Saturday, October 24, 2009

Player Sages

I created these tables loosely off the rules for Sage in the DMG, on the principle that any mage, cleric, druid or illusionist would naturally acquire knowledge through their calling.  This is an example of the mage's table; the tables for the other three classes are each different, and you'll find them at the bottom of this post.  I wanted to get these ready and published for the benefit of three mages who just started in my offline campaign.

It's quite simple.  Each column represents a 'field' of knowledge: Civitas, Humanities, Power and Science.  Beneath each field is a list of 'specialties' ... those for Humanities include Languages, Law, Logic and Publishing.

The mage begins with 1 field and 1 specialty in that field at 1st level.  He then gains another specialty every four levels thereafter (at 5th, 9th, 13th and so on) and another field at every six levels (at 7th, 13th and 19th).  This means that a 12th level mage would have two fields and three specialties.

The second table indicates the chance of knowing something in that field.  Percentages for general, specific and exacting questions indicate the chance per level of the mage knowing the answer to a particular question.  In addition, there are certain obvious answers - such as if the mage were to have Civitas as a field, and agriculture as a specialty, the question "What do I plant here?" would be automatic knowledge.  However, if the question was, "Can I grow a plant not indiginous to this clime here?", that is a general question and the 1st level mage would have an 8% chance of knowing.  The plant might still actually grow, but the mage would not know for certain until he tried.

You will note, however, that there is also a 'Researched' column.  This is the chance of the mage knowing the answer to a question multiplied by the number of common books the mage possesses regarding the subject divided by 100.

Now this gets tricky.  I divide my books into four categories, based on value: common, unusual, rare and arcane.  One unusual book is worth 4 common books.  A rare book is worth 16 common books and an arcane book is worth 64 common books.  Therefore, the made need not have 100 actual books to gain the 15% bonus; if he has excellent books, he can make due with less reading.

Moreover, the mage need not actually possess the books ... he need only have access to them ... which he will have, to some extent, through the various libraries that exist, at least one of which he will know well as that it the one where he was trained to be a mage.

I suggest if this interests you that you should read further on sages in the DMG.  I've used this table for some years now, and the players do pretty well with questions along the 'do I know the answer to this already' type.

I will give you an example.  My party's paladin has recently decided to find a particular magic item - Horseshoes of the Zephyr.  The first question is not where do we find a sage ... the first question is to ask the party's 9th level magic user, "Any idea where one might be?"  The mage has not taken 'artifacts' as a specialty, but does have 'Power' as a field.  The mage wasn't certain.  Next question: "Any idea where we might go to find the knowledge" ... whereupon the mage thinks about where there might be a lot of books about artifacts.  As it turns out, Poland.  So they will go to the library in Krakow, province of Galicia, and ask for permission to look in a library there.

Frankly, I don't understand the "sages charging money for knowledge" concept at all.  At no time in history has the acquisition or withholding of knowledge ever been a business strategy ... until applied by Google in the last two years, and believe me, people are PISSED.  Sages charging for knowledge is just another gygaxian way for DMs to screw players.  I don't subscribe to it.

Nothing left to do but to include the other tables:




Adam Thornton said...

At no time has the acquisition or dispensation of knowledge been a business strategy??

Patents have been around a very, very long time. And before *that*, they were just called "guild mysteries."

Alexis said...


Close, but not quite.

While patents did exist in Venice (from 1474) and in England (from 1623), they were not part of the France or most other parts of the world in 1651, the date of my world.

Moreover, they applied only to "projects of new invention," and in no way excluded the knowledge of how those inventions worked, only the right to reproduce and sell them. Patents today actually have to list as 'public record' the nature and manner in which inventions are fashioned - so while production is restricted, the knowledge is free and available to all, by law.

"Guild mysteries" reference only the process of manufacturing, not knowledge as it is described in the DMG. Players are not going to sages to ask how to make a really nice damask, they are asking for knowledge of the Picayune Peoples of Pistamayacin, or where to find the Ponderous Pacyderms of Punk.

The free sharing of academic knowledge between professionals and scientists was hugely popular during the Renaissance. You have an argument in saying that I failed to exactly define my comments about sages in terms of academia, but I figured that since the entire passage on pp. 31-32 in the DMG makes reference only to academic knowledge, that was fairly inferred.

Can you tell me ... did you just feel the need to piss on a particular phrase, or did you feel that the entire premise of the post was a complete waste of both a DM's and a Player's time?

Strix said...

I have a question.

"One unusual book is worth 4 common books. A rare book is worth 16 common books and an arcane book is worth 64 common books."

I'm not sure how to ask the question without providing an example, so forgive me if I go about the barn the long way.

Marik, a 12th level Bard was trained to be a sort of traveling investigator. He is very well versed with all things current specifically, the political structures both apparent and secret of the current campaign setting.

Maximus, another 12th level Bard, is very well versed in Arcane Lore, pre-history and ancient wisdom of the periods prior to the settling of the area in which the campaign is set.

If these characters wrote a book on their specific areas of specialty, those books would be current, yet classified as rare. If by some chance their books became popular they would be classified as common. Even though the topics of Maximus' book could be classified as Arcane.

