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Old 08-11-2021, 07:16 AM   #1
Anders
 
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Default How to protect merchant from mind control?

So I'm thinking about running a mercantile campaign in Forgotten Realms. How do I keep the party's wizard/bard from mentally dominating all the merchants they come across?

Some thoughts:

1. Magic Resistance (either natural or via items).

2. Wards of some kind.

3. Laws that make it illegal to influence citizens with mind magic (works in places like Waterdeep and Sembia where there is a strong where there's a strong legal places, maybe not so well in other places).
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Old 08-11-2021, 07:38 AM   #2
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Default Re: How to protect merchant from mind control?

So, in a world like FR, mind-invading magic is a thing. Small-time merchants probably can't afford any kind of protection. But, they also probably stick to less lucrative routes where they aren't so likely to be a target. Any merchant with the means is likely to buy some kind of protection.

The easiest and cheapest means of protection is probably a half-dozen guards and the threat of retaliation. Even if the guards, who also know about mind-magic, don't notice what's happening in the moment then they can be sent after the unscrupulous mage later.

Wealthy merchants probably have warding, magic items, or someone skilled watching out for them. Indeed, if I were going to put on a major trading market and wanted to attract lots of vendors, I'd see if I could get a wizard to cast wards. Or watch out for such things. Or maybe lie about having wards.

More civilized countries like Cormyr and Sembia probably have laws and penalties. Less civilized places like the dragon coast probably rely on reputation: nobody will do business with someone who uses mind-magic to swindle everyone. They might even get turned away at the gate.

I would imagine that a sufficiently well funded police force would employ someone with the means of detecting mind-magic. A mage, priest, or just a detection item which can be passed around.

Keep in mind, though, you don't want to make something totally ineffective. If your player paid points for a thing, it should be useful. You just want to stop it from being a nuke.

In fact, it may be fun to have a recurring villain who is a priest of Waukeen trying to track down who is doing all of these unfair deals. Don't stop them, just make them try to stay one jump ahead of the law. Make it a very powerful priest who keeps just missing them because he's just tracking the magic. They can't get away with it under his nose, and from a distance he'll start tracking them again.

As a side-note, I would expect the penalties to vary widely by location. In Menzoboranzen, I expect it's totally legal. In Cormyr, there's probably a large fine. Along the Dragon Coast, maybe expulsion from the city. It would probably be suicide to try it in a Thay-mart. Etc.

Last edited by khorboth; 08-11-2021 at 07:44 AM.
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Old 08-11-2021, 07:41 AM   #3
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Default Re: How to protect merchant from mind control?

If you're wealthy enough you could pay to make the shop a no-mana zone. Maybe the Helm priests can learn Suspend Mana?
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Old 08-11-2021, 07:43 AM   #4
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Default Re: How to protect merchant from mind control?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Anders View Post
1. Magic Resistance (either natural or via items).
I'm not aware of the presence of widespread Magic Resistance in the Forgotten Realms.

Quote:
2. Wards of some kind.
Who would make them? Wouldn't the mind-controllers mind-control government officials to make laws against wards?

Quote:
3. Laws that make it illegal to influence citizens with mind magic (works in places like Waterdeep and Sembia where there is a strong where there's a strong legal places, maybe not so well in other places).
Same problem as 2. If you can dominate merchants, you can dominate lawmakers.

Realistically, the situation is untenable. If you've got a whole class of people capable of controlling the minds of others, either they do so or they don't want to do so. There is no "can't."

In fantasy literature and folklore, the answer is of the "don't want to" variety. Wizards spend their days in relative isolation, only interacting with non-mages when forced to. In settings where wizards commonly roam freely, there's no reason for them not to take over.

Interestingly, the original Dungeons & Dragons movie had a setup like the latter, with a ruling class of "mages" and an underclass of peasants. The basis of the whole movie was that the empress, herself a mage, thought this was unfair and wanted to bring equal rights to all, and the other mages, persuaded by the evil bad guy, who was in it for his own reasons, were trying to stop her.
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Old 08-11-2021, 08:03 AM   #5
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Default Re: How to protect merchant from mind control?

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Who would make them? Wouldn't the mind-controllers mind-control government officials to make laws against wards?
One thing to note about FR is that many rulers of large cities/nations either are or employ mages. Additionally in the standard D&D magic rules most powerful spells (including the various forms of mental manipulation) require spell components, vocalisation and gestures while taking several seconds to pull off. Most skilled mages in high positions would fairly quickly realize what is going on and start a counter assault. Mages also tend have better baseline resistance to these effects, so trying to control the mage first is still fairly risky even if that mage doesn't have specific wards up against mind control.

