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General Nerfing Wizards the Old Fashioned Way: Magic User in 1e

It is never as easy to make comparisons between AD&D and other editions as people often think.
Actually, you kind of need to lead with this. It wasn't just common practice because there were no gaming police, it was being promoted directly in the rules and was widely understood - it was the DM's game to modify as they see fit. There are probably a higher percentage of 1E players today that are playing by-the-book (or trying to) than were when it was the edition of choice.

Agreed, a lot of the games I knew were using a lot of house rules. It is also why it lead to so many Monty Haul campaigns.


Mostly that simply has implications for the tactics used. They avoid melee - and that's actually easier to do because 1E defines melee distance as 10'. If an opponent is beyond 10' from a caster they CANNOT melee them that round without charging. They have to spend the round closing.

Nope, the 10' you are refering to is to determine if a fighter type character could make all his attacks without moving. In 1ed a fighter could make 1 attack per level against low level opponents (those under 1HD). This meant a a 10th level fighter could make 10 attacks that round as long as the enemies were with melee range. So a fighter could start his serie of attacks against everything up to a maximum of 23 opponents at 23rd. Any enemies further than 10' were "safe". A move could make you go lower in the initiative, but nothing prevented you from closing in and making your full attack allotment.

Magic-users naturally cast longer range spells from positions of greater relative safety than they would otherwise, and other party members tend to be careful enough with their own tactics that their party wizard has as little to fear as possible, preventing opponents from getting close to the wizard. Also, even a simple Mirror Image spell can provide enough reasonable protection from melee and missile attacks in the following round to enable casting a higher level, devastating spell with a long casting time.

Which was easily countered with darts or any high rate of fire projectiles. Even Magic Missile would deplete mirror image in a pinch.

Extremely circumstantial. Yes, maximizing the amount of healing spells was certainly one strategy, but again it could depend on other factors such as frequency of encounters and availability of healing potions. Heal-bots were/are by no means universal.
And here again it can depend a great deal upon the interpretation of how initiative works. The initiative rules for 1E were NOT in the PH. They were only provided in the DMG - one year AFTER the PH was published, meaning a large number of games would have had to create and implement their own initiative rules in the meantime. They might have used something extremely simpler as in original D&D, or they may have never played original D&D and thus made up something entirely different. Even so, those rules in the DMG when it WAS released had been written so ineffectively and confusingly that even if you hadn't already had a system of your own you might VERY EASILY misunderstand and misinterpret the DMG rules. It is most certainly common today for players who are STUDYING the 1E DMG to repeatedly misread it or fail to comprehend it. That really can't be over-emphasized and obviously it has huge implications for how all casters function in the game, when the casting of a spell is begun, when it concludes, and the chances of it being disrupted. It certainly was more likely for there to be a huge variety of initiative systems and interpretations in use when there was no internet for anyone to instantly have it explained to them in a way that was easier to come to grips with.
The initiative system, as Snarf said, was in the PHB. But yes, they were relatively hard to understand. But once understood, they made complete sense and were logical and heavily skewed towards martial characters.

But it's more complicated than that yet. Magic-user spell casting times were predominantly one segment per spell level. Clerical spell casting time was more varied, routinely it was spell level plus 3, but with a great many exceptions to that. For example, at 1st level they have plenty of 4 segment spells but a lot of full-round spells. Longer casting times makes clerical spells less likely to be successfully cast, or then just more likely to be cast outside of combat. And 1E enables attacks on spell casters even when the caster WINS initiative.

Yep, that is why a caster would make sure to be "safe" before casting a spell with a long casting time. In combat healing was also not a common practice and was more relegated to out of combat as a well placed arrow could simply ruin the spell. But desperate circumstances call for desperate measures. It is also why such spells as wall of stone, force and fire and even wind were so liked by casters. Even a wall of fog could save your pretty little asses when you were a caster. And casting from a corner was also a sound tactics.


