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I have read Are casters aware of spell slots?, but this question is aimed at the mechanics in general, not just spell slots

In our own world, there are millions of people working around the world trying to understand every detail of the world. We have distilled the most basic of physical laws into mathematical formulae, separated every element known to man in the tiniest of particles, measure every aspect of the world and have created experiments that are so delicate that the morning dew on the grass outside the testing facility can throw off results. We've even created a global infrastructure meant to share that information for the betterment of all.

Now, I might be overestimating the inquisitiveness of the inhabitants of Toril, but I would be surprised if the Arcane Scholars of Candlekeep or the Red Wizards of Thay or any other of the many academic groups in the Forgotten Realms aren't investing a large amount of time into working out the mechanics of their world. Stuff like the damage a spell does or the amount of damage a kobold or gibberling can take or the increased potency of an Adamantite improved longsword or any other game mechanic. They might even be going into the deeper statistics of the world, like wanting to quantify how much better one fighter is compared to another, and end up figuring out the Strength/Dexterity/Constitution/Intelligence/Wisdom/Charisma abilities. And maybe, just maybe, they have stumbled upon clues that everything in Toril depends on random chance that a character can have limited impact on.

In our world, a lot of these details don't really matter as much: it might improve our society in the long run by allowing us to create better technology, but we're not really going to get better food by improving the accuracy of the Avogadro constant. However, in a magical world where a lot of things revolve around combat, knowing that Magic Missiles do up to 4 damage each and how many of these you'll probably need to finish off that ogre can really mean the difference between life and death. And knowing just how strong each of your soldiers are and how much stronger each of them will get from that enchanted sword your court merchant bought from an adventurer can end up drastically changing the course of a war.

So I'm wondering: How aware of game mechanics are the NPCs of Toril, and especially the smarter ones who do the magical research or are in positions of power? Are they actively using this knowledge in their quest to improve the world? Is it even possible that someone created a compendium of the entire world that explains this in detail, and is selling this book to enterprising adventurers? And yes, I am alluding to the possibility of the Player's Handbook being an in-game resource people can buy and read.

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The game mechanics are not the "physics" of the world.

The main evidence for this is the existence of multiple versions of the D&D system that apply to the same settings (FR, but also Eberron, Greyhawk, Ravenloft, etc.).

If the Blackstaff Academy does a ton of research into what actually happens when a magic missile spell hits a creature, are they going to discover the 2e version, or the 5e version? Blackstaff Tower exists in both, after all. (Or are they going to discover that this is actually the Lords of Waterdeep board game and they're all little purple cubes?)

The answer is "neither", because the game mechanics are an abstraction. There is, in the world, a way to conjure a magic missile, a bolt of destructive energy that unerringly strikes your foe. The Waterdeep Medical Examiner's Office could probably tell you a lot about magic missile wounds--whether they're physical or purely metaphysical, which organs are affected, the three signs you must find before writing "Cause of death: Magic Missile" on your report.

Nowhere in this would they be described as "1d4 damage". The 1d4 damage is something that exists at the table when we play a game about characters in this world. Sometimes a magic missile will hurt someone just a little, sometimes a lot. So we roll a die to see how bad that particular hit was.

However, that game comes with some assumptions that are part of the genre rather than the world. For example, the variable damage of attacks comes from the assumption that you're in combat. A 3rd-level fighter is not going to die from one hit with a longsword in combat. If he's getting decapitated by an executioner, that's different. The rule that magic missiles do 1d4 damage reflects the experience of battlemages using the spell in live combat, because that's what the game assumes you're using it for. It doesn't mean that, under laboratory conditions, some magic missiles are randomly four times as powerful than others.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure the paragraph about editions is helpful, because Blackstaff Academy could in-universe look at the relative power of spells before and after the various events that affected the Weave. Certainly in the case of magic missile, where that just requires the ability to count. \$\endgroup\$
    – richardb
    Jun 11 '20 at 15:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @richardb I understand that new editions have had some attempt at in-universe justification (the Spell Whoopsie happened and now preparing spells works completely differently) but there are mechanical changes that are awfully hard to trace to one of those events. Like, why is skill proficiency a thing now? Why is there advantage? Why do paladins no longer swear any actual oaths? (And how about when there isn't a justifying event? Xanathar's Guide to Everything came out and now everyone is some type of warlock or bard.) \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Jun 11 '20 at 17:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Indeed, I wasn't really disagreeing with the thrust of what you're saying, just that the effects of (say) the Spellplague on magic would be something that would likely be studied extensively in-universe, so maybe wasn't the best example. \$\endgroup\$
    – richardb
    Jun 11 '20 at 17:49
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You’re making a category error by assuming that game mechanics are the same as the mechanics of the world

Game mechanics aren’t the underlying physical reality of any official D&D setting; They’re merely the lens through which we see the world because simulating an entire multiverse accurately is hard to fit into a 4 hour weekly session. There aren’t really only 30 distinct levels of 6 attributes a creature can possess, there isn’t really a 1/20 chance any mortally wounded human on the floor suddenly gets all better, and a Wizard certainly doesn’t generally progress from barely being able to cast Magic Missile to being able to cast Wish within 6 months because the DM uses milestone leveling.

If you want any evidence for these statements, it is possible to run a D&D campaign that entirely takes place in New York, and I’m pretty sure that physical reality does not conform to D&D rules in New York or elsewhere on earth.

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