Thursday, August 12, 2010

One Thing I Miss...

...about AD&D:


I don't know how they stack up in 21st century D&D (do they still have illusionists? It seems to me the illusionist class has just been a "specialist" magic-user since 2nd edition), or even how they're used, but I always thought the illusionist was a cool class, and wish I'd seen more of 'em back in the day.

Oh, sure there were plenty of gnome multi-class characters that mixed in illusionist with fighter and/or thief (it pretty much went without saying that if one was playing a gnome you'd be multi-classing SOMEthing with illusionist. Like the ubiquitous "halfling thief," nothing else made "sense" from a gamist point of view). But I mean REAL know, HUMAN illusionists? The kind that could climb to levels of power in the sphere of illusion?

But no one ever wanted to play illusionists in my old AD&D campaign. The "arcane inclined" would always choose magic-user over illusionist, perhaps figuring that if they were going into a dungeon with nothing more than a dagger and their dick in their hands, they better at least be able to rain down some fireballs and lightning bolts. Perhaps the illusionist invited too subtle a playing style for your average 12-14 year olds...I don't know. Personally, I always played bards (little ol' munchkin me) go figure.

These days, I would totally welcome an illusionist with open arms, and the subtle, surreal playstyle such a character would invite. Hell, I'd even consider converting the illusionist class to B/X (why not?), which I don't think would be particularly difficult.

In my youth, I can only recall one high level illusionist (around 12th if I remember correctly)...with a typically ElfQuest-esque name like "Dawnstar" or something. If memory serves, this was a pre-gen handed off to one of my players to make up for a killed character...pretty much the only way I could get an illusionist into one of my games. Of course, we were running D1: Descent into the Depths of the Earth at the time and the party really did need more firepower than what an illusionist could bring (or maybe the player just wasn't all that clever). I remember the illusionist ended up saving himself and one other person up a rope trick spell while the rest of the party was butchered by drow or mind flayers or something. I'm not sure if Dawnstar was ever used again, after that.

I would guess there are no "illusionists" proper in 4th edition, as they do NOT lend themselves to the tactical combat game D&D has become. Heck, I don't recall seeing them in Pathfinder either. They're really not a class designed for prurient ass-kicking after all. However, they can be fantastic in a fantasy "role-playing" game where more is needed than simple ass-kicking. Illusionists can be the magical master spies of a campaign.

Plus, they had some cool spells.
: )


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  2. I ran a campaign for about 3 years and I'm proud to say that one of the most memorable characters was a gnome illusionist -- just an illusionist -- Grumble Ghostspinner. He was a huge asset to the party!

  3. There are no Illusionists in D&D4, at least there weren't when I was playing it. The way magic spells are split along very clear lines of those that are used in combat and those which aren't essentially forces the Illusionist out of the game, because his set of spells don't lend themselves to direct combat.

    This may be different now, as the game has undergone a number of revisions in the six months or so since I played it.

    Since Pathfinder is a version of D&D3, which is in itself a version of AD&D2, Illusionists exist, but as a specialisation of the wizard class.

  4. There is actually an illusionist class for 4e. It came out originally on Insider. Like the wizard, it's a battlefield controller who specializes in misdirection rather than the wizards damage.

  5. 4E Wizards can take Illusion spells and focus on them. Some of them still do damage; others don't, but have serious control aspects, like causing a whole group of enemies to fall prone (thinking a chasm opened under them), or cluster together and be immobilized (trying to grab at an illusory treasure), etc. The illusion stuff came out in Arcane Power, IIRC. It doesn't have the flexibility it did in 1E, of course, but then, it doesn't start the endless arguments it did back then, either.

  6. There is a proper 'core class" illusionist in some 3rd party content or Pathfinder but not in the basic game.

    I am fine with that as I think the class was a bad idea.

    As you said its also too subtle and requires too many rulings for 12-14 gamers or even older ones sometimes.

  7. It's a tough class. I did one on my site, trying to spin it into a charlatan with magic.

  8. I'm amused you seem to be bashing 4e while admiditing that only pregenes would see use at your role playing table.

  9. Illusionist get the short end of the stick because a lot of DMs forget illusions are spells and try to think up different mechanics or fiat to resolve use of illusions. An illusion is a spell, an opponent "beats" a spell by making a saving throw, it's that easy and for some reason illusions are an area of confusion that leads to the Illusionist class not being so popular.
    Not many folks would want to play MU's if the DM decided fireballs didn't do a specified number of d6's for damage and the resolution varied wildly based on location and target.

