iFAQ: University Adventures

I’m still working on Exploring Eberron, but with many of us trapped at home I want to write a few shorter articles dealing with INfrequently asked questions from my Patreon supporters. This week we’ve been tackling the concept of magical education in Eberron. Let’s wrap up that topic with this question.

If you were to run an anime-inspired school-based game, where would you set it?

We’re used to the idea of D&D being about epic adventures and dungeon crawls, but there’s lots of fantasy stories that focus on schooling and coming of age. Set aside anime for a moment; The Name of the Wind and the Harry Potter series are both stories that focus on adventures at a school or university. So whether you’ll looking for anime flavor or the more traditional fantasy of The Name of the Wind, I think this is a fun idea to explore.

With that in mind, I DID explore it… in the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron. In the WGtE I included three “Starting Points.” This was an early variation of the Group Patrons of Rising, with the point of tying a campaign to a location and a theme rather than a patron. These included Clifftop, a hub for globetrotting adventurers; Callestan, a gritty street-level campaign; and Morgrave University.

So to answer the question: I would personally choose Morgrave University or Arcanix. Which I’d choose would be based on the type of story I want to tell. Arcanix is closer to Hogwarts. It is ISOLATED—heck, the towers are floating, and if you haven’t learned to fly yet it takes time to get down! There’s a supporting village nearby, but there’s not a lot of activity there. By contrast, Morgrave is right in the middle of Sharn, so there’s all sorts of opportunity for trouble just off campus (much as University students in The Name of the Wind can go into Imre). Likewise, Morgrave University is infamous for indulging in dungeon delves and dangerous expeditions as “field trips.” Furthermore, Arcanix is specifically a college of magic, which limits your character concepts; because Morgrave is a more general purpose institution, it’s easier to justify any class.

These are supposed to be short articles, so I’m not going to retread all the ground covered in the Wayfinder’s Guide. But I’ll touch on a few things I’d personally focus on in running a school-based campaign.

Story rewards. I’d drop the standard experience point system and base character advancement either on time or on clearly established milestones. It’s also possible that you could tie specific class abilities to in-game situations. If you want to learn a specific spell, you’re going to have to sneak a particular spellbook out of the Library. You may be a 3rd level fighter, but to get the abilities of your Martial Archetype you’re going to have to find a mentor. This is a way to blend story and mechanics together. In a game at school you’re not likely to be amassing TREASURE—so one option is for the rewards you gain to BE access to locations or the favor of teachers—but those can be linked to concrete rewards, whether it’s access to your full class abilities or something beyond that, such as Supernatural Gifts or Marks of Prestige from the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

How will you handle power? D&D is based on an underlying system of character advancement that provides players with new abilities to explore and the ability to take on greater challenges over time. At the same time, it’s can be bizarre to have your characters become 6th or 7th level characters AT SCHOOL when that’s a level of skill that dwarfs veteran soldiers… especially if the DM wants to present rival students or professors as having even greater power. There’s a few ways to address this.

  • Limit advancement. You can always choose to say that characters DON’T advance in this campaign – or do so very, very slowly. You improve by gaining allies, influence, and information, not by doubling your hit points or gaining new spells. This is perfectly reasonable if everyone agrees, but at that point—if you’re eliminating a significant piece of the rules system—I’d question whether you should be using an entirely different rules system that isn’t based around character advancement to begin with.
  • It’s all relative. Sure, characters gain a level every two sessions. And the evil professor is a 9th level spellcaster. And there’s a lich in the basement. But it’s reasonable to say that this is how things appear because you’re in a microcosm and you’re comparing skills to people in that bubble with you. I would have no problem playing through a school campaign in which characters got up to 10th level and at the end of it saying “Okay, you all graduate. How about when we start the new campaign with you adventuring in the wider world, you all start off at 3rd level?” The point being that 10th level on the SCHOOL SCALE might only be 3rd level outside. Obviously this takes some suspension of disbelief—I used to be able to teleport! I raised someone from the dead! But hey, that was school, kids. Crazy things happen.
  • Ignore it. Sure, it doesn’t make sense for you to be dueling another student and that both of you are 9th level wizards. But so what? If people are having fun, does it matter?

How do you explain character classes? We’ve mentioned before that the abilities of player characters are inherently remarkable… that just at first level you’re pretty amazing. How’s that fit with a school game, where you’re just supposed to be students? Here again I’d follow the it’s all relative approach. Yes, mechanically you’re a 1st level wizard. But in this setting, that reflects the idea that you have an APTITUDE for wizardry and you need to work to develop it. A few quick thoughts…

