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    Canonfire :: View topic - Mitigating a Mage's early level weakness
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    Mitigating a Mage's early level weakness
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    Apprentice Greytalker

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    Tue Jun 05, 2012 2:22 pm  
    Mitigating a Mage's early level weakness

    DM Newbie asks...

    I feel one of the weakest classes, early on, is the mage. From a practical standpoint they really have their hands tied for the first 3-4 levels, falling back to weak melee attacks for the majority of the encounters in the day. While this might be fine for a one-off encounter - for a dungeon like ToEE I can see it get discouraging.

    I was thinking of providing my player with a Wand of Magic Missiles at the start of the play through a role playing adventure which has him assisting his mentor in the creation of the item at the University in Greyhawk. The Wand of Magic Missiles provides him with the arcane firepower to really feel like a mage, without overpowering damage in the encounter - 2d4 + 2 max damage with 2 charges. By the time the charges run out, he should be flush with experience and a couple found items to take off the training wheels.

    What do you guys think? Do you find it helpful to prop up weaker classes until they come into their own? What sort of pitfalls do you see in this idea? I'm also considering allowing bonus spells due to high intelligence as an option, or allowing the creation of academical items such as greek fire (but not all of these options). I'm open to suggestions...
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    Journeyman Greytalker

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    Tue Jun 05, 2012 2:33 pm  

    Well if you do a side trek mission for the mage, have it turn into a small/quick adventure for the hole party. Maybe toss out a potion of healing or two for the meat shield...sorry fighter, a nice suit of black leather armor for that sneaky thief and so on. Make it fun for all.
    Good luck and we were all noobie DM's at one time as well Smile
    Apprentice Greytalker

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    Tue Jun 05, 2012 3:08 pm  

    Thanks baronzemo - I'm taking each player through a "origins" adventure which will get them from their original homes to Homlett to begin ToEE. There will be unique, but not excessive, awards for everyone - including some hollow healed shoes for the thief and some masterwork armor for the fighter.
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    GreySage

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    Tue Jun 05, 2012 3:21 pm  

    Nerdcav, I think all players of mages, and the DMs that run them, have run into this pitfall too. My main player is very fond of them, and at lower levels it can be very challenging to keep mages alive.

    I completely support the use of granting extra spells to high Intelligence. I use the cleric chart granting bonus spells for Wisdom as my guide, switching Wisdom for Intelligence. That gives the sorceror some more 'ooomph' and rewards them for high stats.

    Also, bear in mind that a first and second lvl spell, according to 1e and 2e rules, which I think you use, only require 4 hours of rest. After exhausting his/her repertoire of several spells, your apprentice wizard should be able to rest and memorize within five hours, tops.

    my opinion, for what it's worth,

    -Lanthorn
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    Tue Jun 05, 2012 5:12 pm  

    I generally avoid granting extra spells based on intelligence per the Cleric's table. I find it unbalanacing, especially at higher level, and it also detracts the advantages of playing a specialist wizard.

    A wizard at low level is designed to be weak, but at higher levels he easily becomes the strongest character in a party. If the approach to playing the wizard is he fires off his magic missile and then hides behind the shield wall for the rest of the adventure, the characters would be better off buying a few crossbows and firing and dropping them when combat begins. The real value of a first level wizard is using his small selection of spells in creative ways, particularly to gather information and avoid traps.

    Also overlooked is the wizards ability to "use more magical items than any other characters." Even a couple of scrolls with 2nd and 3rd level spells on them drastically increase a wizards utility in combat. If the wizard has to choose between casting a spell from the scroll, or copying the spell into his spellbook, so much the better.
    GreySage

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    Tue Jun 05, 2012 5:23 pm  

    I understand that you are using 1e/2e rules, but you can still take some advice from 3.x. You're already considering awarding bonus spells based on Intelligence as clerics receive for high Wisdom. That is a 3.x edition basic. You can also allow the Wizard player to choose a specialty school of magic which he is more learned in. He gains a bonus spell per spell level from that school only, but must give up all spells from two other schools of magic. For lower level mages with small numbers of spells in their spell books, that extra spell can be a real boon.

