Linear Fighter, Assistant Wizard

For today, we have a retrospective question about just when “wizards got so overpowered!”.

For the quick answer, is 3.0. For the long answer…

Originally, back in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (First and Second Edition), if you played the game as written… spellcasting didn’t really dominate the game. Over more than a decade of play with several different groups it soon became pretty obvious that Fighters did. Paladins, Rangers and Monks were all good – but the entry requirements kept them rare. Thieves helped with scouting and traps and taking out bosses with carefully set up backstabbing, but the main drive against the enemy was always the fighters.

And that was about right. In a very large proportion of legends, myths, and fantasy stories… wizards were either enemies or they were assistants to the heroic warriors who were the real stars. They had many interesting powers, and their spells might turn the tide at a dramatic moment, enable visits to strange locations of adventure, and trick overwhelming foes – but they were still secondary. Swords, bows, secondary weapons, and (sometimes) martial arts still did the main work.

But wait! Magic-Users had all those incredibly powerful spells! Almost as many as Wizards and Sorcerers do in 3.5 or Pathfinder!

Yes, they did. And they had segmented casting times at ten segments to the round and usually at least one segment per spell level. It was often more; looking back at my first edition books, many first level spells required three or four segments. Hold Person, at level two, required five segments – in a system where you determined initiative with opposing d6 rolls and any interruption ruined the spell. There were no “concentration” checks, saving throws were fixed numbers, spellcasters couldn’t evade attacks while casting, only got to know a limited number of spells, often couldn’t learn spells they wanted, some of them couldn’t use armor at all, and might take many days of rest and study (or prayer) to prepare all their spells.

Thus the Dungeon Masters Guide told us

Because spell casting will be so difficult, most magic-users and clerics will opt to use magical devices whenever possible in melee, if they are wise.

For that matter… it took a lot longer to go up in level. For example… killing an Orc was worth an average of 14.5 XP. Getting to level three as a Magic User required 4501 XP. That meant that your party of four needed to kill off 1242 orcs to reach level three through combat experience if no one died (if someone died the doubling experience point tables let a new character catch up very quickly, which was good because older edition characters died a lot). Even with experience for treasure… a party usually only gained 3-6 levels per year of play – 50-odd sessions.

So what would those spellcasting limitations look like if you imported them into a current d20 game? Well, at least in Eclipse, such “Old School” magic levels are blatantly Specialized and Corrupted for one-third cost (or possibly even double-specialized given the number and severity of limitations here).

Basic Spellcasting Limitations:

Casting Spells takes more time. If the base casting time is:

  • One Standard Action the spell requires three initiative counts per spell level including metamagic other than “Quicken”).
  • One Full Round the spell requires sixty initiative counts.
  • More Than One Round the spell requires ten times as long to cast.
  • A Free Action the spell requires one initiative count.
  • A Swift or Immediate Action the spell requires two initiative counts.
  • Scrolls require the normal casting time, and are subject to the same limitations as direct casting. Wands and Rods only require three counts to activate, while Staves require six. Unfortunately, the save DC for wands, rods, and staves is only 14.
  • If such an action would not be completed before “0”, the countdown continues into the next round.

There is no such thing as a concentration check. Any damage or distraction that would normally call for a concentration check causes your spell to fail automatically, and be lost.

Spellcasting does not invoke attacks of opportunity, but the spellcaster cannot apply Dodge or Dexterity bonuses to his or her AC while spellcasting without losing the spell.

You may only prepare spells after a period of uninterrupted rest or meditation.

  • 1’st and 2’nd level spells require four hours.
  • 3’rd and 4’th level spells require six hours.
  • 5’th and 6’th level spells require eight hours.
  • 7’th and 8’th level spells require ten hours.
  • 9’th level spells require twelve hours.

It takes fifteen minutes per level of the spell per spell to prepare a spell. Thus preparing a third-level spell requires forty-five minutes. If you then go on to prepare a fifth level spell, that’s an hour and fifteen minutes – for a total of two hours to prepare two spells.

