Two URLs, One Class

Gamer Bling is clearly not above hijacking an Internet meme to get more readers. In fact, Gamer Bling is not above much of anything, except all his arcane spellcaster characters, the sum total of whom are pushing up daisies. Except, of course, for the one that was swallowed whole by a cave lizard and had his alchemical potions detonate whilst he was still trapped inside… that character is pushing up phosphorescent cave lichen.

To put this all in perspective, Gamer Bling once had an elf archer character in RuneQuest (revised edition). Said character had a Constitution score of four. FOUR! Plus a small size, which diminished said character’s hit points even further. A small 1d6 wolf trap was a serious threat to longevity.

Gamer Bling managed to play that character for three years or so of real time, rising from petty elf with a bow to pretty freakin’ powerful archer and achieving the dual titles of Wood Priest and Wood Lord. Said character fired three times a round, had a 27% chance of striking for double damage, and was an all-around butt-kicker.

And, because Gamer Bling likes to do things the hard way (unlike certain people who do not commiserate with Gamer Bling over the death of Gleek, but rather openly mock Your Humble Reviewer on his very own blog, causing big drops of mucus-thickened tears to spatter on the keyboard and further degrade Gamer Bling’s inability to type), Gamer Bling achieved this feat without once ever raising this character’s constitution above 4!

But that is all water under the bridge, or blood down the bottomless pit, or arcane spellcasters under the ground.

Today Gamer Bling will rant on how 3e fails to deliver on the implicit promise of users of magic.

(Oh, and the two URLs mention above? They are this and this, which are two reviews that have new illustrations in them. Yes, that’s a cheap marketing ploy. But so is the promise of magic versus its execution in 3e, so the two URLs actually tie in to the subject after all.)

When we think about wizards, we think of Gandalf, or Harry Potter, or Jared the Goblin King, or Jeremy Irons chewing the scenery in the D&D movie. We think of magical effects swirling around them with sparkly SFX, we think of magic staves or magic wands or crystal balls or other baubles. Shapeshifting, flight (with or without brooms), and telekinesis to absent-mindedly grab a needed ingredient from a distant shelf. We think The Force, but with pointy hats instead of padawan braids.

What we don’t think of is wizards having to utter an arcane incantation every time they gesture a small bottle to their hand. They just do it.

What we definitely don’t think of is Hermione the Ineffably Cute saying, “I’ve already memorized five phrases in latinus piggus. My brain can’t hold any more, because I’m only a first-year student.” (Although Ron might say such a thing.)

What we REALLY don’t think of is Gandalf saying, “Sorry, I’ve used up all my powerful spells. All I can do is create some caltrops, but they probably won’t work against that balrog. Let’s camp so I can sleep eight hours and read my book again.”

Magic is supposed to permeate the wizard like an aura. They live it and breathe it. Let’s take a look at what the 3.5e rulebook says about wizards, shall we? It says that they “practice minor magics whenever they can” (p.55). We even see this in D&D licensed materials. For example, in Baldur’s Gate, we have an NPC wizard drawing glowing sigils in the air just as a matter of course. A cool image, but not one that PCs can do without burning off a spell slot.

So how does one “practice minor magics”?

Presumably by burning off minor cantrips like prestidigitation. Which means that even a 20th-level specialist wizard can only practice his prestidigitation for 30 seconds a day (unless you count sitting around while the spell’s duration wears off as “practice”). Four cantrips plus one for being a specialist is five spells, each requiring six seconds.

Wow. Can you imagine Gandalf finishing up that fast? Can you imagine if he hadn’t prepared enough slots of pyrotechnics on the day of Bilbo’s party? 

3e is so dead-set against perpetual magic that the only way to cast a marginally meaningful spell at will is to burn a feat AND permanently sacrifice a spell slot eight levels higher. So if you want to be able to have an unseen servant grab the bleach for you whenever you spill your special expensive wizard’s ink on your AC-less robes, you lose one use a day of, for example, time stop.

Sorry, the power represented by having a perpetual unseen servant is not equal to the power represented by being able to stop time.

