to happen through magic, because magic is ridiculously efficient.
The main item under discussion is a "kettle", an item that casts create food and water over and over again, storing the food until needed (later that day). It feeds 2160 people and costs 30 000 gp. Let's say each person earns 7 gp per week on average, including children and the elderly, and 1 gp out of every 7 gp is saved, resulting in a total savings of 112 320 gp per year for the entire 2160-person community. That means all the people working together can buy a kettle with only about fourteen weeks' savings.
Fourteen weeks is a pretty short time, but you do have to get 2000+ people to get in on the same item together (not to mention eat in shifts), which is not easy (the modern equivalent would be getting a neighbourhood to buy a wind turbine together). It might be that the first kettle is not bought by the people from their savings, but rather by the local elite, using wealth extracted from the local (farming) population in rents and taxes. The local population will now pay for access to the kettle, reinforcing the position of the elite (since they now control "food" in addition to "land" and "military" and "courts" and so on). That leads me to my next point: The "means of production" will become much more firmly held by the elite.
In a society where 90% of the people are subsistence farmers, each farmer produces a small part of the surplus food that supports the elite--the farmers may even own the land, which gives them some power. The local elite will still have a great deal more power--military and economic--but ultimately relies on the farmers' manpower to feed itself, which the farmers may be able to leverage every now and then.
In a society where 90% of the people are fed by magic items they can't afford, the local elite has all of its usual military and economic power, but it no longer depends on farmers to feed itself--one magic item crafter is enough, and magic item crafting is very much an elite activity, so you can be sure that magic items crafted are mostly going to be set up to the elite's advantage. It is now crucial for the former farmers to have access to a food supplier, because going back to subsistence farming is really, really hard, especially since the whole social structure that supported subsistence farming just isn't there anymore--all your neighbours that you could count on in years of poor harvest are eating from the kettle. In the absence of checks on the elite's ability to exploit the magic items they can afford, I would expect to see a lot of the lower classes being more or less "in bondage", getting food vouchers only redeemable at a given site (a mine, a plantation, a workshop), effectively tying them to their place of work (note that standards of living may in fact go up while all this happens--it's not all horror). Needless to say, a lot of the mine/plantation/workshop output is going towards magic item crafting. D&D rules don't generally specify what raw materials you need to craft something, but when I do worldbuilding, I don't use "gold pieces" as raw materials for all magic items.
Now, you can go one step further and have a more empowered lower class with (say) democratic control over the major magic items that shape life, for example by having each village/community as an autonomous collective (anarcho-syndicalist or otherwise) that has collective ownership of the means of production. In such a case, it becomes important for a village to be able to protect its food supply--now highly centralized and vulnerable--from bandits, people with armies, and spellcasters. I'd expect villages to effectively become mini-cities, with walls and everything--the effective minimum size limit for an independent human community becomes one kettle's worth of people. That pretty much sets you up for a lower-power version of the Tippyverse, with magical cities heavily fortified, the land in between not really relevant except where it is mined or quarried, and generally pretty bleak for the lower class. As a neat side effect, this sort of thing explains why dwarves can live inside mountains and only mine for a living.
Besides descending into a sort of fantasy-industrial dystopia--which is an interesting game setting! it might just not be what you want--you could also restore some balance and have a more conventional "farmer" class, whose role is tied in with magic item production. Ask yourself: Where are all the magic item components coming from? Some of them come from mines, sure--the use of precious metals and gems for magic is really common in the fantasy genre--but that doesn't have to be the only or even the main source of magic components. What if you just grow magic item components on farms? Instead of a farmer growing wheat to eat (and some for tax), you get a farmer growing... I don't know, celestial sunflowers, or something. Elemental fireberries (do not eat). Orchards of pomegarnet shrubs (just as good as real gems when making wands). That last one works better in Dutch, I'm afraid. There could be a host of items that have solid gp equivalents that any spellcaster can get at the local artificer's market (every Friday on the Blue Square, get your wares cheaper at Blikje, warforged wonder of the world).
I mean, at the end of the day, in a high-magic world, magic item crafting is the equivalent of crafting industrial machinery. Due to the way spells are written up--most being drastically more efficient than real life equivalents, some being worse--you may not see the same kinds of social structures grow around magic items that you see around industrial plants, but even low-power items made without any optimization or cost reduction will, if implemented consistently, result in extremely drastic changes to the conventional pseudo-medieval D&D world.