  • Wizard? Artificer? You’re science nerds. You’re all about figuring out how arcane science works.
  • Fighter? Barbarian? You’re the jocks. Perhaps you actually want to be soldiers when you graduate, or perhaps you’re here on a Hrazhak scholarship. Barbarian, you really need to deal with your anger issues.
  • Cleric? You’re deeply religious and know that your faith in Aureon/The Divinity Within is going to help you pass that math test. Faith and divine magic ARE real things in Eberron; there’s surely a chaplain at school who will want to help you develop your faith and your abilities. You might get divine visions pushing you to do things! Paladin, you’re in the same boat, but you’re ALSO a jock on a Hrazhak scholarship.
  • Rogue? You might be a bit of a rebel—the student from Lower Dura or the bad side of the tracks, who has friends in the Boromar Clan and can get Dreamlily for the party. Are you here reluctantly? Are you hoping to turn a profit on this whole thing? Are you more interested in gambling than studying? Bard, you could follow the same path, but you’re a bit of a know-it-all and hey, you should start a band.
  • Sorcerer? Like the Cleric, sorcery is a thing that happens in the world. You may not have any knowledge of Arcana and may not want to learn, but there’s likely a teacher or professor who specializes in helping sorcerers develop their abilities. One question is whether you’re here by choice, or whether you’re here because you HAVE to be to learn to control your powers.
  • Warlock? You could take this a few ways. You COULD say that you’re working with a particular division of the Conjuration department that cultivates warlock relationships. But if it were ME, I’d play you as Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club. You’re the weird kid, the outsider who’s always writing poetry in your journal in the corner, who prefers talking to your imaginary friends to going to parties… except your imaginary friends are REAL and they’re teaching you how to do things. Like the cleric, your patron could give you visions or tasks that push you to work with the other characters despite your preference for isolation.
  • Druid? Ranger? You’re both odd choices for a big city school, but hey, you just moved to town from the Eldeen Reaches and your family insisted you get an education. Shifter Ranger? You’re DEFINITELY on the Hrazhak team, and you’re annoyed because these city kids are playing it ALL WRONG.

Backgrounds obviously overlap with these ideas. Noble background? You’re from a wealthy family. Urchin? You’re the orphan here because one of the professors sponsored you. Sage? You’re the annoying know-it-all. Entertainer? You DO have a band. Soldier? You’re from a military family, and if you screw up here you’re heading back to Rekkenmark. Criminal? OK, YOU’RE the one who can get some dreamlily for the party.

This has turned into a longer article than I’d intended, so I’m going to stop here. But hopefully this gives you ideas! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters!

24 thoughts on “iFAQ: University Adventures

  1. What about milestone XP for the first few levels (1-7 for “Hogwarts”, 3-6/7 for “college of adventure”) and from there switching to the traditional XP system?

  2. Or, you know – you can go on adventure in the meantime

    It is gonna sound weird but don’t think of Arcana modifier as “sum of your magical knowledge”. You wrote that an elf has far more magical skill than a human wizard who casts “quick and dirty” spells by human standards.

    By the same logic Adventurier’s Arcana might mean something different than an expert wizard’s lore. A skill check is made to understand magical effects on the fly, but to conduct research to replicate them… it is entirely plot based.

    • Wynarn is a more respected educational institution. Its methods are more traditional, and its teachers take their job seriously. Which is precisely WHY I’d run my campaign at Morgrave instead of Wynarn, because I’d rather have things be fast and loose… Three people died on Hass Holan’s last “extra credit” expedition, and there’s a SPHINX in the attic above the Registrar’s office! To me, Wynarn is going to be more staid and more stable; it’s training respected scholars as opposed to ADVENTURERS.

      • Sure, but every university drama needs a rival college visiting – your high-achieving Eton / Yale / Beauxbâtons antagonists the disparate PCs need to band together in order to outdo.

      • It occurs to me that Wynarn University is proably also the place with really strong schools of law, poitical science, government, economics, and business and the liike. If one wanterd to run a group of PCs all of whome are of Noble background, or wealthy or scions of Dragonmarked houses, Wynarn might be just the place. Political intrigue might form the backdrop for “downtime” adventures, as one PC has an uncle in the Aurum, while another is from House Sivis -why didn’t they go to Korranberg U.? Mom’s in the Trust and wants eyes and ears in Wynarn – and so forth. In this context, being in the right clique is like being in the right fraternity at an Ivy League school – it’s all about the networking. In this world, FBI agents all need degrees in computer science, chemistry or the law – in the Five Nations, future Dark Lanterns and their equivalents from other nations go to Wynarn to get the arcane or other skills they’ll need in their careers…and to size up future allies or competition!

        • Oh, I *like* that. Plus, Wynarn is only a few hours by lightning rail from Arcanix – political science three days a week, then the overnight train for that secondment in the floating towers to learn some wandslinging…

  3. For an anti (if at all) heroic answer, how about House Tarkanan? Its pretty open in character concept (both mechanical and story), especially with 5e allowing anyone to have an aberrant mark (and, according to RPGA stuff, have had some non-marked misfits sympathetic to the cause in their ranks at some point in their history). They aren’t really a school (but how much schooling does Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters actually do), but training aberrant marked individuals to control their powers (even if its to harness it for nefarious ends) seems like part of their purview.

