Sword-Mages!

by ASH LAW

When Simon offered me a chance to create a pair of fighting wizards I jumped at the chance. Swords and magic, what’s not to love? Sword-Mages, the Peanut-Butter-and-Jelly of the fantasy genre (or if you are British, the Custard-and-Bananas… I’ve no idea what the French would combine, maybe Croissants and Chocolate). Anyway… two great things combined into one.

Combining wizards with a close-up combat class is tricky. When multi-classing casters and hack-n-slashing ‘martial’ classes together weapon damage dice drop, which means that you’ve got to find a way to make the magic work harder and smarter.

My first concern was to up the damage slightly, so that the drop in damage dice would not be felt as keenly at lower levels. The elven racial feat Heritage of the Sword adds +2 damage. Normally a straight fighter or ranger would wield a long-sword and do 1d8 damage at 1st level (an average of 4.5 points of damage)… but a multi-classed caster-sword-wielder with heritage of the sword does 1d6+2 damage (an average of 5.5 points of damage). At 1st level we’re a bit ahead of the curve on something like a straight human fighter.

My next concern was to get a reliable ranged attack. I’m concentrating on sword-play, so I’m heading to the wizard part of the multi-classes for this. Magic Missile! An auto-hit ranged attack that our multi-class characters can use. I’m picturing this attack to be something like a dagger of force thrown out by the sword-mage, striking true at the most vulnerable spots on enemies. Maybe they are actually arrows of force. It all depends on the character, I suppose. It could even be reflavored as some sort of force-damage telekinetic choke or shove.

We know that these characters are elven sword-wielding wizards who create daggers of force and use a combination of wizardly magic and martial prowess to win the day. What sort of elf though? The drow seem like a good fit, and their racial cruelty power could easily be the result of cuts to tendons or quick thrusts to open arteries and blind foes. The wood elves might work well too, with their ability to gain a second attack in some rounds giving the option of casting and swordplay happening at the same time. However, I’m drawn to the high elves. The high-blood teleport gives them a way to close in quickly for the kill, or to withdraw to a safe distance to use spells; there is something as well, thematically, about high elves with swords and spells that appeals. High elves it is then.

So story-wise these two characters are part of a long tradition of high elf sword-mages. They fight with a wand in one hand and a sword in the other, dancing across the battlefield and surprising foes by teleporting in behind them when it is least expected. I might ask the GM to allow me some sort of special effect on my sword, like a blade-less hilt that grows a glowing blade of energy and makes a cool ‘Vrooosh’ sound when activated and goes ‘WhuuumWhuuuum’ when I whirl it around. I’m going to make one character ‘light’ with a strong focus on sword-play and arcane archery and one ‘dark’ with lots of telekinetic choking, mind-control, and lightning shooting from finger-tips.

Now on to the specifics of each character…

Malehea the Guardian, Sword-Mage Consular

I’m picturing this first character as a sort of protector of elves who are far from the Queen’s Wood. She wanders the highways and byways of the Dragon Empire protecting groups of travelling elves. Her motivation for adventuring is protecting her people from threats in a proactive way, killing monsters before they attack travelers. I want to focus on the blending of magic and fighting so a fighter/wizard is where I’m going with this character. She carries a bow and a sword. I’m going to flavor her spells as being mystical arrows that she conjures up. She also wears a large grey cloak that she swirls dramatically when she teleports. This character is our ‘light’ character, a fighter who uses magic to enhance her combat abilities with blade and bow.

For talents I’m she starting her out with High Arcana, which lets her shut down enemy magic via counter-magic, and lets her double up on her daily spells. The doubling-up means that she can have a smaller and more focused list of spells.

The next talent is Evocation. This lets her maximize the damage dice of one spell once per battle.

The third talent is Counter-Attack. This means that enemies need to be careful near me… if they attack me and miss I might attack them back.

As a multi-class wizard Malehea starts with four spells. While wizards can pick and choose their spells each day, I’m going to list her usual load-out of spells. Just remember that this is not a set list, and that we could change it up during play if we wanted to do so. My first choice is a utility spell slot, a general purpose spell that we can use for anything from disguising via illusion to casting feather-fall during an emergency.

