If wizards exist in the world then what is the point of knights?

The wizards can take all of them out with a few fireballs and they would have died for nothing. There is no need for the brute force of an army if you can simply hire a 7th level wizard for 5 fireballs per day to potentially take out a small army?

You can also use spells such as dominate person or suggestion as a form of espionage which would likely be more dangerous to the leader but would cause a lot fewer casualties overall. Starting a new campaign this week and was just thinking about this.

Should I make evocation and enchantment magic war crimes when used in a war?


I should mention that it is a separate problem when dealing with phalanxes where there are walls of soldiers with shields. I assume this is where wizards are supposed to shine but if they can bust through that in a couple spots than that could be 15+ people gone per fireball. You can also purchase scrolls for roughly 500 gold a piece so you could use those if you needed to as well.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is this question specific to Faerun? I believe answers would differ, if it were instead about Eberron. \$\endgroup\$
    – Raj
    Nov 23, 2021 at 17:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think it would be helpful to review the stack for various Q&A regarding Linear Fighters and Quadratic Wizards. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 23, 2021 at 18:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @EkadhSingh-ReinstateMonica that question has been asked about 5e As to, power disparity at high levels it's been present since OD&D (In terms of the outsized impact of magic at high levels). Granted, survival in OD&D for MUs was not guaranteed. Fragile, we were. LFQW is certainly not quite as pronounced as in 3e, obviously. See here for but one Q&A on the topic \$\endgroup\$ Nov 23, 2021 at 19:49

4 Answers 4


One does not simply hire a 7th level wizard

if you can simply hire a 7th level wizard

Here's where your assumptions about the world conflict with reality. Magic is rare, much rarer than you would expect based on the fact that most PCs know a bit of it. You're playing exceptional characters with special abilities, and your services are not cheap.

I wouldn't expect a L7 wizard to charge anything less than a king's wages for a day of service, and well, most kings aren't willing to part with their wages for just a bit of knight BBQ.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I dont know if this should be a seperate question but I see what your saying. Hypothetically could a powerful mage college that tried to churn out 5th or 6th level wizards defeat basically any army with over 10 of them? \$\endgroup\$
    – Ayebrow
    Nov 23, 2021 at 17:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ayebrow Yeah, that should probably be a separate question. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 23, 2021 at 17:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ayebrow Cuz there's a LOT that goes into it...like, does the army have the good sense to not stand in close ranks vs AoEs? Does the army have archers (Longbows can drop a Wizard long before the Wizard is in range to use magic)? Are we assuming perfect morale? Are there equivalent-level non-spellcasters in the army?....and so on. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 23, 2021 at 18:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ What wage exactly does a king earn? I was under the impression that most of them were on salary plus commissions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Nov 24, 2021 at 17:34

Mass attacks overwhelm casters.

If you spread the knights out to not have them all reside in neat 20 foot radius bunches, the wizard will be really sad when 50 knights show up with pointy things they are trying to poke into the Wizard. 40 foot diameter fireballs aren't all that large outside of a dungeon.

Consider the modern day equivalent - infantry move spread out to avoid everyone being killed by a single artillery shell.


In most 5e settings. Adventurers and magic are considered the absolute best of the best and rarities.

Its estimated in the Forgotten Realms only 1 in 90,000 people can ever even cast a 2nd level spell. So When you start talking about a 7th level wizard, you might very well be dealing with a 1 in a million individual. And that wizard can only dole out a handful of spells every day. And he has to sleep.

So with rarity comes cost (supply / demand) so this one wizard likely is going to cost more to hire than dozens of knights. And if the knights know about this wizard and approach from different directions, he can only deal with one at a time. And having dozens of armed soldiers means you can use them for other things as well guard duty, sentinels, patrols, moving supplies, digging ditches...


  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you provide a citation for this claim: "Its estimated in the Forgotten Realms only 1 in 90,000 people can ever even cast a 2nd level spell.", or are you just saying it is estimated because you estimated it just now? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 23, 2021 at 17:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Umm the twitter link I provided has that exact estimate in it. It is written by Ed Greenwood. \$\endgroup\$
    – Daveman
    Nov 23, 2021 at 17:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah, I didnt realize there were replies with further commentary. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 23, 2021 at 17:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Daveman that commentary would fit well into your answer and support it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Nov 24, 2021 at 13:44

Setting matters

Various settings assume different levels of access to magic. Eberron has a "magic-punk" feel, and generally assumes that magic is relatively cheap and plentiful; the Dark Sun setting vilifies arcane magic (due to the belief that it's ruined the planet) and (based on friends' tales of Dark Sun campaigns) focuses on psionics (which, while magic-like is much more likely to focus on single-target or mind-effecting "spells" than arcane magic, IME).

So, how common is magic in your campaign setting? Even in a generally high-magic setting like Eberron, your instance might be lower-magic than most.

And, how common is high-level magic in your setting? Even Eberron's magic-punk style is compatible with a relatively small number of high-level wizards. While a high-level wizard may be needed to create a thing, that doesn't mean they're needed to maintain or run the thing. There's no way I'd trust a car I put together out of a collection of parts, but I can still drive one, change the oil, and put on the spare tire.

