Dragonlance was in a rather interesting position during the 3rd Edition era of gaming. Albeit an official setting, Wizards of the Coast wanted to focus on its three major worlds for publishing: Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk (albeit in bits and pieces), and the soon-to-be-released Eberron. In 2003 the company released a main campaign setting book for Dragonlance, but for further sourcebooks and material gave limited licensing rights to Sovereign Press for 5 years, which then became Margaret Weis Productions around 2007. The then-new studio had a lot of material to draw from, so they began with the most well-known aspects. During the first year, priority was placed on setting sourcebooks for the most iconic eras: the War of the Lance and Age of Mortals, the latter of which was already an unpopular setting among fans. Ironically loaned out to yet another third party studio,* it was considered the worst book of the 3e Dragonlance era.
*Fast Forward Entertainment.
But beyond the “setting” sourcebooks Sovereign Press needed ones for the other iconic features: the honorable Knights of Solamnia, the power of the gods, the time-traveling shenanigans from the Legends trilogy, and eventually a 3rd Edition conversion of the original Chronicles were all planned for and eventually published! In tackling this monumental feat, Sovereign Press started with Krynn’s color-coded wizardly orders with a book dedicated to them and all things arcane.
Towers of High Sorcery is a mixture of fluff and crunch; in addition to the oodles of new feats, prestige classes, and mechanics which were the highlight of the D20 system, the book goes into detail on the society and philosophy of the Orders and other wizardly organizations of Ansalon. It also covers those dabblers and renegade mages who choose to remain independent.
The Gift of Magic
Our book opens up with a brief discussion of arcane magic, also known as sorcery. It is the metaphysical clay which the gods used to create reality, and which mortals could use the ability at a lesser (yet no less wondrous) rate. In times long past arcane magic was a raw and barely controlled energy which mortals could directly access. It was known as Primal Sorcery, and when utilized during the distant Age of Dreams its destructive power caused the three Gods of Magic to institute more precise formulas and rituals as safety measures This form of magic is called High Sorcery to distinguish it from its older counterpart; its use is referred to as the Art, and practitioners of the Art are known as wizards. Three orders were set up to research, study, and regulate its use, associated with with their patron deity’s moral outlook on how to best harness magic. Solinari, the white moon, was the conscience of wizards and taught his followers to use their powers for the common good. Lunitari, the red moon, represented the balance and taught her followers to prioritize magical research in and of itself and is thus neutral. Nuitari, the black moon which can only be seen by the Black Robes, encourages followers to gain power irregardless of moral reservations and is thus evil. But unlike divine magic, High Sorcery’s ability to be accessed by practically anyone with the right materials and tomes meant that independent mages could learn this Art for themselves.
Creatures with natural spellcasting such as dragons still retain primal sorcery, but this power would remain locked away from the majority of races until the breaking of the Graygem of Gargath and the arrival of Chaos into the world.
The talent for wizardry is not something a person is born with; the pre-magical lives of many wizards differ widely, although they most often come from educated backgrounds where literacy is available, making their numbers relatively low in the current Ages. In times long past the Conclave, the primary governing body of the Orders of High Sorcery, sent representatives in search of people who displayed talent and/or interest in the arcane arts, with formal tests to determine their worthiness.
3rd Edition Notes: Arcane casting classes which require a spellbook or some sort of formal training are counted as High Sorcery/wizards, while those which are spontaneous casters (spells become known as you “level up” and don’t need a spellbook) are counted as Primal Sorcery/sorcerers.
Only the elven nations still maintain wizardly aptitude tests; most countries in Ansalon have varying degrees of anti-magic sentiment due to the power mages wield as well as political and religious reasons. In the Fifth Age, the Age of Mortals, some among the Orders have applied these standards to wielders of primal sorcery as well, although their existence and how best to deal with them is a hot-button issue among the Conclave.
