Wednesday World Building: Flunked out of the Magic Academy

Apparently, pointy hats do not a wizard make.

Backgrounds are pretty neat, but they tend to be pretty mundane. 5th Edition, by and large, is encompassed by a world of fantasy rife with magic and the supernatural.

But what of when magic fails? Other than those to whom magic comes naturally as with sorcerers, or those granted power as with Warlocks and Clerics, Wizards must learn. Wizardry in particular is a rigorous field that one must seek out and master. Your specific setting might have wizardry academies or cloistered wizards that carefully choose single inheritors. but there will always be those that take up the call of magic, and fail.


New Background- Failed Magician

You came to be an apprentice, but it never took. Whether you just never had the knack, or you squandered your opportunity for arcane might through a series of bad choices or mistakes, you were rejected and turned away from magic while in the middle of your training. You know enough to get you in trouble, and this rudimentary but incomplete knowledge has proven to be more of a liability at times.

Your new path fills you with enthusiasm, but you can still harken back to the times scrubbing out old potion bottles or attempting to read from an animate book, and can recite rudimentary magical principals with ease, though this does not mean anything without a more thorough background in magic.

There is perhaps a wizard academy or cabal that resents you for spurning the gift of magic, or you may be marked by some strange magical aura that highlights the shame inherent in failing at the pursuit of magic. This tends to manifest itself as an immediate recognition by other mages that you were once meant for a life of magic. You either find kinship with other magic users, or rue their eccentric ways.

To your other companions, you might either hide that part of your life, or underscore your past by regaling them with the story of your excommunication. Whatever the case, it is likely that your past will come back to haunt you in any number of interesting ways, whether by zealous witch hunters, unpaid magic guild fees, or a situation that calls for your limited understanding of magic.

Skills: Arcana, Perception

Language: Two of your choice.

Equipment: A magical encyclopedia, chalk, apprentice robes, a ritual dagger,

Feature: Hedge Magic
You know the basest bits of magic, and it’s been enough to get you into trouble, especially when those around you assume you know more. You may either elect to be able to cast ritual magic, with knowledge of one ritual selected from level 1, selected from any spell list. Alternately, they may know one cantrip that can be used twice per day. In either case, you must make an Intelligence (arcana) check with a DC of 12. The spell is cast as normal on a success. Otherwise, the spell fails without counting towards your uses per day.

Alternate Feature: Cursed Caster
You have learned magic, but your understanding of it is flawed. You may cast one spell from level 1 or 2 from the wizard spell list. Each time you cast it, you must make an Intelligence (arcana) check with a DC of 15. If you succeed, you cast the spell with no negative consequences. If you fail, you cast the spell as normal, but receive a curse. The nature of the curse can be anything from being polymorphed into a mouse to being poisoned. In either case, the effect lasts for 1 minute. Any effect that would end the curse is expensive, either doubling listed costs or costing 1000 gold in addition to any other requirements. Work with your game master to come up with an appropriate spell choice and curse feature. A player must remove this curse before being able to pursue class levels in wizard or sorcerer.

Suggested Characteristics:
Failed spellcasters come from all walks of life, from apprentices turned charlatans to desperate students researching forbidden tomes. They may come from all walks of life, but their interest in the arcane arts are as steadfast as they are misplaced. Some abandon the further study of magic, while others seek to pursue a deeper magical career.

d8 Personality Traits
1- I clutch an empty spellbook when nervous, and refuse to let people touch it.
2- I was maimed once by a spell, and react viscerally when I hear or see it.
3- If it has to do with magic, I can’t resist knowing more!
4- I whisper unless I absolutely need to speak louder. My old teacher might be listening…
5- I make a mystic hand sign to ward off bad luck and evil spirits.
6- I doodle magical symbols on EVERYTHING!
7- I am a real magician. I’m even dressed as one!
8- I carry a wand, and I think that it’s real.

d6 Ideals
1- Freedom. No one should be forced into servitude.
2- Fairness. The privileged should not hoard all mystic might.
3- Pilgrimage. There is a new path that leads away from magic, towards destiny!
4- People. Magic should be used for the good of all!
5- Responsibility. Magic can be dangerous, and should not be taken lightly.
6- Aspiration. Magic is the key to a better life.

d6 Bonds
1- Arcane secrets should be kept secret.
2- I’m dedicated to learning magic the right way!
3- I won’t let anyone else suffer as I did as an apprentice.
4- I wish to prove my innocence at the academy and be reinstated as a student.
5- I always wanted to meet that one nymph… it’s why I learned magic!
6- I’ll have a student of my own someday!

d6 Flaws
1- I will use any magical item or device without thinking.
2- I think I can brew potions.
3- I refuse to use any magic that is not my own!
4- An old mentor is angry with me, and seeks me out for revenge.
5- When it comes to magic, I stubbornly refuse to admit when I’m wrong, even in the face of danger.
6- I’m aggressively competitive with real magicians.

Wednesday World Building: The Devil in the Details

snow horse 01

As I am working on a homebrew setting* for my home campaign with my kids, I am brought to think what it is that I am doing to make this world unique. This is my first serious attempt at a setting that comes from me, rather than being some commissioned work or contributing my talent towards building another person’s setting. My intent is to create something that I can share from the heart with my children/players.