Yes, 3.5e relented a bit and allowed spellcasters to have a handful of cantrips castable more often, though again by use of a feat. Pathfinder has pushed the envelope even further by allowing all cantrips to be at will. This is a good step.

And suddenly Gamer Bling is struck by a thought (proof that there is, in fact, a first for everything): First-level wizards can only read magic for, at most, and hour a day. That means an hour of study, and seven hours (or more) cleaning and otherwise being a servant to the master. That explains why so many wizards are so old. Imagine how old you’d be if you could only study for college for one hour a day.

But how do people reach level one in the first place? Read magic cannot be cast on another, and before you’re a level 1 wizard, it’s duration is zero minutes. How do you cast it from a scroll if you can’t read it, and how can you read it if you can’t cast read magic?

Obviously, there’s a way to bootstrap yourself over that hump, but apparently that trick never works past level 1 because it can’t ever be used again.

And as for masterwork anything, Gamer Bling is surprised that a masterwork nonmagical wooden wand has never appeared in a sourcebook that he has seen. Hey, a +1 to hit on rays! How handy! Especially since wizards can’t hit the broad side of a barn even at higher levels!

Computer games began breaking the Vance mold. Not Baldur’s Gate, of course—Gamer Bling literally had his party camp after adventuring for less than an hour of game time, the wizard’s spells having all been burned off during a rough fight. And how does a wizard roll over and go to sleep again after having been awake for only an hour or two? Wacky.

But Gamer Bling speaks of MMOs. Currently he plays both City of Heroes and Guild Wars. And in both cases, he has users of magic who have abilities that they can use more or less at will (exhaustion and recharge being the only factors… well, them and the existence of legal targets). This is the promise. It feels like it should feel. Magic users who can create and maintain a magical force field around them, and who can launch magical effects repeatedly without running the well utterly dry for the day.

And this is what 4e has also delivered: a magic user who can use magic whenever he wants. A spellcaster who never runs out of tricks, who is never actively working toward making himself useless, who isn’t totally screwed in hit points, who can cast mage hand and prestidigitation at will, who doesn’t have to stand around with a dagger held in one limpid hand wishing he had the nerve to enter melee because his fellow party members are getting whupped and all he has left is a use of open/close because he thought it might be useful to open a trapped door from a safe distance.

Better still, 4e has segregated melee spells from out-of-combat spells. That’s always been a tough choice in 3e: Be weaker in combat situations because you memorized utility spells, memorize no utility spells and risk stalling the adventure while you sleep in a dungeon and everyone else plays spin the bottle (and when you wake up, you default back to being weaker in combat because you have to fire off some spells slots for utility purposes), or burn gold and precious XP scribing scrolls. In 4e, this is no longer a problem.

And, as a special bonus, WotC has replaced musty books with the staples of fantasy literature: crystals and staves and wands (oh my!).

And best of all, since magic spells are no longer fire-and-forget (in the bad way), balancing them against the ever-swinging fighter is much easier.

Unfortunately, the others in Gamer Bling’s gaming group are not so forward-thinking. They’ve spent money on 3e, and by gum, they’re going to stick to 3e! Well, Gamer Bling spent money on the original white box D&D long before it was called the original white-box D&D. Eldritch Wizardry was the first bit of pron Gamer Bling ever owned. But Gamer Bling abandoned the all-weapons-do-1d6 mentality and moved on to better things like the aforementioned RuneQuest, which also allowed magic at will subject to exhaustion.

He moved back to 3e when it was the best. And, as soon as he can pry his fellow gamers’ hands off the obsolescence of 3e, he’ll move to 4e.

So go ahead and share: what’s your experience with wizards and the like in 4e?

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~ by Gamer Bling on 4 February 2009.

3 Responses to “Two URLs, One Class”

  1. I favor a hybrid Vancian/at-will model. The Vancian approach provides game balance without either limiting Wizards to parlor tricks or homogenizing the way all characters exert influence on the world (thus eliminating a lot of the variety that makes games like D&D fun). That’s why I created a Pathfinder RPG oriented drop-in replacement for the Wizard — that, and the fact that the Sorcerer class makes the Wizard kinda obsolete (in addition to neatly defusing half your complaints about how arcane magic works in D&D 3.x).

