First: Magic is an information profession.
Wizards preserve and transfer knowledge through writing books. Books they write on parchment.
Parchment is an ancient technology. It is almost as old as magic. Some claim parchment and magic have a symbiotic chicken and the egg relationship. One arose and so did the other. Wizards prize high-value parchment for its smooth, milky whiteness and the way ink beads on the surface when they write.
Unlike paper, parchment lasts. A wizard can read a well-kept parchment-based book a thousand years after completion. The pages do not yellow. The ink does not fade. While paper is cheap, it crumbles to dust without extreme care after a few decades. Parchment books last.
But, parchment is expensive and labor intensive. Unlike paper, produced from a slurry of boiled and dried cellulose, parchment is animal skin. The local Guild-associated parchmenter is an under-appreciated artisan crucial to the wizarding universe. He makes parchment from sheep or, in the case of vellum, calfskin.
Parchment begins from sheep. Unless the local sheep herd has an attached cleric, in a world without antibiotics or preventative animal husbandry, most sheep skins show signs of disease. Disease leaves ulcerated holes in the skins. Those skins are useless. Only pure unblemished sheets can become parchment.
The parchmenter chooses from hundreds of skins to find the few without pock marks, mars, or major blemishes. Then, he or she considers the animal’s hair, since the hair colors the underlying skin. He prefers pure white sheep over mottled goats or calves for evenness of the color.
Once selected, the parchmenter spends up to ten days transforming the skin. He uses lime baths, stretching, and scraping to turn a skin into a sheet of parchment. In ancient times, parchment was thick and clumsily made. But, a modern master parchmenter can transform a skin into an almost tissue-thin perfect sheet.
Parchmenters sell parchment in rolls of a dozen pages by custom. An individual sheet of common, blemished and imperfect parchment costs 1sp at the rotating local county fairs. A roll of 12 costs 1gp with a slight discount.
With saddle binding, a wizard turns a sheet of parchment into four pages of a book. A 256-page book, a common size for a saddle-bound folio, consists of 64 parchment sheets. To produce a single book, a wizard purchases 6 rolls (5 for the necessary pages + overage) from the parchmenter for 6gp.
6gp is change between the cushions for a prolific and wealthy wizard. For a peasant, 6gp is more gold than they see at once in their lifetime. 6gp is more money than the total sum of cash circulation in the local village economy for a year. In a medieval economy, 6gp is a huge sum of cash.
Costs do not end there. Book binding is crucial. While parchment may last for 1000 years, parchment reverts to rawhide if exposed to the elements. Wet parchment crumbles into strips of leather. Books are bound in wood and held closed with straps or locks to press pages together and keep them flat.
To produce a single folio-based book, a wizard looks to pay:
- The parchmenter for the paper;
- Local artisans for ink and quills;
- Specialty artisans for book binding and leather production;
- High-end jewelers for locks.
A book may run a wizard up to 15gp to produce a single copy with copyists and specialties. If he want to create copies, he multiplies his overhead to share with fellow wizards. 10 wizards in his guild is a 150gp cost — bringing the total to 165gp. This adds up to real money, forcing wizards to go adventuring to fund their book costs. And, adventuring is the #1 cause of death in the common wizard.
The wizard access specialists at either the local village fairs, which are not a daily occurrence, or an actual city with local guild presences. With the fairs, it’s a crap-shoot when the right artisans whip through town selling their wares. They travel and don’t make homes in tiny villages. It’s hard to live in the country and produce books at any meaningful pace. And cities are loud, smelly places full of annoying people.
Worse, to keep the books in good order for a long time, the wizard has to keep them somewhere high and dry. The wizard needs a wizard tower with a library at the spire to keep away humidity and prevent accidental flooding. But, light makes the ink fade, so the wizard keeps the books locked in an unlit room filled with smelly, smoking candles and wizard light. Now, wizards are dwelling in the dark, in wizard towers, to keep their books in working order. And wizard towers also cost money to build, defend and upkeep.
This is expensive. But the place to get capital is adventuring. Yet, wizards are not into sleeping on the hard ground, wandering through awful terrain, and fireballing ogres. They prefer nice cups of tea, warm fires, and books on the Histories of the Northern Tribe Gnomes written by friends.
An easier solution presents itself. Use winnings from a lifetime of adventuring and bring the sheep, and thus the parchment, to the them.
Side Note: this explains scroll proliferation. Scrolls are parchment without the book binding time and expense. Since scrolls disintegrate on single use, wizards are incentivized to keep the costs close to that original 1sp/sheet of parchment. Then 1sp + scriptorum services = core cost of the scroll. The rest is pure profit. No point in binding something that casts a fireball and disappears.
The Sheep Business
While not immediately obvious, the easiest place to squeeze savings out of the pipeline of sheep to book starts with the sheep. 1sp for a single parchment sheet looks cheap on the books, but costs pile up. Sheep quality and parchment production features into the costs. Also, accessibility, time, and paying guild dues add into the overhead.
The wizard is already forced to dwell on large tracts of expensive land to house his tower to protect his books. He can raise his own local sheep. Although wizards do not have much of an animal husbandry bent, they have:
- Access to ancient mystical preserved works, some of which involve sheep;
- A network of other wizards who might know a thing;
- and Land.
