Nine To Five

A few years back, I played a character prone to dying in a party that was, well, also prone to dying. Our DM was big on making resurrection easily obtainable, but with material components expensive enough to keep us from getting too daring. Problem was, it wasn’t usually us rushing into danger. It was almost as if someone had sprinkled us with Mrs. Lolth’s seasoning, and we were extra delicious. Oh, we could have gone with just plain old Resurrection to save some gold, but nobody was willing to lose a level just because, you know, their life force got snuffed out by a shambling mound. No, we would settle for nothing less than the motherf#&ing Cristal of coming back to life, True Resurrection, and it had expensive tastes of its own – a 10,000GP diamond. I knew at that point, only one thing could save the party:


Before long I had set up my own little business as a taxidermist in the nearby town. Well, sort of. We really didn’t know what to call what my character was doing, so we just called it “creative taxidermy”. We killed a roc, so my PC made a chair with built in backscratchers out of its talons (with deep-tissue penetrating action). He made undergarments from shambling mound vines, with self-wiping action so that no adventurer would ever have to do their business in the woods and worry about poison ivy ever again. By using every part of the wandering monster, like the barbarian tribes of Icewind Dale, he was able to overcome financial adversity and keep the same friends near him despite the frequent shufflings-off of their mortal coils.

Doing something like this, obviously, requires a DM with an open mind, patience, and a sense of humor. In our group, it turned into a fun little aside every session or so where I would unveil my latest creation, and our DM would hook us up with some GP (that he likely would have given us otherwise) to represent sales from my PC’s taxidermy shop. However, this is certainly not to say that the PCs (or perhaps the NPCs, if the DM is looking for a little flavor to a setting), wouldn’t use their skills in their day job. It could well be that they aren’t usually adventurers at all.

All sorts of classes probably have more utilitarian “day-job” skills, but the one that I enjoy thinking about most is mages. I’ve always enjoyed the concept of Clarke’s Third Law, which states “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. Applied to a fantasy setting, some would take a literal interpretation of this concept. I like to think that wizards, at least the kind that read books all the time and study arcane stuff, don’t really think magic is all that wondrous. It’s just knowing how to bend your environment to your will using skills practiced. It’s kind of like how a welder doesn’t stare at his torch in awe every morning. He knows it makes fire, what it can do, and why. On the same token, there’s certainly no reason why a wizard’s career options consist of roaming the countryside and lobbing magic missiles at the local wildlife or locking himself up in a tower to research endlessly until he invariably decides becoming a lich would be pretty sweet so he could keep studying and wouldn’t have to keep spending money on 10,000GP diamonds when his lab blows up. I really like the idea of the handyman wizard, who comes to your house and makes your roof mend itself, who uses concentrated fire spells to weld and repair the broken castle gate, who uses his power for the comparatively mundane because everybody needs to make a living. These could also simply be people with limited magical ability – perhaps not powerful enough to lay waste to an enemy army with a wall of spinning blades and lightning bolts, but certainly enough to provide a useful skill.

Remember, the game system is just guidelines. If it seems like fun, and you’ve got a wild idea, give it a try! It might require a little adaptation, but it might breathe some life into your setting or a character’s backstory.  One of my few complaints with D&D 4th Edition is that most spells and abilities are geared toward combat, and Rituals (the majority of the non-combat stuff) take 10 minutes to cast. This makes it a little harder to adapt things for creative roleplay than it used to be, but you probably don’t need to assign stats to these kinds of magic unless a fight breaks out, and your DM can probably figure something out damage-wise if you do decide to weld two kobolds together.

Someone please weld two kobolds together. That sounds awesome.


  1. Are you familiar with Eberron? In that world, magic basically is their technology. There’s even an occupation called magewright which pretty much does exactly as you described (sell their magical talents)!

  2. I was not, in fact, familiar with Eberron. What you describe makes me want to become so. 🙂

  3. Yeah, adamjford beat me to it, but Eberron is basically built on this trope. The whole setting rocks my socks off. The way it works is, consider all of the technological advances that came about from World War II, and the cold war that followed after we dropped the bomb. Now apply the same thing to a magical D&D world instead of the technological real world. It’s a magic-punk film-noir pulp-adventure setting, the best there is.

  4. I’ve been trying to introduce the idea of ‘hedge wizardry’ to my BECMI Mystara game – starting by introducing an NPC Magic User of middling level who is collecting folk spells and enchantments as a matter of scholarly interest. In a high magic world like Mystara – every single Elf can cast spells, most priests and leveled Clerics, and 36th level MUs aren’t that rare, really – it’d make sense that even remote villages would have some people with magical abilities, and we may as well – in game terms – make these Magic Users. But the spells they learn wouldn’t come from the standard spell list – which I imagine as the contents of the academic libraries of the colleges of magic in Glantri and Thyatis, etc. Rather, they’d have a bunch of ‘everyday’ spells – possibly coupled with some non-magical crafts and skills that are obscured behind ritual and mummery. I’m planning on using the NPC hedge magic scholar as a patron of the PCs, sending them on missions, paying them for information and notes, identifying magic items, sponsoring the magic using PC’s studies etc.

  5. Shilling says:

    In general I do not like magic-as-technology. I prefer magic-as-mysticism. However one of my favourite fantasy details is in Ursula Le’Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea, where the protagonist builds a boat, weaving spells into it with his voice even as his hands fashion the wood. It gives me a lovely image of the magic and the mundane being complimentary materials and being down-to-earth. It is exactly how I imagine 4E rituals (which seem much more magical to me than the spell powers).