Basic D&D Class: Prodigal Apprentice

Looks like I’m set to run B4 – The Lost City starting this friday.  I’m revisiting my old homebrew B/X classes in case someone would like to play test them.

I don’t know that the Abbey Monk will be particularly effective in the desert as he won’t be able to take advantage of his herblore, but I think that the Prodigal Apprentice class is worth presenting as an option.

I’ve made a 1 page PDF that can be downloaded here.  Note that this class is meant for use with Holmes basic or B/X groups that use Holmes’ or 1e AD&D’s magic system.Tovenaarsleerling_S_Barth

J’Rhazha is a Useless Coward (and Incredibly Fun to Play)

So, once I finally got my Rakasta rolled up, my previous speculations about his cowardice found their justification.

Str 7 (-1 damage and +1 to Thac0; this is important)
Dex 17
Int 16
Wis 15
Con 11
Cha 7 (He is not the most likable fellow)

Though he lucked out maxing his HP, he’s beyond useless in combat, but he’s okay with that! Fighting means he might die, and that’s no good for him!

Sometimes, when it’s clear the day is won, he might charge in with his gladius (which he can’t actually attack with) waving about wildly. He managed to do 2 points of damage the whole session; one was knicking an elf a thrown dagger (thank goodness for minimum 1 damage rule!) and one was punching a skeleton who was on its last HP (“J’Rhazha has defeated the bone man!).

The coolest thing he managed was to use a Phantasmal Force to create a likeness of the statue of an elf queen we’d seen earlier; we played the whole ‘we’re with her’ card while exploring an illusory* elven village, but it ended up all being for nothing since we had to fight our way back out once we got the key from the skeletons*.

He cowered and hid, occassionally firing off a nearly useless cantrip or two, during the climactic fight of the session, though, as one of the last men standing, he was able to help patch up the wounded. Victorious, without taking a single hit!

The DM is using a rule that I’ve not seen about 3 dart attacks per round, which makes darts suck a lot less than I imagined, so the gnomish magic user is a lot better in combat than my cat-man. If I wanted to power-game, I guess I could ask if I could switch my weapon proficiency from dagger to dart, but really I’m pretty okay with sucking and being useless in combat and I don’t want to knick the gnome’s dart bit. I’ll only change if it becomes a problem with the other party members.

Meanwhile, I’m coming up with various ways to find my way into the mage’s guild. The first test to join is to find the entrance. I’ve chosen to interpret this as ANY entrance. I think first I’ll try changing my shape to the apprentice who told me about the test and throwing rocks at the windows. If I get caught, I’ve got my answer planned out “J’Rhazha was merely taking a test, involving powerful wizard magic and mystic forces. Perhaps he answered the first question wrong. Perhaps he did not. Now go away, while I work to serve the guild.” ::continues throwing rocks at window::

Also, I know what the elf queen and elf king look like now, so I can work them into illusions in the future. Yay!

*:The megadungeon under the city is, I’ve gathered, the work of a mad mage who modelled portions of it based on set pieces from his memories of the past. The village was, therefore, a rather complex illusion representing the final days before it was destroyed by war. On one side of a tower, we’d see elven generals discussing battle plans during the day; on the other side of the tower, it was night and the place was littered with skeletons and charred grass. As an experiment, J’Rhazha left the tower to see if he could see his companions fighting skeletons; nope, on that side of the tower, the generals were still discussing battle plans.

Why J’Rhazha Will Carry a Short-Sword (Even Though the Rules Say He Isn’t Allowed to Use It)

“Like many things about J’Rhazha, his sword is an illusion. Perception is sometimes more important than function.”

I’ve never been a fan of the idea that wizards not only are bad at using swords, they cannot use them at all. It’s even stranger to me that they’re allowed to be proficient with daggers and staffs, which strike me as much harder weapons to master. You can give someone a shield and a sword who doesn’t have much fighting experience and they’ll be able to bang away with the sword and block a few blows with a bare level of competence. I’m not saying that they won’t be killed by someone who knows what they’re doing, but actual proficiency with a staff as a combat weapon (beyond just trying to hit someone with a long stick) or knife-fighting or knife THROWING is a completely different animal. It strikes me as easier for a wizard to awkwardly flail at a foe with a medium length piece of relatively light-weight and purpose-balanced metal than knowing how to lithely move in for a killing blow with a dagger.