The wizard establishes grazing grounds on his land. This maintains a constant flow of parchment without the hassle of fairs, wandering artisans, or cities. The standard wizard playbook works like so:
- Pay local peasants from the nearby villages to move on his land;
- Pay off the local lords or agree to some taxation arrangement for access to the labor;
- Move the sheep grazing grounds to around the base of the tower;
- Train apprentices to product parchment or move parchmenters on-site;
- Live to learn with the smell of sheep;
It’s an expensive first investment in peasants and sheep with headaches, management and costs. It likely is bigger than that 165gp for a book and ten copies (one to create, 10 reproductions). But in the scheme of copper-piece based peasant economics, it’s not unachievable. It’s 16,500 copper pieces. The specialist on-site with his apprentices likely cost the most in investment.
But, the wizard can offset his all costs.
- With the flocks of sheep on the wizard’s land, the wizard can invest in animal healing spells and/or local druids to keep the flock disease-free. This increases the skin-to-parchment ratio and lowers his parchment costs.
- The wizard can ensure magic-grade quality skins produced on his land.
- The sheep produce more than their skins. They produce their wool, mutton, bones for book glue, sheep’s milk and sheep’s milk cheese. Wizard’s Cheese is a hell of a delicacy.
- Standing up carding sheds, spinning sheds, and wool dying, the wizard can get into the lucrative textiles export business.
- Peasants living on his land provide access to blacksmiths and tanners for the book bindery.
- Local peasants help with wizard tower upkeep.
- The wizard can sell his overage to his fellow wizards and cheaper than fair-based traveling parchmenters.
Healthy, long-lived flocks produce years of secondary artifacts for lucrative sale while driving down book production costs. Now, the wizard’s main issues are ink costs, apprentices and copyists. He can fill his tower with books. And, he’s a good local citizen and he’s building the community.
It’s win-win for the peasants if the wizard is a good Lord or terrible if he’s a bad one. It’s all bad for the sheep who end up turned into sheets of writing material.
Now, wizards are in the sheep business instead of the magic business. Somehow, sheep make far more money than magic. The wizards retire from adventuring. They focus on their land. They get into yarn weights and faire sales. Magic isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Parchment, cheese and wool — that’s where there are steady profits. All without ever leaving home.
And that is why wizards practicing magic are so rare. After a while, they retire to raise sheep.
Secondary Wizard Problems
Sheep-rearing wizards need to build political relationships with the local nobility and guilds. Otherwise, he can find himself with some real Adventurer-shaped problems. If there’s anything in a wizard tower, it’s delicious loot. All an Adventurer needs is an excuse.
Driving down parchment costs and building sheep-based industry creates other political problems for the Wizard.
Wizards now care about encroachments on their land and on their sheep. When goblins boil out of the hills to raid their flocks, wizards pay the Quest Givers Guild to hire Adventures. Protect their parchment supply! And wizards often provide expensive magic scrolls gratis in gratitude. It doesn’t help when it turns out the next wizard down the road paid goblins to gin up the market price of wool, so the goblins return the next week…
The more wizards who raise sheep to create cheap parchment, the less land there is. Sheep grazing lands take up vast swaths of land. Sheep need fresh grass and the ability to wander. Wizards may bump against other wizards also raising sheep.
This causes land and border disputes. Land and border disputes between wizards often turn into fireball matches. Wizards throwing acrimonious fireballs over grazing rights often torch local villages. This pisses everyone off.
The local Lord puts out a call for Adventurers to defeat the so-called “evil wizards.” They’re destroying local villages! They’re killing villagers! And they’re annoying the hell out of the local lord.
What those wizards need is a good Court, not some Adventurer action burning down their towers. But, Adventurers are quick and the local land is on fire. Someone needs to do something. Wait, was that another boom?
No guild likes wizards encroaching on their territory. It’s one thing when they’re hiring Guild-affiliated parchmenters to work year round on their land. As long as the parchmenter pays dues, they please the Guild. But, once the wizard gets into the wool export business, he’s messing with the powerful Import-Export Guilds in the cities. No one messes with Guild profits and gets away with it.
The Guilds are in bed with the local politicians and the thieves guild. They’ll spin a story about the deep, dripping black evil of the local wizard. They’ll gin up some Adventurers to go take out the menace. But, see, the question is dangerous and will require confronting the wizard in his dimly lit (to protect the books’ integrity) lair…
The Adventurers finish their adventure, defeat the local “Evil” Wizard, and take over his Tower. Then, they loot the place. There, much to their confusion, they discover his library was not full of evil tomes of dark magic. Instead, the wizard filled it with books on sheep rearing, animal husbandry, and soil consistency for high quality grazing. These are much more valuable over a period of years, the ex-wizard would have pointed out before the Adventures came and trashed his tower, than books on necromancy.
It’s dangerous being a wizard in the Wizard Cheese, Wizard Yarn and Parchment business.
Image Credit: Art by Jaydot Sloane of Vanity Games – http://www.patreon.com/VanityGames