    • Tarkanan does strike me as absolutely seeing training and education (indoctrination?) as one of its key purposes. It’s not just a criminal syndicate, they have a *mission* to shelter the Aberrant-marked and break the Twelve’s hold on Khorvaire. In one campaign that unfortunately didn’t get off the ground, I had a Zil gnome PC with an aberrant mark who was intentionally pointed in Tarkanan’s direction for training as a way to deal with the problem she represented (A gnome with an out-of-control Erase power is clearly a serious threat to Zil society 😉 ). In addition to learning how to control their mark, all of said character’s training as a Beguiler happened post-recruitment.

      Also, I could definitely see Tarkanan perceiving its interests in a way that goes beyond just recruiting individuals with aberrant marks. On the point of having members who aren’t marked, in one campaign I played in, the PCs had to intervene to prevent a true-marked NPC who had been developing unusual powers (similar to those the PCs had been manifesting) from being recruited by House Tarkanan. It had become a goal of House Tarkanan to see that as many of the individuals manifesting these new powers came under their influence as possible, regardless of whether their marks were aberrant or true; the recruiting NPC believed said powers emerging both among true and aberrant marked presaged the coming of a second War of the Mark, and that was a war Tarkanan intended to win…

  4. Adding to what you said about Barbarians: this is a great opportunity to reflavor the rage as something like a battle trance, or whatever else you like.

  5. I actually was considering running a game for grad students at the University of Wynarn. They would be *real* scholars, not like those guys at Morgrave University who [cue Twister reference] “are only in it for the money.” If you wanted genuine “it belongs in a museum” scholar adventurers, Wynarn is where to go.

    • There’s also the Library of Korranberg to consider. I’ve done a bit with this due to having some stories set in Korranberg; the setting books go into a little detail here (e.g. spelling out all the colleges) but for the most part with any of the institutions you’ll be filling in a lot of gaps with your own fluff. I tend to see the Library as fairly prestigious, but tending to have a sort of tiered-exclusiveness; they offer some degree of education to any citizen and probably some number of sponsored non-citizen residents, but the upper levels get a lot more competitive (I’ve loosely associated this with the divide between primary/secondary and post-secondary education, but there’s various ways one could look at this). There was never really any question that the well-connected Zil gnome with an amazing talent for learning languages would get into one of the colleges, but the kobold refugee had to work her tail off for the recognition that secured her place.

      If I were to try to pin down a way of articulating the attitude difference between Wynarn and Korranberg, I’d be inclined to suggest something along the lines that Wynarn perceives itself as pursuing learning and discovery in support of the higher noble purposes of society, whereas for the Library, learning itself *is* the higher purpose.

      As for Morgrave… I suspect there are all kinds of reasons that environment might appeal. My own Morgrave scholar (who is a House Jorasco scion) seems very upright and is clearly not motivated by personal profit, so she tends to get people wondering why in the world she is at Morgrave and not somewhere more reputable– unless they discover she’s also operating as a masked vigilante in Sharn, *and* trading in stolen research on the black market. 😉

  6. I could imagine a great “school” game at the military academy in Rekkenmark. Harsh discipline – the send you on errands into mabar infused woods at night as a punishment. There’s rumors the history prof is a vampire. A scorched dueling grounds in the quad sees regular use by students defending the honor of their class, or cohort. That quiet girl in your anatomy class just invited you to join a club that is probably an arm of the Blood of Vol, and you’re pretty sure those arrogant legacy upper classmen have ties to the Emerald Claw…

  7. Back in the days of 4e I managed to convince my players to run an arcane party (Artificer, Bard, Sorcerer, Swordmage and Warlock, ironically, no Wizard) and I ran an adventure based on The Name of the Rose, having the labyrinth set in the Library of Robideur.

    Good times.

  8. Another alternative: The Digger’s Union from the Mark of Heroes RPGA campaign.

    It’s not primarily a school, but Escape From Grea Tower does say they use their lecture hall to teach recruits. Member age is never stated, but one could assume that (since the membership was mostly RPGA players) they trended toward the minimum (and defacto default) starting age of 16/17. Wroat may not be Sharn, but it’s still a major city and seat of Breland’s government (and yet a virtual blank slate with next to nothing written about it).

    Of course the disadvantage here is that, as something created for RPGA, it suffers from the same problem all RPGA materials do: The materials are no longer offered (Anyone know whether all RPGA campaigns were under the same copyright scheme that Living Greyhawk had, or WotC maintains full rights to the modules?).

  9. While I’ve never had a chance to actually do anything with it, I’ve had the notion that an expy of Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus books/show would be an excellent Morgrave teacher. (Clearly a transmuter, right?)

  10. This is off topic, but any update on when the updates to Morgrav Miscellany will be done? I’m dying for the updated mark of death.

  11. I would genuinely be so excited to read a deeper dive into Morgrave University as a setting after seeing what there was in the Wayfinder’s Guide and the format of Morgrave Miscellany.

  12. Speaking of universities I was reading back over the Morgrave Miscellany and realized since it was written before RftLW it the dragonmarks and warforged and changelings and artificers all changes a bit… have you written anywhere about compatibility between these iterations?

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