You cannot spend more than eight hours preparing spells before you will need to rest again to prepare more.

There is no such thing as spontaneous spellcasting. All spells must be prepared.

The spell charts are not “spells per day”. The spell chars show the maximum number of spells a spellcaster may have prepared. A powerful spellcaster may need many days to prepare all of his or her spells.

This means that a spellcasters daily “spell budget” is basically sixteen to thirty-two levels of spells. At the low end that might be four first, three second, and two third level spells. It would take a seventh level magic user five hours to memorize his or her selection of 4/3/2/1 (twenty spell levels in total) spells after at least six hours of uninterrupted rest. A ninth level magic user with the capacity to store 4/4/3/2/1 spells needs eight hours of rest and eight and a quarter hours to prepare spells – and if he or she tried to cast them in a fight, a fair chunk of those would probably be disrupted and lost.

The DC of saving against a spell is fixed at 16. Yes, this means that high-level targets will almost always make their saving throws.

Counterspelling is possible, but usually pointless. If you have time to hold an action for a counterspell, why aren’t you tossing off a quick Magic Missile or something and stopping your opponent from casting a spell in the first place?

Additional Arcane Caster Limitations Include:

  • Arcane Casters may only learn (Int/2) spells of each level they can cast. Read Magic is automatically one of them. They normally begin with another three first level spells – one offensive, one defensive, and one utility, selected at random.
  • Arcane Casters must record the spells they gain access to along with the results of a roll of (1d20 + Spell Level). If that is under their current intelligence, they can comprehend the spell and may choose to add it to their spells known.
    • For an example, Tim the Intelligence 14 Magic User has gotten ahold of scrolls or spell formulas for Color Spray (19), Burning Hands (3), Glitterdust (15), Pyrotechnics (12), Fireball (9), and Fly (16). With a maximum spell list of seven spells of each level he can cast, he may opt to learn Burning Hands, Pyrotechnics, and Fireball. If he gets his Int up to 15 he could opt to learn Glitterdust, and at 16 he could opt to learn Fly. Sadly, Color Spray is likely to remain far out of reach at any level where it might be useful – unless Tim saves a first level slot and opts to research (say) Tim’s Scintillating Butterflies, which is a different spell with the same basic effect. Note that, if you successfully research a spell you still roll – but the maximum result is equal to your current intelligence.
  • Arcane Casters only automatically gain one spell formula from among those they could potentially cast each level (although they may seek out or buy more if the game master allows it or they capture a spellbook or something). They may check (and record) their spell comprehension for desired spells until they find one that they can currently comprehend to add to their spellbooks. They may add a spell that they cannot currently cast to their books if they so desire, but usually have no reason to do so.
    • For example, Tim has made level seven, and wants a fourth level spell – in his case he wants Wall of Fire. Unfortunately, the check results in a roll of 23 – far beyond his intelligence! He doesn’t pick that one. Dimension Door turns up a 15. That’s tempting – next level he’ll get his Int up to 15 and be able to use it – but why not choose it next level? Next up, his third choice of Lesser Globe Of Invulnerability comes up a “7” – and so Lesser Globe Of Invulnerability goes into his book and onto his list of learned spells.
  • Arcane Casters will find that any armor or shield that would normally produce a 5% or more chance of arcane spell failure causes automatic arcane spell failure.
  • As a note, spellbooks do NOT have plot immunity. They may be stolen, destroyed by area-effect spells and attacks, and so on. It is VERY WISE to use backup spell books and traveling spell books!

