Journeyman Wizard, a game poem

edited March 2015 in Make Stuff!

One person plays a wizard who has just completed their apprenticeship. The next phase of their training requires them to journey from town to town, solving problems and gaining real-world experience.

The group creates a sketch of a town and its most important features. Then the other players (not playing the wizard) create villager characters. Most of the villagers are respectable, but one is always a villain. Each respectable villager has a problem they cannot solve without the wizard's help. Sometimes a villager's goal is not something the wizard wants to help with and that's okay. The villain doesn't need the wizard's help, but needs to avoid the wizard, who may try to stop them. The villain also holds the power to help or hinder other villagers.

Then the group tells a story about the wizard's arrival and the reactions of the village.

Materials: index cards, pencils, green and red stones (five of each per player)

It's okay to change the colors of the stones, as long as you have two colors and know what the colors mean. You can substitute two colors of six-sided dice for all of the stones, too. You just need something to serve as a color token.


  • The Wizard

    You are a wizard. There is only one wizard in each game, though a different player might play this role in different games. It could be the same wizard, or it could be a different one. That's up to you!

    Wizards are rare in these lands, and they must complete a rigorous apprenticeship under a master wizard. This training starts at a young age (typically around 6-10) and lasts at least ten years. The master determines when the apprentice has learned enough, then sends her out on her Wizard's Journey to complete her training. She'll travel from village to village, using her training and magic to solve the world's problems.

    The wizard has talents. She starts with five talents and learns more through play. There is no list of talents. Write down things that you think your wizard learned as an apprentice, but don't be too general. For example, good talents include "Fire Magic" and "Listening" and "Sword Combat" while overly general talents include "Magic", "People", and "Killing."

    Write each talent on an index card and put it in the middle of the table.

    The villagers get to assign ratings to your talents, so if they think they're too broad, you might end up with no points on them! Each villager has five green stones and one red stone. Go around the table, one villager at a time, placing one stone on any talent card. A green stone will increase the rating of that talent by a point. A red stone will reduce it by a point. No talent may end up with a score greater than 5, in any case.

    Once all the talent stones have been cast, write the talents on a piece of paper (your character sheet) and sum up the green stones minus the red stones for each one, and write that rating next to its talent. You can return the stones to their pile then.

    The Town

    Everyone should brainstorm what this town looks like. Take turns drawing roads and rivers and forests and buildings. Talk about what the town's main purpose is, who rules it, what dangers it faces. Don't get detailed about the villagers yet; that's the next step. For now, it's okay to talk about high level cultural elements, but not specific individuals.

    The Villagers

    You are a villager. Villages are difficult places, full of all kinds of everyday problems. This is a world of magic and danger, though, so some problems are not so every-day. When you create a villager, you're defining this person in terms of his or her problems. You don't have to go into great detail at all. A concise summary is best. The rest, you can flesh out during play.

    One villager is always a villain. Decide who the villain will be.

    The first step is to come up with a simple identity. Each villager should declare their identity to the table before continuing.


    "I am a simple goatherd, living with his family just outside the village proper."
    "I am a mother of five children, husband to a merchant. Motherhood is my only job and I take it seriously."
    "I am the lord of the manor. I enjoy a luxurious lifestyle."
    "I am the proprietor of the Old Tavern."

    Then determine what problem your villager faces (see below). Discuss these with the other villagers. The wizard can listen in, but should remain silent.

    Try to tie your problems to other villagers, if you can. The game is more fun when some of the villagers hold keys to the solutions to other villagers' problems.


    Throughout play, the villagers will pose problems to the wizard. For example:

    "My goats are disappearing and I don't know why!"
    "I think my husband is cheating on me."
    "I will raise taxes to painful levels and live in opulence in my manor, despite the suffering of the other villagers."
    "A bunch of drunk and rowdy foreigners are breaking up my tavern! I think they're sorcerers!"

    Villagers should create problems that are interesting to them, and that will challenge the wizard in unusual ways.


    The wizard has a handful of useful talents on her character sheet, each rated 1-5. A wizard can bring one talent to bear on a problem at a time, describing how she wants to use her talent to overcome the problem. Each point of rating in that talent earns the wizard a green stone, which she puts in her spell component bag (an actual, small bag).

    Each villager has a pile of green and red stones. Each villager invents one complication that could occur if the wizard fails and places three stones into the bag. The stones can be any combination of red or green. Green stones reflect the villager's player's belief that the wizard's solution is likely to succeed without complication. Red stones reflect his belief that a complication might arise. Adding three green stones means the player thinks the plan is very likely to work. Adding three red stones means they think the plan is very likely to fail.

    Once every player has put his or her stones into the components bag, the wizard blindly draws three stones from the bag. If all the stones are green, the wizard succeeds without trouble. If at least one stone is green, the wizard's solution will succeed. However, for each red stone the wizard draws, she must choose one of the complications. Those complications come to bear. If all three stones are red, the wizard's solution fails entirely, and she must choose three complications as a result.

    Each complication becomes a new problem to solve.

    At any time, the wizard can leave the village and leave the villagers to solve their own problems. If that happens, each villager tells a short story about what happens because the wizard did not help.

    The components bag is always emptied at the end of each problem.


    Naturally, the wizard knows how to use magic, but every spell has a cost. Magic always works, except against other magic. If the wizard brings her magic to bear on a non-magical problem, then her success is guaranteed (even drawing three red stones won't fail). The "complications" that the villagers introduce should be the cost of the spell.

    The nature of the costs of magic are left to the group to decide. You're inventing a magical system here, so have fun with it!