Most arcane education in modern times takes two forms: individual master-apprentice relationships or boarding schools where teachers preside over classrooms of students. The former is by far the most common, and lessons widely differ and are often restricted to the skill set of the mentor in question. The latter is rarer due to the amount of money and resources required. Magic schools beyond Wayreth only really took off after the War of the Lance, when Raistlin’s fame in fighting the Dragonarmies began to turn public sentiment more favorably to wizards. The Orders used to have five Towers of High Sorcery which were the Ivy League equivalents of magic schools, but only the Tower of Wayreth still serves its original purpose. Arcane schools can gain funding from the Conclave but must abide by a set of universal standards: schooling lasts for 8 months from autumn to spring, dorm rooms are gender-segregated (to “avoid distractions from studies”), students under 16 years of age require a legal guardian’s permission to enroll, and class subjects are split into categories of novice/intermediate/advanced.
But there is one formality which the Conclave applies to all wizards of sufficient skill, formally-trained or no: the Test of High Sorcery. Perhaps the most iconic and feared ritual of the Orders, the Test is just as much an inward moral assessment as it is testing the competence of the wizard in question. Whether as simple as finding a letter mysteriously appearing in one’s dwelling or consciously seeking it out by one’s own hand or mentor, the prospective mage travels to the Tower of Wayreth* and meets with senior wizards to determine if they’re ready.
*The other four Towers were capable of administering Tests, but their destruction during the Kingpriest’s purges reduced the Test to the last remaining Tower.
The Test is individually customized based on the skill set and background of the test-taker, and the intention is to make the wizard aware of their strengths and follies and what path in life they wish to take in life. But every Test has two questions of vital importance: “is there anything more important to you than the gift of magic?” “And when challenged, will you sacrifice those things for the Art?”
The weight of these words is vital, for those who fail the Test are executed; even the good-aligned White Robes deemed it a lesser evil to kill unworthy students than pass powerful magic into their hands which can inflict potentially greater harm. To those wizards who pass, they are given a set of colored robes inducting them into one of the three Orders, and often bear some physical or emotional scar as a reminder of their trials. Official membership in an Order comes with many material benefits from an expanded formal social network of peers.
I can’t help but feel that the “pursue magic beyond all other affairs” is biased heavily in favor of the Red and Black robe ideologies, perhaps the Reds more than the Blacks. The Black Robes’ emphasis on selfish power precludes moral concerns, but on the other hand one can argue that said selfishness may be detrimental to magical innovation and research if say, they suppressed knowledge so as to retain a position of uncontested eldritch power. The Reds may be a bit “enlightened centrists” in regards to the Balance, but knowledge for knowledge’s sake lines up best with these questions. And while the penalty for failing the Test is made known to all prospects (and can refuse to take the Test provided they stop honing their magical skills henceforth) the use of murder can be seen as a rather large moral compromise among some gaming groups.
We then get a brief rundown on the political structure of wizards; this is expanded on in chapters three and four, but for now we get the basics. The previously-mentioned Conclave is a council of twenty-one wizards which has a governing Head who steps in when the council cannot come to a decision. Any member of the Orders can theoretically join the Conclave, but it is a lifetime membership and applicants must demonstrate sole loyalty to the Orders and magic beyond all other concerns, which typically means that they forsake prior political and national loyalties.
Furthermore, each Order of High Sorcery has a Master of its own, while each Tower of High Sorcery is presided over by a Master who is ultimately responsible for its affairs. There’s not much discussion of how one becomes an Order Master, but a Tower Master is chosen from a list of candidates assembled by the Conclave. The wizard’s skill set, as well as their community ties with the Tower’s region and the political make-up Orderwise, are all considered. Once chosen the Master becomes responsible for the Tower’s day-to-day upkeep and undergoes a ritual to merge their life force with the Tower’s essence. This grants them an unbreakable supernatural hold over the building’s foundations and the surrounding environs.
Interspersed throughout this section are some small in-character notes and letters by notable wizards from the setting, such as Raistlin and Dalamar. We even get stats for the two, although the former only as a 1st-level apprentice when he was just 16 years of age. I have no idea in what campaign you’d use this besides either time-travel or a pre-War of the Lance magic school campaign.
