Was Gandalf Just A 5th Level Magic User?
  • Was Gandalf Just A 5th Level Magic User?


    This article from Dragon Magazine, back in 1977, is likely very familiar to many of you (feel free to yawn - this item isn't for you!) However, there are many newer fans of D&D who don't even remember Dragon Magazine, let alone issues from nearly 40 years ago. In the article, Bill Seligman posits that Gandalf was merely a 5th level magic-user. Given Cubicle 7's recent announcement about an official Middle Earth setting for D&D, it seems like a nostalgia piece worth revisiting.

    Some folks I hear discussing this topic these days take the position that Gandalf is actually a paladin. Certainly "wizards" in Tolkien's works aren't the same magic-missile-throwing folks as in regular D&D; in fact there are only five wizards in the whole of Middle Earth - and at least one of them (the 7th Doctor) is very clearly a druid.

    What do you think? Is Gandalf a 5th level magic-user? What about in 5th Edition, given the upcoming Middle Earth release? I'm sure Cubicle 7 will tells for certain this summer, but until then...

    Comments 271 Comments
    1. ghostofchristmaspast's Avatar
      ghostofchristmaspast -
      This doesn't belong in 5th edition thread.
    1. Polyhedral_Columbia's Avatar
      Polyhedral_Columbia -
      Bill is pretty much right, from the perspective of the D&D game system, as such.

      But the D&D system and world is its own beast, which is amalgam of a bunch of different fantasy tropes (i.e. Appendix N). Some of the settings which are source material for the D&D Universe are filled with flashier magic, and so if we use the D&D Multiverse as a measuring stick, of course Middle-earth is "low magic."

      Even the things which Gygax directly adapted from Tolkien are "translated", "tweaked", "gonzoified" (and even a bit "flattened") on their way into the D&D Multiverse.

      It will be interesting to see how C7 does magic.

      Just to point out two options:

      1) One route would be to try to make the spell-casting system as similar to D&D as possible--even keeping the same spell levels, for cross-world compatibility's sake. This would result in what Bill Seligman describes. Basically a 7th- or 12th-level level cap.

      2) Another route would be to make Middle-earth magic traditions completely different than magic in the D&D Multiverse. In this case, Middle-earth would cap out at the usual 20th level, but spell progression would be slower. The downside is that a 5e Middle-earth Magician would not be able to hold her own when playing in a cross-world D&D game.
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      Quote Originally Posted by ghostofchristmaspast View Post
      This doesn't belong in 5th edition thread.
      It certainly does; it's prompted by the announcement of a 5E compatible Middle Earth. Plus, it's my website, which is always a bonus.
    1. Jabborwacky -
      Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
      It certainly does; it's prompted by the announcement of a 5E compatible Middle Earth. Plus, it's my website, which is always a bonus.
      If its D&D compatible, can we nickname it Middle Oerth?

      Edit: This is of such incredible importance, I should make a forum poll for this! No, wait. I promised myself to avoid the crazy sauce for a while.
    1. Polyhedral_Columbia's Avatar
      Polyhedral_Columbia -
      P.S. There is probably a 3rd way - of making a D&D Magician class which has enough class features (even non-magical features, such as drama-based abilities which effect the story) whereby it would stand up to an equivalent 20th-level D&D Wizard (or Sorcerer or Warlock), even though it has less flashy spells.

      The non-magical classes such as Warrior, Burglar, and Ranger could also be equivalent in power to D&D Fighters, Rogues, Rangers all the way to 20th level. Though they would need to be re-flavored to match what the characters actually do in the stories. Even for these classes, the more gonzo non-magical abilities could be replaced with something more subtle.
    1. The Grassy Gnoll's Avatar
      The Grassy Gnoll -
      In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is King.

      So in a very low magic setting, a 5th level caster is a big deal.

      He's probably a Wizard 5/magic initiate (druid).
    1. TerraDave's Avatar
      TerraDave -
      He was better in melee combat then a wizard would be. He must have 1 or 2 levels of fighter as well.
    1. Plane Sailing's Avatar
      Plane Sailing -
      Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
      Some folks I hear discussing this topic these days take the position that Gandalf is actually a paladin.
      I remember quite a bit of debate back in the day that Gandalf was a cleric in D&D terms!

      (I always rather fancied the idea of Aragorn as a Paladin (even though he was the prototypical D&D ranger for sure).
    1. Tony Vargas -
      A couple years ago I designed a faux Fellowship for a convention game using 1e, 3e & 4e rulesets. In the spirit of that old arcticle (or mocking it, perhaps) I made everyone 5th level ... sorta.

      The Gandalf Clone, 'Vancegulf Mythreindeer' was:

      1e: Human character-with-two-classes 9th level Fighter / 5th level Magic-User (yep, no experience anytime he drew his sword, 'Glamthing')
      ... oh, and psionic with enough psionic strength to pretty thoroughly smack down a Type VI demon in psionic combat.
      But 'only' a 5th level magic-user - with a Staff of the Magi and Ring of Fire Elemental Command. ;P

      3e: Half-Celestial 5th level Wizard, with the afore-mentioned magic items, of course. But 'only' a 5th level magic user - with a +5 LA template.

