Making Characters Weird: Magic-Users/Wizards

Azimuth the Planar
by JLazarusEB is licensed by 

What's included in this post? 

  • A quick background on my "weird characters" series of posts
  • A short history of the magic-user ("wizard") class in Dungeons & Dragons through the editions (to help with terminology/definitions)
  • Three things to consider when playing a magic-using character
  • A table of 20 "weird" (non-traditional) traits for magic-using characters 
  • What's next in my "weird" series


This series of posts began with a way to give players and DMs ideas to differentiate the Fighter class (particularly fighters from earlier editions) with flavor instead of with mechanics and rules. In earlier editions of the games, Fighters didn't gain any powers or feats as they gained levels. They got more hit points, better saving throws, and could attack more often per round and could hit better, but that was about it. Many people complain that "all Basic D&D Fighters are the same" and while, mechanically, they might be, they can be just as varied as a magic-user with access to a lot of spells. 

Why "weird"? It's a fun way to differentiate these characters from the more typical, Tolkien-based "vanilla" fantasy worlds to show how you can push the boundaries of what defines your characters. A lot of these ideas also imply the benefits of "minimalist world-building," meaning that a DM could take one or more of these ideas and used as the basis of a plot point or even an entire campaign. My goal is to provide ideas and inspiration that spark your own imagination. 

The series so far includes all of the other Basic (1981 edition) D&D Classes: Fighters, Clerics, Thieves (Rogues), Dwarves, Elves, and Halflings. Today's entry is the last of the seven Basic D&D Classes. 


New players to the game who started with 3rd Edition or later and never explored any earlier editions may be wondering why I'm using the term "magic-user" instead of "wizard." In the original version of the game, published first in 1974, there were three classes: Fighting-Men, Clerics, and Magic-Users. The magic-user term was a catch-all to incorporate any kind of spellcaster who wasn't a cleric. 

In these earlier editions of the game, each class had a different title for each level. For magic-users, the level titles included Medium (1st Level), Seer, Conjurer, Theurgist, Thaumaturgist, Magician, Enchanter, Warlock, Sorcerer, Necromancer, and Wizard (11th Level). 

5th Edition players who note three different level titles there that now are used to represent three different classes: Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards. Back in the early days of the game, these weren't three separate classes. They were merely descriptive titles given to differentiate magic-users of different levels. There were no game mechanics or rules differences between them: They were all just "magic-users." If you wanted to play a Witch, a Mage, a Demonologist, or anything that cast spells, you just played a magic-user and you role-played it a certain way, partially by picking what spells you took (a witch might select charm person and clairvoyance, for example) but also just by your personality. 

Starting with the 3rd Edition of the game, the rules separated sorcerers and wizards, with the main difference being that sorcerers could spontaneously cast their spells while wizards had to prepare them. Their spell lists were the same. The warlock class showed up late in 3rd edition timeline, in the 3.5 supplement Complete Arcane. They were later refined in 4E and 5E. 

Currently, although I'm running a long-term campaign using Pathfinder 1st Edition rules (which is a revision of the 3.5 D&D rules), I'm also running an older edition of the game, Basic D&D (the "Moldvay" or "B/X" edition from 1981) that used the term magic-user, and most of the content I create here on my blog is for that edition. However, aside from the use of terminology, the ideas below are, again, about flavor, not mechanics, meaning that they're applicable to any edition of the game or indeed almost any fantasy role-playing game in general. 


As I began preparing the campaign I'm currently running for my daughter, I discovered pretty quickly that my players, all around ages 10-12, had a different context for fantasy than the books and movies with which I grew up, so they had a bit of trouble understanding basic concepts like when I mentioned goblins or elves in terms of how tall they were or what they looked like. 

