Perivas
 member, 71 posts
Mon 14 Jan 2019
at 18:47
How to Run a Magic School/College Game in D&D 3.5e?
Greetings all,

I recently finished reading the Harry Potter series for the first time.  I am an adult and just really late to doing it.  I finished it after my children read, bought and then reread the series again.  Anyhow, it is inspiring to think about running a game in a magic school/college setting.  That said, I wanted to do it in D&D 3.5e.  I understand that there may be better sets of rules out there, but that's the set I would like to use.  With that as a premise, I have some ideas about the game, but wanted to see if others have ideas that may be helpful as well.

Here are my questions.  What should the age of the PCs who are students be?  In the series, the students are children in a normally safe albeit fantastic world, which explains why the staff or adults don't take their accusations very seriously most of the time, until late in the series.  That has the effect of making the main characters the heroes of the series with significant impact.  How would one handle that same dynamic if the PCs were made a bit older?  Could the eight schools of magic be used to set up the different houses?  What personality traits might apply to each school?  How should the game handle the levels of PCs?  What should the PCs start at, and how might they advance each year?  Who should threaten the school and the wider world?  Answers to any or all of these questions, and any other aspect would be great!  Thank you for everyone's help on this.
GreyGriffin
 member, 257 posts
 Portal Expat
 Game System Polyglot
Mon 14 Jan 2019
at 19:00
How to Run a Magic School/College Game in D&D 3.5e?
Just to address a few questions in the middle of the pack -

D&D, especially 3e, is a pretty terrible system for a magickal school setting.  The way that spells and schools are designed make "mundane" magic extremely scattershot in how it is distributed, because of meta-level game balance considerations surrounding mixed-group combat encounters.

I really recommend going to a system like Mage, or even adopting something looser like Fate or Risus, just so the mechanics don't fight directly with the tone and frustrate you and your players with a thousand ways to fry your enemies and only one spell to clean your dorm.
gladiusdei
 member, 748 posts
Mon 14 Jan 2019
at 19:03
How to Run a Magic School/College Game in D&D 3.5e?
I have wanted to do this for a long time, and found it really hard to conceptualize on rpol.  I think your biggest hurdle is that it's only really going to be fun if it is a long term game, something that is hard to guarantee on this site.

Your second problem is growth rate.  If the schooling in magic is the main focus, it leads to difficulty in how to have them learn.  It's hard to parse out 'lessons' in D&D unless you either make each session or episode of the game contain enough to have the players gain one level, you have them gain levels normally but have the lessons possibly add things like feats or knacks, or you totally dismantle to leveling system and basically deciding your own way of having them grow.  Or you can ignore that entirely and just have them level as they would normally, by encounter, but then that sort of takes away from the idea of being a magic school.

You're also going to run into the problem of having players all be VERY similar.  I know, and very much understand, that the personality of the character is the important thing (aragorn, legolas, gimli, boromir, Faramir, eomer, eowyn, and Theoden are all roughly the same class with possible prestige classes thrown in, but are wildly different characters because of their personalities).  But in D&D, where the stat sheet is the only concrete thing to encapsulate the characters, it becomes a lot harder to differentiate several wizards from each other.  And players of D&D tend to want to have their stats be the forefront, or at least that's the tendency in many D&D games where combat effectiveness is primary.

I have tried to get around this using the gestalt rules with mixed results.  It allows for a way wider range of magical characters, but it also requires a lot of monitoring or players may push into min maxing too much.

I ran a game a long time ago, back just after high school, where it was a somewhat similar story.  The players were all the students of a specific master who came under attack from a malevolent force that sought to destroy their home.  Turned out that the master had selected them specifically to apprentice under him because their bloodlines were the key to some sort of powerful dark ritual.  It was cliche, but fun.

You could make the forces arrayed against the school tied into the founding of the school.  Instead of using JK Rowlings racial conflict, make the founders of the school a bit darker.  Possibly combine it with some sort of Faustian bargain, where some or all of the founders made pacts that they should not have, in order to make the school prosperous.  Only now, the rent has come due (to quote Baron Mordo).

You could separate the houses by interest.  It could be schools of magic, but that would require a lot of houses to be made, or possibly something somewhat simpler, like Combat magic, intrigue centered magic, magic that bolsters humanity, and magic that defends it?

so ultimately, I think it's possible, but will take a lot of work on your part.  I agree with Greygriffen's recommendation of Mage, or you could go full in and play Ars Magica.  It's pretty much designed for this sort of story.
Studynot
 member, 132 posts
Mon 14 Jan 2019
at 19:07
How to Run a Magic School/College Game in D&D 3.5e?
Sounds fun!

8 schools of magic could be fun and certainly "dominant" traits can be applied to each. "Hot headed" evokers and "careful" diviners, etc, though obviously there can be variance.

Starting as "0th" level maybe? 3.0 DMG had rules for starting as a 0/0 multiclass that could probably be repurposed to that. I've also seen it done using NPC classes and then they convert over to PC classes.
 - I.e. "Pure blood" wizards could start as an adept or expert depending on if their parents let them practice at home or not. "Muggleborn" could start as an expert or commoner and then "graduate" to Wizard 1 after the first year.
 - Each year of school = a new level until they graduate as "X" level, whatever you think is appropriate for the setting.

Feats that seem appropriate/mandatory:
  • Collegiate Wizard seem like it would be a freebie for something like this? (CA)
  • Precocious apprentice (CA)
  • Apprentice (Spellcaster) (DMG 2)

Questions:
  • Would the school be limited to Wizard only or other arcane classes as well? Sorcerer? War Mage? Beguiler? Duskblades? Bards? Dread necromancers?
  • Would it support any "interdisciplinary studies" like Mystic Theurge, True Necormancers, or Arcane Hierophants?
  • Would students self-select or be "sorted" into schools/"classes"?

While 3.5 is great, for a game like this you might think about allowing the Pathfinder version of cantrips (i.e. unlimited use) once the characters get to an official 1st level. I.e. 0th level can be limited cantrips, but then go unlimited once they get up to 1st.

I think 0th makes sense as people with no schooling coming to the mage's academy likely don't have any magic yet

This message was last edited by the user at 19:11, Mon 14 Jan.

swordchucks
 member, 1538 posts
Mon 14 Jan 2019
at 19:24
How to Run a Magic School/College Game in D&D 3.5e?
This is a concept I keep coming back to, as well, and not finding a system that does a perfect job of it.  The biggest issue with D&D (any edition) is that it lacks any kind of granularity to character advancement.  I ran something kind of similar in GURPS with an eye toward using what I learned from that game to create a magic school game, but I never quite hit the sweet spot.

That said, before you get into the specifics, decide a few key things about your magic school.

1) What is the purpose of the school?  The difference between Hogwarts and The Royal Academy of War Magic is vast.  This tells you a lot about the classes you'll be having.

2) What does a graduate from the school look like?  Since we're talking D&D, what's the average graduation level?  How fast are those levels gained?

3) Insofar as starting ages, I generally find it hard to write realistic characters below mid-late teens.  If you find the right group, maybe they can get an 11 year old right, but I've seen it done badly far more than I've seen it done well.  Shifting the starting age is almost trivial, in terms of changing the story around.

4) Houses are a weird thing.  For the sake of convenience, it is much, much easier to have all of the PCs end up in the same "house".  The Harry Potter novels certainly use this method, and what I've seen of doing it otherwise in a game means multiplicative work for the GM.

Insofar as systems go, I think you can probably build something on the 3.5 chassis that works.  For instance, if you pulled spellcasting and skills out of the normal level progression and made them their own thing, it would go a long way toward giving you something useful.  You could even do something like E6 and make the base "levels" a function of age and the bonus feats a mid-level bonus or the like.  You might also consider replacing Vancian magic with spell points or something similar.
Hendell
 member, 155 posts
Mon 14 Jan 2019
at 20:00
How to Run a Magic School/College Game in D&D 3.5e?
While I wouldn't suggest using the 3.5 version in particular using D&D to represent the 'wizarding world' is quite possible, with little or no system mechanic changes.

The thing you will need to do is change the paradigm most players view the world with.  In the typical D20 game children are 0th level, normal adults are 1-3 and only specialized elite NPCs show up in the 4-8 range.

In the Wizarding World version the first 7 levels are effectively the 7 years of school you see in the 7 books.  The adults that don't do anything special are 8-12th level the professors are 12-16 or so with the power players being 17-20 and one could claim a few are even 21+ epic level characters.

If you did want to change the system mechanics I would suggest a very minimum of changes, first use the spell point systems not the spell slot systems.  And second would be to make no more than 20% of your total pool of spell points recover each day of rest.
gladiusdei
 member, 749 posts
Mon 14 Jan 2019
at 20:06
How to Run a Magic School/College Game in D&D 3.5e?
To me, this sort of discussion points out the big difficulty in playing stories like this in a D&D game.  the system just isn't well designed for telling a developing story unless you detach the story from the system.

D&D is designed with keeping a balance, combat centered system.  A school centered game is almost the total opposite of that.


So you're sort of going to have to either detach the system from the story to a large extent, or really modify how you look at it.

Hendell's idea could work, but you're going to end up with some seriously powerful students.  I know when one compares wizard to wizard, a 7th level wizard doesn't seem like much, but if you look at the spells they could have, that 18 year old 7th level wizard could literally lay waste to an entire town.  Epic level professors could remake reality to suit their purposes.  That's a huge increase in power level compared to Rowlings wizarding world.

Not saying it couldn't work to make a good story, but it would definitely make a very different conflict than that seen in Harry Potter.
Hendell
 member, 156 posts
Mon 14 Jan 2019
at 20:29
How to Run a Magic School/College Game in D&D 3.5e?
There are a few spells in D&D that are problematic, but those are also quite obviously not used because they are illegal rather than because nobody can cast them.

The paradigm shift isn't just for wizards either, it applies to the mundane world as well such that the average adult is 8th level (probably expert NPC class) and soldiers are 10th level easily, with combat tested snipers and such in the 16+ range.

If you really want to make the thing make sense use the wounds/vitality system instead of HP, but again those are really just a story style change not a key mechanical difference.
gladiusdei
 member, 750 posts
Mon 14 Jan 2019
at 20:31
How to Run a Magic School/College Game in D&D 3.5e?
I guess I disagree with doing it that way.  It just ramps up the power level too much. Both for the game world as a whole and for dealing with making an engaging story about a conflict between wizards.

This message was last edited by the user at 20:32, Mon 14 Jan.

GreyGriffin
 member, 258 posts
 Portal Expat
 Game System Polyglot
Mon 14 Jan 2019
at 20:41
Re: How to Run a Magic School/College Game in D&D 3.5e?
gladiusdei:
To me, this sort of discussion points out the big difficulty in playing stories like this in a D&D game.  the system just isn't well designed for telling a developing story unless you detach the story from the system.

D&D is designed with keeping a balance, combat centered system.  A school centered game is almost the total opposite of that.


So you're sort of going to have to either detach the system from the story to a large extent, or really modify how you look at it.

Hendell's idea could work, but you're going to end up with some seriously powerful students.  I know when one compares wizard to wizard, a 7th level wizard doesn't seem like much, but if you look at the spells they could have, that 18 year old 7th level wizard could literally lay waste to an entire town.  Epic level professors could remake reality to suit their purposes.  That's a huge increase in power level compared to Rowlings wizarding world.

Not saying it couldn't work to make a good story, but it would definitely make a very different conflict than that seen in Harry Potter.

That's fundamentally the problem.  Effects like Telekinesis, Fabricate, and Animate Object are backed way up in the progression because of their effects on game-world economies and combat encounters.  And forget any meaningful or interesting kind of shapeshifting - it's all been ironed out so that you can't blow up an epic, swords-and-sorcery adventure.  In order to give meaningful access to these interesting effects, you have to make the PCs so high level as to be able to melt the world, or you have to look at every spell and reassign its level based on its impact on your game or in your magical paradigm.

Noncombat effects also tend to be very condensed.  Cure Wounds, Cure Disease, and Restoration especially are the main culprits here, as they have the ability to break a lot of interesting plots and complications.  These spells are designed to be resource sinks in your 6 encounters a day, not the source of interesting, dramatic stories.

Another issue is that, in D&D, there are very few ways for spells to go wrong.  You either cast it or you don't.  Being good enough at magic to reliably cast all your spells is not necessarily a given in a magic school setting, but there are very few mechanics to create risk with using magic above your grade (i.e. you just can't), or actually interesting ways for spells to go wrong (aside from some insane Wild Magic charts from 2e, or the spell simply not working.)  A PC in D&D has very high confidence in what is and isn't in their purview, and that limits some of the experimentation, surprise successes, and consequences for overreaching that permeate "apprentice magician" stories.

Learning a spell is also one dice roll, max.

System influences behavior, as much as people might argue otherwise.  What a character can and can't do affects what they will do, what they'll try, and how they'll try it.  If you use D&D, people will end up acting like D&D characters.  If that's what you want?  Go for it.  But I get the feeling you're reaching for something else.

This message was last edited by the user at 20:43, Mon 14 Jan.

12th Doctor
 member, 56 posts
 History is a burden.
 Stories can make us fly.
Mon 14 Jan 2019
at 20:43
How to Run a Magic School/College Game in D&D 3.5e?
You might consider starting them at Level 0 so that when they graduate 1st year they've only learned cantrips, then follow Hendell's idea of one level per year so that they graduate as Level 6 characters. You can always restrict or ban spells if you think they'll overpower the game.

If you consider the books, there isn't much that the adults do that the kids don't figure out at some point, so I think saying it would upset game balance doesn't really factor in. It's not so much what they can do as whether or not they do it.
gladiusdei
 member, 751 posts
Mon 14 Jan 2019
at 20:46
How to Run a Magic School/College Game in D&D 3.5e?
I think greygriffin summed it up pretty well.
Studynot
 member, 133 posts
Mon 14 Jan 2019
at 21:42
How to Run a Magic School/College Game in D&D 3.5e?
In reply to 12th Doctor (msg # 11):

This is a good idea.

Also, you can just put those spells in the "restricted section" of the library ;) Spell research is expensive and otherwise you'd need access to the library which you can't get for certain spells without professor permission and/or stealing into the library at night with your invisibility cloak.
DaCuseFrog
 member, 32 posts
 SW Florida
Tue 15 Jan 2019
at 02:05
How to Run a Magic School/College Game in D&D 3.5e?
You can always go the DDO route and divide each level into 4, with advancements during each sublevel.  Gain a sublevel each year or half-year.  Have the ability to attempt higher level spells with chance of failure.  Definitely like the idea of restricted spells.
Flood
 member, 6 posts
Tue 15 Jan 2019
at 09:10
How to Run a Magic School/College Game in D&D 3.5e?
How about a skill tree system for spells? Each year or term in the school would grant you skill points that can be used to 'buy' spells , skills, ability increases etc. Powerful spells would only be available to last year students then who dedicated themselves to the pursuit of knowledge. Or Players could choose to spend points to develop their characters physically.

You could even get creative with Feats like Quidditch Seeker, Alchemist, Duelist, Gobstone Player, Charms Club, Magizoologist (study of Magical Animals), etc. Each granting additional points in a chosen field

I've pulled the below off a Harry Potter wiki Charms Class

First year

Levitation Charm
Wand-Lighting Charm
Wand-Extinguishing Charm
Lumos Solem
Fire-Making Spell
Softening Charm
Unlocking Charm
Locking Spell
Mending Charm
Make a pineapple dance across a desk
Knockback Jinx

Second year

Skurge Charm[10]
Disarming Charm (theory)[citation needed]
Arresto Momentum[citation needed]
Dancing Feet Spell (Revision)[citation needed]
Engorgement Charm[11]
Freezing Charm
Memory Charm (theory)
Tickling Charm (not practically)
Fire-Making Spell (Revision)[citation needed]
Levitation Charm (Revision)[10]
Wand-Lighting Charm (Revision)[citation needed]
Severing Charm[10]
Unlocking Charm (Revision)[citation needed]
Shrinking Charm[12]

Third year

Cheering Charm[13]
General Counter-Spell[14]
Lumos Duo Charm[citation needed]
Mending Charm (Revision)[citation needed]
Seize and Pull Charm
Freezing Spell
Lumos Maxima[15]
Hardening Charm[citation needed]
Levitation Charm (Revision)[16]
Disarming Charm (Revision)[citation needed]
Full Body-Bind Curse[17]
Depulso[18]

Fourth year

Summoning Charm[3]
Seize and Pull Charm (Revision)[citation needed]
Banishing Charm[3]
Aqua Eructo[19]
Vermillious[20]
Mending Charm (Revision)[citation needed]
Exploding Charm[21]
Cistem Aperio[22]
Scouring Charm[23]

Fifth year

Banishing Charm (Revision)
Fire-Making Spell (Revision)
Levitation Charm (Revision)
Mending Charm (Revision)
Colour Change Charm
Shield Charm (theory)
Substantive Charm[24]
Growth Charm[24]
Locomotion Charm[24]
Cheering Charm (Revision)
Summoning Charm (Revision)
Tickling Charm (Revision)
Silencing Charm[25]
Creating legs on teacups[26]

There's enough source material on the Harry Potter sites to make an interesting tree, it would require some ruling to balance it all out
muledonkey
 member, 31 posts
Tue 15 Jan 2019
at 20:41
Re: How to Run a Magic School/College Game in D&D 3.5e?
Studynot:
8 schools of magic could be fun and certainly "dominant" traits can be applied to each. "Hot headed" evokers and "careful" diviners, etc, though obviously there can be variance.


When I did this a number of years ago, I consulted Dragon Magazine #191, which had an article titled "A Magical Personality" that described the typical personality traits of each specialist school of magic. Then I applied that general template to that school's "House" and from there figured out where each school would have conflicts with each other (opposition schools would be rivals, naturally). This meant I had twice as many Houses, but since my PCs were from different schools I had them interacting with each other more often than in the HP books. I gave each house its own color and named it after its founder.

I also leaned really heavily into the Vancian naming traditions for spells, giving every spell a name that included the name of its creator.

