Monday, October 10, 2011

1st Level Magic-Users Suck?

Did Grognardia stir up this old chestnut again?  I know there's already a ten page or so thread on Dragonsfoot about it just within the last couple days (although it's been semi-hijacked by a debate about whether using hirelings makes you a 'wuss gamer' or not).

How can a 1st level Magic-User survive to 2nd level?  And find ways to be useful while doing so?

And of course, all these people are either stating how there's nothing to do but fire your one spell then run away to rest so you'll be 'effective' again.  Or on the other side, bringing out the old standby of 'prepare lots of flasks of oil, marble bags, 10' poles, Swedish-made penis enlarger pumps, garlic, wolfsbane, catnip, spare socks, iron spikes, reading glasses, and cooking pots to make yourself useful.'  Then of course, the idea of hiring meat-shields to protect your AC 11, 1d4 HD ass which touched off the near derailment of that DF thread. [Sorry, no link today.  Just got back from grad school, and don't feel like hitting DF tonight just to snag a link.  It's in the General Discussion section if you want to track it down yourself.]

Anyway, words of wisdom from old Jack Burton.  Er, um, I mean Lord Gwydion. 


No, your Fighter cannot beat down goblins all day long.  He can take one hit if he's lucky, then he'd better retreat.

No, your Cleric (even if using AD&D where they get spells at 1st level) is not going to be casting spells and turning undead all the time.  He's got better than 50% odds to turn skeletons, but the first time he botches that roll, he's done for that encounter.  And even with an 18 Wis, he's still got a limited number of spells.  And remember, in Classic (my preferred game), he's got no spells.  Just the ability to take one hit if he's lucky and maybe turn some undead.

No, your Thief is not gonna be finding every trap, unlocking every door, and if he gets really lucky and actually manages to sneak up on someone, likely is gonna miss that backstab roll and get his AC 6, 1d4 HD ass handed to him.

They all suck.  That's kinda the point.  And EVERYONE should be getting all that miscellaneous equipment and using it at every opportunity.  First level characters get to become second level characters by being smart, not by acting like 6th level characters.


  1. There are elements missing from your response, namely that the first level Fighter and Cleric and even Thief don't have AC's of 11. They have better. They don't have hit points of 4. They have better. They don't have the most limited weapon selection in the game. They have access to...guess? Yep. Better.

    Magic Users in D&D are one of the reasons I don't like D&D much. They do indeed suck, not just because they are so weak compared to everyone else at low level but because they lack that Gandalf like knowledge of everything weird around them that would make them useful.

    Essentially a 1st level wizard is a handgun with 1 bullet that takes forever to reload.

    Just IMHO of course.

  2. Did Grognardia stir up this old chestnut again?

    Don't blame me. I think 1st-level MUs are just fine.

  3. The people who complain about MUs aren't playing creatively with their characters IMHO

  4. I still miss Mork. :(
    One of the few first roled characters to make it to level two. Got to flash pixies and got a ring of wish. And a level of contempt for others that had me pushing guys into combat while I booked it. Fun times.

  5. 1st level characters of any class are all at the bottom of the food chain.

    I enjoy the journey "from zero to hero". The old-school style of play calls for more creative player tactics than recent games where everyone starts out as a superhero.

  6. Barking Alien, who says they lack Gandalf like knowledge? Certainly not the rules. Sounds like an issue between you and your DM. You claim they have lower HD but at first level so what? The classic D&D thief has the same HD, and everyone has to roll between 1d4 and 1d8, nota big range there. The magic user may very well have the same HP or even more HP than any other PC at first level. In earlier D&D all weapons do 1d6 damage, and even in AD&D this is, like HP, a rolled number range that is not exactly great for anyone at this stage in the game. Magic users DO lack armor, that's true. So how about throwing daggers and avoiding melee if possible? All PCs should be avoiding melee when possible anyhow, as XP comes mainly from treasure not fighting monsters. Fighting only invites quick death at this level for any class.

  7. @Anonymous - D&D is not my forte as I mentioned so I could be wrong but I thought Magic Users had 1D4 HP and the Thief 1D6. Certainly that was in AD&D. As to weapons doing 1D6 only, sure, in the original game but even my edition of basic had weapons doing different die of damage back in '77-'79 when I played it.

    "Barking Alien, who says they lack Gandalf like knowledge? Certainly not the rules."

    What in their original design made them knowledgeable? What in the rules game them knowledge of their world the other PCs would not have? What special skill gave them insight into the workings of higher powers or grand events?

    I fully admit to having only passing memories of most original and basic D&D elements these days so I could be totally forgetting something but with not real skill system, what made a magic user mechanically special other than his or her one spell?

    @Kiltedyaksman - I don't disagree but I still think they suck. They just aren't interesting and too fragile to reach the state where you can make them interesting. It's not impossible, it's simply highly unlikely.

  8. First off, apologies to James M. The comments at Grognardia started it, not you. I was thinking of "Grognardia" as more of an entity than as you, personally, but didn't specify that when I wrote this. My bad.

    Barking Alien - no, I considered the better weapons/armor that the other classes get. The Thief is only 2 points plus any Dex bonus better than the MU, and in Classic, they also get that wimpy d4 hit dice. You are correct that they get a d6 in AD&D, though.

    And for Fighters, sure, they get really good armor and weapons. That makes them better at combat. That's the point of the class. But still, at first level, that Fighter's real special ability is that he can be relatively sure he's gonna survive that first hit that gets through that good armor. Similar to the MU who's cast his spell, though, the Fighter who's taken one hit is now going to be trying to avoid combat if he's smart.

    Any character trying to get to level 2 simply by hacking down lots of kobolds and orcs is not gonna make it. Neither is the character who assumes they'll always be able to win initiative and catch all of the kobolds in a sleep spell then slit their throats.

    All the characters suck in one way or another. The fun, for me at least, is getting these sucky characters to not suck anymore.

    Kiltedyaksman and Josh - right on!