Magical Mondays: By Any Other Name   Leave a comment

In your campaign world, what, exactly, do people mean when they say “Wizard”? This can be a good question to ask yourself, because it can help to increase the flavor of your world’s magic beyond the scope of its spell slots.

In this week’s Magical Mondays, we’re talking about the difference between class names and in-world description. Ask yourself, if you play the first edition of Dungeons and Dragons, does the player playing the Thief say “Allow me to introduce myself: I’m a thief”? Probably not; the member of a thieve’s guild might take some pride in boasting about their profession, but a loner character who merely has the ability to find traps and issue deadly strikes from the shadows doesn’t necessarily think of itself as a thief. Third edition is a bit better, but a person identifying him or herself as a “rogue” is probably going to make people assume that you’re someone who needs to be watched closely.

The “rogue problem” is one of the places where the disparity between class name and story title is most apparent. If you have a world like that seen in The Order Of The Stick, this isn’t a problem. In such a world, characters can self-identify as rogues or fighters easily, and in more extreme cases rules such as “saving throws” and “base attack bonus” are measurable laws of physics (or at least biology) that can be observed, tested and qualified. Your world may not be quite as on-the-nose as that, but you might be fine with the world’s in-game culture corresponding to some of the terminology that you use as a player.

On the other end of the spectrum, you can have classes that are identified the way trees are in real life. Trees, unlike many types of plant, are sometimes identified more for their form and function than for their biological roots (sorry, couldn’t resist.) Two trees can be very different life forms, but the classification of “tree” still works if it has a trunk, a crown, and leaves. If you begin defining a wizard the way you define a tree, it opens up a lot of options. All wizards will have spell slots, Vancian spell magic, and a similar number of spells available per day. Just like the biology of a tree, however, the magical traditions behind each individual wizard might be very different from another one.

What follows is a list of names for magical traditions that might exist in your world and corresponding classes from Pathfinder and the third edition of D&D. If your players aren’t expecting this kind of thing, don’t be the jerk who has everyone in town calling the villain a wizard when it’s actually a warlock unless there’s some reason for the confusion. If players expect a word to mean a certain thing, ease them into the possible changes. (As a sidenote, I’d like to say that Magician is one of my favorite words for spellcasters in games. It gives the players no preconceptions about what class they might encounter, without sounding like a “generic spellcaster” title.)

Wizard
Wizard (duh)
Mage
Arcanist
Sage
Wise One
Spell Weaver

Sorcerer
Sorcerer
Blood Caster
Blood Cursed
Blood Favored
Dragonchild
Witch
Mage
Mutant
Spell Weaver

Bard
Bard
Scop
Scald
Charlatan
Beguiler
Prestidigitater
Chanter

Cleric
Cleric
Priest
Miracle Worker
Prayer Shaper
Faith Caster

Paladin
Paladin (especially in a real-world style campaign with a France analogue)
Holy Knight
Sacred Steel
Knight
Lorefighter
Blessed Brawler

Druid
Druid
Skin Changer
Fey Friend
Wildwalker
Beast Brother

Artificer
Artificer
Alchemist
Tinkerer
Magician
Spirit Waker
Battle Blesser
War Wright
Mithril Maker

Psion
Psion
Psychic
Mind Mage
Mutant
Witch
Thought Taker
Mind Master

Enchanter
Enchanter
Mind Mage
Spellbinder
Entrancer
Witch

Diviner
Diviner
Prophet
Fortune Teller
Soothsayer
Truthwright
Knowledge Maker

Conjurer
Conjurer
Summoner
Mystic Maker
Diabolist (for specializing in summoning fiendish creatures)

 

These are generic titles (though some might fit a given campaign setting better than others). Your own setting might have some campaign specific concepts that would work on their own. It may help to come up with the name (or concept) of a magical tradition before deciding what class represents it. I’m going to use a certain category of magical names borrowed/stolen from games like The Bard’s Tale and books like Master Of The Five Magics.

Thaumatugrist
In Master Of The Five Magics, Thaumaturgy is a school of magic based on two laws, one stating that like produces like, and another stating that once something is together it is always together. Staple abilities include the ability to change a person’s appearance through a voodoo-doll style control of magic and the ability to move some things (or many things) by manipulating something like it, or something that was once connected to it. The best bet for this would be a Transmuter specialist wizard, though you might also make it a Sorcerer who focuses on Transmutation and also has a focus on arcane variants of Cure spells.

Alchemist
In Master Of The Five Magics, the path of an Alchemist is a difficult one. Thematically, the best bet would seem to be a Specialist with a focus on alchemy, though a Magewright might be the better way to go. For a PC class, it’s hard to ignore the Artificer, and a potion-focused Artificer can make a lot of headway.  I wouldn’t urge a player to be an Alchemist of this sort in a game, however; one of the sad rules of Alchemy was that, unlike with real science, the results weren’t always reproduceable.  Your formula might not work the first time, or the second, or the fifth, but if you kept doing it you could, hopefully, eventually make it work.  Players tend to avoid that kind of headache.