    Another option that isn't edition dependent is to equip the mage with a plethora of scrolls and/or potions. These one-shot items are a good balancing strategy because the player has to choose wisely when to use them and when to save them up for later.

    Finally, the party can equip the mage with the extra potions of healing. Since there are so few PCs in the party, the party cleric will probably have to keep busy holding the front line with the party warrior. Once the mage runs out of spells, he can take the roll of party healer by administering healing potions and binding wounds, freeing the cleric to continue in melee combat.

    SirXaris
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    Tue Jun 05, 2012 6:20 pm  

    Tarelton made the comment that granting extra spells for high Intelligence becomes unbalancing. I understand the concern, but there is a remedy for that. Use spell components. Not only does it add a dash of reality (yes, in a fantasy-based game...I am not ignorant of the contradiction in terms Wink ), but it does keep clerics and wizards 'in check.' It's great that your mage can cast Chain Lightning but it's a moot point if he is out of bat fur, or his glass rods are shattered... get my point? Cool

    -Lanthorn
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    Wed Jun 06, 2012 2:51 pm  

    Ah yes, the 1e/2e magic-user, always a challenge. The easiest, best way to grant them extra survivability that really fits is to have them obtain or be given a low level magic item or even better a few scrolls.

    Maybe their master gave them a wand of magic missiles/fireballs/<insert offensive spell name here> but with only 5 to 15 charges remaining depending on what you give them. This gives them some extra punch but they still have to manage their resources.

    Scrolls are great, you can buy them. Maybe they have a discount at a local magic college, maybe their former master gave them a few. Since these are one offs, you might want to give them between 1 and 5 of varying kinds. Again, it gives them more utility but without the silliness of unlimited power.

    You could also give them a defensive magic item like a ring of protection +2 or wand of armor with 100 charges. One of the biggest problems for low level MUs is their armor class, even a kobold has a fairly decent chance of landing a blow so lowering it to 8 or even 7 (THAC0 system) is a big help.

    hope that helps
    GreySage

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    Wed Jun 06, 2012 3:07 pm  

    Nerdcav, if you have access to it, peruse The Complete Wizard's Handbook as it gives some great tips running low level magic-users. If you don't, PM me and I will give you the gist.

    Otherwise, I gotta agree with Elliva, but recommend that if you do give your low level mage some extra gifts, make them one shot potions, minor charged items, or extra spells scrolls ON LOAN by a master who has some type of task or job to be performed as payment. That's what an apprentice is for, after all, and it gives you some 'influence' as DM as well so you can guide the adventure in the future for extra plotlines.

    -Lanthorn
    Black Hand of Oblivion

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    Wed Jun 06, 2012 10:07 pm  

    Being a 1st level Mage is a tough road to hoe, but that can be said of most any 1st level character who can be laid low by one or two whacks of an orc sword. After a while, we just had 1st level characters start off with maximum hit points. They are supposed to be heroes after all, so even the bookwormy Mage would at least the equivalent of a teenager (though they might still get their butt kicked by an older teenager in a fist fight).

    Still, that isn't a lot of hit points, but the other PCs should know that X the Mage is a pushover in a fight...unless they are given a chance to launch that one spell. Usually that is going to be a sleep spell, which can be quite devastating to a group of first level or 0-1 HD enemies. Otherwise it will usually be a burning hands spell, or the lone magic missile (dink!). Occasionally you'll get the psycho player who just has to use shocking grasp...in melee range, where they are just asking for trouble. But I digress...

    So, the other PCs know the Mage is pretty much dead, unless they protect him/her/it. The solution? PROTECT THE MAGE!!! After a few levels, that Mage will produce some real dividends. But guess what? THEY'LL STILL NEED TO PROTECT THE MAGE!!! Wink
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    Last edited by Cebrion on Thu Jun 07, 2012 8:31 pm; edited 3 times in total
    Master Greytalker

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    Thu Jun 07, 2012 9:59 am  

    Btw, nothing to stop a mage from selecting a missile weapon as their 1 weapon of proficiency in 1e as far as I recall.

    I also seem to remember that Mages were totally forbidden from wearing armour in 1e but the explanation given as to why this should be was "they just can't". Nothing to prevent a house rule that says that a mage cannot cast spells when clad in armour but at other times are free to wear leather or studded. I would prefer such a rule to doling out magic items for free.

    Got to re-iterate the wisdom of the purple one because it's crucial; it's everybody else's job to keep the guy safe because at higher levels it's going to pay dividends.
    GreySage

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    Thu Jun 07, 2012 2:34 pm  

    Cebrion's post made me chuckle to myself because of its simple truth. Laughing Only at higher levels can a mage really hold his/her own in a toe-to-toe battle (about 5th the tides begin to turn, I think). Nevertheless, a mage is not primarily a melee warrior, even with a good selection of spells at his/her disposal, unless you tailor-make your wizard to do just that.

    I am not a 1e 'specialist' but I think the only missile weapons that a mage can use are hurled daggers and darts. Not very effective.

    2e (here goes my plug, people), especially if you use the Options system, allows for a MUCH wider array of possibilities, including the use of non-traditional weapons and the donning of armor, if you are willing to invest in the CPs for that ability. Wink

    Overall, though, I think the bottom line is that, as Ceb noted, Keep your mage protected from combat as best you can. Hopefully at higher levels, your wizard will return the favor with some potent spellwork (and not turn to the path of evil, as some seem to do so very well!). Evil Grin

    -Lanthorn
    Paladin

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    Thu Jun 07, 2012 3:55 pm  

    Elliva wrote:
    Ah yes, the 1e/2e magic-user, always a challenge. The easiest, best way to grant them extra survivability that really fits is to have them obtain or be given a low level magic item or even better a few scrolls.
    Scrolls are great, you can buy them. Maybe they have a discount at a local magic college, maybe their former master gave them a few. Since these are one offs, you might want to give them between 1 and 5 of varying kinds. Again, it gives them more utility but without the silliness of unlimited power.

    You could also modify the 2e restriction in the PHB p30 to allowing the Wizard to pen only spells he has successfully mastered instead of waiting until lvl 9. This would also be restricted to availability of components and time. I have utilized the same % chance to learn a spell (PHBp16) for scribe of one. Thus it is not an automatic "scroll dispenser" either... The better the wizard, the better the chance for success.
    Failure consumes the components and if your feeling particularly nasty, could have side effects, explosions, casting daisies instead of web, etc. it is up to you if you wish to disclose success or failure at the time of writing or at the time of casting. Evil Grin
    Paladin

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    Thu Jun 07, 2012 4:04 pm  

    Ragr wrote:
    Btw, nothing to stop a mage from selecting a missile weapon as their 1 weapon of proficiency in 1e as far as I recall.

    Chart 1e PHB p19 and 2ePHB p30 Wizards are severely restricted in the weapons they can use. They are limited by those that are easy to learn or sometimes useful in their own research. Hence, a wizard can use a dagger, staff, darts, knives, and slings. All of these take minimal combat training as the wizards time is devoted elsewhere.
    Had to edit was not sure which edition this is addressing.
    Apprentice Greytalker

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    Thu Jun 07, 2012 5:35 pm  

    Dark_Lord_Galen wrote:
    You could also modify the 2e restriction in the PHB p30 to allowing the Wizard to pen only spells he has successfully mastered instead of waiting until lvl 9. This would also be restricted to availability of components and time. I have utilized the same % chance to learn a spell (PHBp16) for scribe of one. Thus it is not an automatic "scroll dispenser" either... The better the wizard, the better the chance for success.
    Failure consumes the components and if your feeling particularly nasty, could have side effects, explosions, casting daisies instead of web, etc. it is up to you if you wish to disclose success or failure at the time of writing or at the time of casting. Evil Grin


    Oooo - I like this. Maybe I can apply a negative modifier for each level removed from 9th that he is...and if it's close it seems to succeed but actually has some other effect as you suggested - Excellent!
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    Black Hand of Oblivion

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    Thu Jun 07, 2012 8:28 pm  

    Ragr wrote:
    Btw, nothing to stop a mage from selecting a missile weapon as their 1 weapon of proficiency in 1e as far as I recall.

    Very much so. The dagger is a great 1st weapon choice- better than a staff or darts. For one, the dagger is both a melee weapon and a missile weapon, and Mages often have a decent Dexterity score and so may get bonuses to hit with thrown daggers. Two, a dagger is relatively light in weight, so even a wimpy Mage can carry a good amount of them. Let's face it. If the Mage has cast all of their spells and still needs to throw more than 8-10 daggers in a single encounter, all of the other PCs are probably not holding up their end of the combat responsibilities.
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    Last edited by Cebrion on Sat Jun 09, 2012 1:00 am; edited 1 time in total
    Paladin

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    Fri Jun 08, 2012 7:39 am  

    Cebrion wrote:
    If the Mage has cast all of the their spells and still needs to throw more than 8-10 daggers in a single encounter, all of the other PCs are probably not holding up their end of the combat responsibilities.

    Bic C is right, and Nerdcav....if it comes to that... I defer you back to this thread...
    http://www.canonfire.com/cf/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=5043
    Mawwahaaaahahaaah Evil Grin
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    Wed Jun 13, 2012 2:55 pm  

    Do... nothing.

    Want to be an Archmage? Deal with sucking early on and not dying.
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    Thu Jun 14, 2012 6:51 am  

    Another solution, if you can make it work, might be to bestow upon the Mage a (possibly sentient) magical item that doubles as a plot device, but is meant to be consumed/destroyed. Much more "flavorful" than a plain old wand of magic missles. I'm thinking something along the lines of The Sentinel from the UK series.
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    Thu Jun 14, 2012 9:51 am  

    There are two possibilities I've been toying with in my head, and I keep hoping for an opportunity to try them out. One is to allow wizards the ability to cast spells spontaneously in a manner similar to that of the 3.5e sorcerer class. Another is to allow wizards to cast a certain minimal number of spells (say, detect magic, one or two other "utilitarian" spells, and maybe a weakened version of magic missile , for example) without limit and without needing to memorize them ahead of time.

    On the surface, both options appear waaaaaaaaay out of balance and totally unworkable, which is part of why I've never tried very hard to create a situation in which to test them.

    That said, it could be argued that spontaneous casting isn't nearly as overpowering given the restrictions on how spells are learned and recorded. The ability to cast a few minor spells without restriction could be equated to other relatively unlimited class abilities such as the ability to turn undead.

    Further, I've noticed on multiple occasions that certain options are not as unbalancing in practice as they appear on paper. The spontaneous casting ability of the 3.5e sorcerer, for example, was once widely thought to be unworkable and thoroughly unbalancing for any campaign, and yet it works quite well (with the 3.5e rules, that is).

    Similarly, I've noticed that some character abilities are entirely unbalancing in the hands of some players but not in others. For example, I once had a player who ran a powerful paladin. He cheated when rolling up the character, but he was such a bad player that his PC rarely fared well. On one occasion when this player was absent I allowed another player to run his character, and he played it so well that the paladin dominated the entire session.

    With such thoughts in mind, I wonder if the aforementioned ideas couldn't be made to work.
    Paladin

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    Thu Jun 14, 2012 11:11 am  

    bubbagump wrote:
    He cheated when rolling up the character, but he was such a bad player that his PC rarely fared well. On one occasion when this player was absent I allowed another player to run his character, and he played it so well that the paladin dominated the entire session.

    Interesting and I think indirectly you have touched on another aspect. I think ALOT has to do with the PLAYER skill set. Often players fail to maximize all of their abilities, simply focusing on just the surface elements. Certainly lesser abilities (cantrips) and creative role-play and preparation can account for something as well.
    Lastly, IMO it makes sense from a game balance standpoint that the most powerful class would start out as the weakest. This allows for the truly wondrous and powerful mages to be the exception, not the rule.
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    Thu Jun 14, 2012 5:35 pm  

    Dark_Lord_Galen wrote:
    Lastly, IMO it makes sense from a game balance standpoint that the most powerful class would start out as the weakest.


    That.
    Master Greytalker

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    Thu Jun 14, 2012 8:35 pm  

    As I understand it, that's pretty much how 1e and 2e wizards were designed. They were supposed to start weak but grow vastly powerful, hence their xp progression rate. You can get really strong, but you have to earn it.

