Social Impact (In Game) of Public Spell Casting


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I was wondering on the thoughts of others regarding the use of spells in public and its social acceptance.
More specifically, I have some players that want to cast 'detect evil' on a noble woman and then 'discern lies' while dining with her at a public restaurant.
Since I'm the GM, I have to take into consideration the NPCs possible reaction. These spells require verbal and physical gesturing to cast so casting them on the sly seems unlikely.
My first thoughts are a noble/aristocrat type NPC would probably find such an action as rude and presumptuous. Maybe the NPC would terminate the conversation immediately and leave the area: whether good or evil or indifferent of align or honest intentions...

It would compare to wanting to talk to a person but hooking them up to a lie detector machine first. Or doing a background check on someone while you're speaking to them at a social event and they are fully aware of your actions.

My other thought would be the person may not know the spell being cast and react with preventive hostility.

I am curious to see if others have dealt with this type scenario before and how it was handled.


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If the noblewoman can't identify low level spells herself, in a situation where taking 10 on spellcraft should be possible, then she ought to have someone with her who can.

And yes this does seem rude, and reason to leave in a huff or to demand that the PCs do if she has the authority there to do so.


We are also talking about a world where lots of people have access to a wide variety of magics, capable of so many things, I would imagine that places of importance would be guarded against such things, antimagic fields, more powerful wizards specifically looking for and cancelling others magics, something. But yes, I would also agree that the average person would not like the thought of you using magic on them even if, especially if, they cannot identify what you just cast. They just see Jedi hand gestures and assume you cursed them instead of whatever harmless nonsense you decided was worth a spell instead of a skill check.


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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

In general I could see spell casting of any sort in public places as being unacceptable as most would not realized what was being cast and assume the worst and possibly panic.
For the specific scenario mentioned above I was thinking there would be some form of social etiquette in place.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I remember reading in some fiction for one of the editions of the game that casting like that was considered magical assault, so depending on the general lay of the law of the land, it could have rather severe consequences. Being considered "rude" is actually rather lenient.


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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Magical Assault! I like it. Local ordnances with actual penalties for violators and such. 'Eldritch Probing' or with say Detect Evil, 'Aura Scanning w/o Consent'.


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I'd treat it as the equivalent of drawing a weapon, socially. I'd doubt that bystanders would react well.


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Casting a spell on someone witbout their permission is on par with not just drawing a weapom, but drawing a gun, pointing it at them, and pulling the trigger. For all the average schmuck knows, you're about to turn them into a newt, petrify them, make them fall desperately in lust with you, or set them on fire. More educated types ought to be even more terrified. They'd be within their rights to kill you in self-defense.

There's a reason Paizo made it difficult to cast spells surreptitiously.


That is exactly my sentiment. I would I have every city with an army always have antimagic field level 4, and anything cast above that cast in town was punishable by death via well prepared foil casting inquisitor archer guards or whatever.


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I had a GM who believed the same as VoodistMonk once. True, the guy was {something I can't write here for fear of being censored} as well, but it didn't make for a great game. It felt like living under the heel of a fascist dictatorship, only the GM thought of the society as the good guys, and anyone who objected as the bad guys.


VoodistMonk wrote:
I would I have every city with an army always have antimagic field level 4, and anything cast above that cast in town was punishable by death via well prepared foil casting inquisitor archer guards or whatever.

That would make it kind of hard to get healing...

Still, I do think there should be social consequences. Imagine if someone you were talking to suddenly stabbed you with a syringe of an unknown substance, then said, "Don't worry! It's only truth serum! I just wanted to make sure I could trust what you were saying!"

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Well, they'd know how I truthfully felt about them. They really wouldn't like it, though.