The next spell is Acid Arrow. As this character levels up we’re going to keep that spell around with ever-higher level versions of it. As she’s armed with a bow I figure that Malehea creates the magical arrows by pulling back the string and conjuring them up… a sort of arcane archery.

The final spell is Magic Missile. Because Magic Missile. As I said before, it’s a never-miss at-will spell. What’s not to love about that? In situations where she needs to lay the hurt on something that can’t otherwise be harmed, or needs to strike true from a distance, then Magic Missile it is. Her ranged spells are all mystic arrows; these aren’t force daggers or orbs of energy, these are force arrows! If I ever get a magic bow I might ask the GM if it can be used as an implement for her ranged magical attacks too.

For her 1st level fighter maneuvers we are picking Grim Intent and Carve an Opening. These give us a maneuver to call upon every time this character misses with an attack, and half of the time that she hits too. My intent with this character is to build up a set of maneuvers where hitting is its own reward, and missing just increases the deadliness of the character.

At 2nd level we pick up shield to increase our survivability in combat. Shield is going to remain a staple, until we get to high enough level to get Teleport Shield. Heavy blows adds another miss-activated maneuver that increases the deadliness of the character. Grim Intent is the maneuver to use early in battles, and later I’d switch to Heavy Blows. Our 2nd level feat bumps Counter-Attack to full damage.

At 3rd level we add Blur to the roster of keeping-us-safe spells. Brace For It is added to the triggers-on-a-miss maneuvers, and we take the feat that improves the maneuver.

By 4th level we get our 3rd level spells (remember, multi-class characters lag one level behind in certain things). We use that to bump things like Acid Arrow and Magic Missile to their maximum. We use a feat to allow us to split Magic Missile between two targets.

At 5th level we get the Brace For It feat that lets us turn any crit against Malehea into just a hit, provided we triggered the maneuver by missing with a melee attack. We also get Punish Them, allowing us to daze enemies that are hit with Malehea’s sword. Teleport Shield joins the regular roster of spells. As we continue to level this character up this will become an important part of our teleporting-fighting-casting tactics.

At 6th level we boost Magic Missile with the champion feat—allowing us to crit with a spell that has no attack roll. Malehea’s tactics involve rushing in with the sword, then teleporting off to attack with her arcane archery, and if anybody gets too close she stabs them and with a swirl of her cloak sends them away from her (Teleport Shield). We also get Fireball, which I picture as Malehea conjuring dozens of burning arrows for her bow.

At 7th level we get the new talent Power-Attack, and the adventurer feat for it. This new fighter talent lets us make a once-per-battle all-out melee attack with bonus damage (+7d4 hit or miss at 7th level). We also get Hold Monster as a spell, finally dropping Shield. Hold Monster probably looks like an energy arrow that wraps bands of force around the limbs of enemies that it hits. Hero’s Skill, our newest maneuver, turns the occasional miss into a hit.

At 8th level we get a boost to HP and PD due to stat increases, and get a touch more damage based on our key attribute. We use our first epic tier feat to boost the damage dice of our magic missile (which also gets a boost to 7th level).

At 9th level we get Never Surrender, a maneuver that lets us save against effects that keep us from our full combat potential. We gain two new spells in our regular roster: Flight and Dimension Door. Dimension Door is obviousy an extension of Malehea’s cloak-swirling teleportation. The new spell Flight is probably a combination of gliding using her cloak and magically-enhanced jumps, at least that’s how I’ll describe it during play. The champion-tier feat for Fireball increases the number of targets.

At 10th level we level most of our spells that do damage to 9th level, and pick up a new spell Teleport, staying with the theme of battlefield maneuverability. The epic tier feat for Fireball further increases its number of targets. A boost to our attributes increases all our attack rolls.