Races & Wizardry
Although it can be said in general terms that sorcery is a rare and feared art in Ansalon, the various cultures and races have approached the Art differently. The fact that its use knows no racial or cultural boundaries* means that the Wizards of High Sorcery often insert themselves into every community of note during the current Age of Mortals. In some cases it may be as formal as a small keep or outpost, while others may be a single wizard or small band venturing between settlements.
*Although inherent Intelligence/Charisma modifiers can make certain groups more naturally gifted at its manipulation than others.
Humans tend to number the highest among wizards in spite of the elves being more tolerant due to human flexibility and their population spreading evenly throughout Ansalon. The city-dwelling and formal nations are more trusting of the arcane arts than rural and nomadic humans, but this isn’t much of an improvement. Even commoners give wizards a wide berth unless the individual mage in question can be trusted and has existing community ties. In Solamnia the governing Knights don’t exactly trust them but they’re not outright hated, while in Khur the populace overwhelmingly hates arcanists save for the Mikku tribe who are often regarded as the oddball group by their peers.
They’re put in their own individual categories, but the Half-X Races tend to join the Orders or take up arcane spellcasting due to being either socially isolated or caught between two cultures. As a result, they find some comfort in a community they can call their own. The exception are half-kender, who inherited a bit of their kender parentage’s side and find it hard to focus on their studies.
Elves hold arcane magic in high regard, but ones who join the Red or Black Robes become outcasts in their community. The Silvanesti have a formal House Mystic which has a joint relationship with the White Robes, while the Qualinesti capital had its own arcane school and their proximity to the Tower of Wayreth meant that they worked together on many projects. The Kagonesti wild elves are an exception in that they have no formal institutions and thus have less wizards (but not much of a social stigma against htem), while the sea elves tend to practice magic independent of the Orders. Sea elf renegades cannot be easily brought in line by the Orders on account of the difficulties of long-term undersea travel, even with magic.
The Ogre Races are an interesting case study. The initial chosen of Takhisis once presided over the first mighty civilization, but it fell due to cruelty and slave rebellions. The modern-day fallen ogres lack the intelligence or resources to study wizardry, and thus tend to treat wizards as threats. The exception are ogre magi, offspring believed to be a throwback to their first empire. Ogre magic tend to be revered for their power, and as a rule they don’t bother joining the Orders due to having their own formal network of master-apprentice relationships.
The Irda, those good-aligned ogres who weren’t cursed with ugliness for their evil ways, often live as solitary travelers posing as elves when away from their island homes. While they count a large amount of wizards among their ranks, they view themselves as being too rational and wise to need self-regulation. They treat the Orders of High Sorcery in a back-handed condescending way, viewing it primarily a “worthy institution for the lesser races” who they regard as irrational and aggressive and thus in need of a guiding hand.
Minotaurs view arcane magic as a crutch that the weaker races use to make up for physical shortcomings, and its use in battle is seen as dishonorable. As a result, the majority of minotaur wizards are those who are weaker than most of their kin and turned to alternative practices to minimize their shortcomings. The ones living among their races’ seafaring empire are renegade mages and focus on spells ideal for warfare given that such sorcery is the kind their people at least grudgingly respect. The minotaurs who leave their homeland have it even harder, in that they’re making a conscious choice to abandon their people; as a result, minotaur wizards that join the Orders are already outcasts among outcasts.
Dwarves have a long-standing cultural distrust of wizards due to the archmage Fistandantilus’ participation in the Dwarfgate Wars. After the Cataclysm fell, many old trade routes and communities were destroyed, leading to a massive food shortage in the dwarven kingdom of Thorbadin. The mountain dwarf clans barred the Neidar, or hill dwarves, from entering their ancestral homeland as the rest of the world became more dangerous.