The other point I bring up in my argument in favor of wizards using swords is the number of magical swords showing up places. I can see a wizard making a magical weapon for their own use and protection. I can’t see wizards making a surfeit of powerful magic items that are of no practical use to them. Sure, you can argue that maybe they wanted their lieutenants to have magical weapons, but I’d think wizards would want to keep their edge and not make stuff that could be turned against them, especially not in the bulk you see in typical fantasy settings.

I would also point out that the difference between a Fighter’s combat ability with weapons and a mage’s ability is reflected mainly in THACO: the level 6 Magic user flails his weapon about with the same competence (THAC0 19) as a level 2 Fighter. Surely this should be enough to fairly represent the differences in ability without having to say that all wizards would either turn their nose up at wielding a sword or, holding one in their hand, would stand there and say “I just can’t use this. I mean, if I had to get significantly close to my opponent to attack with a short blade, maybe, but I – Oh, god, you’ve stabbed me while I was holding this sword and not using it!”

But this is AD&D and I’m not going to press the DM on the issue. Instead, I’m going to adapt it to the character.

As a Rakasta, J’Rhazha comes from a warrior background; it would not be unexpected to see a Rakasta wielding a blade, and a Rakasta wielding a blade is not someone with whom you would want to fuck. But this Rakasta is an illusionist and trickster (maybe even a coward), not a fighter. But he likes to maintain the illusion that he is.

Alternatives to Spell Books

I’m trying to think of some more ‘primitive’ alternatives to spell books for a character in a game I may be joining. Most of those that I can imagine have certain disadvantages, though one can imagine that dragging your spellbook through the dungeon can’t be very convenient either.

I figure that either you’re dealing with a massive arcane tome like from Holmes or you’ve got what is basically a moleskine with your spells scribbled down in it. Because of how AD&D treats spell scrolls (which in Basic are the bread and butter of mages, since they can be used for memorizing), your spellbook is your ONLY means of refreshing your daily spells with. You can’t always just go home every time you run out of spells, especially at lower levels. I’m not really sure, but there may be some indication that the amount of script and therefore physical space which a spell requires may be significantly less than in Basic, which offers a bit more lee-way.

So, here are a few ideas I’ve come up with:

Ivory Spell Fetish – Worn around the neck, each tooth of a beast which the spell caster has slain is carved with the symbols of magic. More complex and powerful spells would, naturally, need to be carved on larger teeth of more more dangerous beasts to accommodate the additional characters. Big-cats, especially saber-toothed varieties, are a popular choice. A powerful wizard with countless teeth worn about his neck would be a frightening sight, indeed!

Spell Staff – Combining spell book and weapon, and possibly continuing with the bone theme, depending on your tastes, the mage carries a staff with each of his spells meticulously carved in the wood or bone spiraling downward. On the plus side, you have convenience of portability. On the down side, your ‘spellbook’ is somewhat fragile (though how much more fragile it is than a book is debatable, especially given the hell that most PCs go through). More worrying is what sort of powers all of that magic might imbue whatever was etched onto it.

Tattoo – This is kind of a favorite idea of mine, having the various spells tattooed with special ink over the mage’s body. This would certainly be one of the most painful and time consuming methods of entering new spells in one’s spell book, but just imagine the frightful sight of a half naked wild mage covered head to toe in runes. I wonder what sort of effects it would have on the body? Maybe certain ‘buff’ spells would have a degree of permanency, like Mage Armor. Another idea I had, which would be more in line with Basic, is that in a pinch, the mage could use any tattoos that were currently visible as scrolls, though the ink would fade and the tattoos would need to be reapplied (yeowch!)

Given that I’m wanting to play a Rakasta, I’m thinking that the tattoo thing wouldn’t be an option, but as for the other two, I’ll see what the DM says.