Praxar the Dark, Exiled Sword-Mage

Praxar is a sword-mage that has been exiled from elven lands. He has been forced to become self-reliant and is much more focused on magic than the sword-and-arcane-archery Malehea. I picture this character enchanting his sword with mystical energy rather than relying on fighter manuvers, so I’m creating this character as a ranger/wizard. Why ranger? Well, for the talents Fey Queen’s Enchantments and Ranger ex Cathedra: access to cleric and sorcery spells. This character is our dark sword-mage, a cackling wizard with a glowing sword and a love of shooting lightning from his finger-tips.

For the Ranger ex Cathedra talent I’m choosing Hammer of Faith but calling it “Sword of Light”. Once per day Praxar can charge his sword up with burning light, increasing his damage dice to d12s! The Fey Queen’s Enchantments’ sorcerer spell gets us access to breath weapons, which I’m picturing as arcs of energy that fly from Praxar’s sword as he swings it. See, for this character these are not ‘spells’, but the fusion of swordplay and arcane power. OK, yes, they are still spells, but we’re going to describe them differently.

The remaining talent is Abjuration. Abjurers gain a +4 bonus to their AC whenever they cast a daily wizard spell. This talent is going to shape Praxar’s tactics: cast a daily spell at range, then close in for melee, then back off for a new daily spell, then back in for another round of slicing enemies apart with his enchanted sword.

Our 1st level spell picks are Magic Missile, Blur, Acid Arrow, and Shocking Grasp. Magic Missile here is more of a force-damage throat-choke that Praxar can perform at a distance… I picture Praxar as a character with a definite dark side, as it were. Shocking Grasp is lightning that shoots from Praxar’s outstretched hand. Blur represents Praxar’s ability to muddle the weaker minds of his opponents. Acid Arrow? Hmm… well I guess Praxar is from the same tradition of sword-mages as Malehea, so it is an arrow made of sizzling acid that he conjures up and launches from his bow. Shocking Grasp will see a lot of use with this character, as any time we are engaged with an enemy and want to not be engaged we can just whip it out and blast the foe away with lightning.

At 2nd level we get the spell Shield, which I’m going to describe during play as a forceful telekinetic shove that he applies to enemies that get too close (and will eventually become Teleport Shield). We’re also going to get the feat for Shocking Grasp that turns it into a quick action to use it… allowing us to blast enemies away from us so that we can use daily ranged attack spells with impunity. Shocking Grasp, however, does potentially damage the caster with lightning feedback, so we might not want to use it every single round.

At 3rd level our two daily ‘sword’ spells that Ranger ex Cathedra gives us boost to 3rd level. This means that Sword of Light (a renamed Hammer of Faith) becomes a quick action to use. We’re also going to get the feat for that talent that allows us to heal like a cleric. Given the dark nature of Praxar, he’s probably not going to share and will end up using this on himself (especially is he takes lots of lightning damage from shocking grasp). A utility spell slot is added to our roster of spells to give us added flexibility. Remember, though we’re listing the ‘usual’ spells that Praxar prepares, they can be changed out each day for a different set of spells.

At 4th level we’re adding three new spells to our roster: Confusion, Force Salvo, and Lightning Bolt. Lightning Bolt is obviously an outgrowth of Shocking Grasp… now Praxar can cackle and attack enemies with lightning shooting from his outstretched hand from across the battlefield. Confusion links to Blur, both forcing the weaker minds of his opponents to his stronger will. Force Salvo I’m going to go ahead and say is Praxar throwing his glowing sword and telekinetically whipping it around the battlefield before recalling it to his hand. We pause to pick up the adventurer feat for Abjuration, applying its bonus to defenses to PD as well as AC.

At 5th level we swap Sword of Ice (actually Breath of the White) for Sword of Darkness (actually Breath of the Black). I like the thematic element of Praxar having a sword that burns with light and darkness. The feat for the Fey Queen’s Enchantments talent means that we can use our key attribute for our attack bonus with Sword of Darkness. Teleport Shield Is added to the roster of spells that Praxar has, though in play I’ll probably describe it more as a huge telekinetic shove against enemies that throw them across the battlefield.

