Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wizards and Swordry

Recently I was discussing "spicing up" the magic system in D&D, and one of the comments suggested that if I add another disadvantage to the magic-user, I need to give them something to balance it. This revived something I had been discussing with one of my players recently, and that would be magic-users having better weapons.

I've seen a lot of folks in this corner of the blogoverse do different things with m-u weapons: in original D&D, it hardly mattered with standard d6 weapons. I've seen class-based damage (even with variants based on light, medium, and heavy weapons) and liked that quite a bit as well. (The missus was quite taken with the idea)
However, I was thinking... why not just let them use any one-handed weapon? (With staves being the exception) I mean, magic-users don't improve their combat ability unitil 6th level, by which time every class has advanced well past them in terms of ability to hit. In addition, magic-users still have crappy hit points and no armor, so will we really destory the game by letting the poor bastards do 1d8 with a longsword instead of 1d6 with a staff?

My insistance on one handed weapons comes from practicality: magic-users need at least one free hand to cast spells, so I doubt they would find two handed weapons to be very worthwhile to train with. Staves are the exception since they are the classic wizard's tool, and my poor pedestrian mind can't seem to pry the staff, conceptually, from the wizard's hands.

Another thought, inspired by a "save vs. AC" mechanic (can't remember who posted it unfortunately) is this: a magic-user who wishes to wear armor must do so, but if he wants to use a spell with somatic elements, he must roll equal to or under his AC on 2d6 (remember I use descending AC- yeah, whatcha gonna do about it?), with failure indicating that the armor interfered with the spellcasting and the spell is lost. Any shield bigger than a buckler would make the requisite melodramatic arm flailing that wizards need to do difficult at best, so I suppose they could use a buckler but it would make it just that much harder to cast a spell. I will stress again that magic-users must have at least one hand free to cast a spell. (Except of course verbal only spells like the various power words. Perhaps magic armor actually improves the changes to cast a spell... for instance, chainmail would normally require the magic-user to roll 5 or less to cast a spell, but chainmail +2 would bring the chance up to a 7 or less. Shields would not add any bonus, since they are still physically obtrusive to the gesturing. Magic armor, by contrast, does not interfere as much with the chanelling of magical energy. This is something I just thought of now, and I'm on the fence about it a little bit.

Using this 2d6 system, magic-users could trigger a magical mishap on a roll of 12 and some kind of spell surge on a roll of 2. Unarmored spellcasters would ignore any other roll. (They don't have to roll under their unarmored AC)
Lastly, Dexterity modifiers are not included, either way, in the roll vs. armor.

More thoughts on the actual biteyness of magic later.


  1. Bizarre, but in a good way.
    --I look forward to reading others' replies.


  2. It’s tricky to start playing around with these rules systems (I say this from experience)…once you start playing with why magic works a certain way, then you have to start examining other parts of the game systems that hook on (why can’t wizards wear armor…if armor affects magic, why can elves wear armor…how do clerics fit in…etc., etc.). Soon enough, you are piling up a ton of complications just so you can justify one particular rule change (e.g. wizards use swords).

    For me, I’ve decided that (for the most part) the designers of D&D already did their justifications for me. They’ve got the rules they want for a reason. In D&D3, anyone can be trained to wear armor, but its “bulk” interferes with the casting of spells. That’s just how D3 works. In B/X magic-users can’t wear armor and elves can, the reason seeming to be “wizards get NO combat training.” I can think of some other possible reasons (for example: the ability to use magic is in part reliant on the wizards own ego and wearing armor shakes his confidence in himself, whereas clerics rely on their deities and elves are immune to insecurity), but in the end it is what it is.

    And the same holds true for YOUR campaign. It’s magic, dude…make up how it works and don’t worry to hard about the justification!

    Originally, magic-users only got daggers. Then someone decided wizards are often depicted with staves so they should be able to use a staff like a cudgel. But how often are wizards depicted beating on folks with a stick (besides the occasional unruly apprentice). I kind o figure they’re like Yoda in Star Wars films…whenever he starts manipulating “The Force” he tosses his walking stick aside to have his hands free. The staff is an aid to the aged wizard, not a weapon.

    Historically, the staff (in addition to being a phallic symbol reminiscent of the male god principal) is an extension of the wizard himself. If he can touch someone, he can affect it more strongly with magic, and the staff lengthens his reach. As a symbol, rulers have used the staff or scepter as a symbol of their rule (again, the phallic male god symbol) and the wizards staff is a symbol of HIS rulership…over the elements, the earth, the principles of magic. Again, not a weapon.

    Hermetic mages and witches have used swords (again, historically) as a symbol of the mind and its sharpness of cutting through obstacles/problems. It is for ritual use, not combat. However, the sword IS a weapon and sometimes people need to fight…depending on how you work “weapon proficiencies” in your game, why not allow magic-users to learn the use of a sword. Certainly, you’d think they’d prefer that to learning the hard core use of the knife in melee! At least they can keep their foes at sword’s reach. And Vancian wizards never had a problem girding themselves with a long blade.
    : )

  3. JB,

    I do tend to get carried away on riffs like this.

    In truth, sometime I'd like to run a campaign with the "custom classes" found in Dragon #109 or in an article of the now defunct OD&Dities fanzine. You'd end up with armor clad spellcasters, nekkid master archers, armorless clerics, and all other manner of wackiness.

    I can't help but tinker. I do fully recognize that it can be quite a mind trap, which is why I finally just gave myself a start date for my AD&D game and said to hell with it... I start on this date no matter how much more tinkering I want to do.

  4. You bring up some good points. Recently I have taken to allowing players to choose between Labarynth Lord's MU's or Swordplay and Spellcraft's Wizard. I really like S&S's spellcraft system, but not every player likes the roll to hit aspect.

    My in game explanation is that Wizards gain their spells through pacts with fickle demons and spirits, while the standard magic users practice the elven discipline (but the short life span prevents them from learning elven art of combat.)

  5. Re: two-handed weapons. Since spellcasters don't attack and cast spells at the same time, and they only need one hand to cast a spell, couldn't they just let go of a two-handed weapon with one hand and cast with the other for a moment?

  6. @Biuskreem: I really like the idea of more than one type of magic-user... hmm...

    @Nellisir: Good point. If they can use a staff two handed, why not another weapon? As I said before, their combat table doesn't improve until 6th level, so even if they have a damaging weapon, they should probably avoid melee.

  7. The big deal with weapons in the original game is magical ones. That remains key even with variable weapon damage in later versions. The ability to use magic swords is a significant boon for thieves, the lack of magical armor for them (even with +1 leather in AD&D) a significant hindrance.

    Ability to use mundane armor would be a big boost for magic-users, especially at low levels when they have few spells to cast and are by design physically vulnerable.

    Personally, I will let a player do as he or she pleases -- but award no XP for an m-u being played as a fighter. If that's your thing, then you may as well take the multi-class (or dual-class) option and pay the normal price.