D&D Design diary: Blue Magic

With my first foray into creating content for Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeon Masters Guild, i offered my own take on a popular concept: the blue mage from Final Fantasy lore.

The Dungeon Masters Guild is a new program that allows you to create content (adventures and locations; new monsters; character classes, archetypes, and backgrounds; etc.) using Wizards of the Coast intellectual property (IP) and to make some money while you’re at it. – from the DM’s Guild website


A Blue Mage from Final Fantasy reflects on the creatures whose abilities he’s acquired.

In the Final Fantasy games, blue mages are mystical warriors with the ability to acquire unusual powers from the monsters they face and add them to their repertoire. There are many homebrew versions of this character option for D&D across several editions. After reading a bunch of them and giving it some thought, i decided to take a shot at my own version. The outcome is something i’m really happy with and excited about, and i hope other D&D gamers give it a try in their campaigns.

What i thought i’d do here is give gamers a look into how i developed this idea, and generate feedback into ways to improve and refine the concept. Before getting started, i encourage heading over to the DM’s Guild and downloading the PDF version of this class option for yourself.


Initially, i began working on the blue mage as a Sorcerous Origin option. After writing about the sorcerer in the Playing D&D with Class series, my imagination was really taken away with these arcane spellcasters, generally considered rather suboptimal from a mechanical standpoint. Longtime Long Shot readers and those who know me know that game mechanics are far less important to me than cool character concepts and storytelling potential.

In this version of the blue mage, these sorcerers could learn new spells that directly affected them. Only spells with a single specific target were eligible, with a higher level ability including those that a character was affected by, which included area of effect spells. I went through every spell in the Player’s Handbook and made a list of all of the eligible spells.

The list was quite long! The potential to acquire any spell specifically targeting the sorcerer would greatly expand the breadth and depth of their spell list. The opportunity to add healing magic was there, as well as numerous other spells from every other spell list. There were a lot of spells that wouldn’t be eligible at first, in particular area of effect spells (fireballs, e.g.) and spells with a range of Self. One idea, mentioned above, was to expand the eligible spells as a higher level ability, to make any spell that affects the sorcerer eligible to learn.

Tinkering around with this for a while, i came to an impasse for a couple of reasons. From a mechanical perspective, this felt way too overpowered to me. The niche of a sorcerer is having a small pool of spells overall but with the benefit of being able to manipulate those spells in various ways through metamagic. By giving a sorcerer the potential to acquire basically any spell that affects them, it threw the class off balance.

Another drawback was that sorcerers are squishy. With d6 hit die, they aren’t known for having a lot of hit points. Sorcerers also don’t generally wear any armor, and despite the option for magical defenses loading up your limited spell pool with protection spells would kind of make the character a wash. So the idea of a character that wants to be struck and affected with lots of spells, while at the same time being relatively fragile and unprotected, did not sound like a very good idea at all. A blue mage needed to rely on their body’s fortitude to pursue their path to power, and the sorcerer just wasn’t going to cut it.


And then an idea came to mind. What class is known for being tough? The barbarian! With Constitution as a primary ability for these warriors, they had the natural toughness needed to withstand punishment. They’re reckless, and what’s more reckless than willingly going out of your way, nay, seeking out opportunities to get struck with all manner of strange effects? Additionally, the barbarian doesn’t have any other spellcasting to interfere or unbalance the blue magic abilities.

On the contrary, building this as a barbarian primal path option would open up new options for these characters, leveraging their focus on melee combat to give them interesting options for ranged attacks and utility abilities. The existing primal paths in both the Player’s Handbook and Unearthed Arcana focus almost exclusively on melee combat. There’s a smattering of noncombat utility here and there. My reasoning was that blue magic would offer an alternative path. A barbarian’s core class abilities would still allow them to be competent melee warriors, and blue magic had the potential to bolster this facet depending on what abilities were acquired while at the same time opening up different avenues and options for playing your barbarian character.