    I call the Wizard replacement a Mage. As written it’s a bit much for 3.5, but the power level seems to fit Pathfinder RPG pretty well so far.

  2. The core problem that I think you’re touching on is that D&D pre-4e was terrible at simulating mainstream fantasy. This wouldn’t be a problem, except the cover art and back cover blurbs promised us heroic action from the get go. No where did it say, “After months and months of play you’ll be able to do cool heroic things. But for the first few months you’ll pretty much suck and may be killed by a really big rat.”

    Now if you embraced what 3.5 and earlier D&D is, there is lots of fun to be had. Quick Primer for Old School Gaming (http://www.lulu.com/content/3019374 ) is a good introduction to one way to embrace it. But that embrace is an absolute rejection of lots of mainstream fantasy expectations. Indeed, it’s downright alien; there is damn near no fiction supporting such a style of fantasy story. The closest you have are stories where one or two people suck, but they are inevitably surrounded by far more powerful people who guide and educate them.

    This is one reason why people are so divided by 4e. Some people, like your Blinginess, are happy that D&D is finally delivering what it’s been promising with the art and blurbs, and you get it the moment you open the box. However, some people like the unique fantasy stories older D&D created. They’ve learned to look past the misleading advertising. So they’re resentful that something they love and has been the default for decades has gone away.

    Generally speaking the answer is: no one game can satisfy both group, so forking D&D is probably the best option. WotC bet on one particular fork, which is neither good nor bad. The two sides should accept that they are looking for different things, wish each other the best, and move on.

    There are some outstanding communication problems. In particular, some on each side fail to see the validity of the other style of play. These people need to get the hell over it. A more serious problem is that some in the old-school camp have deluded themselves into thinking they’re playing the sort of heroic fantasy game D&D always promised. They gloss over the boring low level grind, or sleeping after a single fight so the wizard can re-memorize. They fail to recount in their exciting stories the tale of checking the weight for every single item they have, or tracking the pages used in a spellbook. They forget about extensive house rules and decidedly non-official DM rulings. This is actually toxic when they try to communicate with others. It’s especially bad when you have someone new to role-playing. They’re promised one type of game, but handed a different one, potentially souring them on RPGs entirely!

  3. Alan: I see only one glaring error in your post: You failed to capitalize the Y in Your Blinginess.

    Nonetheless, by virtue of your heroic recognition of Gamer Bling’s de facto royalty as expressed through his noblesse oblige of lengthy and rambling reviews, you are officially dubbed the first Gnight of the Realm, and tasked with the duty of ensuring that all future commentators must address said comments to Your Blinginess. If they fail, you have Gamer Bling’s not-legally-binding-nor-in-fact-actually-criminally-culpable permission to lop their heads off.

    Or just hire the top… men at AvatarArt to kill them with a war pick.

    Yes, Gamer Bling means to spell it “gnight.” Because he doesn’t want his loyalest servants called “kaniggit” a la Python when calling them a ‘g’night’ is funnier, and also because both gnight and Gamer Bling start with G.

    (sings)
    G is for Gamer, that’s good enough for Bling.
    G is for Gamer, that’s good enough for Bling.
    G is for Gamer, that’s good enough for Bling.
    Oh, Gamer Gamer Gamer start with G!
    (/sings)

    It’s kind of funny that you mention the 3e idio(t)syncrasies that you do. Because Gamer Bling has an Excel spreadsheet that not only calculates the space used in each of his spell books, but that also automatically updates the spell effects whenever said PC gains a level or raises an attribute. Yeah, though Gamer Bling rails against the bias against wizards, which even spread to the PC, yeah verily even unto the original Diablo, which had bosses immune to various magics but none immune to physical damage, the sad fact remains that Gamer Bling is addicted to wizards.

    Sorcerers are lame because they are inflexible once they pick their spells, and lag a half level behind when it comes to potent incantations. Which means Gleek would have had one more level of rogue under his belt when he died. Or maybe barbarian, if he’d had enough foresight to bolster his hp.

    Because d12s are kind of sexy.

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