Updated! New OSR Class: the Prodigal Apprentice

Shortymonster, who I readily acclaim to be a gentleman and a scholar, has cooked up some awesome flavor text in the form of a character profile for the new OSR class “Prodigal Apprentice”, which I described a little while ago.  For the time being, he’s doing free NPC write-ups, so if you want one, you’d better ask him before he gets swamped.  Last time he did it, he wrote up over 30 of them.

The Prodigal Apprentice

He’d been set up for a month before he started to worry about what would happen when the scrolls ran out, and the potion flasks ran dry. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time. Malefectus, although skilled in the arcane arts made for a terrible teacher. He was quick to anger, and when faced with a student as stubborn and willful as Crathe, he had lost his temper often.

Crathe had gone in with high hopes of mastering unknown forces before the end of his first year of study, and had done well to last six months. It wasn’t that he didn’t try; he just expected so much to come naturally to him that he was often frustrated and struggled to concentrate even more as result. He had picked up the language and pronunciation required to cast from a book or scroll, but couldn’t get the words written in a way that contained the magical power he sought to unleash. He knew which ingredients were needed to make the oils and unguents that were so desirable to the common folk, but never managed to get the proportions right.

And the more he got wrong, the angrier Malefectus became with him. Eventually it all spilled over into the kind of argument usually only seen been child and parent, and Malefectus demanded he be gone from the keep by the next sunrise. Crathe was happy to oblige, believing himself a naturally gifted that just needed some time away from the strictures of the classroom to get a feel for the magic. So he had done the only thing that made sense, and taken as much as he could carry in a couple of trips, and loaded the items into a waiting cart, then fled into the night.

So here he was, a newly established practicing Wizard, with no clue how anything worked, but enough knowledge to use the right words when hoodwinking his clients, and a stock of magic that would soon run dry. For now, the townsfolk trusted him, but if he was to keep up the charade without actually learning magic, he was going to need some help.

The life of the Magus is not for everyone. It requires immense amounts of discipline, training and study to become a successful wizard. As such, there’s always going to be a fair share of promising young wizardlings who wash out of their apprenticeships. Whether it is a propensity for drink or partying or normal human relationships, there is always something that calls these students out of their mentors’ libraries and into the wide world. Maybe studying is too hard. Maybe their teacher is insane and they can’t wait to get away. Maybe they just want their shadows back. Whatever the reasons, these would-be mages have taken leave (along with some scrolls) of their master, and sought other means of making their fortune.

Character Concept: Magic User
HD: 1d4
Prime Requisite: Int
Equipment: Restricted to Light Armor, no shield
Weapons: Any 1-handed
Save: As MU of Equivalent Level
XP Progression: Thief
To Hit: Thief
Class ability: Read Magic as per 1st level spell, can use magic items
Starting equipment: 3d4 random 1st level spell scrolls.  Potions at DM’s discretion.  No gold, weapon or armor.

The Prodigal Apprentice cannot ‘memorize’ spells, but may cast spells from scrolls. Once per day per level, the Prodigal Apprentice can use “Read magic” as per the spell to decipher a spell scroll or to copy an existing scroll that has already be deciphered (normal scroll costs apply). Treat caster level as level x 2/3 rounded down (but never below 1). When casting spells of spell levels above the Apprentice’s caster level (see Magic User Spell Progression Chart), roll 1d20 and add +1 for each caster level between the apprentice and the spell; if the total is below the caster’s intelligence score, the spell is successfully cast from the scroll.

Joseph Wright - The Alchemist

Those two kids in the back are reconsidering their career choice.

New OSR Class: The Prodigal Apprentice

The life of the Magus is not for everyone. It requires immense amounts of discipline, training and study to become a successful wizard. As such, there’s always going to be a fair share of promising young wizardlings who wash out of their apprenticeships. Whether it is a propensity for drink or partying or normal human relationships, there is always something that calls these students out of their mentors’ libraries and into the wide world. Maybe studying is too hard. Maybe their teacher is insane and they can’t wait to get away. Maybe they just want their shadows back. Whatever the reasons, these would-be mages have taken leave (along with some scrolls) of their master, and sought other means of making their fortune.