Using the spell list i’d made for the sorcerer idea, i struck all the spells that required concentration from the list. My thinking was that the primal path would allow them to cast spells, but only while raging. However, that was a deviation enough from rage’s limitations so i felt like allowing concentration spells on top of that was too much.

The spell list that was left was not very exciting, frankly. Most of them were damaging spells, which would be kind of cool since a large number of them are ranged – a common issue for barbarians as they rise in level is being stuck as a one-trick melee combat specialists when enemies start flying, teleporting and so forth. Outside of these, there’s some interesting stuff but really, how many times do you think you’ll cast Rary’s telepathic bond while raging? Tongues, water breathing, message and the like all fall under this perspective. On the other hand, there’s nifty stuff like the power word spells and healing that would be nice options to have for a barbarian. Taking it all into consideration, it felt plainly lackluster. The real nail in the coffin was asking myself “would i choose this primal path, over the ones in the Player’s Handbook or from Unearthed Arcana?” The answer was no.

More than that, it deviated too much from what makes blue magic so cool in the Final Fantasy games – the ability to collect and use monster powers as a player character!

Thus began my pouring through the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual, seeking some formula to convert creatures’ Challenge Rating into something equivalent to character and/or spell levels. Without getting too involved in describing my amateur mathematical equations, suffice it to say these efforts were fruitless.


Only a barbarian would recklessly go toe-to-toe with a beholder…but the possibility of being able to use those eye rays…!

The solution i came up with after nearly abandoning the idea altogether, though, i feel is an elegant one: categorize creatures according to their placement in the Tiers of Play. Since characters would more or less face creatures whose CR matched the tier they were in, it felt natural to group them that way. So CR 0-4, 5-10, 11-15 and 16-20 creatures were translated into a table based on the Eldritch Knight Spellcasting table, minus the cantrips. That felt about the right balance of uses for the strange abilities the blue mage barbarian would acquire.

In keeping with the naming conventions of other barbarian primal paths, my blue magic creation was dubbed The Path of the Azure.

To a barbarian following the Path of the Azure, the dangerous monsters they face
become their strength. As reckless or moreso than others of their kind, these barbarians willingly put themselves in harm’s way against terrible aberrations, magical creatures and extraplanar threats. When their foes affect them with strange powers, barbarians of the Path of the Azure harness their fury to turn these creatures’ attacks back on them by unlocking those abilities within their raging souls. As varied as the foes they’ve faced, these barbarians build unusual repertoires of additional powers they are able to unleash while in the throes of their rage.

The first draft edition of this that i shared on the DM’s Guild was offered with the caveat of fully understanding it needed more work and refining, and an encouragement to discuss, share feedback and offer suggestions and criticisms in the comments. Additionally, i posted in several D&D-centric forums seeking that same engagement.

Based on feedback from those sources, i did some revising that clarified some of the language on the mechanics of how blue magic works. As it was originally written, a Path of the Azure barbarian could acquire things like a goblin’s scimitar attack, various creatures’ multiattack ability or a giants’ rock-throwing attacks. It wasn’t difficult to circumvent this by clarifying that creature Actions listed as melee weapon attack, melee spell attack, ranged weapon attack or ranged spell attack are not eligible.

Also, someone pointed out that the 6th level ability granted by the Path of the Azure was very similar to a College of Valor bard’s Battle Magic, which wasn’t gained until 14th level, making it overpowered. To address this, the 10th level ability to Consume a creature and thereby acquire an ability that doesn’t target a creature moved from 10th level into the 6th level slot.

While working on the the first revision, i went through each entry in the Monster Manual, Volo’s Guide to Monsters, and the Tome of Beasts from Kobold Press and made a spreadsheet of every potential ability a Path of the Azure barbarian could acquire. It is huge! There are 381 creatures for a total of 542 possible abilities. Of these, 89 are only available through the Consume ability.

Because of the huge variety, and noting that several would be useful out of combat and particularly not useful at all during combat, the 10th level ability allowed for expending one use of the barbarian’s rage to activate an ability.

