Monday, August 10, 2015

Magic Schools in your Games

I was thinking a bit about Schools of Magic today.  Not the schools in the D&D sense, but more in the classical sense of a place to go and learn magic.

Have any of you detailed magic schools in your games?

There are plenty of examples in history, folklore and media.  I have used the Scholomance in my games for many years, but it is a small, elite school taking only 13 students at a time (and keeping one of them!).  On the other end of the equation I have also used the magic school from Glantri as a model.

For many of my witch characters or NPCs I have usually backgrounded something like a home school environment.  But I never have really built anything formal.

I like the idea of a game with younger heroes.  I already mentioned I'd love to do a Harry Potter game, or even a Charmed game (which also had a magic school).  You can have your normal high school drama complicated by everyone also having magic.

The problem with this is that D&D wizards (and all spell casters really) start out as really weak.  In most versions of D&D they only know one spell at first level.  So what did they learn in school?  
The old 2nd Edition Wizard's Handbook covers some of this, but copying your master's scrolls is not really fertile ground for role-playing.

There are cantrips that kind of get around this, but even knowing 6 cantrips is not much to do anything with.   But personally I have often thought that magic-users should be starting the game with more than one spell.

Maybe Magic School is something they do between adventures, not just something they start when young and then go out and adventure, but something they do and then adventure in between terms.
Then characters keep going back till something like 6th level.   I'll have to think about it.

What are your thoughts?


Anonymous said...

It really depends on the scope and setting. Ironically, while B/X's Expert book invokes the mages guild/magic school trope as the one possible means for learning new spells, it doesn't make as much sense mechanically, because each mage is limited not just in his spells per day but in his spells-in-book by his level. Mages at schools would be unable to learn anything besides their one first level spell; once they'd learned it, there would be no real point in continuing lessons until they hit level their next level. On the other hand, B/X is more flexible with its item creation than a lot of games, so I'd imagine a B/X mage school would be something like a cross between summer camp crafts day and a swap meet.

If we ignore B/X's restriction on known spells and go for the more flexible Holmes' spellbook system, solitary tutelage tends to make the most sense thematically. A powerful wizard accepts students to teach a few low-level spells for an exorbitant price (usually paid by a wealthy parent or to repay to generational debt or favor). Something like the old hedge wizard from Dunsany's Charwoman's Shadow is what springs to mind. To make a Roke or a Hogwarts work (both thematically and mechanically), you'd need a fundamentally different system of magic in place than what's present in most editions of bog-standard D&D.

Tyler said...

When I was dabbling with the GURPS Cabal setting, I used one of the Cabal's scholomances, Martense College, as my framework. Outwardly an old New England college that wants to mingle with the Ivy League, it of course has a secret inner institution, the black school of the Cabal, instructing the scions of the sorcerous and supernatural the Hermetic magic traditions. The geography was very literally based on Middlebury College and its town of the same name, though in that case the town had modernized its spelling to Martinsbury, while the college kept the archaic form.

Dr. Theda said...

All we did (as "Organizations of Magic Users") was the "Mages Guilds" (from Dragonlance)... Most studied as "apprentice" to another mage...

Konsumterra said...

i have added some modern ideas to my bx wizards
INT bonus spells, 4 cantrips and one spell base first level
i let them use crossbows too

most wizards considered students till 4th level and may continue to serve master for spells
most wizards learn by private tuition but city has a multifacalty university for magic
at least two rebel schools about one which is supernatural and evil with demon teachers
smaller schools exist when 5th lv students become tutor rather than go own ways

DMWieg said...

In my campaign, magic is taught at the two Great Academies, elite schools that also teach alchemy, lost languages, ancient history, etc. A 1st level wizard is a student who has mastered the basics of magical manipulation. At that point in their education, a student is advised to travel out into the world and attempt to learn spells on their own. They free to return to the school from that point on to study, exchange knowledge, etc. New spells can be learned at the Academies, but there's usually some sort of tuition charge.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

I am going to follow up on this later in the week.

Anonymous said...

I have played around with ideas for academies and guilds but most of my players lean towards self-taught wizards so they have been primarily off-stage.

But this discussion did inspire my magic item for this week: