It’s Time to Re-Imagine Arcane Magic

Raistlin in Red Robes
Raistlin in Red Robes

Of all the arcane spellcasters in the Dungeons & Dragons multiverse, there are few as iconic as the Wizards of High Sorcery. These are not just your run-of-the-mill wizards. These guys have to take the Test of High Sorcery to determine if they are able to use magic safely. The only choice is to pass the test, or die. If you do pass the test, you join one of the three orders – the good White Robes, the evil Black Robes, or the neutral Red Robes. One thing is for certain. You will emerge from the Test changed, whether physically, mentally, or both.

Evolution

Since the time of their inception, arcane magic in both Dragonlance and the D&D has evolved.

In Dragonlance, the sorcerer was introduced as a role for the Fifth Age game, which used the SAGA system. The sorcerer in this incarnation was a replacement for the wizard, whose magic had disappeared from the world of Krynn. Sorcery, sometimes known as Wild Sorcery or Primal Sorcery, was considered an early form of arcane magic that was infused with the power of Chaos, thus making it potentially unstable. Hence, why the Wizards of High Sorcery were formed.

The return of godly magic during the War of Souls heralded a change where godly divine and arcane magic co-existed with the ambient magic of mysticism and sorcery. It was also set during the early days of D&D 3rd edition, in which we were introduced to a new arcane class – the sorcerer. When Sovereign Press gained the Dragonlance RPG license, it was determined that this sorcerer would be the same as the SAGA sorcerer. In fact, this was a retcon as the D&D sorcerer didn’t cast magic like the SAGA sorcerer.

During this time, it was determined that only wizards, who could prepare their spells, could become Wizards of High Sorcery. Sorcerers and bards were spontaneous casters, meaning they drew their power from Wild Sorcery, which was somehow dangerous, which was not reflected in the rules. Bards were also troublesome as they had healing magic, which in the world of Krynn, was a telltale sign of divine magic.

Midway through 3rd edition, we saw the introduction of the warlock and Eberron’s artificer. In 4th edition, the warlock from 3e was combined with other concepts to become the first take on the class we all know so well.

As we jump ahead to 5th edition, we now have several arcane classes: the artificer, bard, sorcerer, warlock, and wizard. Plus, we have subclasses, such as the rogue (arcane trickster) and fighter (eldritch knight).

Yet with all these choices, why do so many fans insist on only wizards joining the Wizards of High Sorcery?

The Problem: A Class-Based Members-Only Club

With so many arcane casters in D&D 5th edition, you would think the Wizards of High Sorcery would want to make certain they all played by the rules of magic. They want to make certain that people are using magic responsibly, right?

Yet there are so many people who insist that the Wizards of High Sorcery remain a wizards-only club. Why, you ask?

  • “Wizard” is literally in the name. We’re not talking about the “Sorcerers of High Sorcery” or the “Warlocks of High Sorcery.” We are talking about the Wizards of High Sorcery.
  • That’s not the way it was in the novels. The novels make it pretty clear how arcane magic works, and some of the other arcane classes don’t follow that.
  • Nostalgia. That’s the way it was in my favorite prior edition, so that’s the way it should remain.

Okay, fine. There’s a few problems here. First of all, the novels often used terms like “wizard” and “sorcerer” interchangeably. The novels could be only showing a small selection of the magic-users. And sorry, but “that’s he way it’s always been” is a poor excuse for anything.

Time to Embrace Change

If we want Dragonlance to live again, we must embrace the changes to arcane magic in 5th edition. Sure, in our own games, we can say that just wizards and possibly sorcerers exist in the world of Krynn. Yet Wizards of the Coast would not want that. They will want their settings to be open to as many arcane classes as usual.

Also, what incentive is there for players to play arcane casters other than wizards in Dragonlance if we’re going to automatically brand them as renegades? It doesn’t even make sense any more! Why would an organization that claims to be there to make certain that arcane magic is used responsibly turn a blind eye to everyone except those that do magic their way?

The time has come to ditch the idea that only wizards can join the Wizards of High Sorcery. Most Dragonlance fans prefer the Chronicles and Legends era to set their games in. As such, they would likely want to play a member of one of the Orders. Why deny that opportunity just because they’re playing a sorcerer, warlock, bard, etc.?

And what of D&D 5e players who are new to Dragonlance? Do you want to tell them that they can’t play their favorite arcane class as a member of the Orders?

