Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Wizard Worth Playing (Part 1)

[this is something I was thinking about yesterday morning, but I was distracted all day...sorry]

Imagine you're a new player to Dungeons & Dragons: one of those people WotC/Hasbro is hoping to "bring into the fold" to grow the hobby. You've heard about the game, you have a vague idea about tabletop RPGs and what D&D (specifically) is. So you go to WotC's "Learn to Play" section on their web site and download a copy of the Basic D&D rules. Sure, it's incomplete, but perhaps you're not interested in being a DM just yet, and you live somewhere other than Asuncion, Paraguay where people have never had of role-playing (fast Paraguayan fun-fact: the highway to the international airport was still just a dirt road until a decade ago or so!), and you figure you'll be able to find some game to join as a player.

You read the section of the rules on races and there's a helluva' lot o stuff you don't particularly figure "human" will be your best bet to start. You then read the descriptions for the classes; figuring they'll give you an idea of your options and cutting down on your reading (because you can just worry about the two-three pages of "rules" for the one class you decide is best). Having come to the game due to a love of fantasy adventure, the wizard class is a natural draw, and you are excited by the description of the class and its abilities:
"Wizards are supreme magic-users, defined and united as a class by the spells they cast. Drawing on the subtle weave of magic that permeates the cosmos, wizards cast spells of explosive fire, arcing lightning, subtle deception, and brute-force mind control. Their magic conjures monsters from other planes of existence, glimpses the future, or turns slain foes into zombies. Their mightiest spells change one substance into another, call meteors down from the sky, or open portals to other worlds."
[the depictions of example wizards preceding this passage describe these powers, specifically the explosive fire, the glimpsing the future, and the opening portals to other worlds]

'Hot damn,' you say. 'This is EXACTLY the kind of thing I want to do in the game! Sign me UP!'

Now, as I mentioned before, you will be in for a rude shock when you discover what your character's abilities actually entail (duh...sucker!). Long time players of D&D will probably snicker at your ignorance and naiveté ('You think you get all that power at level one? Ha ha!') and if you decide to stick with the wizard class (as opposed to something simpler like a dwarf fighter), you'll soon enough find yourself in the predictable role of hanging out in the back and letting the rest of the party bail you out of jams for however long it takes to level up a couple one commentators estimate about 18 encounters (which could mean five game sessions if WotC's old "average four encounters per session" holds up) to reach 900xp and 3rd level. For weekly play, that means a bit more than a month of suck in order to "pay your dues;" and that's just to get a second level spell (like flaming sphere). Third level spells (like fireball or lightning bolt) don't come till 5th level, which requires a whopping 6500xp!!!

[just a side note: has anyone really taken a close look at Basic D&D's advancement chart? There are some crazy figures in there!]

Now what Basic D&D just gave you what they advertised? Wouldn't that be cooler?

Here's how it would work:

Still wondering why we don't wear metal armor?
Wizards begin play with the following magic knowledge (instead of the 3 cantrips and 6 1st level spells): explosive fire, arc lightning, subtle deception, mind control, conjure monster, glimpse future, necromancy, transmute substance, sky strike, and open portal.  The character still has a total of nine spells, the latter three of which we'll give the additional connotation "mighty."

Now personally, I think there are too many spell slots provided in the wizard table, so I'd probably limit it to 3 spells per spell slot, regardless of level, though with bonus spell slots equal to the INT modifier. You can carry out the table yourself if you want, but I mean it would look like this:

1st level: two 1st magnitude spell slots
2nd level: three 1st magnitude slots
3rd level: three 1st magnitude slots, two 2nd magnitude slots
4th level: three 1st magnitude slots, three 2nd magnitude slots
5th level: three 1st magnitude slots, three 2nd magnitude slots, two 3rd magnitude slots

...proceeding as listed but never more than 3 in any particular magnitude. The INT modifier would give additional "slots" to be split between all magnitudes known. For example, a wizard with an INT 16 (+3 modifier) would have three additional 1st magnitude slots (1 x 3), but at 3rd level could split those between 1st and 2nd magnitude (i.e. one extra 1st mag slot + one extra 2nd mag slot). At 5th level, that +3 modifier could all be poured into a single 3rd mag (3 x1).

[that last bit regarding INT modifier is admittedly extra complex...probably, I'd simply go with "For every +1 of INT modifier, cast one extra spell per day from any one spell slot that does not exceed the character's maximum allowable magnitude; a bonus spell from high INT may not be of a magnitude greater than the character's total INT bonus." Since PCs in Basic D&D are limited to an INT of 20 (+5), that would mean an extra 5th magnitude spell would be the maximum one could pick-up]

The spells available to the wizard remain the same (unless the player wants to engage in spell research), but the EFFECT of the spell varies depending on the magnitude at which it is cast. I've got to leave at the moment, but the next part of this post will detail the spells at their various magnitudes.

[to be continued]


  1. While I like your magnitude idea and I am interested in seeing where you are going with it, I think you are needlessly nitpicking on the rest of it. Outside that one overly prosaic description if they have read the rest of the manual up to that point then they should know that they are going to start out as beginner adventurers and work their way up. It shouldn't be much of a surprise.

    I honestly don't think most people coming in to this would expect to be able to do those crazy things right off the bat. If the game was described and marketed as getting to play gods and ultra powerful beings and then you weren't that would be surprising and confusing but its not and pretty much every other game you play (video game or otherwise) requires starting at/with the basics and working up to the ultra powerful. I honestly can't see this as being a big deal.

  2. Wizards are always awful. This particular wizard isn't all that awful.

  3. Eh, I don't know about that...

    I ran the game (D&D 5E) this past July 4th with some old friends, one of whom is a power gamer/number cruncher raised on video games and MMOs. Luckily, he really does role-play his characters when he gets into them.

    Trying to find the 'best build', he went with Cleric. After the game he was telling me how, according to his projections on how the numbers, abilities and such go together, Cleric is the best class. His reasoning was intriguing.

    Many of the new spells and abilities given to Clerics more like Wizards with Undead turning, armor and weapons. I mean, Guiding Bolt is a first level spell that does 4D6 damage and makes the next attack against the target creature an Advantage attack. When exactly do Wizards get something even close to that effective in combat?

    D&D has always been the game of magic where Wizards suck. Makes no sense to me and it's one of the reasons (I think it's number 15 out of 30) that I don't play it unless forced to.