What! No combat spell?
Has anyone ever seen a mage who didn't have combat or healing spells? I'm talking about pure mages here, not multi-classed whatevers. I know that there are the illusionists, the occasional thief-like mage, and bards. I know that the rules state that you can play different types of mages, but who does? I've only seen a couple of examples of mages who, while far from worthless, had absolutely no combat or healing magic.
The best example of this was a merchant (I don't remember his name, so I'll call him Bob from here on out) who had been trained as a mage. Bob was from a family of merchants who thought outside of the box. His family, while not rich, still paid for him to go to a school of sorcery. There, Bob learned animal spells including polymorph self and polymorph other. In the game system that we were using, these spells had to be specified as to the type of animal that the target was being changed into, each time counting as a new spell. In Bob's case he chose hawk, horse, and wolf -- the three animals totaled six spells, as he learned them for himself as well as other people.
Bob couldn't fight at all so he hired a martial artist from the mercenaries' guild to act as a bodyguard. He needed someone who didn't have to rely on armor and weapons, as the animal forms had weight encumbrance limits. See, Bob's specialty as a merchant was transporting light, highly valuable cargo long distances in a short amount of time. He did this by transforming his bodyguard and himself into hawks (or dogs or whatever), and having trusted guild members strap specially made saddlebags onto them laden with items like diamonds, pearls, silkworms, and other gemstones. While it can't carry much, a hawk can easily fly eighty to one hundred miles in a day, thus giving Bob a huge advantage over his competition.
Bob doesn't fit inside the standard dungeon delving type of adventure...
I understand that Bob doesn't fit inside the standard dungeon delving type of adventure or campaign. But in a more open campaign, a fully mapped out world, and with an inventive GM, Bob was a memorable and fun character that could be inserted into any city in any land in the known world. And as the bodyguard, I had a blast learning how to fly, how to run on four legs, how to drop a turd on someone while flying, and how to bite someone in the groin without gagging...
As for the walking hospital type of mage? Give me a break. If that's what you do for a living, then charge people for it. Why are you even traveling with the group? It didn't take your character a day to learn all those healing spells (and skills). Not to be punny, but your character has the equivalent of a Doctorate, in more ways than one. You don't spend eight years or so of your life and a pile of money to learn something only to do it for free.
A friend of mine played a mage named Sabine. Sabine was a healing mage of some note. She had studied all of the mundane ways of healing people including the use of herbs, first aid, anatomy, the physician skill, and what was known of surgery for the world. In addition, she had mastered the magical elements of healing and knew all of the common healing spells, which included everything but spells like regenerate, resurrect, remove curse, and the like. In modern terms she had multiple Doctorates from prestigious universities. Sabine did know a few combat spells, including fireball. However, she was a complete coward and felt that her oath as a healer prevented her from harming others. As a result, she was useless in a fight unless it was a nonhuman creature that she could hurt from a distance.
She started the campaign by getting hired onto a caravan as a mage and healer. As this was her first job and she had no reputation, she had to undergo testing to be hired on. After asserting that she was both magically and mundanely trained and was better qualified then all of the other applicants, she underwent the test which consisted of being disemboweled on the spot and having to heal herself. It took a little effort but she passed.
Being an employee of the caravan allowed her to get paid to heal people during the months-long journey. It also allowed her to gain experience as a doctor and allowed her to build up a good reputation within the caravan itself. As merchants travel and gossip, her name was mentioned enough that she started building up a reputation. Later on, this would have brought in fame, money, acclaim, and more difficult and interesting cases.
I know that there are problems associated with each of these characters.
I know that there are problems associated with each of these characters. In Bob's case, only a couple of people at a time could travel like this due to the cost of magic and character creation would be limited to those who could travel unencumbered and have a reason to travel with the merchant. The GM solved this problem by having the merchant guild itself hire the merchant, who had been trained as a cartographer, to travel through unexplored country, mapping it as he went, in search of new markets and natural resources. This required a couple of wagons for food and to transport samples back, people to care for the horses used to haul the wagons, teamsters, guards, a cook, and some woods-crafty folk.
In Sabine's case she's pretty useless as far as danger is concerned and once her reputation gets going she'll be able to retire in peace and quiet at a relatively early age. The GM in this case decided to take advantage of her cowardly naive nature and had a spy approach her the night before the caravan set out. This spy (a very menacing chap) talked Sabine into spying on the Hansgraf or caravan leader. She was to report anything unusual. She'd get a bonus for every authentic report or death if she lied, informed the Hansgraf, or failed to report anything. Of course, this meant that all of the secret missions that the Hansgraf sent the players on were reported to the bad guys. The players spent a LOT of time trying to figure out how the bad guys always knew where the party was going and was waiting in ambush. They never did figure it out.
So you see, it is possible to make a mage who is different from the norm. It's fun to take an unusual idea and run with it rather than falling on the old standby of the combat mage and healer mage. It's a kick to join the group as a mage and then watch their faces drop at the first combat when they realize that combat and its aftermath just isn't your bag. It's gratifying as a GM to take a character that could be useless and using them to add a whole new dimension to the game centered on that character.