Additional Divine Caster Limitations Include:

  • Divine spellcasters may only pray for a limited list (Wis/2) of spells of each level they can cast. “Consecrate Holy Symbol” (L1) is always one of them.
  • Divine spellcasters may only select spells for their list that are appropriate to their god. For a quick example, Odin does not grant Sanctuary and Poseidon does not grant Flame Strike. If the game master has the time, and wishes to make the effort, gods may also offer access to unique spells related to their particular specialties.
  • Divine spellcasters gain spells beyond level three from spiritual servants of their god and gain spells of level seven or above directly from their god at the discretion of those entities. They may be denied spells, granted spells other than what they prayed for, be assigned missions or quests, or be asked to attone for misdeeds at the whim of those entities.
  • Divine spellcasters who change gods must prove themselves worthy followers of their new god with mighty oaths, quests, and deeds in the service of their new god. If they attempt to leave the service of their new god, those same oaths will utterly destroy them.
  • As a rule, Clerics will be asked to spend time preaching, to refuse missions that their god does not approve of and to undertake ones that he or she does approve of without further reward, to use weapons and armor only as approved of by their god, to build and maintain temples, and so on.

Spellcasters operating under those restrictions will be roughly back to where they were in first and second edition; they may have some useful noncombat effects that they may use for special circumstances and they will have a very limited range of combat spells and game-changing effects that they can cast once in a while during fights IF a bunch of other characters protect them while they do it. Their spells, however, often will not work against high-end opponents, who can be counted on to make their saving throws. Magic will become, once again, a very limited special resource, to be husbanded carefully and deployed with planning – or in extreme emergencies.

Of course, in Eclipse, all this reduces the cost of your magic levels to the point where you can easily afford to add some weapons skills, a better BAB, a few more hit points, and other bennies – resulting in the modern equivalent of an old-style multi-classed character without any major complications or sacrifices.

Looking at all this also helps explain why so many players made Elven Fighter/Magic-Users in first and second edition days despite the 7/11 level limitation. After all… level eleven was well past the point where you could prepare all your spells each day. Were you on a long adventure? You’d have just as many spells each day as a higher-level human mage. They’d be weaker spells (at least in some cases), but YOU could wear armor. Not only did you have a better chance of getting your spells cast because you were harder to hit, but you weren’t an obvious target like that unarmored guy. If you started from level one, a human magic-user wouldn’t really have much of a magical edge on you for nearly two hundred sessions. Even better, the high-end magical gear worked for you just as well as it did for a higher-level wizard – reducing the gap even more. I, personally, played a maxed-out elven fighter/magic-user for a couple of years in a game that went up past level eighteen (for the human wizard, characters with easier advancement tables had higher levels) and it worked just fine. I even got some better items than the higher-level mage because they were used more often, and so did more good for the party, in the hands of someone who didn’t have so many other high-level spell options. And best of all… you could reasonably play your fighter/magic-user through the fifty-odd lower-level sessions before adding a human wizard to the party became really viable.

2 Responses

  1. Reading this over, it might be worth explaining how “initiative counts” (i.e. segments) would work under the 3.X rules (particularly since this should likewise reintroduce weapon speed factors, which were the martial equivalent of casting times).

    Likewise, divine spellcasters have an additional limit: demigods can only grant up to a certain level of spells, and lesser gods can only grant a slightly higher level of spells; only intermediate and greater deities can grant all potential spell levels to their high-level worshippers.

    I recall this making demigods and lesser gods non-starters for quite a few players, which was rather ironic given how often a campaign never made it to the higher levels anyway. That said, a lot of it stemmed from an issue of verisimilitude, since gods in (some) earlier editions of the game could personally manifest whatever spell effects they wanted, which made it seem nonsensical that they couldn’t therefore grant that same level of power to their followers.

    Personally, it always struck me as being more about the efficient transfer of energy across comparatively fragile channels (i.e. faith) and how well those deities could maintain them for stronger spells. That was largely due to a note in some earlier Greyhawk products about how, if a priest of a demigod or lesser god was on the same plane as their deity, they could gain spells of up to one spell level higher than normal.

