Thursday, August 26, 2021

You're a Wizard!

Old school Magic-Users have a tough row to hoe at low levels. The payoff is that when they gain higher levels nobody can fuck with them.

But here's a problem: Most players of D&D (especially classic editions) are playing low level characters almost all of the time. This is especially true for public games where the tendency is to run little dungeon romps for characters in the 1-5 level range.

Wizards in this range are fragile and can't do much. And anyone who argues that you can "still throw a dart" is a fool. Don't listen to them.

Make low level wizards better instead. It's the morally correct thing to do.

To that end, here are some ideas and thoughts I've had about old school MUs over the years on this blog.

In Read That Magic I kind of go off on a rant about using B/X rules as written and how it makes playing a first level wizard kind of lame. I still feel that way. If we assume most games are not going to get into higher levels, then you need to beef up them wizards. Don't be a tool.

In OSE and B/X Spellbooks I talk about three ways you can play B/X rules as written and work it into the fantasy fiction of your campaign. I like these ideas, though I'm prone to just house ruling the shit out of wizards instead.

In Magic-User with Sword I talk about allowing wizards to use weapons other than daggers and to wear armor. Because I detest the notion that they somehow just can't do it. Let your wizard pick up a sword, for crying out loud. They'll suck at using it.

NOTE: One thing I didn't address in that post was just how much emphasis B/X puts on magic swords and just how much benefit that is to the Fighter class. If the wizard can also use a vorpal sword or +3 sword or whatever, then the Fighter's niche is threatened. I get that. And I'm actually OK with the caveat that magic swords want to be used by warriors, not wizards. So a +3 blood drinking sword might simply refuse to function in the hands of a wizard. It's magic, after all.

In B/X Wizard I present a Wizard class for B/X. This was used in my Isles of Rone game and worked quite well, though we only played at level 3. It's actually a little bit more fiddly than I prefer in a B/X class, but perhaps not over the top. It includes the use of other weapons and armor, brewing potions, using both M-U and Cleric spells (I tend not to want Clerics in my games), allows and emphasizes magical research from level 1 forward, and grants the PC one special item.

If I revised this class today I'd do it a little bit differently. I'd open up the Wizard's ability to create magic stuff, including potions, but I'd tie such efforts to time and money more explicitly. It should be no big deal for a Wizard to brew a potion if given a few days to work on it. But of course you don't want the power gamer to convert the 30 days of downtime since the last adventure into 15 potions. But you also don't want overly persnickety potion brewing rules (I still love keeping B/X classes to a single sheet of paper, if I can).

Another idea I'm noodling is to only have 4 house rules for Wizards.

1. You can brew potions, make magic items, and conduct magical research from level 1.

2. You get 2 extra level 1 spell slots from level 1.

3. You can use any weapon but you can't have it ready and also cast a spell and it takes a round to get it out or put it up.

4. You can wear armor, but you have to make a save vs. Spells in order to cast and the armor's AC benefit is a penalty to your save.

Just some thoughts.


  1. Ok, so you cant be Fizban the Fabulous or anything, but if we're talking B/X style games...why not just play an elf?

    1. Well... maybe I don't want to be an elf! I don't want to be 1 level behind everyone all the time. Just make wizards better so I don't have to commit to a full campaign to FEEL THE POWER.

    2. Ok, I can feel that. Personally I like alot of your Black Pudding casters. They not only have more style, but more abilities as well

    3. Hey thanks! Totally on board with people playing the game how they like. It's one of the things I love so much about old school D&D and the DIY community.

  2. FWIW, m-u's of all levels can research spells in B/X. Pg X7 and X51. Beyond going up in levels, that's the only way to add spells to your spellbook. Generally speaking, in my campaigns, m-us and elves take Sleep or Charm Person at 1st level and then research Read Magic when they first find a spell scroll.

    IME, there are 2 good ways to make m-us more entertaining at lower levels, btb.

    #1 is to use relatively long-lasting spells that increase the number of "playing pieces" at the m-u player's disposal. In B/X that means Charm Person. The early level m-u should be casting that every day to have a nice coterie of goons at his beck and call. Expanding the B/X spell list (through the aforementioned spell research) to include some 1st level spells from other editions - Find Familiar, Unseen Servant - help as well.

    #2 is magic items. In B/X at low levels, that means magic wands. The Wand of Paralyzation is a low-level bazooka and is extremely effective against most anything the party is going to come up against during the first few levels, but even a Wand of Magic Detection gives the low-level m-u another tool at his disposal.

    1. Yep, you can research at any level. I love the magical research rules because they are so open-ended. And so rarely used!

      Of course doing research and adding different spells outside B/X doesn't increase your total # of spells. I never actually stick to the B/X rule on that anyway. I let MUs find and copy spells so they can have a lot more spell choices than they can cast per day. I love the image of the wizard with many, many spells in their library.

      Can't carry them all on an adventure...

      I'm a proponent of wands too. They're like the magic swords of the MU. And you can invent all sorts of them to function more like wands you see in movies... like a wand that acts as a counterspell device. Anyway... yeah, wands.

  3. I had another thought, for what its worth. Making spells on scroll more available and cheaper to buy would help with a wizards arsenal and usefulness
    In our Pathfinder 1st edition campaign we make use of spell scrolls ALOT. It doesnt add excessive power as scrolls are cast at minimum level, but it does allow us to have more utility and buff spells on hand
    I know that breaks tje old school mold more than a little bit, but its an easy option

    1. True that. Didn't a lot of old TSR modules for low level play have a decent number of scrolls lying around?

      The vibe I like to go for is that the wizard's limits are time and resources more than anything. So the DM can sort of put their hand on the nozzle and flow out the amount of spells and magical powers they feel is right for the campaign rather than arbitrary limits. This was the thinking behind the Wizard class I made. If you can find 10 spells in a dungeon then you can add 10 spells to your book when you get to a safe place and spend days doing it. And if you have time to memorize them all, then so be it.

      But that cost in time and resources should be felt. Maybe the DM is rolling random encounters or planned encounters while the wizard is memorizing so they only get 1d6 spells in their head instead of the 13 they planned to get.

  4. I remember, back in the day, I allowed MUs to use a magic wand, which was equivalent to a light crossbow, except more portable, and didn't need ammo. It kept them busy after they'd fired off their one spell. I like the first three of your ideas, especially the two extra first level spells. The option to wear armour will, I think, be ignored, or result in frustrated MUs with too many mis-casts.

    1. I think most players would not wear armor even if given that chance. But I dislike the arbitrary restriction. It makes some logical sense that plate mail might interfere since spells are cast by making gestures (partly). But why would leather armor also prevent casting? I mean... for my money it just makes more sense to have the option there. I might even say wizards can wear leather or studded leather without penalty. What's the harm, really?

    2. I like the wand as crossbow idea. I might say it has charges, though. Just so it costs something. Like... even a crossbow needs ammo. But cool.