Character Concept: Magic User
HD: 1d4
Prime Requisite: Int
Equipment: Restricted to Light Armor, no shield
Weapons: Any 1-handed
Save: As MU of Equivalent Level
XP Progression: Thief
Class ability: Read Magic as per 1st level spell, can use magic items
Starting equipment: 3d4 random 1st level spell scrolls. No gold, weapon or armor.
The Prodigal Apprentice cannot ‘memorize’ spells, but may cast spells from scrolls. Once per day per level, the Prodigal Apprentice can use “Read magic” as per the spell to decipher a spell scroll or to copy an existing scroll that has already be deciphered (normal scroll costs apply). Treat caster level as level x 2/3 rounded down (but never below 1). When casting spells of spell levels above the Apprentice’s caster level (see Magic User Spell Progression Chart), roll 1d20 and add +1 for each caster level between the apprentice and the spell; if the total is below the caster’s intelligence score, the spell is successfully cast from the scroll.

Joseph Wright - The Alchemist

Those two kids in the back are reconsidering their career choice.

Vampires vs. Liches Part 1: Test Prep and B/X Liches

After doing a little homework, I’ve realized that the comparison between Liches and Vampires may be apples to oranges, at least if we’re looking at B/X.  I’ve only recently begun looking back at the D&D/OD&D rulesets.  Liches from one edition to another are VASTLY different (OH MY!).  This may throw a bit of a wrench in my plans to play out some B/X scenarios

See, I’m mostly familiar with Liches from 2nd edition AD&D.  Based on the Lich entry in the Monstrous Manual, a magic user of around 16th level or so could turn oneself into a Lich.  It took some digging, but I finally found where Liches stood in B/X (the Master set, to be exact), and it’s pretty damn near the top, suggesting a character level of between 27 and 36.  Sweet Jesus!  Fortunately, B/X Liches’ hit dice are restricted to their class, because they’re treated almost like a prestige class(!) rather than a monster.  That figures out to somewhere in the neighborhood of 40-50 HP (with a generous average of 2.5 per hd roll) for magic users and 50-60(avg. 3.5 per hd role) for clerics.  Despite being level 27-36, they’re about 10-12 Hit Dice monsters, at least in terms of HP, since Characters top out on actual dice around level 9 (I’d overlooked this initially; without using Character HD caps, they’d have around 70-100HP, putting them on par with AD&D Liches).  They do, however, have an additional 20 levels of wealth, legendary items and epic level spells.  Plus, B/X Liches can snap their fingers and have 2d4 Vampires show up. Don’t forget that even random Vampires take some storylining (kill & destroy at LEAST one coffin) to actually kill off.

It is interesting to see the difference in power between the B/X lich and his AD&D counterparts, or his 8HD (roughly 36 HP) OD&D counterpart.  Also, I think it’s important to point out that in B/X an Elf cannot be a Lich.  This means that the Vampire route is still probably the best for an Elven mage wishing to increase his powers further.  And some of the B/X Lich’s immense power might simply be from the desire to hold back some iconic monsters for the higher level sets.  But who really plays at those levels?  Even Tomb of Horrors, which features D&D’s second most famous Lich, is recommended for levels 10-14.  Yes, it’s AD&D and Acererak is a Demi-Lich, but I think the point still stands: high end of Expert set levels ought to be appropriate for Lich hunting.

It’s not atypical for parties to be fighting monsters a few hit dice above their level.  There are a number of experiments that could be set up to see how 8th-10th level B/X parties fared against a B/X Lich and a converted AD&D Lich.

I still intend to go forward playing out some scenarios, but I know now that I should probably include both an OD&D Lich AND a B/X Lich.  While a standard B/X Vampire could probably take an OD&D Lich, I seriously doubt he could hold his own against a B/X or AD&D Lich.

