Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Savage Wizard

Your party is advancing through the mountains. You've already weathered several skirmishes with orcs, and you've turned them back every time. Above you, though, standing in the center of the path, is one of the fiercest looking orcs you've seen yet. His tusks are carved with intricate geometric patterns, and his tattooed chest is draped in a wolf hide. His thick hand is wrapped around the haft of a greatax, and there is a look on his face that says you are not going to turn him aside as you did the others. Your fighter steps forward, readying his pike for the downhill charge, and that's when the scarred figure points his ax at the party and bellows a single, harsh word. Lightning erupts from his weapon, streaking through your ranks, leaving charred flesh and scorched armor in its wake.

You should never judge a book by its cover... especially when we're talking about wizards.

No armor, a single weapon wielded in one hand... prepare for fireball. Just in case.

Not All Wizards Are Wizened

We, as both players and DMs, have a stereotypical image of what a wizard should look like in our minds. An image that's been informed by generations of gaming and genre fiction alike. Wizards should be old, wise, and they tend to have a preference for staves, beards, and comfortable robes. In short, wizards should look like they came from the halls of academia, and not from the bramble forests or rugged mountains of the savage frontier.

However, while Golarion as a setting is filled with colleges dedicated to arcane learning (as are most fantasy RPG settings), nowhere is it stated in the class description that a wizard has to get his or her training at one of these institutes. As I mentioned in What Do Your Verbal and Somatic Components Look Like?, every culture, and every country, has their own magical traditions. While the effects of the spells are set, how you choose to cast them can vary widely from one caster to another as far as what words you use, what language you cast in, and the particular gestures that accompany your casting.

This also applies to who teaches you magic, and what forms your studies take.

I learned transmutation spells the HARD way.
There are dozens of different ways you could create a savage wizard. For example, if you were smart, and capable, you may have been apprenticed to the tribe's war shaman, who taught you the rudiments of magic, and explained the mysteries of the planes to you in countless lessons. You might keep a roll of hides, each with the forms and rituals of your spells inked or branded onto the skins. You might even bear tattoos or brands that increase your spellcasting prowess (such as with the feat Varisian Tattoo), and which mark you out to other members of your tribe.

You might come from the freezing peaks of the northern mountains, the furnace of the deserts, or the stifling heat of the southern jungles. You could be from a nation of half-feral elves, who have descended into war and conquest, while still clinging to their ancient knowledge. You might be an arcane warrior of the Sklar Qua among the Shoan-Ti, fulfilling the cultural role of priest, as well as that of knowledgeable mystic. You might even be a wandering hedge mage, learning from stolen spellbooks, ancient ruins, and personal experiments which have left you scarred, and more than a little mad.

There are certain elements you need to have in order to be a wizard. A thirst for knowledge, an understanding of the arcane, and a spellbook. How you gained that knowledge, and how you learned about the mysteries of magic, is wide open. So, if your table is in the habit of taking what they see at face value, bring a Bedouin swathed in black robes, and with a masterwork scimitar hanging from his left hip. Then, when battle is joined, draw your bonded item, and reveal the power of the necromancer no one truly expected.

If you're looking for further inspiration, check out 5 Tips For Playing Better Wizards!

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  1. Is this essentially a character (with class levels in Wizard) that includes a "savage" backstory for purely flavor purposes (such as unconventional somatic components), but that doesn't really affect game mechanics in any way?

    1. Pretty much. Works best with transmuters and evokers.