How common are mages?

Setting matters, part 2

It's hard to build a PC that doesn't have at least a little inherent magic (certainly possible, of course, but most classes and races have at least a little magic in them), but is that because magic is common or because PCs are blessed with magical aptitude?

Does Eberron have a magic-punk style because every street urchin can cast a few spells or because a few powerful mages got the ball rolling and muggles can mostly manage the rest?

Do campaigns focus on characters who can wield magic (both PCs and NPCs) because you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a mage or because mages are among the movers and shakers in the world? Do we follow Luke Skywalker because the movies know he's going to save the galaxy, or does he save the galaxy because the movies follow him?

Wizards are expensive

The Adventure League guidelines (per this answer) peg the cost of hiring a wizard to cast a single Fireball at 90gp. An aristocratic lifestyle can cost as little as 10gp/day, and skilled hirelings might cost as little as 2gp/day. Why would an aristocrat pay over a week's expenses for a single spell?

If a Knight wanted 10x the normal skilled hireling cost, that aristocrat could still employ 4 for the whole day for less than a single casting of Fireball would cost.

Wizards are squishy

Wizards may be masters of the arcane arts, but they're not known for riding into battle: armor gets in the way of their spellcasting, and they aren't known for their ability to take a punch. Knights, on the other hand, are well known for riding into battle and being able to take a hit.

So, either the wizard is going to ask for more than "normal" to supply their spells or they're going to need guards. Those guards are going to need to eat and otherwise be provisioned, have a place to sleep, etc..

Armies are huge

The Battle of Cadzand (an "early skirmish", the first battle of the Hundred Years' War) saw 3,500 people on one side and "several thousand" on the other. Assuming the enemy stayed in nice, tight formations (and that the formations had 4 people per 5-foot square, a whopping 4x what normal combat rules allow), a single fireball (20-foot radius = an 8x8 square = 64 squares) could hit 256 people (probably less, I forget exactly how 5e "circles" are shaped). 5 Fireballs could hit up to 1,280, again generously. It quickly becomes hard to estimate how many would die to the fireballs (are the enemies 1st-level commoners or 5th-level fighters or paladins?); in very rough numbers, I'd expect about 1/4 to survive (assuming creatures that would survive on a successful save and need to roll a natural 16 to do so). While that's a very good chunk of the oncoming army taken out, the wizard's then done and some 2,500 enemy combatants are still on the field.

As pointed out by @Kirt, that's a tremendous _over_estimation of the firepower of a wizard. Assuming a circle is 44 squares (per this answer for 3.5/PF) and a following a strict reading of RAW, allowing each square only 1 combatant, that tops out at 44 creatures per fireball or 220 total. Even if they're all killed by the fireballs, that's less than 10% of the 3,500 people on the one side gone. If the remaining 3,280 people press on, the wizard's toast.

Archers are a thing

Fireball has a range of 150 feet. A longbow has a maximum range of 600 feet. An archer can pepper the wizard with arrows from safety before the wizard can fireball the archer.

  • \$\begingroup\$ 5e allows 1 medium-sized creature in a 5 foot square. A 20' radius is a circular, not square, effect and (measured on a grid) is 44 squares. Forty-four people is considerably fewer than 256. This actually makes your arguments stronger, but still. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Nov 24, 2021 at 18:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt : I can't find official 5e AoE templates, but 5e does "weird" (from my started-in-3.5 perspective) with diagonals while moving, hence erring on the side of "square". I've also heard people grumble about why each combatant gets a whole 5x5 square to themselves when people are closer to 2x2, hence the tight packing. I agree with your comment, both as a GM and a player; I'll make some tweaks to call out that that's a ridiculously large number of targets under RAW. \$\endgroup\$
    – minnmass
    Nov 24, 2021 at 19:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Minor quibble: Dark Sun has no deities, but it's not supposed to be unusually low on "divine" magic. It's just that that sort of magic is drawn from the elemental planes (directly in the case of clerics, indirectly via spirits of the land in the case of druidic magic). In 2E, Dark Sun lacked paladins, but otherwise had all the usual divine casters (cleric & druid full casters, rangers as partial casters). And of course, templars were powerful "divine" (drew on elemental energy through sorcerer kings) casters that existed in fairly large numbers; the setting didn't lack for divine magic at all. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 24, 2021 at 20:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @minnmass The 5x5 square is the area controlled by a Medium creature, the free area needed to effectively choose from all action options. You can pass through a square occupied by a friendly creature - but it will cost you more movement. Most DM's would allow you to pick up an unconscious creature and be in the same space. Real fighting formations can obviously fit more people than one in a 5 x 5 square, but I would not allow them to take the Dodge and would give them disadvantage on Dex saves, as a starter. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Nov 24, 2021 at 20:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowRanger: Point; my fuzzy memories of friends' tales and quick refresher were off. \$\endgroup\$
    – minnmass
    Nov 24, 2021 at 20:50

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