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52 Pick Up: Reshuffled. A New Game each, err... month or so

Wizards and Wise guys

by Michael Lafferty edited by Chris Czerniak
June 26, 2001

Using the D20 license as GMS did for Kongallah and Black Powder/Cold Iron, Wizards and Wiseguys is much more a game setting than a game. A copy of a useful reference document is available here The Open Gaming License is posted below, after the description of the game setting.

The Inspiration for Wizards and Wiseguys comes from a variety of sources. The Philip Marlowe stories and novels by Raymond Chandler and the books and stories of Dashiell Hammett and Mickey Spillane for starters. Several movies also bear mentioning: The Sting, Bonnie and Clyde,The Untouchables, Brother Where Art Thou?, City Heat and The Maltese Falcon.


All I ever did was supply a demand that was pretty popular Al Capone

It's the 1920s in America and bootlegging is at its violent peak. Corrupt cops look the other way as underground speakeasies flout Prohibition, providing liquor and hot jazz to eager crowds.

The public attention is captured by roguish bandits such as John Dillinger and crusading G-men like Elliot Ness. Mob Bosses wage war over turf while the FBI fights in vain to stem the tide of corruption and bloodshed.

In this alternate reality setting, the laws passed in the 20's that criminalized alcohol also banned the practice of the Magic Arts. But when sorcery has been outlawed, only outlaws will be sorcerers....

On June 30,1908, near Tunguska, Siberia a mysterious explosion flattened hundreds of square miles of forest. Eyewitnesses alternately described a ball of fire falling from the sky or the sky opening up and pouring out fire. An orange glow in the sky was visible for days as far away as Western Europe.

Although the cause is still unknown, the consequence is clear. Magic was reawakened. Traditional native cultures and occultists were the first to notice, but it soon became common knowledge. Most governments and universities developed magical research projects. Many corporation and private citizens around the world now engage in the practice of magic.

Magic research blossomed in America between 1908 and 1919, with Industry, agriculture and the military benefiting. A distrust of magic developed, especially in rural areas. It was regarded by many as dangerous, unnatural and heretical. The Anti-Saloon League and other forces advocating the criminalization of alcohol also took up the banner for magic prohibition.

In 1919, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was passed, outlawing the production and sale of alcohol. At the same time the 19th Amendment was passed, prohibiting the practice of magic for any reason other than law enforcement or national defense. J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI and himself a sorcerer, wrangled legislation through Congress that made the FBI the only law enforcement entity allowed to use magic.

Overnight, magic-users were arrested and deported or driven underground. Spell books and magic items were burned in the streets. Magic became a part of the criminal underground of bootleggers and speakeasies.

To enforce the Prohibition, the FBI created the Supernatural Investigation and Interdiction Units. These mage-hunting squads were comprised of specially trained magic-using agents. They focused on urban areas where underground wizards and sorcerers were increasingly drawn into the gangland turf wars.

Possible Meta plot Idea

"Maybe I'll learn someday, Dad, that you can't win in this game." Letter from John Dillinger to his father.

As Prohibition wears on and the government doesn't appear to be making any headway, J. Edgar Hoover becomes frustrated and turns to darker magics to increase his agency's power base. Secretly, he approves the use of Necromancy for field agents - using zombies and skeletons as front line troops in assaults on Mafia strongholds etc.

Some worry that Hoover has bargained with Dark otherworldly Powers to increase his power and influence. Some whisper that Hoover is plotting to stage a coup, position himself as dictator of the US and declare martial law. Others whisper that between his occult power and collected blackmail information he already is running the country.

But they don't whisper too loudly, because agents who express disagreement have a habit of disappearing suddenly.


"Don't worry, I don't underrate the cops. But cops can't break a guy's arm to make him talk, and they can't shove his teeth in with the muzzle of a .45 to remind him that you aren't fooling." Mickey Spillane - I, The Jury

Allowable classes in Sorcerers and Speakeasies are Rogue, Fighter, Wizard, Sorcerer and Clerics (the 19th amendment made an exception for clerical magic). Naturally, the only race is human.