So, here are some experiments to run through:

1. A level 8-10 party against an OD&D Lich

2. A level 8-10 party against a B/X Lich

3. A level 8-10 party against a B/X Vampire

4. A level 8-10 party against an Elven B/X Vampire

5. A B/X Vampire vs an OD&D Lich

6. An Elven B/X Vampire vs an OD&D Lich

7. A B/X Vampire vs a B/X Lich (I have the feeling this will be short and brutal)

8. An Elven B/X Vampire vs a B/X Lich (This may last a bit longer, but I still feel it will be very one sided)

In doing these experiments, there are some assumptions I need to make about the mechanics of Vampires.  How many of a Vampire’s hit dice are determined by their pre-Vampire life?  Any persons killed by the Vampire may be raised as Vampires, so do we assume that even a low level character would return as at least a 7HD Vampire.  There’s nothing to indicate any relationship between a Vampire’s Hit Dice and the Hit Dice of whoever the Vampire was beforehand, other than that we’re given a range of 7-9 Hit Dice for Vampires.  Because I don’t want to turn B/X into some d20 point-buy twink BS, I’m only going to extrapolate high level Elven or magic user Vampires based on other undead who retain spellcasting abilities (such as mage wraiths).  At most, I’ll throw in an extra Hit Die.  Vampires’ abilities already put them +2 Dungeon Levels/XP tiers over normal monsters.  A normal fighter-build Vampire (7-9HD) would be Dungeon Level 9-11.  Therefore, a 10 HD Elven Vampire would be Dungeon level 13, adding an extra level for the spellcasting ability.  I think this is more than reasonable to throw against an 8th-10th level party.

I still can’t get over the stats of the OD&D Lich.  Both the OD&D Vampire and Lich are 8 HD monsters.  The Vampire has remained more or less the same (the B/X Vampire mostly just moves a bit faster), while the Lich has more than doubled in power.

On Arcane Institutes

AKA More on 1st level magic users.

I’ve got some awesome responses, and it seems that some people have taken issue with my post on 1st level magic users and institutionalized magical society. Those who have disagreements have fallen into two camps: those who have cited flavor text from D&D source books regarding the amount of work and study required to reach 1st level (sometimes years!) and those who point out that if research at an arcane institute were an alternative to adventuring, it would discourage PCs from going out on adventure because going to wizard school would be a safe alternative.

I’ll briefly address the first point.  The idea that it takes ages in arcane academia for wizards to learn their first spell is, to me, stupid and boring and makes wizards in D&D feel substantially weaker than magic users a lot of fantasy settings (I think that the 3rd Ed Sorcerer class was created to address this).  It could be a personal problem that I have, since one of my favorite fantasy series was Earthsea, where magic-users are extremely powerful but judicious, as spells operate along the lines of Limited-wish.  But having to spend nearly a decade to get that first crappy level 1 spell that you can cast once because that’s what flavor text says strikes me as annoying and stupid and easily thrown out to suit the needs of your game setting.

Addressing the second point, going to wizard school should not be a safe, adventure free easy alternative to dungeon crawling.  1d30 suggested that players might think that they could just say “I go to wizard school and level up” as an alternative to going on adventures. Rather than an easy way for magic users to gain XP, it should be an opportunity for a different kind of adventure.

Arcane institutes are NOT a safe place.  In addition to lectures and libraries, there are all sorts of wild experiments, dangerous alchemical supplies, monstrous menageries and not to mention delinquent students.  Raistlin got turned gold by a dark-elf, Sparrow-hawk got kicked out for dabbling in necromancy and unleashing an ancient evil on the world, and Harry Potter had 7 books and 8 movies worth of slugging it out with a lich.  Arcane universities are not adventure free zones.

Arcane universities should be places where magic users can, on a daily basis, push the limits of their abilities to grow and develop them.  As such, they should be designed to maximize the potential of the students there.  If magic users were not able to grow and develop their skills at such a school, it would fail, so there would likely be some competition between schools to produce the best magic users and get tuition monies.

When creating your arcane institute, there are a number of things to consider.  First, what “level” is the school?  This would determine what level of spells, scrolls and material that students would have access to.  This would likely be a few levels lower than the highest level teachers at the institute.

