Steal My Idea: The Final Exam at Warthogs: University of Arkansas Wizard Program

I was surprised by how incredibly well this wizard school one-shot worked, I had to share it. You can manipulate the setup to work for any game you have with magic. It can easily be a trial in a dungeon or a competition among different parties. Any way you serve it, I hope you have as much fun with it as we did.

The Setup:

Each player is a mage at Warthogs’, the magic program at the University of Arkansas. All of the players are freshmen, and their final exam is today. The final test will challenge their magical prowess, intelligence, and ability to work as a team; since the players are on a team together. And those three points are what will make up their grade for the test, whether they win or lose.

The Testing Area:

The players arrive in the woods just behind the university. They find a 60 ft by 50 ft area sectioned off by bright blue ropes. One of their professors stands in the middle of the testing area, ready to explain the rules. A few fallen trees and patches of slick moss provide further obstacles between the trees.

The Test:

The players must work as a team to perform three tasks:

  1. They must find a chess piece placed somewhere among the trees, moss, and grass of the testing area.
  2. There is a puzzle box on the far west of the field. They must solve the box to open it.
  3. They must place the chess piece in the open puzzle box. The first team to place the piece in their open puzzle box wins.

But of course, there are obstacles in their way.

  1. There are illusionary chess pieces in the testing area as well as the real one. If they try to pick up a false piece, it will vanish at their touch.
  2. There is an opposing team of mages with their own puzzle box who are searching for the same piece.

The first team to find the right piece, solve their puzzle box, and place the piece in the puzzle box wins.

If you are worried that the players will find the chess piece too easily through a locate object spell (like in D&D or Pathfinder), you can make the object unique or not familiar to the players. Alternatively, you could also have three different chess pieces hidden in the testing area, and only one will fit inside the player’s puzzle box.

Strategy and rules:

Violence is allowed, though direct confrontation isn’t always the best approach. Time spent fighting is time away from solving the puzzle box or finding the chess piece. Though once someone finds the correct piece, violence will probably break out. That is if the one who found it can’t keep it hidden. Depending on how you use it, you may want to suggest participants try to avoid doing permanent physical harm to each other. Or you could have an incredibly powerful healer to fully heal anyone who would otherwise meet their end or permanent damage. Alternatively, you could just let people die. Whatever you choose, make sure your players know the possible consequences of their actions and what might happen to them.

If a player or NPC leaves the test area, they cannot come back inside. If a player or NPC forces them out of the area, they can come back inside, though they cannot cast spells or attack while they are outside of the test area.

The opposing team:

I had four players, so I only used four NPCs. They all wore matching tracksuits and masks, making them looking kind of like the jabbawockeez.

Chet is a mind-influencing mage. He either remains still or pretends to be looking for the chess piece to appear less conspicuous. His actual job on the team is to assess which player is the biggest threat at that moment, dive into their mind, and demoralize them. Constantly attempting to debuff the most threatening player can allow his team to keep a leg up. Once they find the piece, Chet works to solve the puzzle box.

Zandra uses her spells to manipulate the wind. Think of her like an air bender from Avatar. She had several different strategies. She would produce small gusts of wind, causing loose objects (ideally chess pieces) to move so she could see them. She could also produce massive gusts of wind to blow players out of the test area. Once they find the piece, Zandra will either try and immobilize the other team with strong winds or attack them with wind magic.

Jefferson is a master of illusions. He turns invisible and creates a fake image of himself. He can scry through his illusion self, doubling his ability to look for the piece. Once they find the piece, Jefferson uses his illusions to constantly confuse and misdirect the other team.

Danielle is a shapeshifter, meaning she changes her shape an anatomy rather than turning into a different creature. She uses her ability to constantly antagonize, distract, and block the other team from properly searching. She will instigate a fight with whoever looks the most threatening or is posing the biggest threat at the moment. When they find the chess piece, she will fight, attempting to incapacitate the other team one at a time. Her stretchy arms give her the reach to hit distant players, and she can turn herself into a blanket-like form to envelop and grapple people.


For this scenario, not everyone has to be a spellslinger. If you want to make this a challenge for a standard adventuring party, those with non-magical roles could still use their talents to try and assure victory.

You can also completely change the NPC team’s strategy to best suit their style or to better suit the changes in the rules you made.

Whether you use it as a one-shot or as a test of teamwork within your game, I hope you have a butt load of fun with it. And if you do steal this idea, let me know how it went!

Give a hoot and got some loot?


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Twitter: @RexiconJesse

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