    IIRC, Gygax stated more than once that magic-users were a sort of "advanced class" for more skilled players.
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    Fri Jun 15, 2012 2:35 am  

    bubbagump wrote:


    IIRC, Gygax stated more than once that magic-users were a sort of "advanced class" for more skilled players.


    I hadn't heard that before.

    I have to say that I am in complete agreement with that and some of the comments above by my fellow 'hawkers.

    I don't believe tinkering with the Wizard class to make it more survivable has any merit at all and runs the risk of alienating those playing other classes at low level. Let the players take on the challenge of the class because the rewards will come later.
    Journeyman Greytalker

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    Wed Jul 11, 2012 4:25 pm  
    Re: Mitigating a Mage's early level weakness

    nerdcav wrote:
    I was thinking of providing my player with a Wand of Magic Missiles...


    As a die-hard pragmatist, I believe this is your best course of action.

    I'd go so far as to make the wand fully charged.

    This is for a few reasons:

    1} It's less effort on your part [you have, from what I've read, many demands on your time].

    2} It's effective; it can be used at various ranges, always hits but doesn't do that much more damage than anyone else (if it does more at all, really).

    3} While I certainly concede the point that "mages pay off later" that only matters if there is a "later". I highly doubt I'm the only one that's been in more failed campaigns than the French army [JK; cheap shot, I know]. This gives the player a reason to hang in there.

    Personally, I like the idea of having the mage be part of a guild that gives him a wand and a few scrolls to start.

    Of course, they take the majority of his haul for a significant portion (as 'Guild Dues') of his adventuring career to pay for it!

    To me, it's a solid and sensible solution.

    The guild expends a few resources and, even if only a fraction of those they aid survive, the guild profits by very little effort (and in 0 danger).


    In the end, it's just my 2 and your game so use whatever solution you feel to be the best suited to you.

    There's a lot of wisdom on these boards so cherry pick to your heart's content. Smile
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    Grandmaster Greytalker

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    Wed Jul 11, 2012 5:02 pm  

    One easy way around this is to play with 4th edition rules, where all the classes are balanced at 1st level. Razz *Ducks*
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    Wed Jul 11, 2012 5:05 pm  

    smillan_31 wrote:
    One easy way around this is to play with 4th edition rules, where all the classes are balanced at 1st level. Razz *Ducks*


    I can't lie:

    I laughed out loud at this.

    The "ducking" pushed it over the top.


    Laughing
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    Wed Jul 11, 2012 5:40 pm  

    smillan_31 wrote:
    One easy way around this is to play with 4th edition rules, where all the classes are balanced at 1st level. Razz *Ducks*


    Lol - nice. I actually took a page fror 4E and let our mage cast cantrips as an at-will power. I also gave him a half-charged wand as part of his prologue quest. He chose a signature spell as well, from the Player's Option: Spells and Magic book. Even with all this, he was still charging at bugbears with his dagger by the end of the second encounter ;)
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    Wed Jul 11, 2012 5:59 pm  

    nerdcav wrote:
    Even with all this, he was still charging at bugbears with his dagger by the end of the second encounter ;)


    Yeah, I gamed with a guy like that. rolleyes

    Eh, it's all about having a good time, though.

    So if it didn't bug (whoops!) anyone else then good for him. Smile
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    Black Hand of Oblivion

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    Wed Jul 11, 2012 8:27 pm  

    Sounds like these guys might be the same person. Do they look like this?


    Razz
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    Journeyman Greytalker

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    Wed Jul 11, 2012 8:30 pm  

    Cebrion wrote:
    Sounds like these guys might be the same person. Do they look like this?