I also had a Dark Side-type version of the wizard school out in the world, composed of dropouts from the PCs' school and other malcontents and malefactors who were involved with usurping the current order, making deals with devils, and summoning demons. Again, using the personality descriptions in that magazine article, I deduced negative personality traits that they might exhibit based on their specialization school.
kark2
 member, 263 posts
Tue 15 Jan 2019
at 20:58
Re: How to Run a Magic School/College Game in D&D 3.5e?
I only beg you to make Mialee the Principal of the school.
Talon
 member, 384 posts
Wed 16 Jan 2019
at 02:25
Re: How to Run a Magic School/College Game in D&D 3.5e?
Before diving into specifics of a system, it might be best to start by trying to define what one wants to get out of a magic school game.

1) What captures the fantasy of a magic school? (IE, going to class, having homework, grades, personal relationships? Probably some of all of these, but in what order of importance and weigh?)

2) Is character power growth important?
    2a) Should this be measurable? If so, how would it be measured? (Numerically, through new spells collected, or stat buffs, etc?)

3) Would the ideal game start with characters first entering school and end when they graduated?
    3a) If so, then should the game be more structured to reflect its school setting?

Just some food for thought to try to start with the fundamentals folks are looking for with a Magic School game before trying to jump straight to the nitty gritty bits.
Cold-Dragon
 member, 2 posts
Wed 16 Jan 2019
at 04:49
Re: How to Run a Magic School/College Game in D&D 3.5e?
I've run into a couple games involving schooling stuff before, and being familiar with Harry Potter and a couple systems, it's an interesting process to think about.

in D&D, magic schools were, on a basic level, places you went for several years to learn how to become the basics of a spellcasting wizard (So subadult character, 0 level, then onward to maybe 3rd or 4th level tops before you likely graduated as an acceptable wizard, if we're talking a big time school. Smaller scale 'home schooling' wizarding schools would be more 1st or 2nd level).

What students learned in that setting was basically the fine structure of how their spells worked, how to memorize them, channel the energy, etc. They learned spellcraft, knowledge arcana, maybe alcehmy - they covered the various angles of things that would be useful to a wizard, basically. your projects might be to brew a potion of some sort, identify appropriate plants and what spells they are common reagents for, or successfully zap the apple off the skeleton model's head in the corner. Graduating from there gave you the stepping stones to teach yourself further by studying other books, performing experiments, and basically creating your own work

ultimately, what those schools were for, for those just learning the basics, was 'How to not blow your own brains out when you sneeze during Magic Missile.'

Harry Potter is basically a very modernized concept of learning to be a wizard. You learned the basics as would be expected, but they help guide you and give you a safer environment to do your own study, and become a productive wizard that could take a job that would be useful - or you barely pass, or flunk out, and you help lil old witches with their reagent bags by scooping up those beetle eyes into their pouch. Harry Potter is elementary, intermediate, and college level stuff rolled into one big place on several years.

So, on its own like that, D&D doesn't really compare because spells per day is fairly limiting until you have several spell levels. Those teachers there can use lower spells to deal with problems students get into, and big spells when the potion hits the fan, but they don't expect to deal with more than one or two big issues at a time, if at all. That's why they have several teachers - so if something REALLY big happens, they have plenty of backup to try and keep their financial support safe.

This said, it's not to say the idea isn't doable, but the expectations of how magic flow works will be different in D&D than in Harry Potter.

I have dabbled in World of Darkness with mage. That does add a little more room for more intuitive magic stuff, but the type of magic each mage can pull off is a bit more restricted in style depending. If we're getting mana involved, one can run out of juice, but it might not be too much hassle to recharge. magic systems similar to Shadowrun where you gather fatigue can be more forgiving if you don't try to blow something up, but that is very rote-spell style there, so trickier.

That would leave another magic system from somewhere, or building one from scratch. I know there are a few others that are more free-flowing without uses per day attached to them, they just don't come to mind right at the moment.

But, putting aside the magic casting part for now, as far as figuring out things for players to try and help it stay interesting without being dulled by homework, you'd give them basic abilities they can definitely do, they can pick out a couple things they would have a knack for, and as the year progresses and they move on to other classes, those abilities steadily get better, expanding their reliability and/or features. Once they hit that point where they can diverge into more advance classes, they can have more unique abilities or options appear. If you want to make things like getting to class on time a factor... well, mentioning what they had ot do for detention and whatnot is a thing, and if it's a point that missing too many classes might get them expelled, it creates a background reason for why characters aren't just running off into the dungeon or the forbidden forest all the time 0 it's game over if they slack off too much!