For better or worse, I have always imagined magic users as being learned men and women who studies at a magic college, apprenticed to a master, poured over dusty tomes in the stacks of arcane libraries. I’m going to throw most all of that out and see if there isn’t something more interesting that can be done without going against most of the rules of the basic edition and its clones.
Ever wonder why there is no minimum intelligence score to make a magic user in Basic D&D? Magic Users (mages) are memorizers of lines who require no real skill beyond concentration and the ability to speak. Instead of trying to decode and research magic, most just learn what spells they can get access to. Any who uncover an ancient forgotten spell had best keep it to themselves or be able to defend against challengers who will not take no for an answer.
Magic users live on the fringes of society, often without a home or family that will welcome them. Many live among travelling communities, where their skills are valued as protection against angry villagers, sheriffs and the creatures of the dark. Like magicians, gun-slingers and comics in our more recent times, they all know each other by reputation and most mages in any culturally similar area will have met at least once.
Most are poor, by the standards of lower nobility. They talk to themselves or to unseen beings and all of them are decidedly eccentric. Most mages, male and female, dress outlandishly with large hats (with thanks to JB at B/X Blackrazor). It is very rare to find a mage that isn’t an athiest, or if they believe gods exist, they do not revere them as The Gods but rather fear them. Because of this, many mages are prone to overdrinking or heavy addictions to laudanum or purple mushroom powder.
Most mages know prestidigitation, common confidence games and will use those with their magic powers to relieve the gullible of their pie, meade, drugs, money and virginity. Because this leads to trouble, they often have different names they use in different towns. In many communities, mages are immediately locked up, put in the stock or hanged not just for the abomination of magic (which in some places is not such a big deal) but because the reputation mages have with the locals. The common thief is considered more respectable.
From time to time, mages will engage in duels with one another, although usually this is a means of demonstrating power, which can then be traded. Occasionally, mages gather in a specific place (determined by the stars) and socialize, trade secrets, stories, hats and so forth. Mages will also come together in cases where a renowned magic user has come to harm. Especially loved magic users, or those well-known outside the magic world are avenged in ghastly ways rarely forgotten. For a few years after, mages will not be harassed as aggressively.
Unlike thieves, mages do have their own language, which is a pidgin mixing any local tongue they know with words from the Read Magic spell (the one spell all mages know, the nature of which is explained next post). They also communicate with secret symbols carved on trees, rocks and in mud.
More to come. (Honest, I’ve already written it!)