Monday, February 16, 2015

Thinking Like A Magic User

If you have it in your head to play an old school Magic User (M-U), sometimes called a Wizard (but technically not until level 9, "name level"), you have to first think like an M-U.  This can be a bit tough for players accustomed to the newer systems that molly coddle the PCs and for players that have gained most of their gaming experience via MMOs and consoles.  An M-U is, as the name outright declares, a user of magic.  Magic is a powerful force that can tip the balance of the game subtly in the favor of the user or wildly off the plane.  Good DMs know how to keep the semblance of an even keel while the churning seas of PC skulduggery make the game waters treacherous for any and all who venture forth upon them.  Poor or inexperienced DMs quickly find themselves awash in the waves and coming up on the lee shore of a tortured and extended metaphor.

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...
1. You are not Gandalf...and you are never going to be.  I know the problem because I've had to face it myself.  You've been sitting around watching another marathon of the Lord of the Rings on TNT, or maybe the Hobbit trilogy on HBO and you start thinking that old Gandalf was pretty cool.  You start thinking that you too would like to be a wizard and since you have a new campaign coming up you might as well roll one up.  The problem with this line of thought is that while Gandalf is a pretty cool example of a wizard, you are not going to be a Maiar.  You are not going to be, essentially, an angelic being in a humanoid form.  You are not going to be a servant of the secret fire nor a wielder of the flame of Anor.  And you will not have a magic sword.  Even if you are allowed to wield a magic sword you probably should not given your lack of hit points, armor, and general fighting skills.  If you manage to survive to level 9 you will get some pretty bitchin' spells however.  Spells that you never saw old Gandalf use.  So at least there is that.
...this guy.
2. You are really more like Willow Ufgood.  That might come as a shock and maybe a disappointment to you, but it's not all bad.  You are going to start your career with a cumbersome spell book holding a few spells that might seem unimpressive and you are only going to be able to memorize and cast one or two for quite some time.  That's the bad news.  Now the good news.  90% of all the magic items your party finds are yours.  You are the only one that can use them and you can do so quite freely.  Find a scroll?  That's yours; use it as you like.  Find a wand?  That's yours too.  Wands are like guns for M-Us.  Why memorize 1 magic missile when you can find a wand full of them and start firing it off like you are in a John Woo film?  Remember Willow's magic acorns that turned things to stone?  Or recall how he could use Cherlindrea's wand to eventually turn Fin Raziel back into a human.  That's you.  Not Fin Raziel.  Willow.

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.
The most massively useful piece of adventuring gear of all time.  50 foot of hemp rope.  You can use it to climb, to tie up prisoners, you can soak a bit of it in lamp oil as a wick or a fuse, you can take two lengths of it and splice them together to make a longer rope, you can feed it to a goat, and if you are really desperate you can put it into your pipe and smoke it.
We start here, I'm afraid.
5. Use the party, support the party.  No PC goes it alone, or rather they should not go it alone.  Thinking like a Magic-User means thinking in terms of the party as a whole.  The Fighter is your armor and shield.  The Cleric is your life saving emergency first responder.  The thief is a kindred spirit (lacking much in the way of combat abilities and relying on skill) who will likely avoid direct combat and look for a smart solution to the problem.  Keeping these guys alive is part of your job for should they fall you will be a robe...and quickly overwhelmed.  Not only that, but the party works together, practically lives together, for extended unbroken periods of time (and these other players are supposed to be your friends) so it becomes like a little family unit.  The Fighter may be like your annoying cousin, but he's still family.  Don't rush ahead of the group trying to grab personal glory, but, if you can, subtly take over the group leadership using that vaunted Magic-User intelligence.  Be the brains of the operation; that's what you are supposed to be in the first place.  If you have to make a choice for a spell to memorize and your choices are between one that selfishly aids only you/gives you one measly kill or a spell that can benefit your whole group, choose the latter.  Keeping your friends alive will keep you alive and give you a better chance at some loot with the possibility of magical items and scrolls for more spells.  If all the enemy monsters are tied up fighting your more combat oriented friends, be useful.  A blow from your staff can tip the balance for a friend or work with the thief to set up a one-two punch.  And finally...
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.

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