Second, what is the character of the school?  Schools could be generalized, focused on particular schools of magic (i.e. higher level access to certain scrolls and knowledge, but with others absent or forbidden), or even hyper-specialized (Bigsby’s Helping Hands Workshop).  Additionally, the school might have certain attitudes about magic, the world, politics and such that would give it a unique characteristic.  Maybe the school has recently integrated demi-human races?  Or maybe humans are the ones who are frowned upon.

Third, a school should have facilities for magic practicum.  Any spells the school might teach, have a place where they can be put to practical use on a regular basis by many magic users.  For instance, maybe the school has a giant pit with foam pads at the bottom that wizards can jump down to practice their feather-fall spell.  Have a shooting range for ranged and missile spells.  A maze room with dozens of locked doors to practice Knock.  A “danger-room” where mages can test their mettle against a variety of golems and beasts.  Sanctioned magic practice duels.  The possibilities are endless.

Fourth, Adventure hooks. Here are a few ideas. Wizard school is very expensive; since not everyone is rich enough to pay tuition, maybe students are sent out on (level appropriate) tasks to find supplies, catch monsters, do field research as an assistant, etc.  Maybe one school is feuding with another; a group of delinquent mages wants to steal a mascot (which happens to be some sort of monstrous creature).  Maybe there’s a wizard fight-club?  The possibilities for adventure here are limitless.  Just because a wizard is in school doesn’t mean he’s not having adventures and leveling up just as fast, if not faster, than the mage who thinks that picking a fight with the orcs down the way is the path to mystical greatness.

Let me close by saying that this is an apologia to, not an attack on, those who have had differing opinions on the matter.  I hope that, rather than starting a huge argument over system/setting magic paradigms, the take-aways from this and my previous post are some adventure ideas for solo magic users or all-magic-user groups that you can work into your setting.  If you want your characters to play 1st level wizards who go out adventuring with their friends and gain levels by fighting monsters and finding spells along the way, that’s fine!  It’s your adventure!  This is just about exploring alternatives to the norm.

(Also, thanks to 1d30 for the linkback!  P.S.: As far as level 1 as “veteran” status, I’ve always found the rationale and explanations for the differences between level 0 and level 1 presented in some source books questionable at best; I think it strange that it takes years of campaigning, training or study to get from level 0 to level 1, while killing a couple of orcs or bandits can suddenly knock you up to level 2, but that’s an entire other can of worms.)

Magic & Guns

Shortymonster recently wrote a post on black powder weapons in RPGs. This is a bit more scatterbrained than some of my other posts, so bear with me.

Firearms are few and far between in RPG fantasy settings. There are several reasons for this: most fantasy RPGs take place in some sort of mish-mash of early to high middle ages with a smattering of ancient Grome thrown in, fire-arms lack fantasy romance of bow and sword, early fire-arms kind of sucked unless there were hundreds of folks lined up all firing in the same general direction, and in any fantasy setting where magic exists, magic is going to be more powerful than a fire-arm.

In fact, in many fantasy settings, magic tends to be thrown out in apologia as to how there can be 2 to 3 times as much recorded history in the fantasy world as there is in our own, yet somehow there has never been an industrial revolution. Magic was the easy road over industry.

But think about how time consuming magic is; is it really the easy road?
First, firearms: 20-40 seconds to reload a muzzle-loader seems like a long time, but compared to reloading magic missile? Crap, that’s like a whole freakin’ day of ramming powder, wadding & ball for a meassley xd4+whatever of damage! Secondly, ANYTHING: magic is cool and powerful and nice because it is MAGIC, but for a lot of things, it isn’t near as practical as having a powerful machine that can do the same thing over and over.

Now, back to fantasy settings that have lots of scrolls. Gosh, there are a lot of them, aren’t there? In Morrowind, I’m typically lugging around a veritable Nag Hammadi. Where are all of these scrolls coming from?

A thought: industrialized magic. Why can’t magic manufacture take a henry ford approach? Halls of low-wage, low-level magic users copying scrolls, over and over again. You’re not going to see a lot of high level scrolls out there, but most of the useful every day magic is going to be pretty low level, even in terms of war-magic.