Conjurer
In The Bard’s Tale, Conjurers conjure things. The D&D 3.5 Conjurer specialist wizard is, unsurprisingly, an almost perfect fit.

Magician
Now things get a little bit interesting. “Magicians” are the creators of magical items in Master Of The Five Magics, and they do it through long, extended rituals. Similarly, in The Bard’s Tale, Magicians are ones who can magically enhance material that’s already there.  Players of role playing games may appreciate that one of the problems with being a Magician in Master Of The Five Magics is the fact that it costs a ridiculous amount of money. Artificer is the obvious class to turn to, but the focus on ritualized perfection almost suggests that an Artificer who multiclasses Wu Jen would fit the feel better (probably with aspirations toward the circle magic practiced in the Forgotten Realms Thayan tradition.)

Sorcerer
In both The Bard’s Tale and Master Of The Five Magics, the art of sorcery has nothing to do with vancian spells cast through a probable magical lineage. Instead, they are spells that have to do with the mind. An Enchanter is a good model, but for the full flavor you might actually want to go with a Telepath instead. A multiclass Enchanter/Telepath might be perfect. Spell Focus on Illusion for the full ability to make people take damage from things that aren’t there.

Wizard
In what feels like an even greater departure than the Sorcerer, Wizards in The Bard’s Tale and Master Of The Five Magics are a lot like a cross between Conjurers and Necromancers. Their abilities conjure and create undead creatures and demonic entities in these traditions. A Necromancer with a spell focus in Conjuration, or the other way around, would fit this perfectly. The emphasis on having to break the will of some conjured creatures implies that the Binder class from Tome Of Magic might also work.

A good way to get a feel for what kind of names might work would be to invest in a few premade adventures (something made easier than ever thanks to Wizards of the Coast creating the PDF store) and looking at what certain types of NPC are called. A number of NPCs in certain factions in material that WotC released for certain premades and in older issues of Dungeon magazine and Dragon magazine had intriguing titles. One of my favorites, for instance, was the description of Dreadhold Prison in Dragon #344. Two of my favorites from that article include Chainmakers (artificers charged with maintaining the prison’s equipment, traps and construct guardians) and the Lawkeepers (Clerics who dabble in the Dragonmark Heir prestige class so that they can focus on maintaining order in the prison both through divine might and healing and also through their dragonmark abilities.) Oh, and the Wandguard troops of Dreadhold are a really nice “magical guard” concept that could challenge the players without being too capable on their own. Seriously, that article is a great read for this kind of thing; I believe it’s currently available as a PDF through Paizo’s online store. I’m going to conclude this article with a few more “magical tradition” names and some quick guidelines on how you can make them.

Pyromancers
While there *is* a Pyromancer class on its own when I play in Cantadel, a generic Pyromancer that doesn’t rely on my homebrew material is simple. Using an evocationist or conjurer would be easy, but I think I’d prefer a sorcerer who sacrifices one spell slot per level and the ability to have a familiar in exchange for a “fire spell” slot that can be used for a fire spell of any sort of the appropriate level. Unfortunately, these sorcerers can’t cast cold spells without a severe class level penalty.

Fortune Tellers
These are Clerics, usually ones dedicated to deities of chance or luck, with a few levels as a Diviner that allow them to take a level of Mystic Theurge. Never as powerful as comparably studied spellcasters from either the divine or arcane side of things, Fortune Tellers devote a great amount of the spellcasting ability to learning the future. Those who take it as a job sometimes purchase or create crystal balls that are capable of replenishing divination spell slots cast for other people rather than for themselves.

Spell Wardens
Usually Wizards with the Improved Counterspell feat, a level of Fighter and one level in Eldritch Knight, they serve as mercenary peace keeping forces that keep a low profile while offering their services to cities that need their help. They use magic to enhance themselves for physical combat, but keep a number of high-level spells of many sorts (usually necromancy, conjurtaion and evocation if they don’t know what they’re getting into in a day) so that they can intentionally counterspell the spells of rogue magic users. Their mobile bases (very sturdy but otherwise plain carriages most of the time) generally have divination material available to try and give the Spell Wardens a heads up on spells that it would be good to prepare for the coming day.

Underkeepers
One of the reasons for why Undertakers are seen as creepy, the Underkeepers are Necromancers who practice undertaking and taxidermy while also taking the Craft Construct feat. They make miniature flesh golems from the well-preserved bodies of hunted animals to patiently guard their homes. Their “flesh golems” tend to be of much higher quality than others, and many sentimental people who have lost beloved pets (or even family members and friends) have tried to bring them back through an Underkeeper’s capabilities. The Underkeepers themselves generally refrain from pointing out that the golems will not have the same “soul” or “identity” as the original, or that the creature may be prone to explosively violent tendencies. Far less flashy than most wizards, Underkeepers are often difficult to notice at first, but are well prepared for many dangers if they are ever discovered.

 

With luck and some careful application, these names will suggest magical traditions to your players in ways that grant the story depth of character classes without the extra paperwork required. And, of course, a great story can be told.

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