And the more you're able to carefully plan your use of spells in an encounter, the more effective everyone in the party is. In fact, this is a key point to be made - there was a greater emphasis in 1E on being able to plan before getting into fights. 1E was developed out of original D&D which was much closer to a dedicated dungeon-exploring game where AVOIDING as much combat as possible was the smartest game play, not just being able to win fights by designing your character better in the first place. Cautious exploration was the norm because the DM was often playing a game of "gotcha", prompting players to be hyper-vigilant and obsessive in how they describe everything their characters do to avoid being caught. That isn't often how the game is played anymore, including by those still playing with 1E rules. That is, it's heavily WRITTEN to be played differently than the game is now played no matter what rules version you use.

Not all DM were the "Gotcha" type. I certainly was not. But I was rutheless and merciless (and still am today). I apply the rules and play the monsters with intelligence. This is what I have shown many young/new DM to do in their games. It makes for better games.


In the rules as-written it was certain made tougher - but you just can't know anymore these days how many groups were REALLY sticklers for the book rules. Remember that Tucker's Kobolds was a DM acting well within the bounds of the rules in both word and spirit. Just by having average intelligent monsters do things that only require average intelligence to do makes pathetic, pipsqueak monsters into something far more dangerous and problematic. But that wasn't the norm. The norm was to treat them (and ALL monsters) in a more limited fashion making it EASIER to attack them, including with spells. Just by not having the kobolds equipped with any missile weapons a caster's difficulty is often greatly reduced. It isn't the game rules therefore that make a magic-users life so difficult as a DM who wants to inhibit them as much as possible rather than give them a break.

Fully agree.


Yep. Sheer dumb luck of the die rolls can basically END a combat (for better or worse) - but PC's don't go into combat depending on sheer dumb luck to succeed. If they do they never live long. Players don't play any version of D&D in such a way as to maximize their faults and limitations - they minimize or eliminate them. They don't RELY on ONE spell that MUST succeed or else they lose. They will cast several spells expecting that opponent saves will succeed, reducing or eliminating the spell's effects, until they just accumulate enough spells of half damage to do the job anyway, or that one save is finally failed. Where spells are concerned it's a game of attrition and knowing that lucky saves generally can't hold out forever.

This is also why many of my players will not up cast damage spells. An upgraded fire ball to level 5 only do 2d6 more damage for an average of 7pts or 3.5 if the save is made. Better cast a cone of cold.

And the spells that were dangerous to the caster either didn't get used at all, were only used in extreme cases, or again required PLANNING to use safely. If the way that you're playing the game is such that you manage more opportunities to plan your attack against opponents rather than just suddenly and unexpectedly find yourself in a fight, your gameplay reduces or eliminates the difficulties that are attached to those spells. And Vancian casting means that if you have that spell studied to be able to cast you HAVE already worked out how to handle the downsides of it or else you wouldn't have it memorized in the first place.
Q.E.D. When you know fireballs expand in confined spaces you don't use it in confined spaces. Not without proper planning, or at least with the willingness to bear the consequences.

Yep dangerous spells required a lot of caution. I miss those days.

This is, IMO, not a bad thing. Is the 5/10 minute workday not a common complaint of more recent editions?
A LOT of 1E is a matter of resource management. You WERE (at the time) expected to be tracking rations, ammunition, spell components, encumbrance, and more. Managing the resource of how many spells you could cast was no different and NOT more difficult - except in comparison to an edition that reduces or eliminates ALL resource management rules.

It is still here in 5ed if the DM isn't careful. I fully enforce random encounters so that the 6-8 encounters per day is met at all times. Since random encounters do not give experience or treasure, the 5MWD has simply disapeared in my games.


And you've got the rules for resting a bit incorrect. A 1st level caster recovering a single 1st level spell only needs to rest 4 hours and then study 15 minutes per level of spells being recovered. A 1st level caster in a long day can then (theoretically) cast five 1st level spells that day, not just one. They are very capable of casting and recasting as long as time can be and IS taken to rest for a few hours at regular intervals. At the other extreme a caster needing to recover a 9th level spell needs to rest 12 hours to start with before spending 15 minutes per spell level re-studying their spells. An 18th level caster needing to recover ALL their spells will spend a total of 20 1/2 hours doing so.

Stick to the example. It took almost 3 days. As the caster will take a rest. Memorize spells up to 12 hours. With the initial 12 hours rest for 9th level spells, he could only memorize 2 spells of 9th level and he would still have 7 hours left for a few spells. All in all, it would take about three days.

