Groundbreaking – Caldera Magical Academy

tap, tap, tap. “Is this thing on?” Oh, hello, I didn’t see you sitting there! I am Randal, and I would like to welcome you back to Groundbreaking! It has been quite awhile since my last post, and I feel a reintroduction is in order so that we are all on the same page … myself, past readers, and new readers alike! Here at Groundbreaking, the stated intent is to build a custom setting for Pathfinder … but with the inclusion of my interior monologue as I move from idea (be it vague, specific, or random) to proper concept and then on to setting info (geographical, lore, or plot) and sometimes on to game info (usually quest ideas, sometimes complete game mechanics). Occasionally I write pure fiction in an attempt to dive as deep as I can into a narrative for the purpose of trying to describe a location’s atmosphere or how somebody would feel in a particular area. I enjoy chatting with folks on our Discord about ideas and try to incorporate as many of those conversations into the blog because world building doesn’t happen in a vacuum and I think of Groundbreaking as something done for all of us, not just for myself. Some helpful links: Episode 1, Revisiting the Map, Episode 50. Now that we are back up to speed, let’s see where we left off …

Last time (which happened to be “Episode #50”!!!) we were discussing plans to figure out where and how the various types of casters in the region could go for training as well as what that training might look like. I was originally going to start by looking at the type of education that a “proper” wizard college would look like in Lakeside Proper. While rereading my short notes, I had some thoughts that made me change most of what I had in mind for the city.

As the hub, it is the most metropolitan, and thus likely to involve more social aspects than any other educational systems in the region. Located on/around the water it will have some unique water related aspects. Wands are more likely to be used for “proper duels” as a staff would be seen as cumbersome and “primitive”.

This original thought was based off the idea that the waterfront city would be the cultural center of the entire region, making wizards somewhat more common and respected, thus the idea of students being public servants as part of their education, to give some sort of sense of using their magic for good. Plus, it is fun to think that the main streets are lit at night by apprentices walking around at sun down to cast light. And with a more “proper and educated” way of doing things, it seemed somewhat akin to a Harry Potter feel in the education of wizards, which led to the wands vs staves angle. At least, that was where my head was at when I wrote that blurb last time, which brings me to where my head is at now … and boy are there some differences.

First and foremost, I had forgotten to incorporate two of the foundational aspects of the area … fey influence and druidic oversight of logging and building. While I can imagine a wizardly education in the presence of fey that takes itself serious … I don’t really want to! Also, if druidic approval is required for building and logging, then it is most certainly going to effect how the use of magic is allowed to effect nature. In my mind, this combination of fey and druids is going to give us a some social and elemental views of magic. Not only does this new take seem very different, if not the opposite, from the proper magic school … it also seems to me that staves would be as popular as wands, if not more so. That might be a bit premature, as I am not sure I laid out the details for why that makes sense, so let us walk through the various ways I would like to implement this school.

I want the academy to be on the “open” water. Originally, I was going to place it along the edge of the “shelf” giving it a nice view of the lake and likely be in one of the nicer districts. But the more I think about it, I want it actually on the water, a truly magical and wondrous construction feat. Plus, an old home brew city I used to use had something similar and I would like to get it back (I don’t use that world anymore; and a lot of GMing and world building is knowing what and how to reuse ideas). This gives us a lot of room to explore some of the premises we have set out with combining fey, elemental/druidic, and arcane arts. We don’t need to get into the details of the construction now, other than simply claiming it to be a combination of engineering (struts, supports, flotation) and magic (stone shaping, controlled growth, material alteration).

Since I am “borrowing” my old ideas, I am going to say that the building itself is a series of rings of towers arranged around a central spire. This central tower is the common space: lodging, offices, libraries, etc. Spaced evenly around the spire are towers representing the elements … depending on your preference for elemental options, you could go with 4 (air, earth, fire, water) or 5 (fire, earth, metal, water, wood), and at this junction I am not 100% on which yet. To be honest, it only popped into my head and I want to think on it more. I am actually considering adding another ring, so that we have a 4 element ring and a 5 element ring. More on this later when we actually design the academy. Outside the elements, the largest ring will be comprised of 9 towers, one for each traditional arcane school of magic.

Ok, we have a basic foundation of the size and “wings” of the academy, as it were. We have a place where we can learn about all the different aspects of magic from tradition to school to element to philosophy and a series of libraries and labs for study. I see this as a true cross discipline place of learning, where primal casters can be just as at home as arcane (occult and divine should fit in too, but are less of the focus based on premise of wizards and druids and fey). In a city built on the water, where the foundations (both the stone shelf and the wooden supports) can be quite the problem if not maintained, I think this is the perfect avenue to introduce our apprentices (going to call all new academics apprentices for now; can revise when we deep dive into the academy) into the public servant role.

I have already mentioned that I like the idea of apprentices walking the streets at sundown and casting light spells at intersections or major thoroughfares (as opposed to maintaining lampposts or torches), and I intend to keep that. In my old blog from before my Know Direction days, I wrote about magic items that I thought would be fun to have at 1st level, and one of them was a special receptacle for casting light, and if you made them in batches and placed them close enough together, they would daisy chain the light spell. I will be bringing that concept forward. Every day, just before sundown, the major streets and other areas designated by patrons of the academy, are visited by apprentices that cast light spells on strings of light crystals so that they area remains lit until sunup the next morning.

We have touched on the fey influence a couple of times, and it dawns on me that I need to reread the blog and make sure I properly documented where that comes from. Super short recap, there are tiny fey that live in the region and play with kids because they are only visible to children. But, for our current purposes, it is very common for apprentices (young and old) to take on fey tutors, and many often stay on as “familiars.” Normally, such a fey presence is likely to cause any number of silly shenanigans or other problems, but the prominent social status of druids in the area keeps them at check, at least ostensibly. (I mean, we gotta leave room for fun plots and other game elements, right?)

And, now we are on to the druidic aspect of the academy. Primal magics, especially those favoring the water they live on, and the wood and rocks that make up their foundations and buildings, are going to be important in upkeep. While newer apprentices are charged with simple things like lighting, the more advanced students will be tasked with maintaining the various supporting structures (both living and non-) to ensure they the water, weather, time, and other unforeseen elements do not degrade the city’s foundation. This results in a common sight of academy students (with or without an instructor) either wading through or pushing a flat bottomed boat or canoe through the shallow alleys of the city to inspect, repair, and report what they find. The use of poles to push help walk in the often uneven shallows, or push themselves on their mini barges, brings us full circle to the staff vs. wand debate. It would make quite a bit of sense for students to learn how to build and maintain a staff since they are likely to spend a year or two in this type of role … having your casting focus in hand when you potentially fall or get attacked is a pretty good idea.

Next week, we will dig more into the actual academy itself, so let’s summarize what all these meandering thoughts gave us as a foundation:

  • Socially conscious (students as public servants)
  • Maintain fey aspect (tutors, familiars)
  • Multi-discipline (all traditions welcomed)
  • Visually and physically inspired building
  • Prominent position in society

Thank you for following along! Please join us at our Discord server to let me know what you think or to simply have a chat!

Randal Meyer

As a lover of crunch (rules and numbers), Randal is always tinkering with rules options. His love of magic users has led him to always fuss with the mechanics of magic and magic items. Years of GMing on the fly have given him endless ideas and content from which to draw on for adventures (ideas, plots, NPCs). When not working, gaming, or playing with his kids, Randal is likely working on improving Sage (his Discord bot for immersive play-by-post gaming that you can see in action on Know Direction's Discord in the Know Direction Societous PFS channels) over at!