Make yourself useful, mage!

Yesterday Cirsova shared some thoughts on Twitter about a recent post over at Walker’s Retreat (which was in turn a reaction to a post at Dyvers blog).

This led to an interesting thread, if you’re of the sort who delights in this kind of raw nerdom.



A frequent criticism of D&D 3.5e, which is probably a middling version of the game in many senses (and yet like ice cream, each person has a favorite flavor), is that it’s too easy to get bogged down in rules and mechanics. Still, I think it gives a judicious and experienced DM the tools for a rather rich and dynamic game. A handyman may have a 50-piece ratchet/socket set in his toolbox; doesn’t mean he’s got to use it!

I must confess, I’ve never played a magic user. The only game I ever played in as a player gave me a taste of the charisma rogue, which I very much enjoyed.

The comparisons I can draw here are limited. A magic user may be standing in the doorway with his hands in his, uh, robe pockets as his party desperately fights off the goblin raiding party until he’s saved their bacon by expending a precious lightning bolt spell on the ogre boss that’s just rolled up on the exhausted heroes. As a silver-tongued rogue type, at least you’ve still got backstab, and hopefully enough HP and dexterity to help out on the front line for a round or two without getting insta-killed. You may not be a power-hitter, but you can at least do something useful most turns, whether it be culling a damaged bogie or firing off an arrow or two. Hey, at least I got you a flanking bonus!!

Anyway, when we consult our handy actuarial table of action types, we see that a magic user can…actually not really do much at all! My references above to aiding another or intimidating were actually useless advice in this context as they require melee range!

Unfortunately, without magical items or scrolls or maybe potions of some sort, a magic user’s not really got any recourse. Especially if he’s trying to sincerely roleplay his character.

What is one to do?

One branch of the conversation, which kind of circles back to Dyvers’ original post:


And I think that really may be the best solution – sprinkle in some magical goodies for your magic users to hold on to. But it’s up to the DM to anticipate and implement. If you return to some D&D’s source material, namely Dying Earth, you’ve got all manner of magical items for magic users to play around with between casting spells. Remember that in Vance’s stories, most wizards could only memorize a handful of incantations. While spells certainly accounted for an important portion of their overall power, perhaps equally important were the relics and magical artifacts that they were able to accumulate.

These gadgets can range in power, from extremely powerful to amusingly benign – think of Cugel’s “tube of blue concentrate,” which due to its mysterious nature elicited some degree of fear despite maybe just being a can of blue spray paint. These kinds of curios can be a real boon for a DM who doesn’t want to wantonly dish out wands of magic missile or other damage-dealing items, as they provide players with a great chance to get creative and do some quality roleplaying.


It’s also a thought for you fantasy writers. Instead of going with a vanilla wizard character who chants spells and draws runes, why not a codger with a bag full of doodads and magical junk?




4 thoughts on “Make yourself useful, mage!

  1. I’m posting a review of “Kings of the Wyld” next week. His MU was just as you said, a codger with a bag full of doodads. Added a little fun suspense, because you didn’t know what he might pull out, and it was a kind of bag of holding that he had to rummage around in, nobody knew how long he’d take to find something.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One of the characters (themes?) in the Myth Adventures books was a Mechanic: she had no magic power, but had a bunch of rings. She glommed onto the main character because she hoped he would teach her to be a *real* magician, like him.

    A good deal of the humor (and plot movement, in fact) lied in the fact that Skeeve was actually just a novice magician, and had to think his way out of a bunch of problems.

    Now, there wasn’t a spell count limit on his magic. But through most of the first few books, IIRC, he only knew how to do limited illusion and minor telekinesis…but the *effects* of applying those minor skills in the right place at the right time was tremendous.

    …anyway, to the subject at hand: Magic Users in D&D Campaigns…

    Here’s the thing. It’s *role* playing. Let’s say a guy with 90 IQ plays a Magic User with 18 Intelligence, which, as Cirsova points out, is so that the Magic User can successfully create iron-tight commands for demons just begging for a slipup so they can be free and wreak havoc.

    Is the 90-IQ person going to be able to play that character well?

    Likewise: charisma. Do you get to be persuasive and charming just because your character has 18 charisma? I sometimes played mediocre-intelligence warriors and such, and found myself unable to keep my mouth shut for traps, tricks, puzzles, etc. I did not successfully role-play my character stats.

    So I’ve gravitated to Magic Users, Monks, and Illusionists when given a choice. Illusionists, particularly.

    There is no greater challenge then trying to choose a handful of spells beforehand that you can apply to different situations, and no greater joy than finding a way to apply a magic spell (or ability, in the case of monks) that turns what seems like a useless spell into a gamechanger! I have a handful of anecdotes about that.

    So the thing is, the game is a *roleplaying* game, not a combat game, nor a dice-rolling game. Sure, dice combat makes for some tension regarding the lives of your characters, but a good DM should be able to have a spread of challenges, not just dice rolling.

    That’s what makes it *role*-playing, and not just a table-top version of League of Legends.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Indeed! Though role playing isn’t the same for everyone. Some people like to play-act, whereas others just “my rogue puts on the charm and tries to haggle for a better price.” That second way allows for the types of discrepancies you noted.

      Liked by 1 person

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