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Need Ideas for Tests of Skill


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Hey guys, I'm not sure if I should post this here on in the Writing Excuses forum, but I'll just post it here and you can let me know if it needs to be moved. 

Anyway, I'm working on this story right now, and I've been wracking my brain for months trying to come up with tests of skill for a fantasy world. All of the ideas I've had either just don't work, or they don't fit into the world.

I've submitted parts of this story before, so some of you might remember it. But basically, it's a massive desert world, with only 1 city, which is sustained by a kind of sand magic. And this test is used to sort through the younger population of the city to find which ones should be allowed to learn the magic. The test basically needs to test intelligence, strength, creativity, agility, etc. It can also be multiple different tests. I'm really struggling with ideas and would really appreciate some help if anyone has any ideas.

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Go Old School:  Dropped in the wasteland 5 days out, have to make it back alive.  Nature is a great equalizer when it comes to Test of " intelligence, strength, creativity, agility, etc."  If there's a Sand Focus for the magic itself this could double as a sort of Spirit Quest to reveal the latent magic Talent, sort of a Write of Passage between them and The Desert.


How..."valid" do you you want the test to be.  By that I mean is it an honest attempt to identify and cultivate aptitude for the magic itself, or are there any social/political/religious underpinnings to consider, or secondary/hidden goals?  Like if the magic-users double as Law-Enforcement, there might be other aptitudes (or atttitudes, philosphies, etc) that they'd be selecting for like combat capability or investigation or some such.  I recall back in college a friend was getting hammered in Organic Chemistry, not because he struggled with the actual chemistry material, but because the course was designed to be a weeding course for Pre-Med majors (my friend was a Chem-E) so they loaded it with a lot of activities and course structure they thought were important for Doctors but didnt actually have anything to do with the actual course topic.



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9 hours ago, Quantus said:

Go Old School:  Dropped in the wasteland 5 days out, have to make it back alive.

I like this: classic, as you say, @Quantus. I would also ask how deadly you want the test to be? Is it a survival test? Further, I would supplement the core idea, adding personal elements to make your test stand out from similar survival tests in other stories. I think this would also help make the test seem more impossible, and therefore an even better challenge. Send the participants out completely naked and unequipped. Then, you could have the winner by the one who not only gets back alive, but carries the largest amount of sand back with them. This allows you to single out one person as an overall winner, and to be honest, I've no idea how they would do that other than carrying it in their hands (badly)...  ...except actually, I do have several ideas :ph34r:

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Is this test something everyone has to go through, or is it something one has to volunteer for? Or would a nomination be required?

If it's obligatory, you can't make survival a pass condition, unless you make every single adult a magic user. It could work, if a secondary purpose were to keep population numbers under control, it's set in a desert, so I assume resources are an issue.

If it's voluntary, you can make it very perilous and the need to volunteer for it already weeds out those lacking courage and/or confidence (assuming this is something you want to test for).

With nominations, you can introduce a political element. The wealthier, more powerful families or factions in your city would probably have a greater chance of getting their teenagers nominated.


Does this test take place for everyone at the same time, like an exam, or does it happen for each participant individually, say, on their umpteenth birthday?

The latter precludes cooperation as a strategy; of course, it also means you don't have competition between participants to work with.


Sorry, no specific ideas for tests, just things you might want to consider.

Edited by Eagle of the Forest Path
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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks all! This really helped. I really like the idea of being dropped in the desert and having to make it back! I don't know why I hadn't thought of that before, but It fits very well in the world and solves most of my problems. So thank you for that @Quantus! Thanks, @kais @Robinski and @Eagle of the Forest Path for all your comments and ideas as well, it's really helped me flesh this out. I still have a couple problems that I'm struggling with, however. So let me explain this a little more. In my world, there are three "classes" if you will, of the magic. With the idea of dropping them in the desert and having to make it back alive, here's what I've got. Once a year, anyone who is old enough and wants a chance to be trained in the magic can volunteer for this trial, but only three of those who make it back alive (so yes it can be deadly) get trained, one for each of the three "classes". Each of the volunteers is dropped well outside the city, and well away from each other. They're then stripped of most of their clothing, leaving them in shorts and a t-shirt (to use modern terms) with no supplies, left to the full mercy of the wind, sun, and sand. They're then given several bags of sand they can choose to carry back if they wish. The volunteer who makes it back to the city the fastest (regardless of whether they carried the sand or not) is trained in the "class" of magic that speed and agility fit well with. The one who makes it back carrying the most bags of sand (regardless of how long it takes them to get back) is trained in the "class" of magic that strength and endurance fit well with. But now we come to my problem. I need a specific way to test intelligence/creativity/cleverness/etc. that's along the same lines as the other two. "The person who makes it back with..." "the person who makes it back having done..." something along those lines. Any ideas?

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Would you be ok with that third class being rarer than the other two, as compared to fairly balance membership numbers?  If they can be fewer, call it "Up to Three get chose" and make the Cleverness one be "The Person who Surprises Us"; it wouldnt be guaranteed to happen every time like the others, but it would add a certain amount of uniqueness to each member, as well as a bit of prestige.  


Otherwise, maybe add a riddle as a third challenge during the journey.  So you tell them all that it is a race to get back first, that they will need ALL the sand, and that they will need to have solved a riddle by the time they get back, so they are motivated to work toward all three.  When they get back, they're actually faced with three separate gates obviously devoted to the classes: one that is a one-use bridge so only the first can use it, one that requires every bit of sand to tip a scale, and one that requires you to have solved the Riddle (or picked the Lock).   Each one is essentially one-use, so if you get somebody that could qualify for both they just get a choice of destination and leave the other two gates for the next one that qualifies.  The nature of the riddle itself could be pretty wide, it could be leading them to some philosophic point/motto of the magic class.  Or it could contain hidden clues to a puzzle-lock on that gate.  I like that one because they could have intellectually gained clues via deciphering the riddle by pondering it during their journey, OR get past it by dramatically being just that clever in the moment and solving the Puzzle-lock on your own.  It gives some allowance for difference types of intellectual prowess.  


One thing, on the class test vs Endurance.  A five day survival race is going to be an endurance challenge all on it's own more than an agility challenge, so plodding speed and crazy march-through-the-night endurance could very easily make you the first one back, sand or no sand.   If the speed class is intended to be literally physical speed and agility more that overland travel and thematic "Always arrive First" it might be worth adding an agility challenge at the gate, some physical speed or maybe reaction-time test on a one-use only Gate.


Ok, just had an idea:  They arrive and are faced with a literal magical minefield.  There is a cantilevered drawbridge that can be moved over the field to cross it, but it requires every bit of sand they were given to activate (magic anti-cheating measures might be a good idea).  Or, if they solved the riddle while traveling it will have given them some clue to navigating a safe path through the minefield.  Or, they can just dive in and trust their own speed and reaction time to be able to avoid the mines or dodge the blast, if there is some perceivable clue that they've been activation and some tine (variable?) delay before it actually blows.  Ooorr,  they can do something really clever  and observant and unexpected and surprise everyone like a farmboy chosen one.

Edited by Quantus
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