In order to survive and thrive in an old school gaming scenario as a member of the Magic-User set you, the player, need to understand the game, the DM, and most importantly how to think like the class that is supposed to be the smartest person in the room. You need to think like a magic-user.
|NOT this guy...|
3. Avoid combat as much as possible. This is really a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how many new M-Us screw this one up. On a good day an M-U starts with 7 Hit Points, depending on the edition you are playing. That's a very healthy Magic-User. He's really not going to own a weapon capable of doing more than 1d6 points of damage and he's not going to increase in attack power very quickly. In fact it is going to be dreadfully slow progression as the only old school class that needs more XP to advance than the M-U is the Elf. Magic-Users do not wear armor. Period. You might find some magic bracers or a cloak to help your AC a bit, but you are always going to be the easy target. Try your best to stay out of harm's way. Missile weapons are your friend, and don't engage a target that can easily engage you. Fighter types LOVE to fight. That's what they live for. Don't deny them their simple joys of smashing things with melee weapons. It is true that as you level you gain more Hit Points, but at 1d4 per level (plus Con bonus) you are most likely going to be quickly outpaced in damage absorption by everyone except the thief (again depending on edition) and since thieves traditionally level faster than any other class, even that character is going to leave you behind in this respect. I am not advocating cowardice, just common sense. The dice care nothing for your PC halo and as such all it takes is a few bad rolls to snatch a total party kill from the jaws of victory. Just because you CAN fight, does not mean you SHOULD fight.
|You call it cowardice, I call it tactics.|
4. Be creatively tactical. Or tactically creative. An old school player, especially an experienced old schooler, tends to combine tactical actions with creative problem solving. Indeed such is one of the joys of the game. More than just rolling some dice and killing some monsters the older style of game is about solving problems. As such adventuring gear tends to be full of extremely useful mundane items that can be used in a variety of ways. Spikes can be used to hold doors open or closed. Oil fills lanterns and makes a nice incendiary device when the time comes. A piece of chalk is extremely useful for marking dungeon walls to keep from getting lost and for drawing a protective circle when dealing with evil monsters and a half dozen pieces of hardtack inside of a small sack makes an excellent makeshift sap or blackjack in a pinch. While all players should be thinking in this manner the M-U needs to be in this mode even more so, since magic spells are precious things and limited in number daily and most weapons are forbidden. A carefully laid trap before the action is worth a hundred blows from a sword once melee begins. This is not a video game. You are not locked into a pre-determined set of actions limited by programming. You don't have to look for the highlighted items on the wall or ground that you can use. Pay attention to your surroundings and use them to your advantage.
|We start here, I'm afraid.|
|Ideally this is where we end up.|
6. Know your magic. I can't stress this one enough. Your spells, scrolls, wands, and various other items are not just a bunch of bonuses you stack on your d20 roll. These are what the Magic User is all about. This is the Magic that you Use. Get to know it and know it well. There are the obvious reasons why you should know your magic, such as not launching a fireball into a small space where you and your companions will be caught in the blast, and those are good reasons, but there are the less immediately obvious reasons as well. Some spells have uses that are not immediately obvious, and this holds true for items as well, but if you carefully read the descriptions you can find the uses. Sometimes a simple, first level spell, like light or hold portal can have tactical combat applications and never underestimate the value of protection from evil, which literally prevents magically enchanted creatures from touching (melee) the caster. A Magic-User's life is about knowledge, the gaining of it and using of it, there is no excuse for not knowing your magic.
|What is this wizard doing wrong? He should be polymorphing that monster into something really easy to kill, like a bunny rabbit. Know your MAGIC, people.|