It’s time to put aside any issues we have and let all the arcane classes in. Let folks use the mechanics they want, join the order they want, and just say that most common folks don’t know the difference between the classes. If the name is an issue, just go with Orders of High Sorcery.

The only exception I would make is the wild magic sorcerer, largely because this seems like just the type of thing that the Wizards of High Sorcery were formed to safeguard against.

The key here is to be as inclusive as possible and to say yes to our players more than we say no. We want them to have fun. Why let semantics ruin that?

Avatar

About Dragonhelm

Trampas “Dragonhelm” Whiteman is best known for co-creating and administering the Dragonlance Nexus fan site. He is co-author of three Dragonlance books – Holy Orders of the Stars, Knightly Orders of Ansalon, and Races of Ansalon. When not evangelizing Dragonlance and other settings, Trampas is a husband, father, podcaster, and web designer. Trampas also enjoys reading comics, reading fantasy and scifi novels, and playing D&D.
Bookmark the permalink.

10 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Istan of the Red Robes aka James Arruda

    Trampas, I’m confused about a few things. First and foremost, is Wizards of the Coast definitely going to reopen the Dragonlace setting both in New 5E rule setting Source books? And what about Novels?
    Then next about the Wizards; Isn’t Magic controlled/delved out from the Three Gods of Magic, whom decreed the laws of how magic is supposed to be used? Like the rule that wizards are only allowed daggers as a bladed weapon. I’ve personally always felt kind of restricted by their rules but always followed them.

    • Wizards of the Coast is NOT bringing Dragonlance back in games or novels at this time.

      Originally, arcane magic was solely the domain of the three gods of magic. After Dragons of Summer Flame, when the gods of magic were cut off from the world, the ambient arcane magic of the world was rediscovered. This is known as Wild Sorcery or Primal Sorcery. It’s an inner magic channeled by sorcerers.

      Sorcerers offer a lot of freedom in some ways, but they are renegades by default.

      Now D&D has warlocks, artificers, and we’re still scratching our heads over bards.

      My fear is that we get into a situation where everybody other than wizards are doing magic “wrong”. If the WoHS are about learning all they can about magic, and if magic in D&D is evolving, then they should be as inclusive as possible. Likewise, I don’t like the idea of a player wondering why their sorcerer, warlock, artificer, or bard can’t be part of the WoHS.

      Feedback from fans, though, show that most prefer the WoHS to be wizards only. I think this is due to the history of the class.

      So there needs to be a solution. A compromise. And perhaps a future blog post.

      Thanks for your feedback, James!

      • Avatar
        Perakee (apprentice of Astinus, Foloower of Gilean)

        Dragonhelm,

        You make an interesting argument about the inclusion of other arcane classes to WoHS.

        Evolution of arcane classes should either be included in the evolution of arcane societal structure or vehemently oppose it as a rule (with the exception of those arcane users who are dispassionate about social structure period).

        However, I wonder if maybe this structuring is following suit of the way Fighter classes are structured, with Knights as opposed to barbarians, and the segregation that happens in these orders.

        Could this be a decision of keeping an duality of sorts in allowing a player to choose a ordered environment or choosing a more chaotic road?

        I don’t know what would be the correct answer either way, but I think the question you bring up is a worthy discussion that could lead to some interesting Novel writing and game mechanics should Dragonlance ever be revived for a new generation to enjoy.

        Krynn deserves a resurrection into a nicely diverse market of venues. (table-top, Books, PC and Console games, etc.)I wonder why the owners of the Dragonlance franchise has chosen to sit on their hands when it comes to this almost Tolkien universe.

        Some things are destined to leave many of us bewildered, However, this article has inspired the passion in me to begin pondering the strife related to a world were tensions may be rising into a new Draconian resurgence…. A setting ripe to be explored once again…. A history that a demands a real-time chronology.

  2. For me the bard class is a good fit for the old fighter/wizard “elf” race-as-class from b/x d&d with a few tweaks (gilthanas). I’d make it “elf only” representing elf magic.

    Sorcerer of course is renegade.

    Warlocks… Don’t exist on krynn? For me it was a weakness of 3e DL that it tried too hard to make world conformation to the game rules rather than the other way around.

    5e is, imo, an inherently more suitable system for the DL than 3e ever was, but I’d hope they don’t go the route of adapting the world rather than the other way around.