This ‘betrayal’ caused the Neidar to ally with various human factions to break through the gates of Thorbadin, Fistantantilus among them. The archmage cast a cataclysmic spell which devastated both armies and led to a premature end of the War. Thus the hill dwarves hate wizards due to fear of being betrayed again, while the mountain dwarves remember how close Fistandantilus’ magic brought their kingdom to destruction.
An exception exists among the “dark dwarf” clans. The Theiwar clan are long-standing practitioners of wizardry in an organization known as the Obsidian Circle. The Circle pays devotion to Nuitari and have an alliance with the Black Robes even though they’re technically renegades. While the Theiwar count many primal sorcerers among the populace, the Circle regards them as threats to be destroyed. The Daegar often learn from the Theiwar, and prefer magic which can enhance their physical abilities and objects. The Zhakar, or dwarves infected with a race-wide fungal parasite, do not much care for High/Primal divides and accept whatever magic is practical for learning.
There are no recorded instances of gully dwarf wizards, not even minor dabblers, due to their races’ legendary stupidity, although there are a few primal sorcerers reported in recent years.
Gnomes are curious about magic as they are with just about anything which can be studied and researched. But they tend to regard its practice with disdain when so many spells can be replicated (either practically or in theory) by machinery. They study wizardry as a means of understanding magical cause and effect, and their cultural peculiarities means they almost always conduct such research in their city of Mount Nevermind rather than the continental schools or Towers. The gnomes have produced more than a few genuine wizards among their ranks, whose spellbooks are even larger and more baroque than usual. There are no known examples of gnomes who took the Test, not even the more powerful ones. In the latter case, such gnome archmages mostly lived uneventful lives in Mount Nevermind consumed by research rather than more earthly concerns. As a result, they more or less go unnoticed by the Orders.
Kender love magic, but the feeling among wizards is not mutual. Their whimsical nature means that formal training is a nightmare for mentors and teachers, although the Afflicted Kender (a subrace that became traumatized by the destruction of their home city) are better suited to learning but tend to be suspicious of the Orders. Some kender conspiracy theorists have claimed that there’s an Order-wide effort to prevent them from learning magic.
Centaurs overall violently hate arcane magic, and instead give credence to divine magic as practiced for generations. A few young centaurs who left their tribes to travel the world are more open-minded and thus a few joined the Orders.
Draconians are a young race who post-War of the Lance are finding their way in the world. They have been most familiar with the Black Robes, often serving them as minions. Draconians overall are more likely to be primal sorcerers, although only the auraks (who are the smartest and most magically-proficient) and the bozaks (who were trained as highly-disciplined ‘mage-warriors’) show inclination to High Sorcery in any conceivable number. There are rumors of some sivaks who used their shapechanging abilities to take the identities of murdered wizards to learn the Art, but nothing can be proven.
High Sorcery and Arcane Prestige Classes
The final section of the first chapter covers new class options for the wizards of Ansalon as well as an updated reprint of the Wizard of High Sorcery prestige class from the main setting book. One thing I would like to note is that while some of these PrCs may be better than others, none of them are a real ‘downgrade’ to the core Wizard class barring the Sylvan Mage exception. This is because the Wizard’s class features are mostly spellcasting and a bonus feat every 5 levels, and magical prestige classes grant more spells per day of an existing casting class during their progression. The Wizard of High Sorcery, Dreamshaper, Sea Mage, Spell Broker, and Winternon are all full progression, while the Griffon Wizard and Renegade Hunter grant +1 level of progression every odd-numbered level and are only 5 levels long, meaning you only lose out 2 levels at most. The Dark Dwarf Savant’s the odd man out, a level 10 class with a total of +7 levels in an existing casting class, and the Sylvan Mage is a 10 level class which grants casting progression every odd-numbered level.
