Modern concepts of magicians. Dumb guys with loud spells?

I’ve had a personal revelation about the nature of magicians after having read Jon Sherman’s dissertation, The Magician in Medieval Literature. Previously, when my thoughts turned to wizardry foremost on my mind was the spells associated with them. But by associating raw sorcery and spells to wizards seems like defining the quality of a scholar by how many guns they own. “I own a shotgun, three pistols, and a flame thrower…see how smart I am?”

The sorcerer in Medieval history is a blurring of the sciences and magic.  Literature from the dark ages and all the way through Tolkien saw wizards as learned sages and wise men.  Chemistry and astronomy derive their etymology from the older practices of alchemy and astrology.  Healing arts of medicine and the intellectual pursuits of the seven liberal arts were often written in, what people of the time considered to be, mystical and heathenistic language.  The basics of algebra and even having the language skills to read other arabic texts were the real skills sorcerers.

So, previously when my hand turned to character burning magic-users, I would always be focused on how to get my sorcery skill as high as possible even to the point of putting reading or writing at exponent 3…

In truth, the sorcery skill should probably be the lowest exponent skill.  In “wizard schools” it would be the skill taught last after alchemy, astrology, reading, writing, language, etc.  The difference perhaps is subtle, but I think, perhaps, it is the difference between Peter Jackson’s portrayal Gandalf and Tolkien’s.

I did a bit of sleuthing on these forums of sorcerers burned up here, and I was not surprised to find that many were doing what I was doing.  High sorcery skills compared to knowledge.  I think this a hold-over for myself of my days of D&D.  Where the wizards intelligence for languages in 0d&d quickly became lost in the quest for 9th level spells and fireballs as the playstyle shifted from exploration to combat.  Food for thought!

As the author states in his preface

Umberto Eco’s medieval mystery The Name of the Rose also ascribes significant importance to books and learning, and examines questions of the disclosure and censorship of knowledge. The connection between magic and science, and the association of Arabic learning and heathen knowledge with heresy and magic, are common both to Eco’s twentieth-century novel set in the Middle Ages and to medieval literature in general. The suspicion of all knowledge, especially Arabic texts and heathen learning, embodied in Eco’s novel by the blind monk Jorge, is constantly contrasted with

the curiosity about and reverence for these same texts by others, notably William of Baskerville. Although a number of other issues play an important role in The Name of the Rose—including the relationship between sign and signifier, the conflict between ecclesiastical and secular authority, the Avignon Papacy and the inquisitorial process— three related ideas, embodied in both the library and the manuscript, link the various narrative threads of Adso’s seven-day stay at the abbey. The first is the connection between magic and science, and the blurring of the boundary between the two. The second is the suspicion of all things foreign, magic or heathen of being inherently dangerous to medieval Christianity. And the third is the battle between those who want to make knowledge public and available, and those who would suppress or even destroy it. These three ideas serve to unite the narrative strands of The Name of the Rose, a novel set at the medieval world’s greatest—albeit fictitious—library. Magic in Eco’s novel and, as I argue in this study, also in medieval German literature, serves as the embodiment of both the heretical, the dangerous and the unknown, as well as of learning and knowledge.

Very Interesting!
I admit to being guilty of making mages who are competent readers, nominally practiced at writing and other sorcerous skills that one may take extra time to accomplish properly without the pressure of combat, and experts at sorcery (often at the expense of purchasing or improving wises). However, I do not think this makes for a “dumb” wizard. If you envision all that he has studied throughout his lifepaths as contributing to his ability to learn and cast spells then it is no small wonder that the accumulation of such knowledge would lead to a better understanding of his main course of study.
Kind of like the way a surgeon is a highly trained and specialized doctor, an expert in his field, but if pressed into it the heart surgeon could remember enough from medical school to deliver a baby if needed. Even though he was nominally trained and practiced at it.
The average sorcery pc isn’t dumb, just focused.

Barring a few examples like Earthsea’s Ged or Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker, most often we encounter wizards who are in the fullness of their power. One of the many things I love about BW is that even if you burn a character with lots of magical brawn and not much magical brain, those other skills will get stronger if the campaign makes challenges in those areas central. I’ve had a couple of characters get up to a B6 or B7 Research, for instance, after starting with a B2 (or even beginner’s luck).

Incidentally, in the College of Magic setting in the Magic Burner, you don’t get Sorcery as a lifepath skill until the Master Sorcerer lifepath.

BW doesn’t assume wizards are scholars. Okay, actually it does, by LP, but they don’t have to be. Your wizard could be a mighty sorcerer but an indifferent student, and it actually works out just fine. But BW can also make a researcher and academic fun without sorcery.

Where BW is really different is that all sorcerers won’t know fireball and magic missile. There’s not spell standardization, and most of the most fun is in the oddball spells that don’t just wreck enemies.

Check this out.

Born Gifted (use Servitude/Captive setting) → Cultist → Rogue Wizard

No Research. No Read/Write. Just Sorcery, Cult Doctrine, and lots of deception skills. Your Sorcery is a mix of cult training and the fruits of a brutal life.

(Oh, and those skills you don’t have? You will need them desperately later.)

A while back, I played an illiterate soothsayer/enchantress (Gifted Child → Auger →Rogue Wizard), who learned the basics of enchanting from her vivid, mystical dreams (Dreamer trait). Her two highest skills were Enchanting and Falsehood, both B3s. She mainly supported herself as a charlatan, because real prophesies don’t sell.

I really like the contrast between this and someone like a court wizard, whose services are probably retained due to his knowledge of the world and not for his ability to turn into a hawk necessarily, whereas the former is all raw power. I can almost envision the wet cave wherein he experiments. Thanks!

It’s true, etymologically, “wizard” comes from “wise-arzed”, that is “one who is wise in the end”. The workings of magic were merely one facet of their deeper understanding of reality than the common man.

On the other hand, part one, “sorcery” doesn’t etymologically have that implication (in fact, it’s similar to the various *-mancy words floating around. It almost definitely came from a word for a kind divination: sortition, aka, cleromancy, the casting of lots. Though divination has always had an implication of casting “wyrds”, that is, someone who divines fates may also be able to dictate fates).

On the other hand part two:

I imagine a world where the only way to own or use a gun was to have built it yourself from first principles. A flame thrower AND a shotgun? That guy is wicked smaht!

All that aside, I’ll admit that my very strong preference is for a very practical engineering style of magic. And like any engineer, I can easily see a pragmatic sorcerer who knows a lot about their discipline, but isn’t necessarily a master scholar of literature and the arts, and knows only as much math or physics as applies to their discipline. (Though perhaps, like many engineers, they become so used to their first thought being the right one that they forget that that’s only because of deep expertise, and start to believe it applies everywhere, ie, Engineer’s Disease.)

I laughed so hard

But yeah, burning wheel supports the learned vizier (Court sorceror), skalds and cackling witches all. And the first mage PC I GM’d for who literally had the instinct “When arrows are nocked, begin casting White Fire” who is definitely of the less salubrious sort.

Well, the bit about “wise” is true.

(The -ard suffix comes from Old German (via French) “hart”, meaning “hard, keen, curageous, hardy”, depending on whom you ask. Yours is funnier, though.)

Thank you both, all credit goes to Terry Pratchett for that one though (I meant to honor him in a foot note, for appropriateness, and had forgotten by the end).

And thank you for the correct etymology. I remember hearing that it’s the same “-ard” as in “drunkard”, is that the case?

And bastard and buzzard. So it’s probably along the lines of vultures being hardy rather than in a wholesome sort of way.