Magical academies make fantastic focal points for campaigns—for all classes. It gives PCs a powerful patron to support their adventures. The academy provides players with quests and access to magical resources and arcane learning. The academy’s grounds serve as a base of operations, and foes can target the academy with grave threats. And, these are excellent introductions to roleplaying for those familiar with a particular boy wizard.
Player options available in Tome of Heroes and Deep Magic give every class greater access to magic abilities. Now there’s even more reason to run this style of campaign with the arrival of the Deep Magic 2 Kickstarter campaign. Read closely and see if you can get a peek of some of the new material inside!
Creating your Magical Academy
Our first article crafts the magical academy used in this series—the Vistrovani Conservatory of Magic. In doing so, we will review several considerations that should go into the creation of magical academies so you can create your own compelling institutions. You’ll also create the academy’s dean, professors, and foes to threaten your players.
Consideration 1: What is the focus of the academy? What makes it unique?
Pondering these questions helps you determine the academy’s priorities. Does it teach magic users specializing in a particular school of magic? Is enrollment limited to residents of a single country? Perhaps the academy exists to train a specific kind of practitioner, such as sorcerous Rifthoppers (Tome of Heroes), the bardic College of Shadow (Book of Ebon Tides), or wizards practicing elven ritual magic (Deep Magic).
Magical academies shouldn’t feel like a dime a dozen… unless you want them to feel like trade schools in your setting. Even then, something distinct helps make it feel realer in your players’ minds.
So, what makes this academy different from all others? This could be viewed positively (great academic reputation or excellent post-academic placement) or negatively (the academy’s low tuition costs or its willingness to enroll students with *ahem* blemished reputations).
The Vistrovani Conservatory is the preeminent institution for the study and development of new spells for wizards. It stands out for two reasons. First, the academy teaches its wizardly pupils not by school of magic, such as evocation or transmutation, but by style of magic, such as portal or dream magic. Second, the academy accepts students of any magical aptitude, including sorcerers, warlocks, paladins, and monks. What matters most is that the student can contribute to the research process.
Consideration 2: How long has the academy been open? Who is the dean?
Older institutions may have longer legacies, expansive libraries, and renowned alumni. Conversely, newer academies may have funding and ambition, perhaps a living founder with driving ambition, but lack the institutional resources and name recognition.
In either case, a dean leads the academy. Long-serving deans have molded the academy to match their vision and might be reluctant to deviate from their 5-year plans. Newly appointed deans may come with new ideas and a new agenda but face resistance from incumbent faculty members.
The Vistrovani Conservatory is about to celebrate the 300th anniversary of its founding. During the time it’s been open, the academy has been under the watchful eye of the elven dean, Scholarch Paevel Cangenthistle. Due to his long life, the Scholarch shepherded the academy through many ups and more recent downs.
Consideration 3: How does the academy remain relevant? What are its struggles?
An academy has ongoing struggles. Those that can’t stay relevant don’t attract new students and lose existing enrollment. Other struggles may relate to limited resources or misplaced tomes, but not threats (see the following considerations).
The Vistrovani Conservatory maintains its relevance by poaching the preeminent faculty from other institutions. While this tactic has worked wonders in the past, the last few hires look to be duds, including:
- Megy Ozni, an human enchanter whose true talents lie as a charlatan and a confidence woman.
- Gichi Otare, a gnome diviner who abuses narcotics to heighten his soothsaying prowess.
- Sigra Furnyng, a virtuoso lich (see Tome of Beasts 2) from the northern marches who oversees necromancy studies only because the dean has captured her phylactery.
Despite their flaws, they remain faculty in good standing at the conservatory.
Consideration 4: What are the academy’s rivals or foes?
An antagonist for your magical academy adds good conflict to your game. This could be a rival school (with competitions in intramural sports) or dangerous foes which students are warned away from.
The Vistrovani Conservatory is currently losing faculty and students to the Masi Institute, an up-and-coming institution across town. Masi was founded by an adventurer renowned for raiding ancient tombs in the southern deserts. The institute is well-funded, offering extensive externships with adventuring companies. To give their students an edge in the field, the institute has begun funding research into new spells.
Consideration 5: What are the academy’s dark secrets?
Skeletons hide deep in every magical academy’s closet—and not just literal skeletons in closets!
Dirty secrets are a prime source for adventure generation, either in working to keep them secret or dealing with fallout once they’re revealed. Make sure secrets are embarrassing for students and alumni. They should be damning, but the person responsible for them had what seemed like a good reason at the time.
Through centuries of research, Scholarch Cangenthistle has determined the most efficient way to develop new wizarding spells is by witnessing other spellcasters use their magic. This is why the school is open to other styles of magic, often waiving tuition to induce them to attend.
Typically, these non-wizards are free to leave whenever they want. However, the scholarch occasionally deems certain students too important to depart. The following are notable prisoners below the conservatory.
- The scholarch is studying how to replicate the breathstealer’s Gasp to Survive ability (see Tome of Beasts 3). Much to his chagrin, the prisoner keeps killing researchers.
- Intrigued by his patron’s grant of power, the scholarch has captured the mighty dragonborn warlock Knastrumff with bands of restraint (see Vault of Magic). Knashtrumff plays along with the scholarch’s request while awaiting aid in escaping the conservatory’s prison.
- The scholarch cast feeblemind on a halfling archmage named Galanter. He promised her that her mind will be restored once she has copied her spellbook. Sadly, the archmage can’t remember that she has copied it five times—and will keep copying more until the scholarch has used her up.
Coming Up Next: Adventure Ideas
Check back each Tuesday for the next four weeks during the Deep Magic 2 kickstarter campaign. Learn how to craft adventure hooks for magical academies that you might use for low, medium, and high level adventures.