Back to fire-arms. In some games, we’re given the Arcane Archer: a character whose magic capabilities tend to be focused on improving missile combat, accuracy, effects of arrows, etc. So, I thought, why not an Arcane Marksman? I suppose this could work, and play out the same way that an Arcane Archer might, but with a specialization in fire-arms and artillery. However, we’re still back to the same problems of archery being more effective solo than fire-arms and magic being more powerful on its own.

Where the fire-arm WOULD give advantage would be if it were in the hands of someone who was not a magic user but granted its user the ability to cast spells.

When compared to the fire-rate of a bow, the muzzle-loader would fall short. But, when compared to the casting time of a spell 1-3 rounds, the 3-4 rounds for the gun does not look as bad when you look at firing a shot not as a missile attack in combat but as a non-magic-user casting a spell. The other advantage, ammunition. In a game with a Vancian magic system, a fellow with a bag of magic bullets is going to be able to “cast” a lot more spells than even high level magic users. Sure it will take them a bit longer on some, but actually less time on others.

Onto the mechanics of it. There are a few approaches:
Bullets as potions – In many systems, potions are not alchemical brews, homeopathic tonics or any sort of legitimate pharmaceutical item, but rather a liquid suspension that has been magically imbued with the properties of a particular spell. A potion of healing is not medicine, it is a one time use item that casts heal-wounds on whomever drinks it.

Because most bullets are fired once, you wouldn’t have to worry about casting Permanence. One shot, one spell. So, rather than imbuing a potable liquid with a spell, magic users could imbue the molten lead of a musket-ball with a spell. The problem here is that your run of the mill fantasy setting smoothe-bore arquebus is highly inaccurate (an understatement!); therefore, for this approach, an area of effect spell on the bullet could be triggered by impact. The disadvantage of this is that, unless you wanted to do some hand-waving, these bullets would be more dangerous to carry around than nitroglycerine.

This is where the wadding could come in. The wadding used could be imbued with a delaying magic that, when ignited, both triggers the spell in the bullet and delays its activation.

Or, another option… The wadding itself is a tiny spell scroll, “manufactured” by the low-wage mages. This option would not even require a ball. Rather than be read, these spells are activated by burning, like a prayer stick. Just point, shoot, cast. Perfect for people who can’t read magic. While it would be just as expensive (maybe moreso) than regular scrolls, a wealthy person could have quite the armament for themself, able to outgun (so to speak!) even the most powerful magic users. Or imagine, a powerful lord commissioning a musketeer unit that on an opening volley was able to rain down powerful magic?

On 1st Level Magic Users

I saw a post today about the fragility of 1st level characters, particularly a magic-user who was killed by a single blow.

It got me to thinking about wizards as low level PCs.

Mages should consider internships over adventuring if they’re serious about mastering their craft.

In any setting where magic is codified, like in D&D, where there’s kind of a set handful of spells that all mages may or may not know, magic would probably be institutionalized in some way, taught, practiced and passed down. In this case, you’d have two types of wizards in the world.

There would be those who were seriously devoted to their craft, spending their time learning under tutelage, privately in libraries or in group settings of magic learning.*  I’d imagine that after several years of schooling, these wizards would know a handful of spells that they could competently cast, from which point they could continue on in higher magic learning via academia, adventuring, or in their spare time as professionals (because let’s face it: utility magic doesn’t always come in handy when fighting monsters, but would make daily life a lot easier for those who could afford the help of a wizard for labor, manufacture and construction. This is what most wizards did in the Earthsea books). These wizards would probably be around level 5 or so, meaning that they were professionally competent journeyman wizards. Not super powerful, but with a repertoire such that someone who knew them, saw them and was aware of their capabilities, they’d say “Yes, ‘es a wizard, alright!”