There are some other details i still plan to refine. The capstone Reflection ability needs some work, and i also want to take another pass at the Blue Magic table. But overall, this concept keeps me excited to continue tinkering with it. My hope is that gamers will give the Path of the Azure barbarian a try at their own gaming tables and have fun doing so. With any luck, they’ll head back to the DM’s Guild and leave some comments that will help further refine the archetype.


Seething with blue magic, this Path of the Azure barbarian is ready to rock.

In the meantime, i’ve got a great idea for introducing a Path of the Azure barbarian in my own campaign, and i’m looking forward to seeing how that goes. More than that, i am really impressed with the whole experience sharing content on the DM’s Guild and working on some other projects to submit there. If you have any cool ideas for custom D&D content, give it a shot and see what happens.

If you give the Path of the Azure a spin at your gaming table, please share your thoughts, opinions, suggestions and feedback below or at the DM’s Guild and let me know how it went!

Playing D&D with class: Sorcerer

Coming up with a great backstory, personality, motivations and goals goes a long way toward making memorable D&D characters. But when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of what you can do, it’s all about class. Consider it your character’s vocation, calling, profession or craft, a character’s class picks up where their backstory leaves off, giving them the skills and abilities they’ll use on their life of adventure.

Rather than analyze the mechanics of each class, extolling the benefits of one option and admonishing the suboptimal drawbacks of another, what you’ll find in this “Playing D&D with class” is the usual musings that accompany any topic and hopefully some insight into different ways to approach the various classes in D&D 5E.

As a longtime player and DM, i’ve never put much emphasis on mathematical optimization, and when it comes to making characters i’m a purist – multi-class characters have never appealed to me. Instead, it’s always been about the concept, the who of a character more than the what.

The power chooses you

D&D had been around quite some time and evolved through several editions before the mighty sorcerer was introduced as a character class.


Prior to 3rd edition, wizards/magic-users and the various permutations of specialists like illusionists, abjurers and the like, were the undisputed masters of arcane magic. There were some other classes with limited access, like bards in 2nd edition, but by and large when it came to arcane magic it was wholly the purview of wizards.

Unlike wizards that learn the ability to manipulate arcane magical forces through intense study and discipline, sorcerers have an innate link to these forces that surround them, penetrate them and bind the universe together.

Compared to other primary casters, including divine magic users like clerics and druids, a sorcerer has a much more limited selection of spells to wield. But because their magic is so personal and particular to them, sorcerers have an incredible amount of control over and manipulation of their magic.


For a sorcerer, magic is in their blood and suffuses every fiber of their being. Sorcerer characters don’t choose to wield magic. Instead they are conduits of arcane forces that manifest and grow within them. In this way, they’re reminiscent of comic book characters like Marvel’s mutant X-Men.

Intrinsic origins

A sorcerers’ power stems from a mystical connection to strange events or events in their own past or in the recesses of ancient history. Unlike a warlock, whose magic is granted directly through a bargain with a powerful being, sorcerers owe allegiance to no such patron.

The meat and potatoes of sorcerous magic in 5E is represented by sorcery points. With this pool of resources, a sorcerer can manipulate their magic in a variety of ways – not the least of which is by gaining additional spell slots! Conversely, spell slots can be converted into sorcery points that fuel the core sorcerer mechanic: metamagic.

Metamagic abilities allow sorcerers to exert control over the spells they cast. They can extend the duration or range of spells, make their spells harder to resist, increase the damage, cast them faster, protect allies caught in area effect spells and even twin a spell and cast it two times simultaneously!


The Player’s Handbook presents two different sorcerous origins for characters to draw power from: a draconic bloodline or wild magic, with the Sword Coast Adventurers’ Guide adding a third with storm sorcerer. If those aren’t enough, there’s two offerings from Unearthed Arcana playtest materials: the shadow origin and the favored soul.

That’s quite a bit of variety to inspire your imagination when creating a sorcerer character. Arcanists who rely on force of will alone to harness magical powers come in several flavors but all share the common trait that they don’t use magic – they are magic.