While I wouldn't go as far as VoodistMonk would, I would have some stats prepared for an elite squad of guards with strategies in place for going up against mages. They'd probably be about 5th or 6th level, so realistically tough for an elite band of guards for larger cities. Going around casting would certainly get you a private interview with the guard captain, who is dying to know what the blazes you thought you were doing. It mostly goes on behind the scenes since the game focuses on the party, but the guard have had to deal with renegade mages before. A barrage of tanglefoot bags and arrows dipped in some dex or str damage poisons is rather quick to take the fight out of mages.


There was a FAQ on this point, actually. Essentially, all spells have 'manifestations' during their casting, and this is what people actually identify for the purpose of things like counterspelling. Components have nothing to do with this - a silent, stilled spell can still be identified and countered, though some GMs choose to impose a penalty to checks to identify such spells. This is also what allows you to identify the spells cast by creatures that neither speak your language nor physically resemble you, because verbal and somatic components clearly aren't universal. The exact form of manifestations is left up to each table - basically, it can be whatever you think is nice for the character, as long as it can be seen.

The main reason for this is to prevent casters from running completely amok in social situations. XD It might be awkward to have difficulty casting something like Discern Lies in a public setting, but imagine having to tell your players "Yeah, the villain secretly Dominated you twenty minutes ago, and you couldn't see it". Everyone's paranoia in a game world would probably have to go waaaaay up if this weren't the case.

Legally, I like to use the rules presented in Bard's Gate.

Quote:
Open use of magic is frowned upon — particularly spell casting. The casting of low-level personal spells is tolerated, though not in shops or stores. Destructive spells or spells affecting others are always outlawed, though unless done in the open one most likely avoids detection. This draws the attention of the constables and a sheriff, and possibly a low-level wizard with the sheriff.

So, it helps if you can cast the spell somewhere out of sight. XD


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If you want to Detect Evil and can't do so sneakily, excuse yourself to the privy first.

If you're playing with the magic sparkles retcon, then you have to pay the feat tax and invest in Bluff. Of course, then the GM needs to let that ability actually function if they're going to allow players to spend feats on it, lest they reveal themselves to be a so-and-so.

Matthew Downie wrote:
That would make it kind of hard to get healing...

All the better for that kind of GM.


Remember that if you consider casting any spell a hostile action, your players will, too. That can cause your NPCs to become victims of justifiable homicides and can completely wreck some modules/adventures.


Magic is insanely complex and powerful and what civilization would ever allow its use inside its walls unchecked?

And I mean completely checked.

Bards can cast as part of a performance and implant suggestions into unaware minds. But you want theater and street performers in your city, right? Only way to guarantee the safety of the crowd is an antimagic field anywhere at the very least a bard might perform.

A divination wizard will probably always go before your guards can act, chaos couldn't be stopped if anyone with magic just turned hostile inside the city.

Therefore the options are to keep the players out of the city as much as possible. You stop. You shop. You hear about the next place we are going, so let's get there. Or you submerse them in the inner working of a gloriously in depth city that has always active antimagic fields.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Or rather than go quite that drastically, mages are required to register with a representative of the mage's guild within a day of entering the settlement. Obviously not all settlements are big enough. I would say something like anything bigger than a small town. Mages and clerics are likely to find employment with the guard, so have someone doing a scan, maybe introduce a cantrip that works as detect magic, except all it can detect is if a person can cast spells, maybe what caliber of spell. Obviously these detections are legal, because it's the guard doing them.


Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

These are all good thoughts and ideas. I could see some harsh penalties for violating any municipality laws regarding magic use w/o consent or w/o due regard for safety.
Now I wonder if I should sit down and write up a generic 'magic penal code'.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Check the old issues of Dragon from the Paizo era. There was an article, "Cities of the Realm: Crimmor " that included a basic legal code including unlawful use of magic. I hated Forgotten Realms, and still enjoyed the article.


I think something like that would have to, at the very least, branch out to support a variety of settlement types. A tiny little thorp can't object to a strong caster the way a big city might, and attempting to enforce a penal code might be less... effective... than placating a stronger caster.

