Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Class Struggles: The Wizard, Part 1 Customizing Options

Posting about the Dresden Files yesterday and talking about psychics, witches and other classes has got me thinking about Wizards and Magic Users today. In truth you can't read, write and think about witches as much as do and not have wizards come up every so often.

In many fantasy genres wizards and witches are very nearly the same thing (and let's not get into what is a warlock today). While I can see the subtle differences as huge gaps I do appreciate that this might really just be my own biases.

When I first began to play D&D (Holmes and then Moldvay/Cook/Marsh B/X) I saw the "Magic-User" class. I always wondered about that. Why was it called "Magic User" and not "Magician" or "Wizard"? I will be honest and say it was not till years later that I fully appreciated what Gary was doing with the "Magic User". It really was meant to be ANY type of magic user. While I can really see the utility of this sort of class it still doesn't give me the customization that I really wanted in a magic-user/wizard class. For starters the biggest and best means of customization for any magic using class is the spell list. Build a magic user, take a bunch of necromantic spells and bingo you have a necromancer, take illusions and you have an illusionist. This is certainly implicit in the rules, if not explicit in some older Dragon magazine articles.

During the work on my witch class I began creating a lot of custom classes. These include some I have mentioned before: The Necromancer/Mara, the Sun Priest, and the Healer. These all kind of rotate around an axis related to the cleric. While working on them I really could not help but notice what powers and spells I was giving them vs. what the magic-user already had. Also I could not help but recognize the disparity in XP per level. It takes a lot to be a magic-user. The argument has always been that it pays off in then end, if you survive.
This disparity was also noticed by others.

Dragon Magazine #109 from May 1986 gave us Paul Montgomery Crabaugh's "Customized Classes" article for the D&D (not AD&D) game. The idea was that the D&D game supported this sort of flexibility. I used this for the first set of XP values per level for my witch, but altered them to something I liked better for the publication of The Witch. Others have picked up on this article as well.

The Dragon article goes into a lot of great detail and my hat is off to Paul Crabaugh for going through all this effort. He made it really easy to add everything to a spreadsheet and auto calculate XP values.
His analysis of the magic-user is quite telling.

Magic User XP per level, per Dragon Magazine #109

Current Level XP Points needed Next Level
per level

Magic-users, when analyzed come up really short.

Erin Smale over at took the original Dragon values and worked out a spreadsheet of his own in Building the Perfect Class. His numbers track a lot better than Crabaugh's do, but the magic-user still comes up very short. He provides both a PDF and an Excel file to help in building. My biggest peeve though he no where acknowledges the work done by Crabaugh in this even though there are distinct parallels. He does address this though in his update, Building a More Perfect Class.

A while back Perdustin over at Thoul's Paradise posted a reflection on the Crabaugh article and got me thinking about the custom classes I had made then. Later he posted a little on his analysis of the classes with his tweaks. Here are his posts:
Customized Classes (part I) and
Customized Classes (part II)

He challenged me to look at my witch class as well.

In this case as the previous ones, the Magic-User comes up a little short.

Thoul's Paradise analysis

For me the solution is obvious since it also addresses the issue I have with magic-users in classic D&D games. It's not that their XP is too high, it's that there is so little for them to do in the beginning.

Think about every wizard stereotype; an old man, with white hair, beard, pointy hat and robes. Just page through any pre-1985 D&D book and see if you can find something different. Ok. Now what can these old guys do? Cast magic missile once per day. Honestly that doesn't make much sense to me. If these guys have been training at wizard school since they were young they should have learned more magic by now. Hell, Hermione knew more magic on the train to Hogwarts before school ever started than what your average 1st level magic-user knows.

I know classic D&D is about "resource management" and that struggle upwards. I am not suggesting that we play O/B/AD&D magic-users like D&D4 wizards (but I am going to talk about them next week). I do think the wizard needs a little more punch.

Using the same rules in my Witch book I give Wizards (a sub-class or type of Magic User) the ability to cast cantrips (up to 6 at 1st level, 3 + Int mod), the ability to cast Read Magic once per day, that ability to identify magic items (only that they are magic, not what they do). They may also cast a Find Familiar spell. Remember, in 3rd Edition D&D wizards got a familiar for free at 1st level and no reduction in spells.

Find Familiar (Spell)
Level: Wizard (Magic-user) 1
Range: 1-mile radius per caster level
Duration: See below
Magic-users of higher level often summon familiars to assist them with various tasks. Indeed, a familiar can also be of considerable benefit to a lower level magic-user (even increasing others’ estimation of his or her power), but the risks inherent in losing a familiar can be daunting to a weaker spell caster. To summon a familiar, the magic-user must intone the words of the spell over a well-stocked fire source, sprinkling the flames with expensive incense and powders (100 gp in total value). The caster must maintain his or her casting for as long as necessary (2d12 hours) until a familiar arrives (or the casting time expires without success).
The spell may be attempted only once per year, and the caster has no control over the type of animal that will respond. When it arrives, the familiar is a faithful servant and ally to the caster.
Normal familiars have 1d3+1 hit points, AC 7, and are as intelligent as a lower-than-average human. When the familiar is within 120 feet of the magic-user, the magic-user gains additional hit points equal to the familiar’s. However, if the familiar is ever killed, the magic-user permanently loses twice the familiar’s hit points.

For me the Read Magic and the identifying of magic items (based on an Int + Level check) sets the magic-user apart from not only other classes, but the witch as well. I decided that this was part of their training and experiences in school. I should also detail some of my ideas for a magic school but that would have to be for another time.

Next week a deep look at wizards and magic users with these customizations and XP values in mind.


Venger Satanis said...

I had that Wizards and Witches book as a kid. Probably still have it.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

I think we all had it. I still have a copy, but it is not my original.

Mystic Scholar said...

I like it and quite agree with your overall assessment of the situation. I allow for a greater number of cantrips and I lessen the requirements for an "average" familiar for my 1st level Wizard, though I strictly limit the type of familiar they can summon; cat, raven, rat. The types of things you'd find in most cities or villages. I increase the difficulty if they want to try for something really exotic, but then, the Wizard needs to be a higher level to attract such a creature as well.