On City Procedures VII

"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!"

Where are your rules for sages?

I run a lot of mid to high level games. The tendency is for the games I run to go long, ending somewhere around name level. It generally takes as long to reach level 9 from level 7, as it did to reach level 7 from level 1.

What do you have your players do with all that gold? Because I use gold for experience, generally have parties of 5-6 people, and have a somewhat high mortality rate, I'm generally looking at 1,000,000+ gold wrested from my hands by the time the party is level 8.  That is one million gold. Million. Where does it go? Each player generally needs around 200,000 to reach level 8 due to deaths. Henchmen take a half-share, so it runs 100,000 for each of those.

I have already posted a bunch of ways that allow players to spend of their own agency to reduce the gold quantity. This, I find, is far superior to the 5% tax, or random theft suggestions mentioned by Gygax in his original games.

But how do you get characters to spend money on sages?

I too, once had this problem. Long ago I hit upon the solution. Classically, the sage takes an obscene amount of money and time, at the end of which, they may give you the right answer.

There is no player who will take that option with their money.

In my campaigns, sages will always speak the direct word of god (me, in this case) to the player. If there is a question about the stars, where a magic item is located, who someone is, what someone is weak to, how to recharge a magic item, a secret entrance to a lair, the blueprint of a dungeon, how to acquire power, how the planes are organized, what happens to people after death, or any kind of truth in the setting, the sage will give the correct answer to the player, literally any question.

It is a way for the players to force me to tell them anything. That's something they will pay for, out the nose.


Sages are highbrow academics, peculiar and eccentric, obsessed with their own fields of study. If characters employ these idiosyncratic and frequently abrasive scholars they can find out the true answers to any questions. These answers are the guaranteed objective truth of the campaign world. The sage is the in game mechanism via which the players can force the Agonarch (Dungeon Master) to relate true information. 
Locating a sage
There will be 0-2 sages for every 10,000 population in a city, +1-4 for each school or university. 
Players can seek out the names and major fields of the sages by using the rumors procedure, with one sage revealed per rumor. If the sage with the appropriate major field is not located locally, there will be an additional 1-4 sages within 20 miles of the city for every 25,000 people. These sages usually have been evicted from the city limits for one reason or another. 
Types of questions
There are three types of questions sages can answer: General questions, specific questions, and exacting questions. Each separate request for information counts as a question. 
  • General questions are questions of the yes or no type, simple and broad. 
  • Specific questions are those that can be answered with a single word or phrase. 
  • Exacting questions provide an answer in as much detail as the players request. 
Answering a question
Players may approach a sage and ask a question. A reaction roll must be made. This affects both the sages behavior and price. 2 Aversion   +50%
3-5 Dislike,   +20%
6-8 Neutral
9-11 Like   -10%
12 Attraction   -20%

It can take the sage some time to answer a question. The price of each question depends on both the time it takes to find the answer, and how well versed the sage is in the topic or area. The base cost to answer a question is 500 gold pieces. 
If the question is a general question it can be answered in a single turn, and costs 500 gold pieces. Specific and Exacting questions take longer, and have an additional cost per day. If the sage is employed by the characters for longer than 1 week, then he is unavailable after he finishes the current question for the following month.
Specific Exacting Additional cost per day
Out of fields of expertise 2d12 days 100 gold per day
Minor expertise 2d10 days 5d8 days 1,000 gold per day
Major expertise 1d12 days 3d10 days 500 gold per day
Specialization 1 day 2d6 days 200 gold per day 
It costs a minimum of 500 gold pieces per question. If you are more than 4 miles away from a city with a population of 10,000 or more, prices are doubled. 
In most cases, the sage just knows the answer to the question, especially if within his specialty. However if the players attempt to leverage this to their advantage in a way that's detrimental to gameplay, the following change may be made. The abuse of the system can't be from the (in character) question asked. The money is also a balancing factor. But it's possible the players may lean on this mechanic too hard, treating it as a lever that they can pull any time with no risk. If too many questions are asked, we can drill down a little and realize that this sage doesn't have all the answers. Use the following table for success chances. The fee to ask the question must be paid before the answer is checked. Note that the players can always ask the sage to retry, paying the fee yet again. 
For the fields of study, use the following percentages to determine if the sage can discover the answer:
General Specific Exacting
Out of fields of expertise 50% 10%
Minor expertise 75% 50% 25%
Major expertise 90% 75% 50%
Specialization 100% 90% 75%
Permanently retaining a sage
Rather than employing a sage on a question by question basis, you may choose to employ a sage over the long term. In order to convince the sage to join, the minimum requirements must be met.
  • The sage must be provided with Living Quarters, a Study, and a Library
  • The sage must be provided with 4 work rooms, none smaller than 200 square feet each
  • The sage will request a salary and research grants of 4d6 x 100 gold per month