  3. I think Bards should probably have their own organization, a’la the Forgotten Realms’ Harpers. It can be associated with the OHS, but ultimately is responsible for managing how its members use magic. The OHS seems to be more research and development than a bard would generally find interesting.

    Dunno.

  4. I personally always felt that this was more of a flavor portion of Krynn versus a rules block. I could be wrong, but I don’t ever remember a character in a novel saying ‘I can’t cast that spell because I didn’t prepare it.’ Now, it’s been years since I’ve read through every DL novel, so I could be wrong.

    Assuming I’m not, what’s wrong with saying “you can play a sorcerer, but you still spend a certain amount of ‘flavor’ (roleplaying!) time studying magic, spells, etc.

    I agree that the mechanics should not completely rule out a class from partaking in a social structure. The moons, the Gods, etc, should all be able to be woven into a class. For example, take the dagger limitation mentioned. It’s not that you can’t have proficient, but that using a bladed weapon other than a dagger is a violation of the Gods orders.

    Mechanically, the order should be an add on. By the rules, priests can lose their spells and powers by breaking rules of their Gods. That just applies to anyone who becomes a ‘Wizard of High Sorcery’ as well.

    I dunno, I don’t have all the answers.

  5. In my opinion, if this king of toping was addressed rules-wise, it should also be addressed setting-wise. One cannot simply retcon everything because rules changes. With that, I mean that if, for example, a bardic organization tutored by the Orders of High Sorcery did appear (to say an example), the school has not always been there, so somehow someone should create it, struggle to make every bard join… which means Ansalon going forward, which means leaving the War of the Lance behind. This way, if you looked at the War of the Lance era, there was no bard schoool, but now, XXX years later, it is there. there were no artificiers in the War of the Lance era, so somehow they should come to Ansalon (maybe froom another continent?).

    Whatever the changes are done, they should not pop up retrospectively, as it would break the sense of wholeness.

  6. Couple things here id like to add to the conversation. Im making my first campaign into Dragonlance converted to 5e the best I can. I am use sorce material from 3.5 Soverign press items and other stuff all over the internets. I have come into the same problems with bards and socerers and warlocks like the blog suggests. I read somewhere that warlocks might fit in with the dragonhordes fighting for takhisis. but as for LG side im not sure how to fit that in.

    I agree about whats being said in the conversation here. Im thinking that maybe bards have the colleges and univerities that oversee the use of magic. and then the WoHS can oversee the schools so therefore they are not renegade. Bards have to find and pick a college at lvl 3. similar to the current rules of the orders. You can place these small colleges through out the world of krynn and have bards pass a similar test. At least thats how i can explain it in my mostly homebrew world.

    As for some of the other things im at a loss as im new to world building and such. Im just a really big fan of DL and all things related such as this site.

  7. Note: In my headcanon, I limit the Dragonlance setting to the legends and the chronicles. I ignore anything after that (e.g. Knights of Takhisis, Chaos, the stealing of Krynn, the Age of Mortals, the War of Souls, etc.). Also, I’m more like a World of Darkness storyteller, and a Pathfinder player, and I have still to try D&D5, so please pardon my like of rule mastery.

    Your post makes perfect sense. Thanks for writing it.

    I agree the Dragonlance setting should distance itself from the underlying game system.

    IMHO, the Wizards of High Sorcery is a social/academic/political organization backed up by three gods. They are (supposedly) united by their loyalty/passion to magic itself, first and foremost.

    Actually, I would turn the thing upside/down. Let anyone with arcane magic capabilities and loyalty/passion try to join. And let their success (or failure) only be decided by the Test. The Test itself would not a simple life or death test. A success actually results in a favor from gods of magic. Perhaps this is some kind of exclusive magic specialization. Perhaps this something like an exclusive feat, I don’t know. But this makes the arcane magic user a Wizard of High Sorcery. Like the sorting of Hoggwart’s Hat, it is both the qualities and the affinities of the candidate, which chooses which Order (White, Red, Black) they will join, perhaps giving them access to a different feat/specialization/whatever.

    Users of arcane magic variants could find their place in the Orders, too. For example, Sorcerer-like classes would have a specific role, because they have more like an ambient, natural, instinctive understanding of magic, as opposed to a scientific understanding I feel like the wizards from Orders of High Sorcery have. It doesn’t mean they can’t reach influence inside the Orders, but that they should be more common in the field than in research.

