The typical fantasy world assumes a low level of general education.  Many (or most) can’t read or do basic math.  Scholars are rare or derided, and universities and higher learning are not considered to be worth the expenditure in gold and real estate.  Learning is generally not a priority for most people, because most fantasy worlds assume a medieval level of development and resources.  For the average peasant, there is little time for reading when crops must be gathered.  Adventurers focus on staying alive or the practical knowledge they need to loot more efficiently.  Generally, this makes sense given the medieval baseline.

That is not to say that education does not exist in fantasy gaming or literature.  It quite often does, but it is at best a sideline.  Eberron introduced institutionalized education into D&D in a way that hadn’t been done in a major production before (again, to the best of my knowledge – please feel free to correct the record).  I think it’s safe to say that education very rarely drives much of any fantasy world, and that it is very rare for education to be anyone’s priority (in the fantasy world at large, at any rate).  Within the scope of my gaming experience, there has been little in the way of an educated populace.

I’ve been looking for a real twist to the Pathfinder campaign I’m in the process of planning.  While reading David Weber’s By Schism Rent Asunder, I had a brainstorm.  What if education was common in my game world?  What if the Empire, the largest unified nation in the world, sponsors public education at all levels?  What if the Fellowship of Light, the largest organized religion in the world, encourages its faithful to better themselves and others through intellectual endeavors?  What if most of the population can read, do math, and owns at least a few books?  I don’t think this is necessarily a revolutionary approach to gaming, but it certainly revolutionizes my approach.

The first step towards solidifying this idea is to determine the level of education in science, mathematics, literature, philosophy, linguistics, and religion that has been reached.  In other words, how advanced is their education in real-world terms?  I’ve decided to go with an Italian Renaissance-era feel.  So, the sciences (especially their practical applications to engineering) are on the rise, and intellectualism is prized.  Successful rulers must also be well-versed in all aspects of learning in order to be able to converse intelligently with one another and in order to manage their realms.

Keeping with the Renaissance influence, organized religion is also a sponsor of education, though mostly so that they might tempt the people to join the ranks of the priesthood.  Architects and artists are commonly commissioned to create great works that venerate the pantheons.  Clerics and acolytes also educate their flocks as part of their ministerial duties.  Most mid-size cities on up have a college or university of some kind, and some have more than one.  The Imperial capital, of course, has the biggest and most awe-inspiring of them all – Imperial Collegium.  There are half a dozen competitors in the city, but none with quite the same resources or prestige.

The next consideration is magic.  How does it fit into education in my world?  Is it part of universities, or do spellcasters maintain their own schools?  Either choice presents more options, but I’ll stick with magic included in universities.  Spellcasters have their own guilds, of course, but magical education may be found at most temples of learning.  In fact, artificers and archivists are quite common in universities around the world, melding the magical with the mundane.  I’ve always loved Eberron’s blending of magic and technology, and I’d like to carry the same tone into my game world.  A little bit Renaissance to it, perhaps, but it’s a good starting point.

Similar to Eberron, I’d also like to make museums part of the educational scene.  Many colleges have them, and they help the adventuring economy thrive.  Such collections provide ample opportunities for buying and selling, as well as cloak-and-dagger affairs.  Universities compete over having the best museums, just as cities and kingdoms compete over having the best universities.  Skilled faculty are always in demand, as are items (or people)  for study.  This way, adventurers are an integral part of the educational system and the economy.  Adventurers also exist in their usual capacity as troubleshooters, mercenaries, and just plain treasure hunters, but I like having a solid reason for so many antiquities and artifacts to be moving through the economy.

Class-wise, scholars and teachers may be of any class.  Artificers and archivists are going to be common scholar classes in my world, with a fair number of bards, clerics, and wizards for flavor.  There will also be a very sizable proportion of NPC classes represented, since not everyone is an adventurer.  It will vary a bit by institution, of course, but at most places the majority of faculty members will be from NPC classes.  The most common heroic class is most likely the bard, followed by the wizard and archivist.  Clerics and artificers have the smallest noticeable presence, but there are still plenty of them.

And there you have it…