My general rule of thumb - when it's relevant - is that a well-run settlement has the resources to handle magic up to the level of spellcasting available there, and those resources are employed at sensitive government facilities. You're not going to cast Charm Person in the central guard station of a large city and walk out the door, your crimes ignored. XD Bigger locations probably have anti-magic zones (in prisons and courts and so on), most locations will store important documents in lead-lined boxes, et cetera. They may have agreements with groups like the Church of Abadar to enforce laws regulating the use of magic.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Perhaps exemption from taxation in exchange for assistance with such issues. You make a good point about the available level of magic in an area. Especially since whatever mage provides that is more likely than bot to Side with the guard, as they live in the town, and want to keep a good name in the area. After all, if mages seem to be abusing their power, people start looking at him like a ticking time bomb.


Church of Abadar Cavaliers with the Order of the Penitent. That way they are forbidden to kill people, can hog tie a tarrasque in one round, and always believe in allowing someone to surrender. Lol.


Gar0351 wrote:


I am curious to see if others have dealt with this type scenario before and how it was handled.

If the person can't ID the spell via Spellcraft or somesuch, most people are going to react like someone just pulled a weapon and started swinging it about. Spellcasters are dangerous and unpredictable, and you've no way of knowing if this guy is casting Prestidigitation or Burning Hands.

Some people will panic.
Someone might jump on the guy.

Depending on how functional the legal system is in your setting, casting those kinds of Detects could constitute an invasion of privacy. Even non-lethal spells would constitute assault. Throwing area spells around could be reckless endangerment (whether you committed friendly fire or not).

Thinking about it, I'd think people would probably want their spellcasters identifiable on sight ... some kind of brand, mark, sigil, whatever in a prominent location. You can easily see a guy with a sword, but it can be hard to pick out a spellcaster. Is that a cleric, or just a fighter who likes medium armor and a mace?

I've pondered the idea of 'casting licenses', but unlike, say, a driver's license, you can't take spellcasting away like you would a car, so I'm not sure how that could be enforced. Unless I want to get into something like trepanning or lobotomies.


Magic is, shall I say pretty common, just look at all the classes,

If anything maybe an invasion of privacy...
Or just flat out ask to cast a spell, if it won’t hurt them.
Sensing Magic isn’t like Casting a Fireball and
blowing the doors of an establishment.

Using magic in a town or city is not that much
different as a Rogue breaking into a house and
killing someone with a dagger.

Both should be treated as equals.

Banning a mage casting magic would be like an
Infringement on the 2nd admendment.


Any remotely competent noble in a world with magic will employ loyal magic users, have some version of Improved Paranoia, or will actively attack magic users.


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Magic is capable of:
Physical harm, bodily destruction, immediate death.
Altering objects, structures, and even the landscape.
Impairing, altering or completely controlling mental faculties.
Transporting creatures and objects over great distances.

So, comparitively, magic is like:
Firearms, high explosives, chemical weaponry.
Chainsaws, jackhammers, construction equipment.
Tranquilizers, psychedelics, brainwashing.
Cargo trucks, airplanes.

Most of those are things that require an actual permit to operate. And even the chainsaw is not going to make me any friends if I just pull it out of a bag and rev it up in a public setting.

Sure, there are plenty of "relatively" safe and mundane uses for magic. Detect evil is like an airport security x-ray machine. Curative spells are objectively superior than going to the best doctor in the world. But the fact remains, so much of magic is capable of radically altering or destroying lives, without the permission of those affected.

I would say the best you could hope for is asking people for permission to cast a spell via diplomacy. Unless they have spellcraft, that could likely fall under the "dangerous aid" risk, +10 to DC. And even then, you would want to do it in a controlled enviroment, rather than a crowded market. Just because the guy you are talking to says sure doesn't mean the others within sight and earshot are going to react well to the Pathfinder version of revving a chainsaw/firing a gun/driving a semi truck/poison gas/grenade/lobotomy/nuclear strike/etc.