Magic-users are a bit more universal so their understanding of "wizards" was better (most of them envisioned Harry Potter, but some thought of Merlin or "the guy from The Hobbit"). While none of them are currently playing any magic-users, I prepared a list of questions for them to think about should one of them choose to play one in the future (one about their appearance, one about their magic, and one about their background/history): 

  1. Appearance. Most magic-users go through years of study and apprenticeship before they become adventurers. Do you look like a classic wizard, elderly, with gray or white hair and (if male) a beard? Is your hair wild and unkempt? Or, do you buck these trends?
  2. Manifestations. What are some unique things that happen when you cast your magical spells? As an example, maybe each time you cast a spell, the temperature around you drops by 10 degrees for a few hours. Perhaps a haze of colored vapor appears, or the air smells of cinnamon. 
  3. Background/History. How did you learn magic? Were you born with talent, did you somehow teach yourself, or did you have a master? If you have a master, what was he or she like? (See the tables below for a few ideas on unique wizard masters). 


The traits below can be used for individual magic-users to differentiate them and make them unique in the world, but a few of the ideas could be used to Dungeon Masters to create schools or societies of magic-user factions in the campaign. 

For more magic-user variants on my blog, see: 



Weird Trait


Magic Is Dying: Magic is a dying resource. Most remaining magic is contained within magic creatures. The creature’s head retains the magic when severed from the body & can be used in place of components to cast spells. The head will constantly complain about this state of affairs. It can also be stolen.  


Unique Spell Book: Instead of a traditional spell book or scrolls, you use one of the following (Roll 1D8):


1: A collection of homemade dolls, each representing a different spell.

2: A quipus (aka “talking knots”); colored, spun, and waxed threads.

3: Bag of the Nine Fiends.

4: Drawings on animal skins.

5: Fragile papyrus.

6: Medicine pouch.

7: Mystical tattoos.

8: Colored scarves.


Arcane Source: Your source of arcane power comes from (Roll 1D8):


1: Ancient ley lines.

2: Residue from an ancient magical apocalypse.

3: Astrological phenomena.

4: Sacred numbers.

5: The void.

6: Dreams.

7: Bits of debris from an asteroid that crashed millennia ago.

8: Collective memory.


Animal Components: The material components of every spell you cast consist of parts of dead animals (feathers, fur, bones, tails, and/or other unsavory parts such as organs). You’ve been caught once or twice collecting them. Most people think it’s gross. It’s the ones who don’t mind that you should be wary of.


Casting Focus: You cast your spells by using (Roll 1D8):


1: Rare spices.

2: Mirrors.

3: Different color smoke.

4: Dice.

5: Cards.

6: Dried insects.

7: Rare coins.

8: Un-meltable frost from the polar ice caps.


Strange Component Pouch: Every time you reach into your spell component pouch, there are new items you didn’t place there. Roll 1D10. On a 1-9, it’s a random mundane item (multi-colored bits of string, a braid of hair, playing cards with unknown symbols, keys, dried food, etc.). On a 10, roll a 1D8:


1: Small carved figures of the magic-user’s party members, but they are missing the eyes.

2: A jar of giant bee honey.

3: Letters from descendants of the magic-user who haven’t been born yet.

4: The dagger used when the first elf slayed another elf.

5: A glowing space rock.

6: A manticore hairball.

7: An answer to a sphinx’s riddle, but written in a forgotten language.

8: An entire galaxy, shrunk to miniature size, inside a jewel.

·       Cross items off as they are discovered and replace with your own ideas.


Magic Guardians: Magic-users are part of a corps of highly trained individuals from every corner of the world. A Council of Guardians makes the rules on how magic should be used properly and decides who gets to use magic. The Guardians are insufferable twits.


Human Masters: Humans discovered magic. Other races and creatures stole it. They’ll regret it one day.


Haunted: A spell backfired when you were young and inexperienced, and someone died. You’re convinced their soul is haunting you. It might be. It also might just be your imagination.


Memory Loss: After your master taught you your first spell, you lost all your memories up until that point. Your master claims that’s never happened before.