If all those requirements are met, the players must install a research library for the sage. Half the value of this library also functions as an arcane library for wizards researching spells (and conversely, half the value of the arcane library functions functions as library for a sage). This library must be worth a minimum of 20,000 gp.
A library of 20,000gp will give him 50% of his normal success rates. This is increased by 1% for every 1,000 gp, until the library is worth 60,000 with a 90% success rate. Increasing it beyond this requires 4,000 per percentage point, until 100,000 gold is paid, granting the sage his normal rates of success.
A sage employed by the player characters never charges them additional fees. For every three days spent in research, the sage must rest for 1 day.
Players may increase the skill of a sage in their employ.
  • Spending 5,000 gold pieces and 1 month will increase their success rate for questions outside their field by 1% up to a maximum of +25%
  • Spending 10,000 gold pieces and 1 month will increase their success rate for a single minor field by 1% up to a maximum of +10%
  • Spending 100,000 gold and 2 years will give a new minor field to the sage
  • Spending 200,000 gold and 1 year will grant another major field specialization to the sage
Generating a sage
In addition to their personality, race, and name, each sage will have 1 major field of study. Most sages will often have some magical ability, of a type related to the field of her major study. In general they have 4 hit dice, (4d6 hp) and fight as a 0-level man. Do not fall into the trap of thinking sages must all be old men with beards. Mad scientists, wild hunters, young mystics and more can function as sages for your players.
Roll on the following table to determine the number of  major field specializations and minor focuses.
2d6 roll Minor Expertise Major Specialization
2 1 1
3 1 2
4 1 3
5 1 4
6 2 2
7 2 3
8 2 4
9 3 2
10 3 3
11 3 4
12 3 5
Major & Minor Fields of Study 
The items listed in this section are major and minor fields of study. Roll once on the following list for the major field of study, and then roll again on the same list for each minor field. For example, if you get a 7 on your roll, you have generated a sage with 1 major field (with 3 specializations) and 2 minor fields. You roll 3 times on the following table to generate the major field and the two minor fields:
1-3 Humans/Demihumans
4 Humanoids
5 Flora
6 Fauna
7-8 Supernatural
9-10 Physical World. 
Each of the categories above has a certain number of sub-specializations, listed below. These are only determined for the major field of study. Taxonomy is really complicated. You are going to have to make judgement calls about what belongs in each category, depending on the nature of your campaign.
Major Specializations 
Humans/Demihumans: This category covers civilized races and cultures in your world. Usually this includes all the player races available for selection. Specializations include:
1-3 Art & Music
4-5 Biology
6-7 History
8-10 Languages
11 Legends & Folklore
12 Law & Customs
13 Philosophy & Ethics
14-15 Politics & Genealogy
16 Psychology
17 Sociology
18-20 Theology, religion, and myth 
Humanoids: This category covers all non-civilized "monstrous" races in your campaign. Races which have a culture, but are not considered civilized, like bullywugs, kenku, or giants. This also includes any monsters not covered by other categories. They have the same specializations as Humans/Demihumans. 
Flora: This category covers all plants, molds, fungi, etc.
1 Bushes & Shrubs
2 Flowers
3 Fungi
4 Grasses and Grains
5 Herbs
6 Mosses and Ferns
7 Trees
8 Weeds 
Fauna: This category covers all living creatures, not covered by the above categories. This includes both natural and monstrous creatures (as opposed to races, covered above).
1 Amphibians
2 Arachnids
3 Avians
4 Cephalopods & Echinoderms
5 Crustaceans & Mollusks
6 Ichthyoids
7 Insects
8 Mammals
9 Marsupials
10 Reptiles 
Supernatural: This category covers magic and non-natural phenomena. Depending on your campaign and it's metaphysics, you may want to add or remove some categories from this list i.e. Hedge Magic, Psionics, or Channeling.
1 Alchemy
2 Divination
3-4 Dweomercraft
5 Heraldry, Signs & Sigils
6 Medicine
7 Planes (Outer)
8 Planes (Inner) 
Physical World: This covers the hard sciences, the basic concrete levels of reality.
1-2 Engineering & Architecture
3 Astronomy
4 Business and Economics
5 Chemistry
6 Geography
7 Geology & Mineralogy
8 Mathematics
9 Meteorology & Climatology
10 Oceanography
11 Physics
12 Topography & Cartography

Hack & Slash 


  1. Good stuff, as always.

    I need to make sages more present in my games.

  2. I like this a lot.

    "Classically, the sage takes an obscene amount of money and time, at the end of which, they may give you the right answer.

    There is no player who will take that option with their money.

    Yeah. I set sages in my game up as, reasonable cost (but you can pay more for sages with reputations for more knowledge), most of the time you get a useful correct answer. Sometimes they are wrong, or fail, but that's uncommon. And sometimes they vastly exceed your expectations (i.e. "You wanted to know that demon's weak point? It's his skull necklace, and by the way here is his true name and everything else he's weak against. Thanks for the cash!")

    I don't think I'd go perfect information, but I do like the idea of throwing at least one place to trade wealth for perfect information. I had something of the same concept in my dungeon but not executed quite that way. This may influence how that works when the PCs finally deign to go into that room and discover it. :)

    One option I've considered for "always perfect, always right" answers is that you randomly determine time. Deep Thought took, what, 7 1/2 million years? The more abusive the question, the more time it takes. "Come back in one game year, which, in this game, is 1:1 with real years." :)

  3. This reminded me of the seer(sage) from the Vikings series...


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