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.

This makes me think of a book I read many years ago called With a Single Spell. It's kind of a light hearted thing without much real literary weight, but the cool part was the main character. He was a screw up when it came to magic, and his master died after teaching him only one single spell...the ability to make a small flame I believe. Mishaps and hilarity ensue...a fun read.

I love to play characters that are "against type", though it can be challenging when playing in a group. Getting over others expectaations of what your character is supposed to be doing is often the hardest part.

One of my PC's plays a ladyboy mage (that's what they're called in Thailand). The PC can't stand violence or blood, but, man, can she bargain and negotiate!

One of the things that I liked about the D&D 2e Class Handbook was the kits because they encouraged off type character building. I created a Wizard from the Mystic Kit who was specialized in Abjuration with a vow of nonviolence but never played him. I've thought about morphing him into 3e and using energy substitution to make fireballs with sonic energy for nonlethal damage and stunning. It was a fun idea to think about a wizard who's entire goal was to win by eliminating the possiblity of combat.

Bob sounds like a great NPC! I agree that it is annoying when a spell-caster becomes nothing but a walking hospital or artillery piece, when they have the sort of power and knowledge that would gain them great respect and make them a highly valued member of the team, and by valued I mean 'cha-ching'!

On the other hand, one the people I played with once had a sorcerer character who we could have easily replaced with a wand of magic missle and a wand of detect magic, not exactly a highly valued member of the team. When he died he wasn't badly missed...

I once ran a Mage named Offrun Deetins, over a decade ago, that was essentially an Enchanter and an Artist. He travelled with the group because he enjoyed their company and he was a curious sort. His idea of a comabt spell was Stoneskin, Shield, Haste, or, later on, Dimension Door. He wasn't a coward. He was just overly-careful. He wrote books about the regions they visited and the creatures they encountered.

His primary skill was discerning what he and the others had come across (whether it be magical in nature or simply unknown). He created works of art using such spells as Stone Shaping, Permanent Illusion, Polymorph Other, and Magic Mouth. He also created a "Normal Looking" Flesh Golem made out of a 13 year old girl named Nasate', and he aged a 5 year old girl and boy using the Haste spell over and over on them. Their bodies aged while they retained their child-like mentality and emotional temperment (they were named "Woman's/Man's Inner Child". He went back home and shrunk the home he lived in as a child (it is currently under a glass dome on his desk). There were others, but I can't recall their names.

He was a great deal of fun to play, but I later found out that the dwarf, his name started with a 'D', hated him because he was "useless" in a fight. He was extremely useful in a city setting, and he later retired to enter politics and pursue his art. He now funds expeditions to far off places in exchange for information for his books (thus becoming an NPC in my campaigns).

With, perhaps, one exception I had the most fun playing this particular character, and I can't recall him ever casting a single offensive/combat spell.

He created works of art using such spells as Stone Shaping, Permanent Illusion, Polymorph Other, and Magic Mouth.
Now that's a cool non-combatant mage.

I occasionally build NPCs whose spells are devoted almost exclusively to spying and social manipulation, but I will always give them at least one spell (and usually a suite of several) that have some kind of combat application -- as I'd argue Stoneskin, Shield, Haste, and Dimension Door above do.

While I appreciate the gist of Calamar's thread here, I caution other GMs not to let the creation of combat-worthless mages become a conceit or an end in itself. In a dangerous society, nearly everyone carries a weapon, or barring that, some kind of self-defense implement; and one who can do magic is simply a fool not to employ it to preserve her own skin. Now, I might buy the argument that a certain mage might not have combat spells in his head at a particular time, particularly if he's been casting all day or is concentrating on a peace-time project; but a mage who can't do any kind of defensive magic at all seems like a bit of a stretch. You have to ask yourself if the character in question would really shortchange her magical education or training in such a way. Using Calamar's example, if the trade routes are safe, the mage's spells are good and well selected. If, however, there are hungry griffins, wyverns, or other bandits along the route, it seems silly not even to know a combat-related spell, and in GURPS terms silly not to know it well enough to cast without reverting to human form. Bear in mind, a combat-related spell might be geared toward defense or escape just as easily as toward dealing damage, and in most cases I think people would rather get away than embroil themselves in a potentially lethal encounter.

I accept the argument that mages with healing magic would be likely to charge for their services, but the prevalence of healing magic in fantasy world settings is no more troublesome to me than is the prevalence of band aids and triple antibiotic ointment in the real world. If you might get hurt - and life itself is a dangerous proposition - you take the precaution of having the necessary mojo around to heal yourself. I don't mean to sound patronizing, but again: it's a no-brainer.

I think the real question at hand is the creation of combat-useless or combat-weak characters within the guidelines of a given system. As has been pointed out here ad nauseam (certo ad nauseam meam), d20 and the various iterations of D&D have been systemically weaker at creating such characters because the rules promote combat-worthy classes. That said, the creation of combat-weak characters is achievable in any system, and is a worthy goal as long as such characters live in a society stable enough to support their existence. City dwellers don't need to worry about defending themselves on any given Sunday, but that is not the case for people who live in frontier environments or areas of warfare, violence, and chaos.

The whole point of making convincing, colorful NPCs is to increase the verisimilitude of the GM's fantasy world setting, is it not? As long as the character has a thoughtfully developed background, her choices regarding combat-worthy tools of any kind, magical or otherwise, will enhance the setting. What seems to be Calamar's overarching point -- that too much emphasis is placed on making every single person in most fantasy worlds a practiced killer -- is very well taken. If you give the matter even a little thought, it will become obvious that most people in civilized society use their tools toward peaceful ends.

"...that have some kind of combat application -- as I'd argue Stoneskin, Shield, Haste, and Dimension Door above do."

I am forced to agree that they do have combat implications, but I was under the impression we were referring to offensive spells. Offrum, in battle, was nothing more than a moving target that was, at times, made of stone, shielded, moving faster then everyone else, simply gone (or any combination thereof), etc.

I would like to note some non-combat uses for these spells:
Stoneskin: Fantasy "Viagra" (although I imagine being on top is right out)
Shield: Spiffy Umbrella
Haste: A Good Morning for Non-Coffee Drinkers
Dimension Door: 1 word...In-Laws (Is a hyphenated word one word or two?)

All this being said, Offrum could've had up-teen different offensive combat spells, and he would've found a use for them other than actual fighting. As it was, his spellcasting was just offensive.

I think the style in which a character is played lends itself to being combat-weak moreso than skills, attributes, spellcasting, weapons, etc. I will admit that creating combat-useless characters is more difficult, because even the most dedicated scholarly wizard knows how to use a Dagger, Dart, or Staff (at least in 1st Edition).