Spell casting, as pointed out, is hard if not impossible to conceal. Spells which allow saving throws will be detected though not necessarily identified when the save is made. Discern Lies falls into this category.
Detect Evil (or its variants) have requirements which make there use in such a manner ... iffy on a good day. Did she not register because of counter magics, because she's not evil, because she's not focused on doing evil, because her HD is too low or worse ping as dim evil because a half hour ago a very evil spy sat in her seat at the Inn (or wherever they are meeting) while she is actually nearly saintly in her goodness.

It's probably rude at best and illegal, an assault with deadly weapon, at worst. Nobility in most society's make the laws and are usually its chief enforcers often through others ... and frequently its biggest breakers as well.

A skilled use of Sense Motive is probably a far safer and more socially acceptable while being nearly as effective a method for what those players want to accomplish in most cases.

Or go right ahead and alert your BBEG to your presence and see what happens :D Collateral damage is a thing and the local good guys won't appreciate it in most cases. Starting a fight with a local noble (evil, good or otherwise)in a public setting is not a smart move.


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I suggested above that magic is the equivalent of injecting people with mystery syringes; something that would be scary to ordinary people.

But maybe magic is like cars. Cars are incredibly dangerous. Everyone driving a car has the ability to murder people at a whim, or kill people by accident. But we put up with cars in cities because they're useful.

Having an antimagic field to keep all magic out of a fantasy city sounds like having an anti-technology field in a modern city. This anti-tech field would keep you safe from guns and car accidents, but also prevent medicine, electricity and vehicles from working. If that anti-tech field existed, would you choose to live in one?

Would you ban magic if it meant losing Cure Light Wounds and Remove Disease?


A turbocharged Corvette cannot turn itself into a dump truck or take command of other Corvettes or summon/gate a Balor in the middle of an intersection, though...

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Problem is, the only way to get those dead-magic fields involve extraordinarily high levels, and getting a keystone that blankets the area in one will bankrupt most settlements below a city, and would maybe cover the common room of your typical inn. Just not feasible, while a strike team prepped to take down the mage is.


The solution is to keep people out of cities and large social situations.

I don't like talking to peasants in Morrowind/Oblivion/Skyrim, I don't like talking to peasants in Fallout, I don't like talking to peasants in real life... Why do it in fantasy games?

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Because urban adventures are a thing? Because eventually you need an upgrade you can't pry from some guy's dead hands? You need information/healing/the cold, hard gp you were promised for doing the job?


Yep.

GM: You approach the city, what do you do?

Player: We shop for potions and I want this custom item.

GM: OK, subtract this much gold and add this item to your inventory, as you are shopping, you hear about this...

GM: You leave the city the next day, where do you go?

The whole interaction takes two minutes and the city is behind you...

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

That's fine if that's how you want to do it, some people just prefer a bit more role-play than others. I think you and I just have a different play style.


How many people actually prefer to role play waiting at the bus stop or dealing with a crowded marketplace, though?

Oh, thank goodness, it's Thursday and I get to play D&D after work today, as soon as traffic clears, I get to go role play being stuck in traffic, yes!!!

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Okay, from the tone of your arguments earlier I was under the impression you were entirely against the city. I agree with you about the minor aspects of the city, I was arguing in favor of keeping things workable in the city for 3 Musketeers style campaigns or adventures, murder mysteries and the like.


Even a murder mystery in a city should be solved with skill checks and good role playing, not 'I cast my solve this mystery for me spell'. I'm actually more against magic than I am against cities. Lol.


Gar0351 wrote:
Magical Assault! I like it. Local ordnances with actual penalties for violators and such. 'Eldritch Probing' or with say Detect Evil, 'Aura Scanning w/o Consent'.

And how would you rule the Enhance Diplomacy cantrip?

