Spells and Realism: Food and Water creation

6 min readAug 17, 2020

Today, we will be examining what effects spells that can create food and water would realistically have on a fantasy world. Before we begin, let me make a couple clarifications about the assumed prevalence magic used for this analysis.

By Jill Wellington on Pixabay

We will be assuming a relatively low magic setting loosely based on the Tiers of Play section on page 15 of the D&D 5e Player’s Handbook. I haven’t done much research into the demographics of medieval and renaissance

Villages and towns have only a handful of spellcasters, and they are between levels 1 and 4. Small villages will probably only have a single 1st level priest or hedge mage if that, while large towns of a couple thousand would have three to four 3rd or 4th level casters. All in all, about 1 in 200–500 are casters of this tier, and most of those are 1st or second level

Non-adventuring spellcasters of 5th-10th level will usually be found in large cities. Small kingdoms probably have only 1 or 2 5th level casters, while larger kingdoms would have an amount proportional to their population. All in all, about 1 in every 50,000-100,000 are spellcasters of this level.

11th-16th level casters would only appear in very powerful kingdoms, and even the greatest monarchs would only have 2–4 of them at their disposal

17th-20th level casters are powerful enough that they probably won’t be serving any king on the material plane, and thus 9th level spells won’t have a significant effect in the day to day lives of our fantasy world residents.

With that out of the way, lets get onto the analysis

In D&D 5e, there are a multitude of spells that create food and water. These are Create or Destroy Water, Purify Food and Drink, Goodberry, Create food and water, Heroes’ Feast, and Plant Growth (Plant growth doesn’t technically create food, but its long term effect has significant impacts on food supply so it counts)

Create/Destroy Water, castable by Clerics and Druids, seems to have potential as a clean water source that could break the pattern of major cities always being built near rivers or coasts. However, the spell can only create 10 gallons per spell level, and cannot be cast as a ritual.

A village priest probably has much better things to do with his spell slots than create clean water (which they could likely find at a nearby river anyway) for less than 2% of the village (assuming everyone drinks 1 gallon a day), such as healing the injured. Cities would likely have a larger percentage of spellcasters, but still not close to enough to sustain the entire town. The exception to this principle would be desert worlds where water is EXTREMELY hard to find. Clerics and Druids would be forced to cast this spell if the population grew beyond what the local water source could support.

On non-desert D&D worlds, Create/Destroy water wouldn’t be a primary water source, but it could still be useful. Clerics might be ordered to cast it repeatedly in specific areas of important castles in order to stockpile water in case of sieges. Note that they would have to cast this to create a giant puddle in the castles basement before the siege, since it wouldn’t be able to keep up with the demand for water once the enemy was blocking supply

Create/Destroy would be useful for creating drinking water during military campaigns in desert regions, and could also be used by extremely wealthy nobles for purposes such as waste removal and making frequent bathing more feasible (link to the article that gave me the wealthy noble idea)

Purify Food and Drink; castable by Clerics, Druids, and Paladins; would have a bit more of an impact, if only because it can be cast as a ritual. Since spellcasters can use rituals an unlimited number of times per day, it could easily be used for ensuring food isn’t poisoned in a king’s court, or increasing the viability of military campaigns in marshy climates (since soldiers would actually be able to drink that water).

Maybe this spell would be used to recycle wastewater for rich nobles, saving many trips to the well and back each day. However, 10 minutes of a court cleric’s time is probably considered more valuable than an hour of a servant’s day, so it’s likely that elites wouldn’t use Purify Food and Water in this way.

Another possible use I came up with while researching this article is cleaning river water near large cities, where waste typically made it dirty and undrinkable. A cleric or druid working 8 hours a day to purify 10 gallon jugs of water brought to them by a brigade of townsfolk could easily purify 3000 gallons a day (assuming they have 8 jugs around them each casting), meaning just 8 first level clerics could . However, spellcasters will likely be upper class citizens who have more important things to do than purifying water all day (praying and performing rituals in the temple, for instance). Instead, villages and towns would likely solve the dirty water problem like they did in the real world: rainwater, wells, and ancient aqueducts if those happened to be available.

Create Food and Water, castable by Clerics and Paladins, runs into the same problem as Create or Destroy Water: there just aren’t enough casters for this to have a major impact. Widespread casting of this spell could greatly expand the distance a military could “lunge” out of its supported road network (this long article on acoup.blog starts talking about logistics of supplying such operations through the context of LOTR orc armies about halfway through), or possibly make military supply lines completely unnecessary. However, each casting of the spell only sustains 15 troops for 24 hours. Based on the assumptions at the beginning of this article, you’ll likely have thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of ordinary soldiers per caster that powerful. Even if military priests spent all their high level spell slots on this, it’s effect on supply lines would be negligible. What it could do though, is sustain a small, elite strike force (Read: adventuring party strengthened by a few NPCs) on a foray behind enemy lines.

You’d run into similar problems if trying to use this spell as a food source during a siege. Sure, a 7th-10th level cleric could sustain a small castle, but a priest capable of literally communicating with gods (via Commune or Divination) or observing enemy councils from a distance (via Scrying)would probably be better used staying in a large city (or with a huge field army) to advise kings and generals. (Same goes for a high level Paladin sustaining a border garrison of 30 or so troops)

On the civilian side of things, Create Food and Water couldn’t sustain a mid-sized village, much less the large cities that casters this powerful would gravitate towards. I could a Cleric using this spell to support a small group of monks in an holy, but difficult to get to, location. They might use it to supply a small group of miners extracting a valuable resource far from civilization (if your setting’s gods are fine with their power being used for profit-driven motives), but the widespread impacts of this spell would probably end there.

Heroes Feast, a 6th level spell castable by Clerics and Druids, is high enough level that people who can cast it would be extremely rare, likely no more than one or two per continent. This spell’s effect on your D&D world would depend more on the personality of the caster, and the myth and culture surrounding it than the mechanics of the spell itself. Perhaps the casters serve great monarchs, making magical meals for guests as a display of their lord’s power. Maybe the casters travel the country side, spawning folktales of mystical men that sneak into villages leaving food and gifts in the night. Maybe, the caster works in the military, giving high ranking generals supernatural resilience (in the form of temporary HP) right before battle. Maybe all the casters of high enough level are preoccupied with other things, allowing the spell to be forgotten for generations. When it comes to magic this powerful, the sky is the limit in terms of how it could affect the world.

Next week, we’ll continue our analysis of Food and Water creation spells by looking at Goodberry, and Plant Growth

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