…or, the Ballad of Ra’ab sar Casim.
I’ve been thinking about sages. It’s weird, I know, but when I’ve been spending time with my old 1E DMG I always find myself staring at the information on sages. I use these guys in my games all the time, in fact, sometimes when the PCs go to a city looking for info they end up finding out there are competing sages arguing over who is the greatest expert in their field. I attribute this last bit to my spending too long in academic circles…
One interesting item related to that from the DMG… sages are supposed to be rare. Which I find fascinating because I love using these guys (or gals) as parts of the living game world. I find that even in later editions of the game, my PCs rarely were the types to go big on “knowledge” skills. I find I often have parties full of “do-ers” not “thinkers.” This does make me happy as a DM because I love proactive players but it also means that I get to trot out the sages whenever the party wants to know something.
But what makes a sage? That’s the thing… I don’t know the answer.
I found it interesting that in the DMG, sages were already described by Gygax as the “computers” of the world long before the powerful innovations in information technology we have in 2012. I had planned on bringing up the whole, “sages are the D&D internet” but hey, Gary beat me to it… I’m not really sure why I’m surprised.
But sages are fonts of information. And sages create a pacing effect with that information. It might take a sage many days to come back to a party with an answer to their questions… and this is a good thing. I got to thinking about it and I realized this is one very useful way to create downtime. The party is waiting for an answer, potentially for a while, so this is time when they can heal, make a few potions, shop for elusive but interesting items, train (if that’s your thing), and otherwise get underfoot in a city setting.
So, Sage as Pacing mechanism. I like it. And I never used it enough.
Sages can also be great adventure creators/facilitators. I’ve often really enjoyed using sage-like figures to facilitate adventures. In the first 3rd edition game I ran, the “sage” was a cleric in the party’s home town who was the only one who could still read the archaic language of the ancient conquered people who once lived there. She translated a book the PCs found and as she’d translate each little bit they’d hare off on whatever adventure they thought it might lead them too. They picked some and ignored some, and went back to some after ignoring them, but it was all part of a larger whole that they picked up on as the book continued to be translated through their early levels.
It was a fun campaign.
Those wacky sages can also be the source of adventures too. The aforementioned Ra’ab sar Casim was the guardian of a very beautiful young woman in one of the many campaigns he has appeared in. She was (almost need an “of course” here) a noble in hiding that the party befriended, and eventually, her story became part of the campaign. No, it didn’t come directly from the sage, but it came from the party returning to Ra’ab over and over again and him always being “too busy” so they had to work with his “apprentice.”
I could go on, but sage as Adventure creator is a great role that goes beyond simply facilitating adventure by answering the party’s questions.
My favorite though might be sage as Liar. This is a delicate topic for some. Some folks don’t think the GM should lie to players. I actually agree, the GM should not lie to players, but NPCs can lie their heads off. And why would a sage lie? Well, maybe he’s in the pay of an enemy? Maybe what the PCs ask about is something he wants for himself so he tells them lies to pave the way for his own attempt on the, whatever… Or, maybe it’s a reputation thing. The sage doesn’t know and can’t find the answer so he sends the PCs on a wild (and dangerous) goose chase that leads them to (he hopes) their demises. Why not? Adventurers blow through town all the time, who is gonna know that he set them up? Adventuring is tough gig. The sage can make a dangerous enemy if the party treats him like, say, a button to be pressed in a game instead of a living, breathing, expert in a complicated world.
I’m a big fan of sages. I think they’ve gotten lost a little in the editional shuffle… I miss ‘em. Give them a try some time, let me know how it goes.
Thanks for reading.
*PS – I realize that I didn’t explain the ballad of Ra’ab sar Casim. Later. It’s a silly story.