Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Compleat [sic] Spell Caster (#1)

[okay, deleting EVERYTHING and starting “from the top”]

I want to play a magic-user.

I’ve never had a player character magic-user in an old school game, and it’s time I tried one out. I’ve heard/read that the magic-user is the preferred class of the “power gamer,” but even at my most munchkin-y, I never got around to playing one. Personally I found them to be rather BORING.

I mean, no armor, no weapons, no balls…um…I mean, you know, “skulking around in the back.” Just not my style. Now, if I’d been introduced to the example of Gygax’s own Mordenkainen, or Ian McKellan’s portrayal of Gandalf…well, I might have seen some different possibilities for the class.

Unfortunately, I didn’t (the players who ran MUs in our games…especially ones that started with 1st level characters…learned the “skulking habit” from an early age).

[SIDE NOTE: probably an interesting avenue of gamer anthropology/psychology there to explore]

Besides…who wants to play some elderly scarecrow with a Father Time beard?

And anyway… a “magic-user?” How generic a term is that? Well, “fighter” is pretty generic, too…but I didn’t play them back in the day, either. D20 and its Feats helped open the joys of fighters to me (and even after Feats helped drive me away, I still have a great appreciation for the fighter and its malleable nature), but not the magic-user. Shit, ever character in the game has the ability to “use magic,” including barbarians!

But I understand that the original character classes were just that: CLASSES of adventurer. Not “careers” or “professions.” Not “skill sets.” They were CLASSIFICATIONS. What does this guy look like Bob? “He’s a fighter.” OR “he’s a magic-user.” OR (in B/X) “he’s a dwarf. What you don’t know what a dwarf is? Short, bearded Viking-types with axes and hammers! Sheesh!”

Now, of course I have the wisdom and maturity to see the magic-user ARCHETYPE like the fighter, can be configured to a wide variety of personalities and appearances, especially in B/X play (man, I LOVE you, B/X!). There’s no minimum Intelligence for the B/X magic-user (all INT influences is rate of XP gain!) so your magic-user can literally look like any other character…well, without the armor and weapons, of course.

Still, I’ve got to say that one needs a little imagination and creativity to roll with a “non-traditional” magic-user. And some folks could sure use a little inspiration or “jumpstart” to go that path.

The Compleat Spell Caster IS that jumpstart.

Published in 1983 (yes, an actual copyright this time!) by Stephan Michael Sechi and Vernie Taylor of Bard Games (a non-TSR publisher), this little supplement carries the promise of injecting a little magic into your fantasy adventure game (my phrasing, not theirs). It includes several new classes, new spells, magic items, and a ton of interesting demons (uh-oh!) all for the bargain basement price of $3.

Well, it was $3 used anyway.

Here’s the thing: At first glance, The Compleat Adventurer (the other Bard Games supplement I possess) has more immediately useful and useable information. The classes are cool, thought provoking, and have interesting effects (when adapted) without breaking any of the existing rules of the game. That’s cool.

By contrast, The Compleat Spell Caster has a bunch more stuff that I would leave on the sideline. Demons? Meh…AD&D has ‘em (and they’re fairly easy to adapt to B/X). Familiars? The same. Magic items? Meh. New classes? Well, there’s only five (though they list six). Even the spell lists seem to contain (at first glance) a LOT of “dross.”

However, after checking it once, and checking it twice, and giving it one more skim I see something of really excellent value here.

Ideas. New ideas.

New directions to go. Magic-users may be generic and archetypal, as are clerics (men of the cloth, “faith users,” “miracle workers,” whatever you want to call ‘em).

The Complete Spell Caster says: “Hey, what if classes were professions?”

Which of course is what AD&D did, too (a druid is specific type of cleric, an assassin is a specific type of rogue…these aren’t “CLASSES” of adventurer). But TCSC goes one better; it re-classifies all spell-casting adventurers as, well, “spell casters.”