The spell only affects its target (presumably the caster) and gathers no information about others.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Yeah, I love magic, but that isn't stopping me from designing an adventure meant purely for the Muggle classes. Sort of taking inspiration from both Arthurian Legend and 3 Musketeers.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

Yeah, I don't understand the idea that most NPCs would see magic use as hostile. The vast majority of magic they are going to see on a day to day basis is going to be positive constructive magic, so that is how they should associate it in their minds. Cure spells, prestidigitation from a street performer etc.

The idea that the default assumption is that all spells are attacks is just very strange to me. If I am a commoner and I see someone wiggle their fingers and say some words and see no further effects I'm just going to assume they did something that only effected themselves and move on with my life. Especially in big cities.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

First, by pointing out that it isn't a pathfinder spell, it's 3.5. 2nd, it follows the standard setting:if I see you cast it, I would at best be one step worse in attitude, due to knowing you are trying to sell me something, and that's if I ID the spell. Otherwise, I react as has already been suggested people would react.


I'm just going to point out there are ways to disguise spell casting to cast one spell but make it appear to others that you've cast an entirely different spell and an attempt to ID the spell becomes a skill vs skill.

There is a big difference between well known heroes/authorities/nobility casting spells in a public venue, and murder hobos attempting the same action. Local reputation has a lot to do with it. Even Paladins will be looked down upon for casting spells in a market if they aren't well known because a charlatan would claim to be a Paladin if they knew people wouldn't question a Paladin's actions.

The best method would probably be to mention to the players that spell casting of any kind is considered a social taboo and should only be done in private or special occasions in public.

As for the use of anti-magic fields that cover entire cities: that is insane. Magic gets used for a lot of things, and people in positions of authority would move away from such things. Even commoners that depend on churches for healing and blessings would move away. No church would want to stay in such a land deprived of divine magic. Lets not even think about the cost of creating such a permanent anti-magic field over a humongous area.


The cost of creating an antimagic field, over an imaginary city, in a fantasy game... Hmm. It cost exactly how many words it takes to tell the table that there's no magic of any sort inside city walls. So, relatively cheap.

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Until the party steals whatever it emanates from and runs around with it.


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Saleem Halabi wrote:

Yeah, I don't understand the idea that most NPCs would see magic use as hostile. The vast majority of magic they are going to see on a day to day basis is going to be positive constructive magic, so that is how they should associate it in their minds. Cure spells, prestidigitation from a street performer etc.

The idea that the default assumption is that all spells are attacks is just very strange to me. If I am a commoner and I see someone wiggle their fingers and say some words and see no further effects I'm just going to assume they did something that only effected themselves and move on with my life. Especially in big cities.

It depends on the culture and experiences of the city in question. If the city as a whole is insulated from exterior conflict or wars; has strong, stable relationships with its neighbors; has a very low crime rate; and is generally well ordered, then sure, average people wouldn't be worried that much about random spell casting in a public space.

Conversely, if crime rates were elevated; if the city had strained relations with its neighbors; if the warfare or revolution had happened recently (generationally speaking); or the city was often perceived as very disorderly, then the average person's perception of random magic in public spaces could be very different.

You see, it isn't really an issue of an assumption that all spells being cast are attacks. Even if only 1/1000 of the spells a person witnesses in a major city end up being an attack type spell, the effects of that spell could be absolutely devastating and large scale. And, just about anyone in a city would know this because of all the stories that get told about powerful spell casters.

Additionally, it goes to expectation. If they see a street performer juggling balls and playing a lute, then start casting a spell, they probably would only feel a tiny bit of apprehension, if at all. They expect some sort of minor spell casting to be involved in the performance based on experience. Conversely, if they are walking down a darkened street at night heading home in a street with nobody else around, seeing someone walking towards them casting a spell will cause a very different reaction.

[Consider this; magic in Golarion is potentially just as dangerous, if not more so, than firearms in the real world. In the USA, there are literally millions of people who own firearms, and less than 1% of that number commit crimes with them every year. However, most people here who see someone carrying a firearm, other than a uniformed police officer, will at the very least be a little nervous, and far more so if someone pulls out their firearm. In a magical realm, it is reasonable for people who witness public magic to forget the 100 times they saw a street performer using Silent Image and instead remember that time last year when that crazy necromancer summoned undead on main street when they see someone randomly casting a spell in public.]