Because of this, it’s easy to imagine a sorcerer coming from any sort of background. Anyone from a noble to an urchin has the potential to manifest a sorcerous origin that turns their world upside down. Draconic blood in the character’s ancestry could have lain dormant for millennia. A fluke of nature, random chaotic surges of wild energy, genetic disposition, the touch of planar energy or the whims of the gods are just a few of the possibilities of where sorcerers gain their powers.

Looking for inspiration

Fictional characters who have unexplained powers are vast and varied. Marvel Comics’ mutant characters are a good place to start for drawing inspiration. The manifestations of mutant powers, triggered by a significant event like trauma or puberty, are a terrific parallel for the emergence of sorcerous magic. This could provide a wealth of roleplaying and story opportunities as well. It’s just as likely that people who possess unexplained magical powers could be just as “hated, feared and despised collectively by humanity for no other reason” as those comics characters with an X-gene.


Force-users from the Star Wars universe share a lot of similarities to sorcerers, too. Arcane magic, like the Force, exists all around the world and for whatever reason (except the reason of midi-chlorians, which is stupid) some people have a sensitivity and affinity for it that allows them to channel and manipulate the energy.


For less specific examples, literature, film, TV, comics, video games and other media have countless examples of characters around whom strange things occur. Leaning more towards the wild magic aspect of sorcery, perhaps a sorcerer character is themselves largely unaware of their own power or ability to manipulate it. It’s not too difficult to imagine and roleplay your sorcerer not as a competent wielder of raw magical might, but instead as an instinctual caster. From a game perspective, sure, the desired effects are the the spells you as a player choose to cast. But in terms of your character’s existence in the world, it could be interpreted as dumb luck. (Also, there’s always the chance of wild magic surges…)

Roles not rolls

As with any class in D&D, the best advice i can offer is to set mechanical concerns aside and instead focus on creating memorable characters. Unusual race, class and background combinations are just as viable as character built to take advantage of every stat and ability. What you’re giving up from category A only means you’ll be stronger at something in category B or C.


D&D gives players a chance to create the kind of game they want to play, using as many or as few of the rules as those gathered at the table wish. At the core, it is a group-centered game and your characters come to life as individuals working with others to achieve their goals, so what works in one group might not be optimal in another, and that’s something number crunchers might overlook.

Sorcerers rely on their Charisma in every regard for any class features that reference an ability score. This alone can inform your character in a variety of ways. Is your charismatic sorcerer charming? Manipulative? Domineering? Maybe they’re reluctant to tap into their strange magical powers and instead try to use their personality to navigate encounters as best they can.

A sorcerer with higher Strength might wield a great sword and focus on buff spells like false life and mirror image (yes, there are nonconcentration buff spells out there!). Maybe your sorcerers’ magic manifests itself as personal enhancements like this. They could even be somewhat unaware of what is truly happening when their magic works.

Crowd control isn’t a bad choice for sorcerers either, using their metamagic to make resisting things like web, hold person or stinking cloud more difficult. Perhaps your sorcerer is appalled by the violence of the adventuring life they were thrust into as a result of their strange magical powers.


Sorcerers are one of those classes that are really only dependent on a single ability score (Charisma) so the direction you take with your character is as wide open as anything else about this class.

The next time you’re creating a character, whether as a DM or player, consider the sorcerer. At their core, sorcerers are possessed of strong will to harness innate magical powers. The limited selection of spells you choose for your sorcerer will determine what specialty they’ll bring to the party, with their metamagic providing flexibility to use those spells in different ways than any other spellcasting class.

Sorcerous origins give characters an avenue to think about where their powers derive from, whether the character is aware of them or not. But no matter how you envision your sorcerer character, they are if nothing else a truly magical character.


Consider the role your sorcerer will play, how their origin, background and spells combine to make them a unique individual in the game world. Will they be hated and feared by those who don’t understand, or fear themselves and what they’re capable of? Will they seek to understand and gain more control over the torrent of magical power in their veins, or give in to the whims of fate and ride along like a twig on the shoulders of a mighty stream? Like any character, your sorcerer comes to the table with a story to tell, as well as one that has yet to be written.