    Since you asked, he truly looked, sounded and gamed just like this guy:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGAbuXPCv8U#t=03m27s
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    Wed Jul 11, 2012 10:00 pm  

    nerdcav wrote:
    smillan_31 wrote:
    One easy way around this is to play with 4th edition rules, where all the classes are balanced at 1st level. Razz *Ducks*


    Lol - nice. I actually took a page fror 4E and let our mage cast cantrips as an at-will power. I also gave him a half-charged wand as part of his prologue quest. He chose a signature spell as well, from the Player's Option: Spells and Magic book. Even with all this, he was still charging at bugbears with his dagger by the end of the second encounter ;)


    Ha! That was the desired effect, although I do play 4e, but I know how much many of my fellow 'Hawkers hate it. Smile I like your workaround. One thing we did in the latter years of me playing 1e was house-ruling a power point system, sort of based on Runequest. It beefed up lower level mages enough to where they could survive decently and feel like they were contributing to the game more.

    nerdcav wrote:
    Even with all this, he was still charging at bugbears with his dagger by the end of the second encounter ;)


    My favorite wizard moment was when I was running some people through the sample dungeon in the Basic Blue Book. The party is fighting a monster -- giant snake I think -- in the lower level of the tower, and the thaumaturgist was about to fire a web spell down on them from the trapdoor above. So the party's wizard, who had already used all his spells steps up, throws his dagger, and rolls a 20. The player rolls a 98 on the Arduin critical hit chart, which is "head torn off, instant death." I opted for "dagger through the throat, instant death." It was pretty awesome!
    GreySage

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    Thu Jul 12, 2012 9:03 am  

    The last 1st-level Wizard character I DMed for (3.5e) took Exotic Weapon Proficiency in the Bastard Sword as a 1st level Feat. He'd use his spells to buff himself, then attack with the bastard sword he carried strapped to his back. He also had a hawk as a familiar and would cast Shocking Grasp on the hawk (Share Spells), then have it fly forward and attack the opponent's spellcaster behind the front lines of battle.

    He was a very creative player and his Wizard was at least as important in every battle as the other characters. My hat is off to that player.

    SirXaris

    P.S. His Wizard was named Albis and, at 3rd level, became known as "Albis the Bastard" for challenging an Assassin to trial by combat and defeating him in a one-on-one duel. Albis won with exactly one hit point left. And, I don't fudge rolls. Evil Grin It was an epic win. SX
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    Thu Jul 12, 2012 9:44 am  

    SirXaris wrote:
    The last 1st-level Wizard character I DMed for (3.5e) took Exotic Weapon Proficiency in the Bastard Sword as a 1st level Feat. He'd use his spells to buff himself, then attack with the bastard sword he carried strapped to his back. He also had a hawk as a familiar and would cast Shocking Grasp on the hawk (Share Spells), then have it fly forward and attack the opponent's spellcaster behind the front lines of battle.


    I love the idea of letting him use a sword, but the only mechanic that would allow that in 2E requires spending 2 weapon proficiencies on a priest or rogue weapon, and he only has 1 to start. So he either goes weaponless (or suffer a -5 to wield a weapon without proficiency) until he gets his second proficiency at lvl 6, or he sticks to his dagger.

    I also like the idea of Share Spells, but I don't think there's a mechanic that supports that in 2E. In any case, he hasn't summoned a familiar yet, even thought I made sure that was one of the spells he took to start.
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    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Apr 13, 2006
    Posts: 654
    From: Frinton on Sea England

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    Fri Jul 13, 2012 4:48 am  

    smillan_31 wrote:
    One easy way around this is to play with 4th edition rules, where all the classes are balanced at 1st level. Razz *Ducks*


    And, in response, throws something.

    Something well balanced.

    Like an axe.

    Wink (Of course).
    Grandmaster Greytalker

    Joined: Nov 07, 2004
    Posts: 1843
    From: Mt. Smolderac

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    Fri Jul 13, 2012 6:51 am  

    Ragr wrote:
    smillan_31 wrote:
    One easy way around this is to play with 4th edition rules, where all the classes are balanced at 1st level. Razz *Ducks*


    And, in response, throws something.

    Something well balanced.

    Like an axe.

    Wink (Of course).


    I knew I could count on you, Ragr. Laughing

    Hey, did you see the Hartlepool Monkey reference in my postfest submission?
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Apr 13, 2006
    Posts: 654
    From: Frinton on Sea England

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    Fri Jul 13, 2012 8:40 am  

    Embarassed

    I haven't got around to reading any of the articles yet.

    But I will. Cool

    Hartlepool Monkey eh?

    Damnable Frenchies!!!
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