    Then, one must redefine what is a renegade. Thee olde rule of “any wizard above 3rd level who has not passed the Test” is a bit too much “game rule focused”, IMHO. IIRC, the fear of the renegade was the danger posed by their lack of controlled use of magic, so we need to find what does this exactly means. I mean, just because I like cyan-colored robes is not a justification enough to have a bounty over my head.

    So, I suggest to change that so there are forbidden magicks out there, dangerous spells that ought not to be used by the common. These are high level spells, so anyone with a low level of magic mastery is “safe” by default, but anyone with the right level would be under (magical and common) surveillance, to see if they somehow dabble in this forbidden magic. This lets anyone be a magician, without being targeted because they somehow reached level 5. Also, forbidden artifacts giving access to such dangerous spells could also be hunted so they can be hidden safely inside the Towers.

    Renegades could come in variants, too.

    For example, the Defiler from the Dark Sun setting, but instead of destroying life, it actually increases the ambiant level of chaos of the zone where the spell was cast, making magic unstable in that location, and provoking magical mutations. Rules should give good reasons for Defilers to exist in the first place (a feat? a specialization, etc.) so being a defiler is tempting.

    Another variant would be chaos-adoring renegades. I don’t remember if Takhisis is Lawful Evil or Chaotic Evil (sorry), but with a LE Takhisis, and an Asmodeus-like Hiddukel, and Krynn gods actually biased toward Order, it would make sense demons could both inspire, help, and use renegades so they can gain a foothold to wreck havoc on Kryyn.

    Another variant would be the “religious nut” renegade, wanting to bring back arcane magic into the divine fold. In other words, unless you pray the right divinity for spells, you can kiss your fireballs bye bye. This would go against the will of the current Gods of Magic to give access to magic to mortals. These would for a cult (or multiple cults?), perhaps trying to topple the current Gods of Magic with more conventionnal ones.

    In conclusion, the Orders of High Sorcery would be better served to accept other wizard-like “classes” in them, and by redefining itself by:

    1. what it brings to its full members, in addition to being a magician (the Test, and the God of Magic’s favor)
    2. what is its political/academic/philosophical aim
    3. the nature of its “renegade” enemies

    This way, no matter which system you are using (D&D, Pathfinder, SAGA, whatever), your character can be a magic user, or a Wizard of High Sorcery, or a Renegade, without being limited to a specific game class.

    Thanks,

    — paercebal

  8. Avatar
    Sathallarin aka James Marion

    Just the way our group organizes it in our Age of Mortals game:
    Pact Magic. The WoHS make a pact with the 1 of the 3 moons. Those who don’t, and practice arcane magic act outside the “communally safe space” of the Orders. The Orders in their 3 Towers (post Disciple trilogy) view them as ignorant (the gods were absent for a time), misled, or dangerous. It kind of foreshadows an upcoming upheaval in the arcane circle, much as it once did in the divine light of Istar…only now, the Orders may become the ones who stand as oppressor. Only time will tell.
    Bards draw upon the power of the heart, but can feel the presence of ambient magic. It becomes a deeply personal choice, often restricting neither. This is more of a flavor to explain the combined healing spells and arcane energies harnessed by this class and less of a game mechanic.
    Warlocks are straight out renegades. They make Pacts with beings not of the 3 moons. Although, if a pact was made with a servant of one of the Arcane Trinity, then I could see that as a stepping stone to affirmation within the orders. The Warlocks patron would become somewhat akin to a “patron saint” of one of the gods of magic.
    Sorcerers are less troublesome. Those not practicing wild magic or actively belonging to another faction, would be approached by the orders, in an effort to cultivate and manage their abilities. I see it initially much more like Xavier trying to teach them before Magneto poaches them, or before they “run wild” and hurt someone. While from a mechanics viewpoint, sorcery in 3 thru 5e doesnt work like “defiler magic” in Dark Sun, it makes sense that the orders may see it that way.
    Eldritch Knights and Arcane Tricksters rarely reach power levels to be noticed by the orders. However, there is precedence for those archetypes as well: renegade hunters.
    As for Bladesingers? They are a wizard class… But their accessibility to weapons may put them at odds with the orders. However, they are an elf only class and would likely only belong to a certain elven house that polices magic in the now shattered elf realms. I would think this would be a rarity, given the refugee status of the elven race as a whole- not wanting to make one more enemy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.