I think that's where I get confused actually, because it sounds to me like you're suggesting that Maximus' Arcane knowledge is somehow 64x more valuable than Marik's mostly common knowledge.

Given the subject matter of both books, I'm given to believe that Marik's book concerning the secrets of the gentry (book #1) would be wildly popular while Maximus' book (book #2) would be mostly ignored.

If Marik were to find an Arcane book (Book #3), the value to him would be low, but the value to Maximus would be high.

If Maximus found Lord Rivervale's private journals (book #4) the value of the book would be very low to Maximus, and yet very high to Marik.

You question of charging for knowledge also plays a role in my suggestion here as the buying, selling and trading of these four books that my characters have either written or uncovered in their adventures have different values for different reasons.

My question has two parts:

A) How would you use your tables to find an appropriate value for these four books.

B) What rules do use to qualify these books on your tables.

Adam Thornton said...

Neither pissing on the post, nor a complete waste of time: simply, I think it is not unreasonable to have a system in which people exact money from other people in return for knowledge imparted.

Consider the alchemical tradition, in which the knowledge was present (let us agree to ignore, for the nonce, the fact that very clever theories may have no basis in reality) in the works, but coded in a language designed to be impenetrable to the uninitiated. One can certainly imagine the key that told you how to read the book being sold at great price.

I guess the question (to me, anyhow) is: is what you're asking a sage more like a chance for the sage to show off his terrifyingly thorough knowledge of the Bucolics, or is it asking him for a recipe stating what you need to add to what, in what order and at what temperature, to make a paste that goes "bang!" and causes 2d6 damage if you step on it?

I've never met an adventurer looking for knowledge for its own sake, rather than its immediate practical application in terms of how that knowledge can be speedily converted into gold and XP.

"Erasmus and Errata" would be kinda fun, though.


Strix said...

Sorry, I got book focused there. What I meant to ask was,

A) How would you use your tables to find appropriate fields/specialties for these two characters. (assuming Bards would use the Mage tables).

B) How do you qualify the value of the four books given the quote above.

Alexis said...


I can't see a sage answering a question about explosives, not for any reason, much less money. It just isn't done. As for never asking for knowledge for its own sake, I find my players do it all the time. "What is that!" is the most common question.


Couple of things. The 'arcane book' is not necessarily about 'arcane magic.' It merely means any old, vastly useful tome that contains massively useful information that can't be found elsewhere.

Bards do not use any tables. Bards are not scholars. They have no reason to read.

The qualification of the book is not based upon its author. There have been brilliant men who could not write worth a damn; there have been ordinary men who were clever enough to add together a compendium of smarter men's works. If ever I had a player who tried to write a book, I might organize some roll, but it would be based upon the time spent producing the work, and not upon the intelligence/wisdom of the author.

As far as the value of the book to person A or person B, this is the sort of nonsensical opinionated quasi-wisdom created by authorship in the 20th century. Let me explain. The Principica Mathematica was useful to EVERYONE. The only qualification was whether the reader is intelligent enough to understand it.

D&D is a black-and-white sort of thing. Obviously, if person A is looking for something about Biology, and looks in a Logic text, it isn't going to be helpful. But if he wants to know something about Biology in the 17th century, he wants THIS book.

That was the way of things, once.

Adam Thornton said...

Interesting take.

In my games, well, yeah, probably scholars talk to each other rather freely. But the party will never know, because, to put it bluntly, they're jocks and the scholars are nerds. The Scholastics, to put it kindly, don't like adventurers, whom they regard--rightly--as little more than thugs.

After a while...well, let's say that the sage is interested in ancient Egyptian burial practices.

Sage: "So, you managed to get to a pyramid's burial chamber?"

Party Member: "Sure did. Look, I have this neat gold ring! It has a bug on it!"

Sage: "That's a scarab beetle, in lapis lazuli. Probably Twelfth Dynasty. Can you tell me about the arrangement of the canopic jars? Which deities were especially venerated?"

Party Member: "Uh...were those those alabaster things with pickled guts in 'em that we smashed?"

Sage: [sigh] "Well, what can you tell me about the mummy wrapping? Creosote-soaked linen? How wide were the strips?"

Party Member: "It sure burned real purty. Didn't come to life, neither. How 'bout that?"

Sage: [sigh] "Hmmm. What did you find out about the craftsmanship of the furniture in the burial chamber? Were there any craftsman's marks on any of it?"

Party Member: "Um, it was mostly wood. We burned it over a shield and collected the melted gold leaf. Musta gotten a good half-pound!"

Sage: "Please leave my office now."

You can see how these guys get disillusioned in my games pretty quickly.


Montagne Quentin said...


I hope you do not look unkindly on what others might call "thread necromancy". Anyway:

How do you handle (assuming you do) local knowledge ? I have always found the categorizations typical of Lore skills unintuitive when it came to geography. So when of my players asks "Do I know of a seldom-used ford somewhere down this river ?", I'm often at a loss (though I conceal it) as how to test the characters skill ?
What if she's a native of the region, or she just spent a few hours scouting ?