    When a wizard faces magic, non-magical solutions will always fail. She'll have to use her magic to solve the problem. When a wizard uses magic against magic, three red stones still means failure. Additionally, each villager must add at least one red stone to the bag (plus two others, red or green).


    When the wizard leaves the village, each villager votes on how well the wizard solved their problems. They put two stones into the bag: two green stones indicates confidence in the wizard's behavior; one of each indicates mixed feelings; two red stones indicates disapproval.

    As the stones go into the bag, play out a little scene in the past. "Flash back" to a lesson the master was teaching the wizard an important lesson that applies to this problem. It might be praise for a job well done, or a scene where the wizard asks her master questions and comes to understand what she did wrong.

    Once all the stones are in the bag, the wizard can learn a lesson. As she reflects on the lessons of the village, she should choose one of her talents or write a new one (at level 0). Then she blindly draws five stones from the bag. If the number of green stones she draws exceeds the rating of the talent she chose, then she may increase the rating of that talent by one point.

    For example, the wizard wants to improve her talent, "Listening," which she has rated at 3. After each villager puts his voting stones into the bag, the wizard draws five: 2 red, 3 green. Unfortunately, 3 green stones isn't more than her 3 rating in Listening, so she does not improve the skill this time.

    Further Play

    You can keep playing towns. Create a new town and new villagers. You can switch up who plays the wizard, or let that player keep going. You can use the same wizard character, or make a new one.
  • This is really lovely. I can almost taste the Howl's Moving Castle or Kiki's Delivery Service.

    Would it be possible to construct relationships between the villagers, or announce them before play? Maybe also a chance to introduce (sometimes strange) habits or traits to flesh out the villagers - "I take long, moody walks." "I hear all the gossip." "I'm a kleptomaniac!" - just to give them a bit more of a kick going out the door. Or maybe work out how they're immediately imperilled?
  • Thank you!

    Relationships between villagers? Absolutely. Some more structure around fleshing out villagers, as you suggest, seems a wise course.

    I haven't played this yet. It's really just a first draft, in fact. I think it's missing a lot of play procedure, but I'm wondering if it needs it. Maybe I'll get some people to play it with me this weekend.

    I also admit I just latched onto the "game poem" thing without really checking to see if this qualifies. It's a brief thing, so I called it a poem, but I might be "wrong" about that.
  • It feels poetic, so that's good enough for me. It is lovely.
    Does the villain thing go anywhere? Any differences in their play procedure?
  • No differences. They ensure conflict and enforce a fantasy idea of evil, even though it might be somewhat mundane evil.

    As I wrote it, I was thinking of the old Kung Fu show.
  • edited March 2015
    It seems to me those are differences, perhaps around being the source of problems for other villagers. (i.e. The lord of the manor, raising taxes.) Also they must avoid the wizard, and can help or hinder other villagers (how? Just by how they choose to allocate their green and red stones?).
  • Probably through fictional positioning.
  • I'd love to try this. Seems like it'd make a nice forum game...
  • This sounds wonderful, and reminds me not only of Miyazaki movies like Kiki and Howl's Moving Castle, but also the Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea novels, which also inspired Archipelago, if I remember correctly. Loving the colored stones mechanism, too, it feels kind of magical, especially if you use nice translucent glass beads or something similar.

    I've been thinking a lot about using playsets like those from Fiasco to generate relationships and settings for other games like Archipelago (my friends and I are not as creative as most storygamers, apparently). I think this could work very well in this one, too.
    In fact, recently somebody made a generic Fiasco-like playset for generating relationship in other games - I think he went trough lots of Fiasco playsets, swiping the relationships and making them less setting-specific.
    This could be used here, too. Or maybe someone should just make a Studio Ghibli playset ;).
  • edited March 2015
    Studio Ghibli rules:
    1. Talking comes before fighting in imitative.
    2. No one is a villain, just different.
    3. Humans are quick to love, trust and act.

    Can we all play Wizards with different motives ("I live to ease suffering." "I live to punish the cruel." "I live to serve the poor.") and also play 2-3 Locals? Feels like the Villiagers aren't very meaty to play.

    Maybe it's coloured dice we can use and then roll them for granularity or to see if a situation turns out more green or more red?

    Could be, if you really want to get poetic, instead of stones the players actually write out breifly how they want a conflict to resolve and put that in a hat for the Wizard to draw. Or selects a combination of Keywords (keystones!) to add to the bag to colour how they want the conflict to resolve.
  • My goal for the game was to facilitate one player, many GMs. It could be drifted to a GMful game, where everyone shares GM and player roles.

    I love that you're already drifting my game before anyone has ever played it. I say this with no irony or sarcasm.

    Have you played Annalise, by Nathan Paoletta? It has a multiple conflict outcome system that is pretty slick, and it's part of the inspiration for mine. There is no rule requiring it, but in actual play you often end up writing down each outcome to track them. It can definitely slow down game play, but I'm not sure that's a big problem.

    However, randomizing outcomes steps on a goal of mine, which is making the wizard decide which outcome is most important.

    Villagers are NPCs, so they'll be less meaty. This is a one-player, many-GM game. I have no issue giving the villager players more than one villager, though. I'd like to playtest it as written before changing anything there though.

    I'll resist any kind of dice rolling here. I don't think it's needed. The randomizer is drawing from the bag and it's beautiful and elegant.
  • edited March 2015

    I think a relationship generator could be useful. I was imagining cards with ideas or prompts on them for the villagers. Hell, maybe a Tarot.
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