    That, and there was the implication (as I recall) that since demigods and lesser deities were much smaller faiths anyway, that meant that it was easier for you to become a bigwig in the religion – and thus nicely curtail those penalties about religious obligations (without removing them entirely, since your god will still have instructions for you) – particularly since there wouldn’t be an issue of higher-level spells to distinguish high-level clerics from each other.

    (This was particularly true back in the day when divine spells only had seven spell levels anyway, which was attempting to showcase that only wizards had access to the greatest heights of magic.)

    • I’m sorry this took so long to get to; times been short recently.

      I wasn’t really meaning to reintroduce segments though; this is a set of personal limitations on spellcasting that would simulate how earlier-edition spellcasters worked in in a standard 3.0/3.5/Pathfinder/Etc game – possibly playing alongside standard spellcasters. After all, this reduces the cost of twenty levels of Wizard Spellcasting to 93 points. That’s still mildly expensive, but it still saves 187 points to spend on other things. A Studious Wizard with thirty-one extra Feats gets a LOT of options.

      For that matter, a classic fighter has 53 unspent points. Drop to a d8 HD and trade in heavy armor and shield proficiency for the ability to wear light and medium armor and still cast spells and you pretty much have a first or second edition fighter-magic user. All you need is the elven chainmail. Personally I’d be more inclined to tweak a ranger and go for a d20 version of Gandalf (who did spend an awful lot of time wandering about), but that’s just a whimsy.

      Hm… maybe start with “Low Magic” (Witchcraft) for the flexibility and being reasonably effective at low levels and add in that tricky, slow, easily-disrupted, high magic (spellcasting) and some courtly skills later on.

      Weapon speed factors would make it even worse for spellcasters of course; they couldn’t even wait until after an opponents attack to try to start spellcasting because they might take another swing at any moment. They’re mildly awkward to squeeze into 3.5 though; the interaction with attacks of opportunity, low-initiative creatures with lots of attacks, and similar rules is a bit wonky. It would be an interesting way to corrupt BAB though – “Iterative attacks are distributed as evenly as possible across the remaining initiative counts to the end of the round”.

      The spell-granting limit for deities still exists in Eclipse to some extent of course – under Sphere of Influence it notes that “you can grant spells of up to level three while on the material plane. Increase this to level nine if you withdraw to the outer planes, a personal astral domain, or another game-appropriate plane”. (Which makes sure that deities with large followings must choose between leaving the material-plane adventures to mortals and minor avatars or crippling their priests and followers).

      I think the worries about divine power are more of an artifact of monotheistic thinking, where thinking of it like money might have been a better match. “I have enough money (magical power) to buy as many luxury cars (high level spells) as I personally need. That doesn’t mean that I can afford to give every relative (priest) that I’ve got enough money to buy as many luxury cars as they might want, although I may pass some out to relatives that I’m especially fond of (who are high level)”.

      Admittedly, analogies have their limitations, but that one also neatly fits in with the “priests on the same plane as their deity can get spells one level higher than usual”. When Uncle Richie is visiting your neighborhood (on the same plane) you are much more likely to be able to ask for stuff…

      And now I’m thinking of the Priests of Uncle Richie, who can’t be bothered sending spells but instead hands out a Stipend (12 CP), the ability to make Philosopher’s Stones (Specialized and Corrupted Create Relic, 2 CP, Double Enthusiast, Specialized for increased effect and corrupted for reduced cost/only for making a philosophers stone, 6 CP), “The maker of potions, scrolls, and talismans” package (9 CP), and similar powers to his roguish priests (Favored Nephews”).

      Finally, that’s exactly what I thought about minor gods as well. Small God = Small Cult = much easier to become the biggest fish in the pond and stop getting orders.

      Sadly, most of the expectations of characters living up to their deities expectations, or codes of conduct, or taking steps to protect their painfully compiled spell books, or anything else that implied that you had more responsibilities than that murder-hobo fighter have vanished over the years.

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