A magic-user, let it be a cleric, wizard, and many others, have much in common with the doctors and lawyers of our own world. They are experts in a body of specialized knowledge; they spend years of study to gain their expertise, and they also expend more effort and money than members of any other character class to acquire their class’s special skills. Presumably, like doctors and lawyers, some take up magic out of a love of knowledge, and some for altruistic reasons – and a goodly percentage choose the profession based on a desire to turn their powers into wealth. Unfortunately for those in the third group, the rewards for all their effort and study may prove to be rather meager.
Consider: If a mage chooses not to go adventuring, he or she has two ways to make money – casting spells for a fee, or enchanting magical items. The latter, of course, is extremely possible – creating even one magic item could support a spell-caster in luxury for some time, and it’s certainly much safer than adventuring against pit fiends and mind flayers. The catch, alas, is that it takes a 12th-level magic-user to cast the necessary spell, put-ting it beyond the reach of many spellcasters. Furthermore, even a wizard of the requisite level must still find a copy of enchant an item somewhere and make a successful attempt to learn it.
For magic-users without the luck or the level needed to learn enchant an item, the alternative path to wealth is to cast magic spells for hire. This, too, has its drawbacks. The most obvious problem is nobody wanting your spells. Many magic-user spells are combat or adventure-oriented. A stay-at-home magic-user won’t find many people wanting to buy a casting of Fireball, Magic Missile, or Lightning Bolt. Other spells, like Shield or Find Familiar, are usable only by the one casting them, so they have no sale value. Finally, even if the magic-user does have one of the useful spells – Identify, Flesh to Stone, Animate Dead, Detect Magic, etc. – how can he be sure anyone will know he or she has them? How many customers can they expect to knock on his door?
The answer to that will depend on what the magic-user does to get customers. After all, why should any user of magic wait for adventurers to seek him or her out when they can seek them out? Instead of being purely a place of contemplation and study, a magic-user’s guild hall might be plastered on every wall with advertisements or Magic Mouths, listing spells available, rates, and the level of the caster, all placed by members in hopes of attracting clients. (“Lagor the spellbinder detects more magic faster – special discounts for rings and rods!”) This tactic alone might serve to boost business (and profits).
But the scope isn’t limited, and neither should your imagination: there are the areas of information-gathering, surveillance, and espionage. Magic-users have many ways to gain hard-to-learn information – Clairvoyance or Skywrite, for example. Think what a king or an empress might pay for an agent who can hear a conversation in any room with which he’s familiar, watch a meeting through solid walls, or read even the best-hidden secret documents. Think how a magic could revolutionize detective work, making it possible to trail a person with almost no chance of detection. For the less honorable user of magic, blackmail is always an option. (“My crystal ball showed me a most interesting scene – some noble-woman consorting with the queens paramour – ahh, yes, counting gold always takes my mind off such tawdry matters.”) A magic-user specializing in such services could find plenty of clients. Of course, this would lead to the development of appropriate security measures, both magical (an amulet of proof against detection would neutralize such spying techniques) and non-magical (simply writing down conversations instead of speaking them would foil a magic-user using something like clairaudience).
But also other fields of interest, like communications. There are no freeways or internet, but news is still vital! A plague, famine, rebellion – can only be spread at the speed of a man on horseback. How much more efficient to hire a couple of magic-users, equip each of them with a crystal ball, and set them in two widely separated cities. At regular intervals each would stare into his ball at the other end and trade reports (or, if the rooms were familiar to them, clairaudience would serve just as efficiently). This has its limits – without efficient clocks, timing the reports might be difficult – but it should still work often enough to be useful. Such a system could also be set up as a private concern, offering information from leagues away to local lords (politics and war news), merchants (crop yields, weather, and current prices), and anyone else willing to pay for the service.
And this is the tip of the iceberg – just think of many other applications magic could have to make a buck: transportation, construction, crime, fraud, and so much more goodness to consider, just remember that their is a cost at times for the specialized knowledge to the materials needed to invoke the payer’s request… .