Wizard of High Sorcery is a Prestige Class symbolizing those who completed the Test and formally joined one of the three Orders. I covered it in a prior review of the Dragonlance Campaign Setting, but the major change here is that you no longer have to specialize in a school to qualify. Non-specialist wizards have to choose a specialty school favored by their order and are thus treated as one from then on out, but those who were already specialists gain even greater power (+1 caster level and saving throw DC on related spells) at the expense of choosing an additional prohibited school. Overall it’s a pretty solid choice for specialist wizards, and some of the Order Secrets are pretty good.
Dark Dwarf Savants are worshipers of Nuitari and established ties with her aforementioned Order during the Age of Mortals. They count sorcerers among their ranks as well and tend to plot various evil schemes in the mountain kingdom of Thorbadin. Their primary class features include the manifestations of magical mutations which grant +2 to an ability score of choice per selection but become more resistant to healing spells; the ability to permanently sacrifice up to 3 spell slots to prepare a spell as a spell-like ability (which allows them to avoid gold/steel piece cost but must spend the virtual currency as more expensive experience points); and bonus item creation feats.
The Savant loses 3 levels worth of casting class progression, but the ability to turn certain spells into spell-like abilities has some pretty powerful potential.
Dreamshapers are illusionists of Lunitari who study dreams and the Ethereal Plane to gain increased power over mortal perceptions. They were instrumental in rebuilding Silvanesti after the War of the Lance, when nightmare-spawned horrors were still numerous. They can coordinate efforts among their number to power all of their spells, using the mechanics of Faerun’s Red Wizards from the Dungeon Master’s Guide as part of a wider “dream circle.” Their other class features include saving throw bonuses against illusion and mind-affecting spells equal to their class level, and a +1 to +3 bonus on illusion (phantasm) spells depending on their class level. They have some steep prerequisites in terms of minimum level (you’ll be 10th when you gain your first PrC level) but overall they’re a pretty solid choice for illusionists, moreso if you have a Leadership cohort who also takes levels in it to take advantage of the circle magic.
Griffon Wizards are elven warriors who gain a powerful bond with the eponymous flying beasts. They are most common among the aristocracy and martial orders of the Silvanesti and Qualinesti, and are exclusively White Robe wizards of Solinari. They gain a griffon as a unique familiar (and cannot have an existing one), but is more in line offensively as a paladin mount. They gain bonuses on concentration checks to maintain spells while riding their mount (which ranges from +5 to +10), and can gain temporary bonuses to their Strength and Fortitude saving throws (or Charisma and Reflex) as they draw on the power of their mount’s bond.
Their level 5 capstone feature lets them auto-succeed on all concentration checks while riding their mount. To non-D20 readers, a concentration check is rolled whenever a spellcaster takes damage or is in environmental conditions which can distract their spellcasting. Concentration DCs can climb really high with damage, and what this means is that a Griffon Wizard can pretty much cast spells without worry. With the aid of a flying mount, this is another solid class and only 5 levels to boot.
Renegade Hunters are wizards charged with keeping the power of the Art out of the hands of the unworthy. Sometimes it may involve teaching a renegade the boons of formal membership in the Orders, while other times it is a more violent choice resulting in the arrest or death of the renegade. Its prerequisites are a bit unorthodox, with skills and feats themed around investigative measures (Gather Information, Sense Motive, the Track feat, etc). Their class features revolve around the countering and shutting down of enemy magic and include things such as: treating their patron moon as being in a more favorable alignment 1/day*; automatically learn the Detect Lie spell and Mark of Justice spells at 2nd and 4th levels; can afflict an enemy wizard as though they had a patron moon being in Waning/Low Sanction*; and their 5th level capstone ability can let them temporarily reduce their own caster level and cause a target within 30 feet to suffer an equally reduced caster level 1/day for a limited number of rounds. Caster Levels lost this way can dip to as low as 0, which can eliminate the ability to cast spells at all!
*Order wizards’ DCs and Caster Levels can suffer bonuses and penalties depending on their phases.
The Renegade Hunter has some pretty potent anti-magic countermeasures, but they can only work on wizards and not arcane spellcasters in general, which drastically limits its use in most campaigns.
