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Some fantasy RPGs treat magic as arcane and thus rare, possibly subject to suspicion by the masses. Other games treat magic as somewhat more prevelant but not ubiquitous.

At some point in this trend, magic may become so commonplace as to be considered a commodity.

What published fantasy RPG and/or setting features this level of magic?

One criterion: The magic affects ordinary commonplace people multiple times on a daily basis (i.e. not just adventurers and not just occasionally).

Also: What major socioeconomic characteristics are a direct result of this degree of cultural permeation?

(See Heinlein's novella Magic Incorporated as an example of such.)

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Community Wiki'ed this as there's no single best answer. –  mxyzplk Feb 5 '12 at 2:53
    
I hesitate to add it as an answer since it may just have been the way the GM ran the game I was in, but when I played Rifts magic was presented as highly common. –  TimothyAWiseman Feb 5 '13 at 23:09

10 Answers 10

The Eberron setting for D&D features magic used on this level, with trains pulled by magic, for example. Check the wikipedia page for details.

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I would argue that most D&D settings have magic being fairly commonplace save for Dark Sun, but even then... –  GPierce Jun 28 '11 at 17:42
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It's a completely different level of common. One thing is "yea, there's drakes over them hills and a portal to the feywild over lake Nen", and another to be able to ride long distance trains powered by the thaum. –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Jun 28 '11 at 17:52
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@Sorcerer I was going to disagree with you but then I remember that races like gnomes and halflings get spell-like abilities as racial abilities so they are inherently magical at least in D&D3x/Pathfinder. That and practically half the threats to the common folk are magical. –  mirv120 Jun 28 '11 at 18:03
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No other D&D setting has magic as a "commodity" (as the question specifies), used ubiquitously by farmers and heroes alike. Eberron is unique in this, no matter how you slice it. –  SevenSidedDie Jun 28 '11 at 18:49
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SpellJammer used to but being as it has been shelved for 15 years not worth its own post. –  Chad Jun 29 '11 at 18:15

Earthdawn has magic being infused into the world.

  • Players use magic to enhance skill like abilities called talents. The commodity as you put it is your Legend.
  • The game rewards roleplaying and boasting of your deeds to spread your legend.
  • You can spend your legend to weave magic into your items and even yourself or to grant a bonus to certian situations (Weave a thread into a beach to gain a bonus while performing actions there).
  • There are permanent (until dispelled) threads and temporary threads that have just a short duration.
  • Items that are used during legendary events become infused with the magic of that legend.
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Yeah, even the "dumb fighter" character is inherently magical in their abilities. (An "always plays a barbarian" player I had back when Earthdawn was first released hated that fact and refused to even try the game.) –  SevenSidedDie Jun 28 '11 at 17:23
    
Yea, but is magic prevalent in the world, or just in the heroes? Are the heroes' habilities common or rare? –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Jun 28 '11 at 17:29
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Magic has infused everything. Adventurers are the primary ones that learn to actively harness the energy but latent talents are common among the people who may not even realize they are using them. But this is a pretty dark world so that is not to say that just because the people are surrounded by it and may even use it that they trust it. Just like any power people fear what they do not understand and those that do understand prey on those who do not. –  Chad Jun 28 '11 at 17:51
    
@seven yeah I had one of them too. But he generally had it as his goal to ruin what ever game we played unless it was a hack and slash dungeon. –  Chad Jun 28 '11 at 17:53
    
It's even more fun that Earthdawn's history contains a time where Magic was even more prevalent, and that the "normal" inhabitants had to flee into fortresses to survive the high level of magic (and the coming of the horrors of course). –  Cthos Jun 28 '11 at 17:55

HeroQuest

This is my only experience of Glorantha, Greg Stafford's fantasy world. But at least in the Robin D. Laws' version, everyone has magic.

Magic is in everything, and more, everything is or has magic.

Sure, some may be wizards or clerics or animists, but if fishing is your thing, your fishing hook may be magic. You may begin play with an item called (just for instance) The Bottle of Keki's Winds. You don't have to know what it does or what it's for. There isn't a great big list of magic items somewhere explaining that it gives you +4 to resist flatulence or something. It's magic and it's yours and you'll know what it's for when the time comes.

HQ is an unabashedly Narrativist game. It absolutely had an influence on my own games - the ones I run and the one I'm writing.

I found the mechanics confusing at times - Wait, Mastery drops my skill from 19 to 1? but not unplayable.

This is a Mythic RPG, though, so the socioeconomic impact is pretty hard to judge. Except that magic is everywhere. Your clan's hunters might have deer-magic. Your farmers rain-magic. It's a world where magic infuses everything but doesn't dominate.

