Monday, I decided it was time to teach my son how to play D&D. I offered him a choice between Holmes Basic and B/X and he decided on Ye Olde Moldvay. Here is a picture of his character sheet:
The writing is mine, other than the name (yes, he decided to name the character after himself). The picture is his (in case folks are wondering, he has a small pet monkey perched on his shoulder...a request from my son, that I allowed him to purchase for 10 gold pieces). All equipment (including a normal dagger...the silver one was "too expensive") is written on the back.
The choice of magic-user was based on his ability scores (3D6, rolled in order), intelligence being his best stat. His choice of spell (magic missile) was based on my brief description of the magic system and each available 1st level spell. This was to be B/X strictly "by the book;" with the only exception being that I allowed him maximum hit points at level one. I opened my book to The Haunted Keep scenario in the book, explained the background and started the game with Diego the Mage (and Meme the Monkey) outside the door to the east tower, where the goblins' tracks had led.
"I blast the door with my magic missile."
I explained (again) that his spell could only be used once per day, and that was really intended for combat. I also explained to him that the tower was fairly dilapidated and the wooden door was rotten and hanging by one rusty hinge...easily opened without the aid of magic. Would he prefer to save his spell? Yes, of course.
He entered the tower and avoided the pit trap (thanks to his 10' pole). After exploring the pit with his rope, he proceeded through the interior door, finding himself in a hallway with doors to both the left and right.
"I blast the right-hand door with my magic missile."
I should point out that my son only just turned five (last month). His relationship with doors are not the same as an adult, nor even an older child. There are many doors he's not allowed to pass through without permission. Doors that are stuck or locked can easily confound him (especially if the key hole is higher than he can reach unaided, as with our exterior door). And, of course, he has no preconceived notions of how the D&D game is "supposed" to be played...I'm trying to NOT instill any of my "gaming sensibilities" into him, wanting him to formulate his own ideas, come to his own conclusions. In the past, I've taken this tactic with "newbie" role-players and found the results surprisingly excellent.
However, here I was running up against the confounding limitation imposed by the D&D system...that ridiculous model that requires characters to "pay their dues," playing multiple sessions of ineffectuality (is that a word?) before becoming even mildly proficient.
Mmm...let me back up a moment. It's not really the model that's "ridiculous." A fantasy character beginning her adventuring career can be expected to be a bit wet behind the ears, and should also be expected (with time and experience) to become more proficient and effective. To me, that's what the whole level thing models...1st level characters are new to the career while a 9th ("name") level adventurer should be pretty darn proficient...near the top of her game, really. At least, that's kind of the implication of making a "name" for oneself, no?
[of course, I realize that's not actually the case. Character hit dice peak at level 9 and most "endgame" options are opened for B/X characters at this level. However, magic-users don't gain their full abilities (spell-wise or endgame) till 11th level, fighters gain even greater attack abilities at levels 10 and 13, while thieve abilities don't start hitting the 90s till levels 11 and 12. In the end, the only thing reaching "name" level actually ensures is the end of new level titles for your character]
But a 1st level magic-user shouldn't even be let out of the tower. Compare such an entity to, say, the children in those Harry Potter novels (and please allow me to say for the record that I dislike a LOT about J.K. Rowling's wizarding world, both as a setting, as a magic cosmology, and even as children's literature. Sorry, J.K.). Look at the newbie wizard, Skeeve, from Robert Aspirin's humorous Myth books. While clearly "apprentice level" youngsters, their abilities utterly dwarf that of a beginning magic-user in B/X...or most Old School editions of D&D.
|More powerful than your seer.|
Yes, too much. 30-40 spells...hell, 20 spells...is simply too many for a single session of game play, in my opinion. Consider a typical session: you can expect perhaps 4 to 7 encounters in an evening of B/X play; my sessions average about six, probably four of which have some sort of combat component or potential (interactions with "monsters," in other words). Should magic-users be able to cast a spell every round? Or should there be some threat of "running low," prompting them to husband their resources? To me, 10-12 spells in a game session feels about optimal (2 or 3 per encounter, with another 2 to 3 used outside of combat), with something like 15-18 spells being the maximum (for the highest level characters) for a single game session...though even that feels pretty darn high to me.