Towards the OP, in a private setting like that with a noble, it would be reasonable for the noble in question to feel insulted at the very least, and possibly threatened, depending upon that noble's specific background and experiences.


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Saldiven has put it perfectly as far as I'm concerned, so I'll just give my +1 short version.

Its all about context. If I'm walking down the street and see someone cutting open another person and injecting them with dangerous chemicals, I'm going to call the police. If I'm in the surgery room of a hospital and see the same thing, obviously I do nothing because the doctor is doesn't need any distractions. The location gives context. Nobody is surprised by spellcasting in the wizard academy.

If I see a person draw a gun, I'm going to assume I'm the target and react as such until proven otherwise. If the person with the gun is a police officer, I'm going to not assume that but will pay attention to what the officer says, to see if I'm in the middle of a bad situation or just on the side of one. The mage who works for the town guard can cast openly by virtue of his uniform and reputation.

When every spell is a Schrodinger's Cat oscillating between cleaning dirty clothes and dropping an orbital bombardment on the area, any civilization that doesn't exist in total anarchy will have both social and legal consequences for non-contextual spellcasting.


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1st-level magic can be used to perform assault, arson, and seduction. Cast anything, anything at all out in the open, and it should be well and rightly assumed that you're trying to do one of those three things. There's three ways around this problem:

1. Be way more powerful than your opposition. If DBZ dudes could cast spells, nobody's going to arrest them for casting. Good luck with that.
2. Have a bond of trust with the people around you. This is why it's usually okay to trust casting in church by a clergy, or perhaps publicly in a courtroom. One problem: while spellcasting effects manifest, it's not like the results generally do. You can discern lies all day, but if it's your word against theirs, then that gets tricky.
3. Use subtrefuge powers. For the OP, look into one level of the enchanting courtesan prestige class. That'll let you get away with interesting divinations, no problem.


ohako wrote:
1st-level magic can be used to perform assault, arson, and seduction. Cast anything, anything at all out in the open, and it should be well and rightly assumed that you're trying to do one of those three things. There's three ways around this problem:

With that level of fear and paranoia we should also assume it is illegal to walk around wearing magic weapons or armor, carry or display magic items of any sort, be accompanied by any non-equinine animal companions, etc.

In other words, it would be illegal for adventures of any ilk to walk around with their adventuring gear, almost all of which can be assumed is useful for killing and plundering.


VoodistMonk wrote:
The whole interaction takes two minutes and the city is behind you...

I guess I just like my roleplaying games to have a little, you know, roleplaying.

And absolutely I like roleplaying a crowded marketplace. I always think it's strange when a GM offers a single Magic Big Box with every conceivable item for book cost.


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Volkard Abendroth wrote:
ohako wrote:
1st-level magic can be used to perform assault, arson, and seduction. Cast anything, anything at all out in the open, and it should be well and rightly assumed that you're trying to do one of those three things. There's three ways around this problem:

With that level of fear and paranoia we should also assume it is illegal to walk around wearing magic weapons or armor, carry or display magic items of any sort, be accompanied by any non-equinine animal companions, etc.

In other words, it would be illegal for adventures of any ilk to walk around with their adventuring gear, almost all of which can be assumed is useful for killing and plundering.

You say 'fear and paranoia', I say 'logic and common sense'.

Now, to be fair, a lot of this has to do with the setting. In my game, it's entirely possible for a typical person to go their entire lives and never once see a spell cast, or anything that most people would call 'a monster', or a magic item. There's not magic academies in every major city. The local priests aren't spellcasters, just devoted religious people.

So, yes, the dire wolf stays out of city limits, you check your dangerous gear at the city gates, and if you don't like it, you can turn around and go somewhere else.

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