In reflecting on the first 8 or so sessions, and thinking of the tiny segment of my setting that the player’s have traversed, I find it important to evoke the details. They are currently in a forest that is ruled at large by mythical forces. Fey creatures vie for supremacy with other strange beings as they all try to live in civilized throngs that dot the forest.

The fey are the most prominent force within the forest. They have organized under various factions that comprise an entity called the Court of Seasons. While other fey affiliations exist, the pull of the seasonal courts is very likely the most noticeable. Whenever a seasonal faction gains control of the court, that seasonal weather takes hold of the entire forest. Regions that are far from the forest have weather that largely lasts year round**.

But back to the point… though my players have yet to deeply involve themselves in fey politics, they are already starting to see the signs of it evident in the world. Right now, they are chasing a bad guy across the forest for crimes against nature, but in time they will realize what this bad guy’s past has to do with them and the story of the forest. But for now, they are enjoying the snow… except when a mysterious Rime Knight appears to chase them to their next destination.

Although I may just be nebulously teasing the details of my campaign, that is exactly the point that I am trying to make. You readers may already know more than my players do about these aspects of my game, but to them and you the details are the trees that make up the forest. I could tell my players the sweeping history of the Two Oaks that rise above the clouds, or what the courts themselves mean, but then I would simply be narrating my story. The story is about them, and the discovery is what makes it special. They define the experience just as much as it defines them.

So how does that help you to world build? Consider that you can simply pepper details about your setting into your games (or fiction, or what have you) and evoke a larger sense of wonder and curiosity than if you were simply to read a page out of a history book***.

* Not Diem Mundi.
** As is the case in the real world.
***We can’t all be history buffs.

On the Assumptions of and About Role Playing at Large

There is a prevailing sense of ownership over many hobbies, and each of those hobbies has its barriers to entry, seen by most as “paying dues” to be considered “in”. I can’t really agree with this, especially as I am inducting my own children into the hobby, and I don’t wish to see them alienated for their lack of experience or exposure to role playing.

While I can definitely understand this mentality for the creative aspects of role playing (that is to say, writing for and publishing material), it is not sustainable to have this attitude about the participation of role playing at large. We are buried under a mountain of old stories, minutia, experience, and in jokes. It’s a hard culture to engage, especially when you consider that many role players feel similarly ostracized from other groups or activities.

I’ve had my head in the sand in respect to those who aren’t already into roleplaying, and that is unfortunate. I came to this hobby eagerly, and was willing to jump through whatever existing hoops there were to be initiated. But just like other expensive pastimes precluding a wider participation base (I refer you to hardcore model train enthusiasts), roleplaying does a lot to exclude newcomers.

A lot of talk is made about how video games are causing the demise of roleplaying. I don’t believe this one bit. And yet, the vastly disproportionate popularity between the two leads to certain conclusions. The prevailing theory is that role playing games are dying because they can’t possibly compete with multibillion dollar entertainment mediums. This is apples and oranges, but why don’t we avoid the logical pitfalls and instead use this as a teachable moment?


Imagine that video games came with a big manual that you had to read (old computer gamers know that this was once the case). Any barrier to gameplay will immediately turn away a large swath of potential players, no matter how interesting or unique your entertainment experience is, and this goes beyond in game documentation. Things like install times, tedious tutorials, lengthy and unskippable opening cinematics all detract from the desire for a player to play your game. Will there be people who jump through hoops to participate in the experience? Of course, but this is the filter through which media finds “cult hits”.

But we don’t need to be a cult hit hobby anymore. Some may cry over the inclusivity and updates that 4th edition D&D brought with it, and some still decry the “crowd” that grew the ranks of role players when Vampire the Masquerade first arrived, but the truth is that we can’t afford to be exclusive anymore. Not you the player, not me the fledgeling blogger/freelancer, and not the industry at large. We aren’t hurting for new blood, but we are at risk of stagnating due to a misplaced sense of hubris. The hobby must grow, or it will remain stunted.

Even now, role playing has been coming around to a new vision and a new approach; one whereby new players aren’t treated like pledges to a secret club, but rather as welcome as able and ready members. Games are playable after reading the first few pages, sometimes without dice. Other rpgs are now played at parties, casually. I welcome this change, but it isn’t enough.

We need to improve inclusiveness, break down the cultural and gender based barriers, and remember what it felt to be new at role playing. What ill placed word or thickly (and poorly organized) written rule set might have turned us away? Maybe none, but for some of us there was no keeping us from this hobby. But think of any other time you’ve been turned down from something, or discouraged from an activity. We don’t want to be that group anymore.

There needs to be a ground floor, a level 0, a place where casual gamers can come in and see what it’s like, so that there aren’t only ardent (and let’s face it, critical) fans of the game that color the way the industry turns its wheels. If board games can bring in more fans that role playing, then it is clear that there is a need for a change. Though I am not an apt herald for this change, I will still trumpet its cause.

There is now a level 0.