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Relevant RPG.SE question about Mastery for the curious. –  SevenSidedDie Jun 28 '11 at 18:47
    
There is a distinction in HQ (mostly HQ1, but I think it still applies to HQ2), that magicians deal with magic from the three realms (animist/theistic/sorcerous), but there are other magics that don't come from outside: draconic magic is the most talked about but there is also common magic, which is ubiquitous in Glorantha - even children will know how to make simple charms, for instance. –  Alticamelus Jun 29 '11 at 15:23

Planescape is another great example, although in this case it is less about a "standard" fantasy world with a lot of wizards, and more about a world where everything is supernatural.

Sigil, the main city of the setting, is filled with portals to other fantastic places. Below are some of the ways this setting and its level of magic affects people day-to-day:

  • Almost everything in Sigil is imported through the portals. Because of this there is massive amount of imported minor magical trinkets.
  • Most citizens in Sigil are aware of portals and how they work, and while this isn't spellcasting, fast travel through those portals is the basis of most local trade.
  • The demographics of Sigil have been heavily affected. Rather than a city that is mainly comprised of non-supernatural beings, there are huge populations of things like imps, demons, angels, fey, and other more exotic creatures. A citizen would see dozens of innately magical creatures throughout their day.
  • Because of commonplace magic, the residents have access to a lot of simulated higher technologies like water purification, heating, cooling, steam-power and the like.

Overall, this level of magic does impact the lives of everyone in city, and does raise the socioeconomic level of many citizens. Rather than living a dark age equivalent existence, you're really going to see something a bit closer to a Victorian era- there is still an underclass, but the economy is more about trade and production than it is about subsistence.

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Exalted would fit this although it's much more obviously prevalent in the 1st Age of the setting (which is playable) then the current age.

In the first age magic is common and developed enough to provide a standard of living that is arguably better then ours is. They have internet, flying cars, money chits and more that are all powered by magic. In addition nearly all the rulers beyond the very lowest level are empowered as magic users and many of the mid-level and up functionaries are Exalted who are inherently magical beings. Additionally the gods of the setting (from the spirit who inhabits your front door because he's the spirit of your front door to the major gods) do actively interact with the people to some extent and the people are aware of their existence and powers.

In the current age of the setting (which is the default assumed setting) magic is less obvious then the 1st age but still quite active in people's lives. For one remnants of the 1st age still exist in some case altering the flows of rivers or causing strange affects over whole regions. Exalts still rule the largest nations of the world and in many places where Exalts don't rule magically empowered mortals or gods do. The gods have a much larger active hand in the day to day affairs of mortals (since mortal prayer is their currency) and thus they are willing to interfere in mortal life to get a little extra prayer. Also undead and demons roam the land. Mortals can and do learn thaumaturgy to protect themselves and there are people who make a living using hedge magic to deal with them.

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RuneQuest 2nd & 3rd Eds

(Chaosium, and the Avalon Hill/Chaosium and Games Workshop/Chaosium editions).

As with HeroQuest/HeroWars, this is Roleplaying on Glorantha, and almost every character has some starting magic, and most WILL be using it. Even the farmer is likely to have a spell or two.

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Even the farmer is likely to have a spell or two - it's maybe worth putting this in a bit of context. IIRC, a typical RQ2 starting character would have 6-10 points of spirit magic and maybe a point or two of rune magic, and would expect their magical power to increase greatly from there. This marks them out as special in the core cultures that RQ2 characters are drawn from: a commoner typically would only acquire 2 or 3 points of spirit magic by middle age. So yes, there's a lot of magic floating around but from the point of view of the commoner, magic is likely a rather scarce resource. –  Alticamelus Jun 29 '11 at 15:36
    
@alticamelus disagree on "rather scarce"... the farmer is quite likely to have a mundanely useful spell or two, and use it when needed for his job. It's much more clear where Greg was going in 3rd... and every character I've ever generated, including the 20yo farmer, had some magic. Glorantha is THE most ubiquitous-magic setting I've ever seen, and RQ3 is, like HeroQuest, pretty much "everyone has magic." –  aramis Jun 29 '11 at 19:26
    
I wasn't disagreeing with you! It's important in something like a clan raid that you can expect about 1/4 of adult males to have some ranged combat-effective magic, for instance. My point was that starting characters in RQ2 are quite privileged in the context of their culture, where access to magic is constrained although even commoners will see magic on a daily basis. As another aside, with RQ3 the dystopian Rokari society pretty much deprives their farmer caste of the benefits of magic. –  Alticamelus Jun 29 '11 at 21:55

Epic of Aerth: Mythus Fantasy (Dangerous Journeys RPG)

Aerth is a parallel world with our own Earth, where instead of taking the path of science like we did, they found that magic worked and used it to improve their lives. The things we consider myth and legend are real on Aerth 90% of the time.