  10. I always liked the idea for Illusionists and never really got to play them. I remember poring over the PH, thinking about what I woudl do with those spells.

    I have often considered giving the Elf class in B/X the Illusionist spell list (rather than the MU list)and calling it "faerie glamour".

  11. Check out Od&dities issue 13 for an illusionist that is designed for Labyrinth Lord or B/X. It might just scratch your itch.

  12. Good Idea Matthew. The idea of Elf Illusionists, makes a great deal of sense.

  13. @ Jim: Why not a human illusionist? Not that I'm faulting your taste...just curious...

    @ David: "battlefield controller" is gibberish to me.

    @ Shimrod: "Endless arguments..." I'd like to hear more about that!

    @ 5stone and Matt: I guess I don't understand what you folks mean by a "tough class;" tough to use in combat? Tough to find a specific role in an adventuring party? Tough to get anyone to take a stab at it?

    I've found the last to be the case...when we did see the occasional illusionist (usually a gnome multi-) I don't recall having problems adjudicating the spell use. Maybe I'm missing something...?

    @ JoeG: While I wasn't specifically trying to bash 4E in this post, let me say for the record that I would gladly bash 4E any chance I get...I would think my feelings on that stinking pile WotC is trying to pass off as an "RPG" are well documented on this blog.

    Having said THAT, pre-generated characters have long been a part of the game since well before 4E, so I'm not sure what's so ironic with using them with an earlier system.

    @ JDJarvis: is there a particular illusion you're thinking about that requires DM fiat to resolve?

    @ Matthew: Yes, there are a lot of different ways B/X could have handled the "elf" class (druidic spells might be good as well). Personally, I think the fey/glamor-type elf is more in line with the class as written than with anything in Tolkien.

    @ Bob: It sure does! I'll take a look, thanks!

  14. The subtlety as well as the difficulty of combining it with direct combat actions are really the only things holding it back. Tactically and strategically its far powerful enough to turn groups of enemies into a sitting duck. In an personal combat level, I'd think it might even be more dangerous than "directed" combat spells as the caster could literally alter the entire world around you while you get cut to pieces. That would require thought on that players behalf though rather than "I can a spell and it dies."

  15. Illusionist in B/X...Advanced Edition Companion for Labyrinth Lord and B/X, pg 15... done and done.

  16. I liked the illusionist spell list, but not necessarily the class as written. Even though illusion is magic, I feel it should be differentiated in some way, to justify a special illusionist class as opposed to an MU that concentrates on illusion spells.

    I'll have more to say about that in my blog tomorrow.

    As for elves with glamour, I always liked that idea, especially since the Fay in T H White and the vague descriptions of elves in the Dilvish stories seem to suggest that kind of elf. To scratch that itch, I came up with an exotic re-design of elves not too long ago that included Light Elves, who live in glacier palaces and use the Illusionist spell list.

  17. @JB, there isn't a particular illusion that
    I saw fall prey to DM fiat to resolve it was generally most illusions and there has been considerable discussion on the interwebs over the years and before that on rulings in regards to illusions.
    The number of words written on Invisibility alone are probably a couple of order of magnitude larger then the AD&D PHB or the B/X rules.

    I've played with a number of players who would state before virtually every odd situation or unlikely monster - "I disbelieve" as an attempt to ward off an illusion.

  18. As far as "endless arguments" go, I'm thinking both of face-to-face ones, and of the extensive ones in the Forum pages of Dragon back in the day; and various articles written to try to help people understand and adjudicate them better. The way the 1E (and to a gradually-lessening degree, 2E & 3E) illusion spells were written they were pretty ambiguous, requiring a lot of subjective interpretation and adjudication. In some circumstances there might not be any save, in others a penalty or bonus, and for it to work you REALLY needed to be on the same page as your DM. Illusion spells could be INCREDIBLY powerful if the DM understood what you were trying to do and agreed with you as to a given trick's believeability; if not, you could be bitterly disappointed when he ruled an illusion as not feasible, or incredible enough to grant the target a hefty save bonus.