Check this out – Forget the following table:

- Druid
- Illusionist

We’ll rename magic-user to “Wizard” (just go with me on this) and clarify a cleric to be a specific type of spell-caster (NOT a “divine caster”), and instead check THIS paradigm:

- Dwarf
- Elf
- Halfling

SPELL-CASTER (“magic users”)
- Cleric
- Druid
- Illusionist
- Mystic
- Necromancer
- Sage
- Sorcerer
- Witch/Warlock
- Wizard


[now, of course I could add in the new classes from The Compleat Adventurer, as well as any existing fighter and thief “sub-professions,” but we’re just checking out Spell Casters in this post]

How cool is that? Personally, I think it’s pretty darn cool. No longer is Magic-User the top dog and other spell casters simple knock-offs. They’re all just spell-casters, of which the Wizard is but one type.

I’ve always liked games that had different types of magi. It appeals to me…it seems more “real world.” After all, there ARE various traditions of magic in real life (Hermetic mages, Wiccans, Kabalists, voodoo doctors, Christian mystics, Taoist sorcerers, whatever). They all work magic in their own style, with their own specialties, based on their own traditions and rituals. That’s cool. That’s strange and arcane. That’s something I WANT in my fantasy game.

Warhammer Fantasy RPG (the original) has a TERRIBLE magic system based on the Warhammer war game. But it has a super-cool list of magical professions, including the Necromancer and the Demonologist. Come on…who DOESN’T want to be a demonologist?

Heck, even the old ECA video game Bard’s Tale, HEAVILY based on D&D, didn’t have simple “magic-users.” Instead you had Magicians, Conjurers, Sorcerers, Wizards, and (in later sequels) Chronomancers and Geomancers. Each had their own spell list. Each had their own (cool) specialty.

Why can’t D&D be the same?

2nd edition AD&D tried doing specialist wizards, but personally, I always found these SUCKED. That’s because they tried to categorize specialists by simple spell categorization type (“abjuration, evocation, conjuration, divination, etc.”). All 2nd edition did was take the MU class, and tried to break it into component parts…how frigging unimaginative is that?

God, 2nd edition is a soul-less bitch of a game sometimes.

What would have been COOLER (albeit harder, poor over-worked game designers of 1987) would have been to make multiple specialist spell-casters and give each their own coherent, distinct spell lists. Like what Sechi and Taylor have done with TCSC.

Personally, I’m not sure they (Sechi, Taylor, and Bard Games) go far enough. I know I’ve blogged about doing an updated, complete conversion and compilation of The Compleat Adventurer for B/X. THAT might have to be put on-hold for a truly updated conversion of TCSC, first.

In fact, I’m slightly annoyed with myself now. My B/X Companion…while still super-cool, don’t get me wrong…goes the “traditional” way of detailing Magic-User spells up to 9th level and Clerics up to 7th level. Why? Why would I do this? Why not make both go up to 7th…or both go up to 9th? Why make magic-users the spell-casting power houses of the game.

Well, actually, because they are. I mean, in B/X that’s ALL they’ve got…whereas clerics have a lot of other goodies.

Um…so why give ‘em (MUs) such a leg up over Illusionists in AD&D? That I can’t answer. I wonder if Gygax could have justified it.


  1. Personally, I’m not sure they (Sechi, Taylor, and Bard Games) go far enough. I know I’ve blogged about doing an updated, complete conversion and compilation of The Compleat Adventurer for B/X.

    Find the game called The Arcanum. Based off the Compleat series, it's a D&D alternative.

  2. I too love multitude of magic classes. Currently working on (actually I'm procrastinating reading RPG blogs) cleaning those up and stating for Labyrinth Lord for publication in Fight On!

  3. @ The Myth: As soon as I have a chance, I'll take a look. Thanks!

    @ Norm: Good luck, man! I f you can come up with level titles for all of 'em, people will get their money's worth!
    : )