And if the party gets a reputation for ripping off people or merchants using magic, they'll very likely be barred from entering any city if the city guards don't just catch and imprison them (and maybe put them on trial at some point).
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Old 08-11-2021, 08:06 AM   #6
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Default Re: How to protect merchant from mind control?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Anders View Post

How do I keep the party's wizard/bard from mentally dominating all the merchants they come across?

1. Magic Resistance (either natural or via items).
That will seem highly contrived: "Another merchant with Magic Resistance! That's the 15th one this week! What are the odds?" Such things tend to feel so "meta" that they ruin the setting for the players. I'd avoid it for that reason alone.

Beyond that, merchants are wealthy and important in most fantasy settings, and customarily own and use many magic items – especially items that ensure their safety, and continued wealth and importance, in a world full of slaying-and-looting adventurers. Entire classes of items won't work well for those who have MR: "Hah, a merchant! Well, we know he won't have a Missile Shield brooch!" This gets especially silly for sellers of magic items.

A partial exception might be a magic-resistant race that's also drawn to wealth. An entire people with Magic Resistance and Greed might, in the absence of being able to use magic to get rich, chase wealth by trying to corner the merchant business. Unless you want a weird economy controlled by a single race – who would probably become the rulers in short order, as they have money and can't be magically curbed – that's best kept to a single settlement or isolated region, or to beings so rare that there might be only one or two per large city.

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2. Wards of some kind.
. . . which will either end up in the hands of PCs, rendering them immune and spoiling lots of adventures, or be contrived not to work for the PCs (bound to specific NPCs, only work within city limits, only work for Merchants' Guild members, etc.), which will seem no better than "all merchants have Magic Resistance." My GMing experience with various NPCs-only defenses (not specifically against mind control, but as a class of things) is that those two outcomes are usual.

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3. Laws that make it illegal to influence citizens with mind magic
This is by far the best option!

In a world where magic is so widespread that mind-controllers casually use spells to commit petty crime, every town big enough to have a bazaar is likely to have a town watch or town guard that includes a wizard who can cast Reconstruct Spell to confirm use of mind control, and Seeker to find the person who cast the revealed spell. They might also know Restore Memory to unearth wiped memories of magical assaults. And yes, using mental-influence spells is sure to be seen as every bit the assault that using Fireball and Deathtouch is; the whole "it's subtle and nobody got hurt" defense is specious.

Big cities might have a large, immovable magical map that flashes at any location where a spell is cast. It might be tunable or limited to specific colleges, or even to a few spells on a watch list. It can surely be "rewound" to show past castings. The flashes certainly count as enough of a subject to cast Seeker, Trace, etc. upon.

The penalty for being caught by this legal apparatus could be Drain Magery. Maybe not every time . . . but who can say? It's up to a magistrate. Just the risk of that sentence would deter many would-be magical criminals.

All of this is probably backed by the might of the Wizards' Guild. They would have a vested interest in wizards being seen in a good light (not as crooks), and would stand to lose a lot of money on magic-item sales if anybody with a few spells could steal from merchants. Also, they tend to be wealthy and influential, and implicated in law and politics. Of course, the Guild's masters doubtless use mind control on the political plane, but high-level corruption near the top of the social pyramid has nothing to do with street-level or mid-level crime targeting merchants . . . you can hide one mind-controlled prince, but having your economy in ruins and your merchants up in arms won't end well.

That's not nearly as contrived as #1 or #2, because it's a sensible, in-world reaction to magical crime. It's no sillier than the real-world practices of installing alarms, cameras, and bright lights in key areas; training detectives in criminalistics, profiling, and interrogation; deploying sniffer dogs, luminol, crime-scene reconstruction, lab forensics, etc.; setting up a 911 service that summons police patrols; and occasionally falling back on polygraphs. Replace all that tech and science with magic. In place of real-world swindlers, scammers, and people who use intimidation to commit crimes, insert mind-controllers.
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Old 08-11-2021, 08:13 AM   #7
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Default Re: How to protect merchant from mind control?

Note that, in both DnD and GURPS, mind control magic can be detected and dispelled. A rich, paranoid merchant may well keep his own wizard on retainer for just this purpose, and, as Kromm points out, society- both the mundane law and every wizard in the vicinity who is concerned about the good name of magic- is going to come down hard once mind control is detected.
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Old 08-11-2021, 08:18 AM   #8
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Default Re: How to protect merchant from mind control?

This does highlight how few settings treat mind control magic as being as dark as it really is... to my knowledge, only The Dresden Files takes it seriously, D&D seems to regard messing with other people's volition as morally neutral and the Potterverse seems to find it funny.