      4e: Deva 5th level Wizard(Arcanist).
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      The Balrog issue is important. That's a Balor. He's roughly equal to or slightly more powerful than a Balor.
    1. Shasarak's Avatar
      Shasarak -
      I always figured Gandalf to be a low level Druid myself.
    1. Curmudjinn's Avatar
      Curmudjinn -
      So, what if C7 ends up doing D&D better than WotC?
    1. Zardnaar's Avatar
      Zardnaar -
      Gandalf could be a 10HD NPC with spellcasting equal to a 6th level caster (AD&D).

      In 1E a balor had 8+8 hit dice. Gandalf with 10HD is tougher than a balrog in that way, throw in some spellcasting power and outsider type abilities he is fine. Middle Earth is very low magic by D&D terms.
    1. Celebrim's Avatar
      Celebrim -
      I appear to be in close agreement with Tony.

      In D&D terms, approximately speaking:

      1e: Gandalf is an Agathion in human form with 6 additional levels of M-U (because he's an unusually powerful and knowledgeable member of his race) or perhaps simply the ability to cast spells as a 6th level M-U.
      3e: Gandalf is a 6th level Wizard with the Half-Celestial template.

      In both cases "Gandalf" is actually Olorin is a servant of the Solar Varda, who is ruling middle-earth jointly with her spouse Manwe, in vassalage to Illuvatar (the only being with true divine rank in the setting).

      Gandalf is known to use the following arcane spells: affect normal fires, light, hold portal, knock, shatter, lightning bolt, fireball, produce flame, pyrotechnics, 'Gandalf's minute meteors' (as Melf's spell of the same name), invisibility, and phantasmal forces. He also probably knows a number spells related to light, shadow, illusion, and sound not directly disclosed by the text, but all presumably of 3rd level or less.

      Gandalf is armed with a unique staff +3 which is the symbol of his divinely appointed office and thus the source of his magical power. It acts as the material component for all his spell-casting and his spellbook, but it is not as far as I can tell as potent as a Staff of the Magi. He also has been known to carry a sword +2 goblin-bane, named Glamdring, and he has a unique artifact, a Ring of Elemental Command (Fire), named Narya. Narya vastly increases his ability to make things burn in a pinch, but he avoids doing it because using its powers has negative consequences - perhaps alerting Sauron to his location. The ring also appears to have some additional powers above and beyond a ring of elemental command, primarily related to instilling courage and cheer in others - probably the ability to cast Emotion or something like it a few times day. These powers he uses more freely, so its possible they - not being the sort of things Sauron is interested in - are untainted.
    1. SouthpawSoldier's Avatar
      SouthpawSoldier -
      Since Gandalf was a Maiar, I've often seen him statted as an Outsider with a few levels Fighter; spells are more racial abilities.
    1. Polyhedral_Columbia's Avatar
      Polyhedral_Columbia -
      I like your succinct summary.

      Where was Invisibility though?

      He also did a kind of exorcism on Theoden.
    1. ccooke's Avatar
      ccooke -
      Of course, you could make a very powerful wizard in 5e with no more than 3rd level spells - you could make a rather nice 5e Gandalf-like with, say, Wizard 5/Druid 5/Fighter 1. Powerful cantrips, the equivalent slots of a 10th level caster but only third level spells. Lots of choice for powerful and thematic ones for Gandalf, though - fireball in a 5th level slot is nothing to be sneezed at, unless you're allergic to bat guano.
    1. Dannyalcatraz's Avatar
      Dannyalcatraz -
      I never bought into the 5th level thing. At best, it was an artifact of the story JRRT told being short on magic being used often and obviously- for reasons not fully revealed- being compared to a system in which (increasingly with each progressive edition) many people played spellcasters who used (relatively flashy) magic first and unto depletion in (virtually) every situation.

      IOW, apples & oranges.
    1. FormerlyHemlock's Avatar
      FormerlyHemlock -
      Quote Originally Posted by ccooke View Post
      Of course, you could make a very powerful wizard in 5e with no more than 3rd level spells - you could make a rather nice 5e Gandalf-like with, say, Wizard 5/Druid 5/Fighter 1. Powerful cantrips, the equivalent slots of a 10th level caster but only third level spells. Lots of choice for powerful and thematic ones for Gandalf, though - fireball in a 5th level slot is nothing to be sneezed at, unless you're allergic to bat guano.
      It's almost indistinguishable from Fireball III.
    1. Khisanth the Ancient -
      The thing is that Gandalf technically has tremendous power but (except against the Balrog) is forbidden to use it. So I think it's accurate to say that (except for that one battle, where he throws lightning and stuff around for ages) he never does anything that a 5th level wizard couldn't do - but not that he actually is one.

      Also, putting Sauron at 7th-8th level doesn't allow enough room for the power scale that exists between the characters.

      That article was written back in the "name level" days when 9th-10th was very exceptional. Using that scale I'd suggest something like this...

      Sauron - 15+ [he is overwhelmingly more powerful than any other being in Middle-Earth in the Third Age]
      Gandalf/Saruman - 9 [but doesn't use most of it, as stated above]
      Galadriel - 8
      Elrond - 7
      Aragorn - 7 [end of ROTK; 5-6 at the beginning of FOTR]
      Boromir - 4
      Frodo, Sam - 3 [end of ROTK; 1 at the beginning of FOTR]

      For later editions, where levels tend to go higher, these should increase somewhat... for example...
      Sauron - 21+ [only 'epic' character in the Third Age]
      Gandalf/Saruman - 14
      Aragorn - 11-12 [end; 8-9 at beginning]
      and so on.
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