Fantasy Grad Students
Having just started a new grad program this month, I have been incredibly swamped. So for Education month here at TPK, I wanted to take a look at fantasy grad students because no matter how bad my workload gets, at least I’ll never have to deal with a dragon. I know first hand what grad students are like in the real world today but what would a fantasy grad student look like? Lets take a look.
Grad Students are Students
It seems a bit obvious but in a fantasy world which often mirrors medieval Europe, this is a point that must be made. Often there are no universities, or even elementary schools, in fantasy settings. If they exist then they are likely a singular institution, the only one of its kind in the entire region. There is a good reason for this: most of the people do not require the specialized knowledge that a place of higher learning imparts. Most children would do whatever their parents did and learn directly from them. Farmers’ children become farmers, miners’ children miners, etc.
With this in mind, there are a few areas where fantasy can have similar students. Magic is the most obvious of these. Apprenticeship or even entire schools of magic are common in fantasy settings and can provide a similar environment to modern grad school. It is even possible to differentiate the grad students from the undergrads in a magic setting. The grad students will know all about casting spells and can likely do so easily, unlikely that undergrad counterparts but obsessively go over the theories behind those spells. If you’ve ever had a magic character go on about “gizwald’s theory of matter allocation” or some such thing, then you probably used a fantasy grad student without realizing it.
Another idea might be an adventurer’s academy, set up specifically to train the future heroes of the realm. The first Fable game used this idea to good effect and it could work as a structure for an entire campaign. Your band of adventurers are students at the academy and are sent out on quests by their teachers to test and train them. This provides a good “home base” for the party, an easy way to introduce hooks, and a whole cast of possible NPCs to act as teachers for the various disciplines adventurers need and fellow, perhaps even rival, students. As grad students, the party doesn’t have to deal with practical lessons, they are beyond that basic training, and instead get to focus on proving their mettle in the field.
Grad Students are Teachers
This is something you may not think of but grad students spend a good deal of their time teaching (or at least marking) students who could have been their peers only a year before. It can be an incredibly odd feeling being in front of the class, rather than amongst them and some handle it better than others. Picture a robed figure sitting in a tavern, papers strewn across the entire table before him with a frazzled look to his hair and constantly muttering to himself. Normally this would be just another mage trying to get an experiment right but when the party catches snippets of conversation it is all about trying to impact the importance of annunciation to the class, less their spells fail spectacularly.
Another idea may be a practical lesson that the party stumbles across. Perhaps the grad student has lead his class into the forest to teach them about the local owlbear population but somewhere along the way a student went missing. Now she is frantically searching the area while trying to the others calm and, more importantly, in view.
Going back to the academy idea for a moment, perhaps your party is tasked with teaching some of the greener students the ropes, taking them on smaller adventures, imparting their experience, and just training with them at the academy. This way you can put your party on both sides of the teacher/student dynamic and play with that.
Grad Students are Poor
This is not as universal as the first two but as a general rule, we grad students are not exactly swimming in money. Sure, the schools will usually provide funding of some sort but that may be enough to cover tuition and not much else. So you downsize, you get loans, you see if your family can help, and you take on extra work helping the professors with their research.
I’ve had this idea for a character, preferably one I would play myself as a PC but he may show up elsewhere. The starving grad student who is supplementing his meagre stipend by working for his supervisor. The catch is that his supervisor is a mage who specializes in magical creatures and wants samples (talons, blood, scales, etc.) for his magical experiments. Granted, this could go out the window rather quickly with the amount of gold adventurers typically stumble into but there are ways to make it work. Tuition increases can be as harsh in a fantasy world as in the real one.
So, there you have a brief look at fantasy grad students. Are there any aspects of your own schooling that you have worked into your games? Let me know in the comments.