This is the highest magic level setting I have encountered. Magic is available to everyone, and it is used by everyone. The only difference is in the degree of mastery an individual has. Peasants have magical stones to light their homes. A country's military might is defined often by what powerful artifacts that country has.

The system is rules heavy but the concept is one I enjoy and am planning to use for my next outing as GM. Worth a read if you come across it sometime.

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Just thought of this a bit ago, but I'd like to offer

Cthulhutech

Ever since the re-emergence of the Great Old Ones and the war with the Migou/Nazzadi, magic is pretty common, though heavily regulated by the government. Spells have a Power/Legality ratings, and sorcerers are required to be registered with the government. Magic in this world doesn't have the ability to power trains or anything like that, but a couple of examples of how everyday people encounter sorcerers/magic (I'm working from memory so the rankings might be off a bit):

  • Sex Change operations have totally been replaced with a spell that changes genders, replacing the need for a costly operation (Rank 1 spell, legal with license, illegal to cast on the unwilling)
  • Personal Defense is covered by a Sphere of Woe, essentially a spherical taser that floats around your head. (Rank 1, Legal with license)
  • There is a ritual to locate people/items that have been lost (Rank 2, Legal with clearance)
  • Several Warding spells to keep various people/robbers/extra-dimensional horrors out (Varying Rank/Legality)
  • One could conceivably find Elder Signs all over the place.

As such, government investigation and law enforcement typically keep a few sorcerers on the payroll, and normal citizens can get access to various spellbooks (many redacted to keep the sanity-bending contents out of normal hands).

Edit:

As @Mirv120 points out, Cthulhutech also has high-tech which is powered by magic. The D-Engine is essentially a magical device which caused all of its creators to go insane, but enabled the use of giant mechanical suits and near limitless energy. Not to mention the Engels are giant monsters encased in armor.

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Also all their high tech stuff is technically powered by magic. Mind-destroying magic but magic nonetheless! –  mirv120 Jul 1 '11 at 18:28
    
@mirv120 Good Point! I'll edit that in. –  Cthos Jul 1 '11 at 18:32

One of the first games to have this level of high-magic economic integration was Torg. (Torg was a cross-genre game featuring multiple 'realms' with different rules, but I'm referring here only to the fantasy setting, Aysle, as described in the fantasy/magic Torg sourcebook.)

Magic is not only common, but literally ubiquitous - everybody is born with one magical skill, depending on the day and time of their birth. Any magical skill can be learned by study; a mage is simply someone who's put in the time and effort to get good at some or all of the four basic magical skills.

There are several resulting effects on the society:

  • The currency is magic-backed. A coin is worth a standard conjuration of a given duration - and senior sorcerers will pay up on demand. (Corollary: Founding new colleges is inflationary; wartime is less inflationary than on Earth, as the general increase in government spending is offset by the deaths of mages.)

  • General knowledge of mapping/geography is advanced, as divination is a common talent.

  • There is a magical university, considerably more advanced (late renaissance) than the medieval setting would imply.

  • There is an unusually high level of trust-on-sight (for a medieval society), because one rule of magic says that things are or become what they appear to be. So good people actually look good, and ugly things are guaranteed evil. (Up until the Big Bad Villain shows up and figures a way to deflect this effect, allowing his forces to look handsome and blend in...)

  • Trade in spells is important; as a simple spell can be used by a large number of people, a good, well designed, easy to use spell is very valuable. (And requires a great deal of skill to create.)

Some nice material was written dealing with the interactions with modern culture as the realms mix (since Torg is set on modern-day Earth as the other realities invade), but that's not really what your question is looking for.

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Torg's actually rather late to the party... not near the first. Runequest beats it by a decade. –  aramis Feb 1 '12 at 18:46
    
@aramis: Oops, good point, Runequest was a first-gen RPG, way earlier than Torg. Can't think of much else before the 90s, though. –  Tynam Feb 3 '12 at 22:39

Amazing Engine: Magitech

Horrible system, excellent setting materials.

In the book, it replaces modern technology with magical equivalents. Cars and trains are powered by bound elementals. Television is replaced with Crystal Ball Networks. Etc.

Really quite a cool read, but the system is often described as "The Amazingly Bad Engine" for its focus on both genre shifting and unlicensed TV/Movie tie-ins, plus an annoying skill system.

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