Monday, July 13, 2009

Making Magic-Users Magical (Part 3)

As stated in earlier posts, I see no reason to restrict the weapons used by they say, swords don't kill people, people kill people, and a sword is only as good as its wielder.  See my variant damage rules to see what I'm talking about.  They doesn't change magic-users doing 1D4 damage with a dagger nor 1D6 damage with a staff.  It does allow your Turjan or Gandalf to use a sword, or your Witch-King or Elric to use a flail or greatsword (for the same scale of damage: 1D4 or 1D6).

Welcome to flavor country.

Magic-users are adventurers and the way they're written makes 'em driven and ambitious (think Raistlin of Dragon Lance) least the ones intent on some day teaching little magic-users the ways of wizardry.  In B/X, these sorcerers-in-training are "apprentices" of levels 1-3(!!).  Wow!  No wonder there's no "apprentice" level title for the're pretty much considered an apprentice all the way up until 3rd level!  

Actually the Raistlin comparison is a fair one. In the DL mythos, Raistlin is considered to have passed his apprenticeship and become a full fledged magic-user at the beginning of the 4th level.  We'll consider that in a separate post.

So why would any party be including a lowly apprentice in its ranks as an adventurer.  What does this level 1 magic-user have to offer.  Hell, why would the apprentice's master let 'em "off the leash?"  Each B/X group can consider adding the following magic-user options when creating their campaign:

  1. Young or old: a 1st level magic-user is still 1st level...but level is a measure of the character's power, not necessarily age.  A magic-user is a user of magic...period. You can be an old bearded hippy, a wrinkled-up hag...or a young, hale and hearty-type.  What matters is you have proven (at long last) that it's okay for your master to let you out on your own.  Who knows how long you've been sweeping floors and doing dishes prior to learning the ability to memorize mnemonic words of power? If OLD, a magic-user should face no more penalty from aging effects than the other 1st level characters in the other words, he or she may live to be twice as old as the average human, suffering the effects of middle-age at 125 and the effects of old age at around 150 or so with an average life expectancy of around 180 without the need of longevity potions.
  2. Educated in the mysteries: just by dint of their profession, a magic-user has had to learn things "not known by man" including how to pronounce the words of power.  There is no bard in B/X...magic-users are the scholars and loremasters of the game world.  While there are sages with copious libraries giving them knowledge, a magic-user should be able to provide information on all sorts of magical effects, beasts, and items.  Even if they cannot create a magical item, the magic-user should be a font of knowledge on the subject having learned it through observation of their master. The magic-user should be able to advise the rest of the party with their it the "Hermione Granger effect." The DM can feed hints this way through the MU character. 
  3. Pocket alchemist: likewise, the magic-user should have a working knowledge of alchemical compounds and materials.  Although not a working alchemist (that's a Normal Man employed for 1000 gp/month...all with many years of experience), magic-users are also trained to brew potions. An MU should have a better chance of identifying a potion by taste than a character not brought up and trained in the laboratory. Sure, it's a risky endeavor to be the potion taster, but you've only got a 1 in 50 chance of catching the poison potion (plus, you get a poison save!).  Time for the magic-user to earn that share of the treasure! You'll also know for sure the best use for a particular potion of control.
  4. Natural physicians: there are reasons why kings like having court magicians is to prepare that poultice that helps the rheumatoid arthritis! Magic-users are the scientists of the game world (goes hand-in-hand with plumbing the mysteries of the cosmos).  While magical healing is a gift of the gods (i.e. divine intervention on behalf of a cleric), magic-users know about the natural world, setting bones, draining poisons, and bringing down fevers. In B/X, a character heals naturally 1-3 points per day of rest.  A character ministered by a magic-user can restore 1-3 points immediately, provided the MU has access to specific herbs and supplies, and 1-6 points for every day of "rest with ministration." Why should a cleric be the party medic? He's just some crazy zealot with a divine hot line to his creator. Yes, the cleric can perform miracles, but it is generally in the service of the party's "spiritual well-being." The magic-user is the one with the degree in medicine.
  5. Prophet and astrologer: the other reason kings had a tendency to keep these guys around.  Whether it's divining with a pendulum, dealing out the tarot cards, or casting a chart of the stars (or staring at the steaming entrails of some varmint), magic-users are supposed to interpret signs and portents. For the average adventuring party you'd think this is one of the main reasons to throw the 1st level magic-user into the mix.  Prophecy is in large part a product of one's own belief in the signs foretold; each player should determine whether or not his character is susceptible to the predictions of a magic-user. At the outset of an adventure a magic-user may cast the fortune of any PC that desires it (most NPC henchmen will probably stay the heck away). Consider the following chart, or create your own:
Roll 1D6
1: The signs are very bad: the PC suffers a -1 to all to AC, all hit rolls and saving throws
2: The signs are bad: the PC suffers a -1 to saving throws
3-4: The signs are neutral; both risk and reward can be expected on the adventure
5: The signs are very favorable: the PC receives a +1 to all saving throws
6: The signs are extremely favorable: as 5, but if reduced to 0 hit points, the PC can expect not to be killed (he's just fortuitously knocked out and left for dead without being eaten or captured by opponents)

That's an extremely quick pass at the fortune-telling thing.  The key is to a) balance the positive and negative, b) not make it mandatory to follow, and c) not make ANY of the effects overwhelming.

7. Minor Magic: USE WITH CAUTION. Some campaigns may decide that while it is all well and good to say spells come from mnemonic words of power, only humans with "the gift" have the capacity to learn, memorize, and use those words of power. These gifted individuals are discovered and apprenticed based on their ability, from a young age, to demonstrate certain minor feats of magic, not unlike AD&D cantrips. 

A feat of minor magic includes lighting a candle or small fire, opening or closing a door, moving a book across the room without touching it, knotting and breaking ties, and possibly seasoning or spoiling food and milk.  It should not be used to perform any feat that could not otherwise be accomplished through the use of regular equipment (for example...flint & steel, sewing kit, salt and pepper), and should be impossible to purposefully accomplish any minor feat of magic when under stress of any kind (such as during an encounter with hostiles, when imprisoned, in front of nobility, being lost underground or in the wilderness, etc.).  

Depending on the type of campaign being run, a DM may decide that certain minor magical effects can occur during times of stress for the magic-user PC, though generally only for color.  The PC may suggest these, but the DM should be the final adjudicator of any such effects.  All real power is accomplished through the memorization and use of the spell formulae in a magic-user's spell book.

I don't think any of these options would upset the balance of power in an adventuring party, nor do I think they disrupt the Gygaxian-Vancian magic system of D&D.  I do think they provide a few niche areas for even the 1st level magic-user to shine, and a few opportunities for them to prove their use to the rest of the adventuring party, even if their only spell is a single magic-missile or shield.

I'm still working on the level titles for the class. Originally, I was considering discarding titles like "medium" and "seer" but the addition of some of the above options make these more appropriate.  I'll get to them in a later post.

If including options 3, 4, or 5 I recommend requiring the magic-user to purchase suitable magical components and supplies. These are the equivalent of thieves tools or a B/X holy symbol (cost: 25 gps) and allow the magic-user to perform his or her other special abilities.

1 comment:

  1. Of late I've been snapping up M-U hosue rules left and right, in an attempt to make magic seem more quixotic and omnious in the campaign. Consider this article tooked, and thank you.