Then you have the 1st level adventuring wizard. I’ve always imagined that level 1 mages were not so much serious wizards as they were dudes who thought “Hey, I just learned how to cast a spell! That makes me awesome, right? Time to go fight monsters!” Why would someone who would be serious about magic go out adventuring when they were 1st level? What is a 1st level wizard mechanically? HP wise, he is someone that a punch to the face, a fall down a short hole, or brushing up against someone in a crowd would probably incapacitate if not kill. Magic wise, he knows how to read magic, and cast a single spell. Once. He’s a one-trick-pony. So, he can’t take a hit, can’t fight, and within a single 24 hour period, can cast one spell once. He’s not a very useful fellow.

So, what sort of person is 1st level adventuring wizard? He’s someone who is physically weak, but has just discovered a new power. He thinks this makes him great, and it makes him cocky. If he were serious about magic as an art, he would find tutelage or at least a good library. Instead, he takes his new-found power and feels he has something to prove. Magic can be like bringing a gun to a knife fight. The thing is, the gun this neophyte mage is bringing is a musket with one ball, wad & ounce of powder. If a 1st level wizard is any help to his party, chances are it’s going to be a matter of luck. “Hey, this one thing I know? Who’d have thought it would be useful!” Wizbob McOnespell may not be good in a fight, but at least he knew featherfall for that pit-trap, right? Let’s hope we don’t have another pit trap for at least 24 hours!

Something to think about when playing a level 1 magic user: he’s probably going to be someone arrogant & cocksure without the substance to back up his talk. But if he didn’t have something to prove, he wouldn’t be out adventuring, would he? An adventuring magic user who survives is probably going to be even more arrogant because he HAS started to prove himself and is starting to have the power to back up his feelings of superiority that magic has brought him.

How does this translate into the game world?
Adventurers – There will be a handful of 1st level wizards running around, but very few wizards of 2nd-5th level, because out in the wild, magic users just don’t survive.

Apprentice wizards – In the libraries & academies, these young wizards are serious about magic as a profession & will be between 1st and 5th level.

Professional wizards – These wizards would be 5th-7th level and be found living in towns in numbers as needed. They’d be available for contract work in which magic would be helpful. Because of the demanding nature of their work, they would build up large amounts of xp that they would not be able to “cashed in” for levels & spells unless they took some time off for study and research. Unless they needed new spells for their profession, however, they might not feel the need to take time away from helping locals to devote themselves to study.

Adventuring mages – After spending some time developing their skills, 5th level and above wizards might feel that they were strong enough to be a serious asset to adventurers and might free-lance as a wizard-for-hire. While the work would be more dangerous than strengthening ships’ sails, blessing harvests, finding lost thing, etc., it would also pay a lot better and give more ample opportunities to grow skills and knowledge.

Scholarly mages – Some mages might choose to stay in academia longer, or, after spending time in the professional world, acquiring the money and resources for greater research, come back to academia. These wizards might end up becoming teachers, scholars & devote their time to writing treatises on arcane nature, replenishing the world’s supply of magic scrolls & potions, and creating wondrous items.

Archmages – After a certain point, either scholarly or adventuring mages gain a questionable amount of power. They have learned spells that are dangerous and world-threatening. If these mages are part of academia, they might act as custodians of forbidden wisdom. Or they may go rogue and take their power somewhere that it can develop and grow further, if they are ambitious. Adventuring wizards who have continued to this point are ambitious by nature. Those wizards who choose to grow their powers in isolation or through further adventure are likely to be seen as dangers by the academic community, who may seek to intervene, lest the world be threatened by a wizard who has grown too powerful.

 

*In many game terms, this would mean having 0 xp, because having xp means you’ve killed things or found treasure, but I think that spending years of studying should give magic users more xp than adventuring. This isn’t practical for a gaming group a lot of times, since you don’t want to give free levels just because a magic-user’s player says “I go to wizard college until I’m level 20!”  But I’d think that it could work for NPCs based on time spent and the level & spell list of their teacher.  A great trick would be if a low level Magic-User’s childhood NPC friend goes off to the wizard university, and, after a few years in-game, the adventuring PC meets up and finds his friend is a higher level and knows more spells because you learn more magic by (surprise!) studying magic than fighting monsters.