Note, I'm talking about the number of spells being cast, not necessarily the number of spells known. I think it would be fair (and sticking with the strategist play style paradigm) to allow a magic-user to actually know more spells than they can cast (that's an AD&D concept, by the way, not B/X). On the low end (for the newbie adventurers), I'd think four or five spells cast would be about right, maybe as low as three for a truly deficient wizard. The problem is, how can you scale that over X number of levels?
|Doesn't that dude with the pointy hat look capable of more than one spell?|
[in writing this, I am reminded of the Dungeon! board game. In the 1975 edition, wizards received 7 spells to start (each spell being represented by a card that was discarded when cast), but could opt for an additional +D6 spells by choosing to forgo the use of magic swords during the game]
Because THIS is the main "carrot" for the magic-user. M-U players are not expecting to gain much in the realm of combat ability (HPs/attack bonus), but they are expecting to become more proficient in their craft. More spells known, more spells cast, and more powerful spells. Certainly, these things are best linked to level (the more proficient the adventurer, the more powerful the magic)...I'm just not sure they need to be linked in the specific fashion they are.
This is about to go off the B/X grid. Ah, well...just call it a 'thought exercise.'
I suppose the easiest thing thing would be to link spell-casting to hit points. Spells would be given a power rank (say, from 1 to 3) and each spell cast would drain a number of hit points from the caster. I did something similar to this in Cry Dark Future in order to model Shadowrun's "mana burn" system, and it worked pretty good...but then even a 1st level spell-caster in CDF/SR can fall back on an automatic weapon when they're running low on spell juice.
[I say this would be "the easiest thing," though one could certainly fall back on the CHAINMAIL system...as I did in Five Ancient Kingdoms...of requiring a dice roll to effectively cast a spell, with higher level characters having a better chance of casting spells...in effect, making the magic system more-or-less the same as combat. But here I'm trying to preserve the asymmetry of the class and magic system, even if I'm otherwise changing it]
*ahem* The note here is that unlike a traditional "spell point" system (Palladium, as an example) you're only tracking a single resource: your character's health. Plus it measures the effects of pain and suffering as a distraction without the need for "concentration" checks and such. Also, it models that hoary staple of fantasy literature where the mage sells her life to get off "one final spell." I dig all that.
So then, what effect would leveling up have on your character's magical might? Other than increasing your hit points, of course. Well, you'd need gain additional spell knowledge (more arrows for your quiver)...perhaps one or two spells per level...and might increase the power rank of spells that could be learned. With such a system, I'd probably try something like:
1 point spells at 1st level
2 point spells available at 4th level
3 point spells available at 7th level
With 1 pointers being the equivalent of 1st and 2nd level spells, 2 pointers being the equivalent of 3rd and 4th level, and 3 pointers being 5th and 6th level spells.
Alternatively, you could keep the standard rate of spell level gained (2nd level spells at 3rd, 3rd level spells at 5th, 4th level spells at 7th level, etc.)...but I'm not sure that's really necessary. After all, B/X fighters don't learn more weapon and armor types as they level up, and thieves are likewise stuck with the same skills at 1st level as 10th (yes, they get the ability to read languages and magic..but magic-users gain the ability to enchant items and brew potions; it's a wash). Allow each character to start with a number of spells determined by their intelligence...say six for average INT and add the standard B/X modifier of plus/minus one to three.
That gives a range of three to nine to begin and, on second thought, I'd probably limit the number of spells gained to one per level. However, magic-users could attempt to "master" any spell scrolls found (adding the spells to their repertoire) or spend hard earned treasure on additional spell research to increase their knowledge. That's a win-win in my book: players have a good reason to spend gold and it gives me an alternative use for spell scrolls (since they won't function the same under this system as they do in the Vancian universe).
I do want magic-users to pay some dues, after all...I just don't think their dues need to be as high as they are in the default B/X system.
[as always, feedback and disagreement is welcome]