At 6th level we gain the ranger’s Archery talent and the multi-class feat for it that allows us to apply it to ranged wizard attacks; now, once per battle, Praxar can re-roll a missed ranged attack. We also pick up a load of 5th level spells. Denial and Invisibility are extensions of Praxar’s ability to bend lesser minds to his will. Dimension Door is Praxar’s (super-)natural elven ability to teleport, expanded through the use of magic. Fireball is just like Malehea’s Fireball: a volley of burning arrows.

At 7th level our attributes go up enough to give us a boost to all our attack rolls, HP, AC, PD, ad so on. Score! The adventurer-tier feat gives us a bonus to re-rolled attack rolls, and an expanded crit range. The sword spells (Sword of Light and Sword of Darkness, actually a reflavored Hammer of Faith and Breath of the Black) increase to 7th level. The improved Sword of Light lets us re-roll a missed melee attack once per battle.

At 8th level we get the champion feat for Abjuration, which gives us temporary hit points every time we cast a daily wizard spell… and apart from Shocking Grasp and Magic Missile all our spells are daily spells. The spell Blink combines Praxar’s love of teleportation with his ability to force the minds of others to his dark will.

At 9th level we get the last of our ranger talents: Animal Companion. Though it says ‘Animal’, I’m going to pick ‘Bear’ and say that in this case the animal is in fact an elf who has become Praxar’s dark apprentice or sword-mage squire. The epic Abjuration feat means that any time Praxar uses a daily spell he gains +2d12 HP and gains +4 to all defenses until the end of his next turn. The new spell Haste lets Praxar hold back to survey his foes, then burst into a blur of action for the rest of the battle.

At 10th level we’re going to invest in the feat Further Backgrounding. These new background points represent Praxar’s squire/apprentice aiding him. If I were playing Praxar, when it comes time to retire Praxar at the end of 10th level and start a new game of 13th Age I might play the apprentice of Praxar! The apprentice would probably be a sword-mage too, but with backgrounds and an outlook shaped by the epic-tier adventures of Praxar and whatever the stunning conclusion to the previous campaign was. The new spells Disintegrate and Meteor Swarm join the roster. Disintigrate is Praxar using his command of telekinetic force to tear apart a foe at the atomic level, and Meteor Swarm is Praxar grabbing scenery and hurling it about in a storm of destruction.

Other Sword-Mages

Of course that is just two ways to deal with wizards who fight. Using Kobold Press’s Deep Magic (written by me) I could create a fighter with a small roster of spells, including weapon-enhancing spells and arcane archery, yet still firmly a fighter. Picking a class combo from the core book, a Bard/Wizard who concentrates on bardic battle cries would make an interesting Sword-Mage, though I feel the yelling-casting-fighting multiclass might be better described as a dwarven Axe-Wizard. Those interested in heavy-armor wizards might want to look into a Paladin/Wizard with the paladin’s Armored in Life multi-class feats; such a character would benefit from a mix of healing-focused talents for the paladin’s side of things, and Abjuration on the wizard’s side to create a character that is hard to hit and heals itself… a spell-casting tank that wears enemies down through attrition and then blasts them apart with daily spells. A rogue/wizard with the rogue’s multi-class talents and access to Magic Missile can gain momentum when they decide to, and is a fighting character who has access to tumbling, teleportation, blurring, shadow-walking, and so on… the ultimate in battlefield sneaking and mobility. Of course you probably have 13 True Ways if you are multi-classing. Using 13 True Ways I could create a commander/wizard who focuses on reaching into the minds of their allies and offering mystic power-boosts and timely sage advice. Also using 13 True Ways I could make a Warrior Adept Druid/Wizard, a caster who either uses wizard spells or makes melee attacks that trigger mystical effects. The possibilities for multi-classing are near-endless.

Character Sheets

You can download two character sheets from levels 1-10 – one for a skilled swordswoman who uses arcane archery and a load of magically-enhanced leaps and teleports, and a force-choking glowing-sword-wielding lightning-shooting adventurer, with an apprentice – here.

One Response to “Sword-Mages!”

  1. Caremon says:

    For the second build, it would only increase his damage to d10 with Hammer of Faith, because of being multiclassed into Wizard.

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