Friday, July 22, 2016

The Escaped Slave Wizard

There is no denying the power of the written word. Education opens doors, and makes things previously thought impossible into a reality. In fact, the right words can often be what sets you free. Especially if you happen to be a wizard, and no one around you suspects it.

Clearly a wizard.
Former slaves become adventurers all the time, but it tends to be a background we associate with martial characters. Barbarians and fighters may be former gladiators, or trained soldiers who fought so their masters wouldn't have to (speaking of, check out my character conversion for The Unsullied). Slaves who picked their own locks might become rogues (as we see in my Harriet Tubman character conversion), and those who hid in the forests or deserts from pursuers might take levels of ranger. In some cases a slave might be a sorcerer, whose powers awaken unexpectedly, which he then uses to escape his bondage.

But rarely do we give this background to wizards. Because, after all, wizards have to train and study intensively. They need to practice, and practice, and practice to get their gestures, words, and magic just right. Something that's hard enough to do under regular circumstances, and nearly impossible to do if you're in the fields working the land, carrying stones, or doing any other sort of forced labor.

The Words of "Nightjohn"


When I was in middle school, my teacher read us the book Nightjohn by Gary Paulsen. For those of you who don't know the book, it takes place on a plantation in the pre-Civil War south. Not a nice place to be, especially if you are one of the people who make up the enslaved workforce. While I don't remember all of the book, I do recall an exchange between our protagonist, and a recently-arrived slave who is the Nightjohn of the book's title. It goes something like this:

John: "I can trade you for some of that."
Lead: "Trade me what? When they brought you in here you was naked as the day you was born."
John: "Girl, I can read. And I'll teach you."

Libraries are dangerous places, as any adventurer knows.
Though the rest of the details have escaped me, that scenario is one that could make a compelling wizard. You were just another slave, until a fateful meeting. Perhaps you were allowed to play with the master's children, and they taught you some of their parlor tricks. Your owners, infuriated, made sure you were kept far in the fields, and worked hard, but you never forgot what you learned. Maybe you snuck into the house on pretenses, and made off with old copies of the son's lessons. Perhaps you heard his instruction, crouching beneath a window. Or, it's possible that your teacher is, as in Nightjohn, one of your fellow slaves. He no longer has his spellbook, perhaps, but he still has his knowledge. Knowledge that, if imparted, may present opportunity.

What Kind of Wizard Would You Be?


This concept could be used for every school of magic. Did you find you have a knack for evocation, blasting off your chains and burning down your master's home? Or did enchantment come more easily to you, allowing you to simply ask your owners to unlock your chains so you could walk away? Did you create illusions to make them think you were all still in the field while you were really making a break for it? Or did you conjure allies from the ether, creating chaos in what had been an orderly world?

The other question you need to answer, though, is what did you do with your freedom? Did you enhance your learning? And to what purpose? Did you walk away, panting and relieved, or did you go back to give freedom to all those who didn't come with you?

Hopefully everyone enjoyed this week's addition to my ongoing Unusual Character Concepts feature! If you'd like to see more installments, just let me know. Also, if you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then all you have to do is pop over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to leave me a little tip. Even $1 a month can go a long way, and it will net you some sweet swag as a thank you. Lastly, if you haven't done so yet, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter?

1 comment:

  1. i actually played a Slave that happened to be a Wizard. well, she was technically another wizard's Ex Familiar, which is kind of like being a slave, she was one of my many fey, well, she was duped into being a familiar against her will, when her wizard master was slain, she was set free and adventured with her saviors. but she was an abused familiar used as little more than a maid.

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