Forget necromancy - charm magic should be the stuff that gets the magical law enforcers after you: having someone muck about with your body after you are dead is offputting, but having them so so whislt you are still trying to use it...?
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Old 08-11-2021, 08:29 AM   #9
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Default Re: How to protect merchant from mind control?

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Originally Posted by Kromm View Post
. . . which will either end up in the hands of PCs, rendering them immune and spoiling lots of adventures, or be contrived not to work for the PCs (bound to specific NPCs, only work within city limits, only work for Merchants' Guild members, etc.), which will seem no better than "all merchants have Magic Resistance." My GMing experience with various NPCs-only defenses (not specifically against mind control, but as a class of things) is that those two outcomes are usual.
As a general solution for every merchant encountered, sure it gets silly to have them possess either MR or Wards. But richer merchants in a highly magical setting like Forgotten Realms (the setting in question) almost certainly carry protective magical items and/or have their shop (and home) warded against various hostile spells.

The less affluent ones will have to rely on either not being as worthwhile targets for hostile spells or being protected by laws and whatever guards they can afford. And if they're not protected by local laws against hostile magic, they're less likely to want to do business with anyone looking like they can cast spells.

It's worth remembering that even though theft is outlawed in every civilized society (at least that I know of), stores still employ their own countermeasures against thieves and robbers. Some of these countermeasures are more effective than others, but even if it's just metal bars securing the windows they still don't rely purely on the law and law enforcement.
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Old 08-11-2021, 08:41 AM   #10
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Default Re: How to protect merchant from mind control?

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Originally Posted by khorboth View Post

Keep in mind, though, you don't want to make something totally ineffective. If your player paid points for a thing, it should be useful. You just want to stop it from being a nuke.
There are two things to bear in mind here:

Pro the above point, all of the countermeasures that I suggested ultimately depend on some wizard somewhere making a skill roll. That roll could fail. For Knowledge-college and Information-class spells, it might be contested by countermagic such as Scryguard . . . which mind-controlling crooks would surely learn, or they deserve to get caught as surely as the thief who has the Pickpocket skill but not Fast-Talk or Stealth. And even being detected isn't the same as being caught; you got to use your mind control to commit a crime, but now you have to use it against people who want to arrest you. Hope you're good!

Con the above point, being a horrible excuse for a person isn't something the GM has to let happen just because someone paid points. Mind control is right up there with rape and scamming the elderly out of their savings. It's a dark, heinous crime, and the GM is well within their rights to say it's what NPC villains do. Heroes who take that road cease to be heroes and start to be that which the campaign is about destroying.

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Who would make them? Wouldn't the mind-controllers mind-control government officials to make laws against wards?

Same problem as 2. If you can dominate merchants, you can dominate lawmakers.

Realistically, the situation is untenable. If you've got a whole class of people capable of controlling the minds of others, either they do so or they don't want to do so. There is no "can't."
But as I noted in my earlier post, you're not looking for the situation to be globally tenable. You just want it to sustain street-level order and deter casual crime. Which means that those who are most guilty of mind control might run society and severely restrict mind control for those below their level. I see the Wizards' Guild having a very broad, deep investment in (1) using mind control to run as much as they can, but (2) retaining a monopoly on it. And frankly, a huge, powerful guild that sits on dark secrets unavailable to PCs is well-positioned to realize both goals at a single stroke.

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Originally Posted by ravenfish View Post

[...] every wizard in the vicinity who is concerned about the good name of magic- is going to come down hard once mind control is detected.
Yes. I think the likeliest counter to casual magical crime is going to be magical vigilantism, if not socially acceptable magical law enforcement. That the vigilantes or detectives are corrupt is unimportant; their corruption operates on a different level from and looks toward loftier goals than robbing merchants. Stealing one candy bar from one merchant makes you a thief; stealing $10 billion from millions of people who trusted you with it makes you a politician.

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This does highlight how few settings treat mind control magic as being as dark as it really is [...] Forget necromancy - charm magic should be the stuff that gets the magical law enforcers after you: having someone muck about with your body after you are dead is offputting, but having them so so whislt you are still trying to use it...?
Agreed completely. When I've run fantasy campaigns in the past, I've had necromancy and standard demons-and-curses sort of stuff be tacitly accepted as "dangerous weapons that we'll overlook if they're not used for wanton murder and chaos." They're in the same bin as private armies, siege weapons, and keeping poison around. But mind control has always been grounds for summary punishment, because it deprives people of their deities-given free will and really can't be used in day-to-day life for anything but unforgivable crimes.
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