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What does the average citizen of the D&D5 default setting know about magic (as opposed to the "extraordinary people" who are the classed adventurers, according to the PHB), and how does the public react and relate to magic in D&D5?

Has practically everyone seen a Prestidigitation spell at work at least once in their life? How scared would townsfolk be of a level 1 Warlock? Would they know it's a Warlock, or just that it's some kind of magic user? If a Wizard turns out to know the Fireball spell, what level of threat is she considered by the general, non-extraordinary populace? (A member of a regular SWAT team? Rambo? Gandalf? :)) And so on. Mind you, these really are just examples.

I know (well, hope) most of these questions will be answered by the DMG and/or setting books, and I also know some would say it's mostly up to the DM (especially concerning a homebrew setting), but it would be good to have at least some pointers regarding the implied official setting, and inferred from the official material published so far.

Edit: I know the default setting is that of the Forgotten Realms (even though the PHB itself cites other settings as well.) However, let's suppose that I know nothing of the Realms aside from what's in the PHB, and let's also pretend that this is my first encounter with the world(s) of D&D. :)

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is heavily dependent on the setting. I'm not sure there is a general case answer. Consider the differences between say Faerun (Realms) where magic users aren't very common, but plenty exist openly, to say like Eberron where everything runs on Magic to Athas (Dark Sun) where magic is very costly and often hidden. \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 17:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @waxeagle Sure, it is heavily dependent on the setting. However, the PHB itself has a rather strongly implied setting -- a "generic D&D world" that can be inferred from the races' and classes' descriptions, from the equipment lists, from the skills, feats, spells, etc. I know it's just a skeleton to build your custom "frankensteinian" fantasy flesh upon... what I'm looking for here is the most generic flesh that fits on those bones, though. Not "AB normal" (Eberron, Athas), simply "normal", to quote a movie classic. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – OpaCitiZen
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 18:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's not generic. It's Realms. Realms is the default setting for 5e. If you're asking about the default setting, make sure you note that. \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 18:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @waxeagle I've updated my Q to be a bit more specific. \$\endgroup\$
    – OpaCitiZen
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 19:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I'm not sure the Realms tag would be entirely appropriate, since the PHB itself doesn't say, as far as I can remember, that its default setting is the FR. On the other hand, I'm not asking for a functional analysis of the rules either. I'm asking for an educated reading primarily of the fluff accompanying the rules, supported by hard evidence in the rules. The golden mean or something. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – OpaCitiZen
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 20:13

2 Answers 2

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We have the 5e Monster Manual and Basic D&D Dungeon Master Guide available which has a list of common NPC templates in the back of both.

5e Monster Manual Many of the background descriptions tie various monsters together into diverse mini-settings at varying levels of power.

5e Monster Manual & Basic DM Rules Both have templates for common NPCs including that of the Acolyte which is described as.

Acolytes are junior members of a clergy, usually answerable to a priest. They perform a variety of functions in a temple and are granted minor spellcasting power by their deities.

The first suggests that the answer is that it depends on the setting. That D&D 5e is designed to support a variety of fantasy settings.

This suggests that knowledge of magic is probably similar to that what historical medieval common folk knew about theology. Namely selected bits that were preached often by those in charge. Along with popular folklore tales and old stories reworked to express opinions on contemporary issues.

The thing to remember the big picture was limited to a scholarly profession open to a few. That selected "bits" of the larger picture is what the average person know. Similar common people in medieval Constantinople would riot over the wording of the profession of the christian faith yet at the same time only know what they were told about the bible at mass.

Part of the reason that the Reformation occurred is that the printing press made the Bible more affordable and allowed more people to own one and to read it themselves. Before they were all hand copied and expensive.

My answer is that there is no right answer to your question as D&D 5e is designed to support multiple types of settings. That the default is set on the low/uncommon side of magic as it is easier to add magical elements than it is to subtract.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It would be helpful to at least address the default setting in an answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 17:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @waxeagle the rules as written do not specify a default setting. Instead they use the various published settings as example with the Forgotten Realms used the most. \$\endgroup\$
    – RS Conley
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 19:11
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My answer (informed by the other answers and comments) is that you should answer your own question by role-playing! Your character is a modern historian, archaeologist, or the like. The books are uncovered relics of a bygone land and your job is to write up a description of the realm. Grab a notepad--and a stylish hat!

This meta-RPing is also a way to get more bang for your buck with that purchase. (Or I'm a really boring person.)

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