Monday, July 13, 2009

Making Magic-Users Magical (Part 2)

So I've been reading old articles by Gygax from the Dragon magazines of the late 70s, articles that explain why he chose the magic systems he did, and what he thinks of the idea of variant magic systems. These are things I believe DO need to be taken into account, not just because it is "Old School" to play D&D as written, but because I agree that if you want to make variant rules, you might as well play a different game. The game is balanced a particular way in order to do certain things.

Here's a good enough summation for me to work with:

"Having read widely in the fantasy genre since 1950, I opted instead for the oft-used system which assumed that magic comes from power locked within certain words and phrases which are uttered to release the force. This mnemonic power system was exceedingly well articulated by Jack Vance in his superb novels The Eyes of the Overworld and Dying Earth, as well as various short stories. In memorizing the magical words, the brain of the would-be spell-caster is taxed by the charged force of the syllables. To increase capacity, the spell-caster must undergo training, study, and mental discipline.

"This is not to say that he or she ever understands the words, but the capacity to hold them in the memory and speak them correctly increases thus. The magic words, in turn, trigger energy which causes the spell to work...

"...Magic works because certain key words and phrases (sounds) unlock energy from elsewhere. The sounds are inscribed in arcane texts and religious works available to spell-users. Only training an practice will allow increased magic capacity, thus allowing more spells to be used."
- E. Gary Gygax, Dragon #33, 1980

In Dragon #16 (1978), Gygax says of his Vancian system, "If it has any fault, it is toward making characters who are magic-users too powerful. This sort of fault is better corrected within the existing framework of the game -- by requiring more time to cast spells, by making magic-users progress more slowly in experience levels." The AD&D Player's Handbook DID take Gygax's misgivings into account, increasing the experience points needed for every level beginning at level 5, reducing hit dice to 1D4, making variable damage by weapon mandatory ("nerfing" the magic-user's dagger), and including casting times and spell components in an effort to slow down the magic-users power potential.

The thing is, these reductions in power are great for campaigns that have been in existence for awhile...say Gygax's own campaign from 1973 with magic-users like Otto and Mordenkainen, or my old campaign magic-users of Lucky, Darkflame, and Arioch. But for beginning magic-users, it's a hard row to hoe.

In considering how to make magic-users "more magical" (the desired result being to make MUs a fun class to play, even at 1st level), I have the following considerations to account for:
  1. Leave the game balance as un-broken as possible (in other words, the game was designed in its way for a reason; there will be no arms race created by upping power levels)
  2. No re-writing of game systems (these are add-ons or optional rules; they should work with the rules as written)
  3. No contradiction of systems already in place (we want to hold true to the spirit of the game; otherwise we might as well be playing a different game).

Having set the ground rules, time to throw down some options.


  1. What I do is give them the Lore ability based off of their intelligence. This ability allows them to possibly "know" history, decipher clues, and such. This makes the magic user more valuable.

    One could also give out weak and limited scrolls that cannot be copied but only used for 20gp a piece.

  2. Check out the new post, has some new ideas.
    : )

  3. I follow your blog regularly particularly as it pertains to the B/X rules. Ive always found myself going back and fourth between AD&D ( race and class) and B/X ( race as class). Ive fiddled with the game mechanics more times than I can count and always seem to be struggling with some of the same issues. The playability and survivability of the classes particularly at lower levels. KOTB being my favorite go to starter module to run is great for the B/X rule setting, but lets face it, any normal small party is going to get creamed going through the caves given the rule set as is. My players also never liked hiring henchmen ( cannon fodder) or having to run back to the keep to rest after spending a mere hour exploring a cave and having some humanoids get the jump on them.

    All my players are veteran players, so there is no need to "introduce" them to the game. I think this is why they get frustrated with the b/x rules in general. They want the characters to have a bit more survivability encounter to encounter, the magic user to be more effective, the thief's skills to actually be able to do something affectively ( besides just climb walls), etc. Also, because we have busy adult lives, we cant game frequently enough to level and I dont really care for quick leveling in general.

    I thought about just starting them at higher level (3rd or 5th) but everyone likes starting out fresh and leveling up. to give them their cake and eat it too.

    So, one thought Ive been playing with is to give them starting hit points, lets call them zero level hit points ( like DCC game does). This would add a D4 hit points to their Level hit points. Then the magic user could have as many as 8 hp at first level and stand a chance.

    Secondly Im thinking about allowing full healing after a battle ( as long as they didnt fall below zero and survive- in whch case they need to rest 1 day per negative they went below zero).

    Another thing Ive been struggling with is making the magic user more effective. No one wants to cast their one spell and then be done for the day, and try as I might to persuade them, my players find lobbing molotov cocktails or darts/daggers very un magic user like. Im thinking about allowing Magic Users ( and probably Clerics) to use any of the spells on their spell list ( they have 12 spells at first level) once per adventure/game. Lets face it, a magic users most potent spell is Sleep and even I get tired of them just putting everything to sleep so the party can kill them. So why not allow the Magic Users to make the most of their spell list. They can cast each spell once and thats it. Same with the Cleric.

    The spell casters can "know" a total amount of spells as they have intelligence/wisdom. So once they are able to access second level spells, they will have access to a greater repertoire of spells. But they can only take into the adventure a max amount of spells based upon their ability score.

    I never liked double dipping of spells, but was thinking of maybe using the spells cast table in B/X to allow the spell caster to "recall" spells from his list per adventure. So, a first level Magic User could cast each of his 12 known spells once per adventure/game session, but is able to call one and only one a second time. And a second level Magic User would be able to "recall" two of his spells, etc.
    This would allow much more versatility for the spell casters in general and make them more effective. The Cleric wouldnt need to always pray for cure light wounds, as he would have access to it and all his other 8 spells, and be able to recall it if needed)

    I would also probably still allow Magic Users to create spell scrolls ( 200 gp and one week per spell level).