Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Wizards that manage Awesome: An Introduction

Wizards...I seem to post about them quite a bit.  You'd think I liked them or something.  As a gamer from way back I can say that yes I do like the wizard, but it is twisted history indeed.  You see, I refused to play wizards in games growing up be they tabletop RPG or arcade games or MMOs (that came later) or computer-based RPGs.  I post about games quite a bit too, come to think of it.
In a previous post entitled I am a Wizard... and I sword, already a classic of pop culture literary criticism, I spoke of my disdain for the treatment of wizards in gaming culture when they have such a rich literary basis and history.  It is precisely because of that maltreatment I mentioned in the linked article above that I avoided playing wizards for so long in gaming.  Like many young men I liked things that were (are, let's be honest) awesome such as skulls, heavy metal, guns, swords, barbarian movies and sharks.  Wizards were, as I saw them then, sorely lacking in much of what made for awesome.  When I entered gaming in earnest I found the wizard to be woefully inadequate as a class (this would be the first days of AD&D 2nd edition, which had its own flaws...but I'm not here to give you a history lesson on AD&D...yet).  I suspect my first foray into playing a wizard of any kind in a game was due to my beloved gamebooks, specifically Grey Star the Wizard, written by Ian Page as part of the World of Lone Wolf series that was set in Joe Dever's world of Magnamund.
The U.S. edition of Grey Star.  Not a cover to make you rush to the counter with your money in hand, I'm afraid.
The U.K. edition of Grey Star.  This is, in my opinion, a stronger cover presentation.
I enjoyed the books immensely, but as gamebooks are written from a solo player perspective with the reader as the hero any inherent comparative weaknesses of the wizard to the other classic character archetypes are not readily seen.
I can also add J.H. Brennan's excellent Grailquest series of gamebooks to my earliest forays into wizardry.  I have mentioned them before in my award-winning essay on Merlin where I explained that Brennan's Merlin employs a young person named Pip to do his dirty work (Pip being the reader of the gamebooks) and as such Pip is a wizard's apprentice and has access to some of the master's magic.
Outside of that I did not muck about much with wizards save for the odd comic book wizard here and there or a video game or two.
It was not until I played Neverwinter Nights 2 with my lovely wife and was forced to take control of a wizard in the party after my character (I don't recall what it was) was killed in combat that I started to take an interest in the wizards again.  I will not lie, it was because of a spell called Issac's Greater Missile Storm.  I was thoroughly impressed with the damage.
Sometime before that incident I read the Harry Potter books.  So the interest was always there, but the application was lacking.
I do find that gaming wizards disappoint me often.  I am interested in the trappings, the bits, the bobs, the esoteric knowledge and all that but in gaming it just keeps coming down to nuke, nuke, nuke, and when in doubt, nuke again.  To offset this WMD potential the wizard gets saddled with a set of restrictions that make the character most undesirable.
And of course I am getting older.  I once balked at the "dress wearing" habits of the wizard, but now I think I like the robes.  I like armor too, so let's not get confused here, but the robes are part of the attire, like a uniform.  Most games these days ignore the full potential of the wizard as the Swiss Army Knife of the group (Wait, I have a spell for that somewhere) focusing on the damage potential, which I think is a shame.

My point here is that I enjoy the wizard in its many roles as character class, fictional protagonist (and antagonist), and cultural icon (also as found on murals painted on the side of vans, which is bitchin').  I like the mystery, the imaginative forces, the look (both dangerous and not-so-dangerous), and the various ways authors and creators describe the spells and work of the mage.  It find it more interesting than simple sword swinging, but I do like that too (quite a bit, actually).

I suppose I could have called this article (series) Wizards I Have Played in Games and Stuff but that seemed to lack poetry.

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