Magic Gift: You discovered a gift for magic after having been bitten by (Roll 1d4):


1: A plague rat.

2: A newborn with a full set of teeth.

3: A mysteriously glowing spider.

4: A two-headed dog.


Magic Prodigy: You have no memory of when or how you learned to cast magic, or where your spell book came from. You just know how to read it and cast the spells it contains.


Voice Inside Your Head: When you read spells out of your spell book, you hear a voice that’s not yours inside your head reading the words. The voice seems to be mispronouncing words on purpose. You wonder if it might be affecting your spellcasting.


All Magic Is Equal: You uncovered a secret: all magic draws from the same source. Clerics and magic-users only think they can’t cast each other’s spells because that’s how they were trained. Nobody believes you. You also notice you’re being followed now.


Mysterious Master: You learned magic from a master whose face was always obscured by a featureless mask. Once you graduated and learned your first spell, the master said, “You now serve the King…” and disappeared.


Fiendish Counselors: Ever since learning how to cast magic, you occasionally think you see small fiendish creatures hovering over people’s heads, clinging to their backs, or sitting on their shoulders. The fiends seem to be talking to them. You’re afraid to look in the mirror.


Secret Journal: You recently found the journal of the deceased master who taught your current master. The journal mentions fears of having secrets stolen and being murdered by a pupil.


Unusual Master: The master who teaches you the art of magic is (Roll 1D8):  


1: Someone claiming to be the world’s oldest elf.

2: An eccentric bear who sees nothing odd about being the only bear that talks and casts magic.

3: Three female identical triplets who take turns speaking every other word.

4: Someone who refers to himself only as “The Antediluvian Man”.

5: The ghost of the magic-user who first created the spell you are trying to learn; there’s a different ghost for each spell in your spell book.

6: A tiny caterpillar that speaks to you telepathically.

7: An exile from a proper school who was trying to blackmail the headmaster. She won’t say why or what her evidence was.

8: The whispering wind.


Magic Balance: Every time you cast a spell, you get the feeling that an opposite version of that spell is being cast at the same time on the other side of the world.


Magic Addition: A secret no one told you is that casting magic is addictive. The more you cast it, the more you want to cast it.


·       If desired, you can make up mechanics for this like penalties (saves, INT, INT-based or WIS-based skills, CON, HP damage, taking twice as long to prep spells, etc.).

·       The mechanics should be specific to your campaign world and they’re broadly the same across each edition.

·       For those who play using safety protocols and content warnings, could be considered a trigger warning for addition, so make sure your players/group are comfortable with this idea.



There will be a complementary post to this one, about "Making Magic Weird" that will revisit some ideas I began earlier this year, which was re-writing the flavor text of the standard arcane spells for magic-users to show how you can make them stranger and a bit creepier without actually changing the mechanics, as well as providing new ideas and random tables for things that might go wrong with magic by adding in a level of unpredictability. 

Once that's done, my plan is to take this series from my blog, refine and slightly expand it, and then add in all new "weird character traits" for other races and classes such as barbarians, bards, paladins, rangers, dark elves, half-elves, half-orcs, etc., and then publish it as a booklet with a focus on making campaigns less vanilla fantasy and embracing the weird. Let me know if this is something you'd be interested in.  

Making Your Characters Weird © 2021 Martin R. Thomas  

Hanging: Home office (laptop) and living room couch (small notebook to develop ideas)
Drinking: Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style Bourbon (neat)
Listening: "Even After All" by Finley Quaye, from the album "Maverick A Strike"


  1. I think this is my favourite of the series so far! Wizards are already pretty weird, so it's difficult to make them more weird, but I think you've done an excellent job with it. This one feels like you had a great deal of fun writing it.

    1. Thank you so much! Yes, I had a ton of fun writing these, but I wasn't sure if it was because, as you suggest, there's "more to work with," or if it might be because the farther I dig into these, the more I'm having to work to not repeat myself and try to be more creative. In any event, so glad you enjoyed them!


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