Some helpful info for using modern firearms in the D20 system can be found at this link


An excellent way to evoke the feel of the film noir movies and crime stories that inspire Wizards and Wiseguys is to have your NPCs or characters spout some snappy lingo such as:

"I jammed the roscoe in his button and said, 'Close your yap, bo, or I squirt metal.'" or "You dumb mug, get your mitts off the marbles before I stuff that mud-pipe down your mush - and tell your moll to hand over the mazuma."

These are two examples are taken from Twists, Slugs and Roscoes: A Glossary of Hardboiled Slang which was compiled by William Denton from various pulp detective fiction and can be accessed at

Another cool way to add some flavor for scenes set in speakeasies would be to use some background music from the period. Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington would be good bets. Whether not you want to go that next step and mix up some bathtub gin is totally up to you.

Adventure Ideas

"I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun." Raymond Chandler - Farewell, My Lovely

  • Crusading Coppers. The Players are a hand-picked squad of straight-arrow city cops determined to break the steely grip of vice, violence and corruption that a mob boss has on their town. Their raids have ended in disaster because the bootlegger has spell casters in his employ and the cops don't. Tommy-guns aren't much of a match for fireballs.

    The FBI is the only law enforcement organization allowed to use magic, but the Feds have rebuffed pleas for help, saying that they're conducting their own independent investigation. To stand a chance of winning the fight, or even surviving, the local boys will have to break the law and find their own magic-user or develop some magic abilities of their own. Life wasn't hard enough just fighting corrupt cops and cold-blooded mobsters, now they have to worry about the Feds getting suspicious and coming after them

  • The players are trusted G-men in one of the FBI's crack mage-hunting units. The players have heard the rumors about shadowy happenings in the Agency, but never gave it too much credence. A nervous fellow agent who is friendly with the party gives them an envelope with documents and photographs that appear to prove that Hoover has sanctioned the use of Necromancy and may be dabbling in worse. He gives them a contact number for a group of G-men who are considering going rogue and taking out Hoover. The next day, the agent is found dead in his apartment - and authorities declare it a suicide. An Internal Affairs officer from the Bureau calls on the party to see what they know

  • The Players are law-abiding citizens who flee to avoid arrest when the Prohibition on magic is passed. Living hand to mouth, the players are forced into a life of crime just to survive while they stay just one step ahead of the spell-slinging G-men from the FBI. The newspapers latch onto the story. Like Bonnie and Clyde or John Dillinger, the papers paint them as romantic anti-heroes, making it hard to keep a low profile and increasing the Feds determination to bring them in dead or alive.

    "It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window." Raymond Chanlder --Farewell, My Lovely

  • The players work for a down-at-the-heels Private Investigation firm that has a reputation in the underground for dabbling in magic affairs when necessary. A platinum blonde in an ermine coat shows up at the office and offers the firm a huge sum to deliver a magic item to her dear old father who's a wizard living in exile south of the border. She'll pay half now and her father will pay the other half on delivery. As soon as they hit the road, the party is dodging bullets and spells from both the Mafia and the FBI. The players find out that the item was allegedly stolen from an Army Magic Weapons Research Facility. The Mafia wants it for the own purposes and the FBI wants to give it back to the Army. If the party does some research and some footwork, they can determine that the item they've got is a red herring to throw the heat off of the blonde, who is actually a crafty sorcerer/rogue. She has the real McCoy, jumped a flight to an exotic, remote locale and is getting ready to sell it to the highest bidder.

  • The players are enforcers (hit-men and spellcasters) in the employ of a Pittsburgh mob boss/bootlegger. A new mafiosa comes to town and wants to muscle in on the business. His first move is to kidnap the kid brother of one of the players (or maybe someone close to all the players). He send them a note letting them know if they ever want to see their loved one(s) again, they'll take a long vacation and be conveniently absent during the coming turf-war. The player's boss lets them know that although he expresses his condolences at their loss, if they desert him in his hour of need, he will have them all killed

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    What do you think?

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    Reshuffled: 52 Pick Up, edited by Chris Czerniak

    52 Pick Up original run, by Gareth-Michael Skarka

    Other columns at RPGnet

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