Sea Mage is a wizard who spent a lot of time at sea and learned to shape their magic in favor of their lifestyle. They are more physically inclined and less formal than most wizards, being closer to a sailor than a scholar in temperament. They are a full casting class up to 5 levels, but require a high base Reflex Save (+3) which means they need to multi-class to gain early entry. But in exchange they gain bonuses to skills related to seamanship; bonuses on Concentration and save DC when onboard a ship or in an aquatic environment; bonus feats related to agility and metamagic; and can affect an entire sea-going vessel with a single spell a limited number of times per day and can gain said spell’s benefits while in contact with the ship; and +1 caster level in regards to air and water based spells.
Dragonlance isn’t exactly known for nautical adventures, but I can definitely see this Prestige Class being used in Freeport or a more pirate-themed setting. The “target an entire ship with a spell” is open to some abuse, but its limited use per day keeps it in line.
Spell Brokers are the closest thing the Dragonlance setting has to “magical item shops.” They are wizards who utilize connections among merchant networks and communities to supply spellcasters with components and minor magical items, but mechanics-wise they are more akin to craftsmen. Spell Broker is a short 5 level full casting class and whose abilities are geared entirely towards item creation: they gain a bonus item creation feat every odd-numbered level, and can choose one among said feats to craft said items with a 10% reduction in gold and experience cost. They can transfer this feature every time they gain a new item creation feat, so they don’t have to be saddled with the mere scribing of scrolls when they learn how to create RINGS OF POWAH. Their other major feature is creating Items of Distinction and Renown at 2nd and 4th levels: they can reduce such costs by another 10% each and grant +1/+2 effective caster levels on the magic within said items for level-dependent variables and save DCs.
Another powerful class, which can be combined nicely with Eberron’s Artificer. Your party members will love you for this.
Sylvan Mages are those few wizards who came into contact with faeries and learned of their secrets. They are a level 10 PrC who only gains 1 effective spellcasting level every even level, the lowest of the classes here. This is a pretty big downgrade, so do the class features make up for it?
Well, not really. They gain some druidic class features such as wild empathy and the ability to cross unimpeded through natural foliage among other things, but what they get that druids do not are new Sylvan Rites every odd-numbered level. They permanently sacrifice a spell slot to learn a rite, and gain its use by meditating for 10 minutes in a natural setting. The Rites tend to be either 24 hour buffs to an ability score or the granting of a spell-like ability such as Speak with Animals, or a 3/day spell-like ability such as Sleep, Greater Invisibility, or Tree Stride. All in all, none of these features wow me or are something that seems worth the trade-off for more potential arcane spells already on the wizard’s spell list, and the spell-like abilities aren’t the kind which really benefit from being cast that way.
The Winternorn is our final Prestige Class, representing a tradition among the Ice Folk of Ansalon’s far south who learned to see into the River of Time. They specialize in divination and cold-based spells and are a full-casting 10 level class. Their class features include Cold Resistance which reduces damage from cold-based attacks and increases with level; can choose to change the energy damage of any spell they can cast to cold and grant the cold element subtype to summoned creatures*; and a limited number of times per day can see into their own or someone else’s wyrd and gain a +10 bonus on an Initiative, Knowledge, or Sense Motive check; and as their level 10 capstone ability gain the cold subtype which grants them immunity to cold-based damage but vulnerability to fire-based environments and elements.
*We get a new Cold Element subtype, which doesn’t really do much to a creature besides grant them bonus cold-damage on natural weapons, darkvision, damage reduction/magic, and the ability to treat icy terrain as normal terrain.
I really like the winternon, both in mechanics and thematics. The Wyrd ability is quite useful and can ensure that they go first (or close to first) in a fight when it matters.
Thoughts So Far: This chapter has a strong start. It has a good general overview of the history of arcane magic, what makes it different in the Dragonlance setting from divine magic, and examines how the various peoples of Ansalon view it. Its Prestige Classes are overall flavorful and have useful features.
Join us next time as we cover new spells and magic items in Chapter Two!