Variant Specialist Wizards

I have always liked the idea of specialist wizards, but have never really been fond of the implementation.  A couple barred schools of magic (only one if specializing in Divination, because it sucks), in exchange for an extra spell slot per spell level and a +2 bonus to Spellcraft checks relating to spells of the specialized school.  As I recall the AD&D Second Edition specialist wizard was ever so slightly more school-specific, but not enough to really matter.

It might be possible to get more formulaic and boring, but if that happens I’d prefer to not see it.

I’ve long wanted to run a campaign where all wizards were expected to be specialists, and really want to for my West Marches-style sandbox campaign.  I don’t have the heart to make my players take on the lame implementation from the core rules.  I’ve taken a couple of runs at improving the situation but never got around to wrapping it up.  At some point I’ll dig through the archives to post here what I had written.  I remember there being a prestige class solution (that was never really completed) and a feat-based solution (that had a lot of feats that could encourage or help specialization) that never got tried for real.  Neither of these mandated specialization, they merely rewarded it.

I want to see specialist wizards that are notably different from each other.  They are based on the same framework, but do somewhat different things.

There are a few sources of inspiration (or at least ideas) that could help here.

  • Unearthed Arcana provides some tools to help with this, alternate class abilities suitable for specialists that take the place of standard or specialist abilities.  The bonus feats, familiar, and bonus spell slots are all subject to replacement with these new abilities.  I don’t necessarily like all of the suggested abilities, but they do provide a starting point.
  • The Dragonlance core book has the White, Red, and Black Robe wizards.  Each group specializes in different schools of magic and must choose from specific opposed schools, and at higher levels they may specialize in two schools of magic (at a total cost of three or four barred schools).  I will likely want to review this material later.

For now I’m leaning toward the meta-class approach, using the wizard class as a framework for building actual specialist classes.  A character may be a member of only one of these classes and may not be a generalist wizard.


  1. I love the writeup and would suggest looking into the old Spell Compendiums. They have a lot of defined ‘spellbooks’ for various groups, and I feel that there could easily be a series of rules for arcane colleges, individual mentors, and specialists and how each group gains benefits based on their time with the group.

    This also hearkens back to the good old days of Specialist Priests and Spheres, which were sadly unloved by most but definitely had a hardcore wonderful following. Just my two cents there, love to hear your feedback.



    • Hi Loonook.

      I hadn’t considered the Spell Compendiums, thanks for mentioning them. They’re on my shelf, I’ll add them to the list of books to review.

      The Complete Priests Handbook was a troubled tome, but one of my favorites when I played AD&D 2e. Using the wizard class and specializing it in various ways to make similar but different classes is consistent with the ideology behind that book, so thanks for bringing up that connection. As described in my D&D Meta-Classes post I expect to be doing something similar with clerics when I get to that point.


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