Sadly, that's also inaccurate to phrase it that way. To reach 2nd level and 20th level for example, yes the magic-user is second only to the paladin in xp needed to advance. But, for example, to reach 10th level the magic-user needs LESS xp than clerics, fighters, paladins, rangers, assassins and monks. In fact, they need HALF the xp that a fighter needs at that level. Clerics need less than fighters at that level. Even a ranger needs only 65% of the xp to make 10th as a fighter does. Comparison of xp requirements across classes is never a straight-forward matter in AD&D because the tables are that inconsistent.

The mortality rate among young magic user going on adventure was staggering when played correctly. But yes, the tables were highly inconsistant.
 

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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Not all DM were the "Gotcha" type. I certainly was not. But I was rutheless and merciless (and still am today). I apply the rules and play the monsters with intelligence. This is what I have shown many young/new DM to do in their games. It makes for better games.

The idea that spellcasting during combat is dangerous is baked into the rules. Again, the DMG specifies that intelligent monsters will direct attacks against spellcasters if not engaged by other opponents so as to be prevented from so doing.

DMG 65. This is hardly surprising, given that this is what PCs do.*

It is unquestionable that many table made it much easier to play spellcaster; it is also undoubted that the RAW made life very difficult to take full advantage of spellcasting in combat.


*Unless your monsters play by the whole, "How did we agree to attack him? All at once! And how did we attack? One at a time ..." school of strategy.
 



dave2008

Legend
That's great! I always give rebates pro rata based on how far you read, so it's a good thing you bailed early!

I didn't bail on your article (I always find them interesting), I just had to stop and post a comment. I read the rest of the article after posting the comment. You

Which leads to the question ... why even frame a comment like this? Do you think someone is likely to respond in a productive manner? Is it more, or less, likely that I would read this and say, "Hey, this guy is making his comment in a totally reasonable way. I think he seems exactly like the type of person I should engage in conversation with!"

At best, insulting people is likely to lead to them ignoring you; at worst, they are likely to insult you back.
I wasn't trying to insult and didn't think I was being insulting. Was I being a little cheeky, sure. Regardless, if I insulted you, or you took offense to my comment, my apologies. I was just trying to make an observation that monster damage on 1e was a lot less as well, which undermines that part of your argument a wee bit. Now, the overall thesis is solid and I agree with. Again, my apologies.
 

dave2008

Legend
But it is profoundly odd, to me, for someone to write a comment essentially saying, "You're stupid and I didn't read your post." Great! So ... why respond to me? :)
As I mentioned in my reply, that was not my intent (and I did read your whole post). I also don't understand how you would come to that conclusion from my post. However, this is a poor medium for communication. and it is probably best to assume positive intent, even if that is not the trend.

PS After reading it again I can see how my post came off more snarky than I intended. Again, my apologies.
 

dave2008

Legend
While I think replying to a post without reading it is... a dubious practice at best, I will say it is human nature to assume anyone who doesn't agree with you either A) knows less than you, B) Has less experience than you, or C) Is less intelligent than you. I wish it wasn't that way, but the knee-jerk reaction of... a staggering majority of people... is one of those three.
Of course I assumed neither A, B, or C when I made the comment - and I did read the whole post. I just had to stop reading to make my comment.
 

The 1e thief class is a cruel one. Their chances of success at doing the things they are supposed to do is so abysmal for so much of their leveling progression. Considering that a big part of that would've been trying to find and disarm traps, their poor skill at doing so would've made them the most likely to fall victim to them.

2e enabled you to use kits and special gear to at least be okay at a few things early on, but the class didn't really become viable until 3e.

He may not have been overly found of MUs, but boy .... he really hated thieves.

It's funny, because you read the PHB and you're all like, "Well, it's hard to be a thief."

And then you read the DMG and it's all about nerfing what little the thieves can do!
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I was just trying to make an observation that monster damage on 1e was a lot less as well, which undermines that part of your argument a wee bit. Now, the overall thesis is solid and I agree with.

A level 18 MU has, on average, 35 hit points ((11*2.5)+(7*1)=34.5

Level 18 is far beyond where most campaigns go. A red dragon, to use your example, does d8+d8+3d10= 25.5 on average, but up to 46 points of damage; easily enough to kill the MU outright (1e did not have death saves or negative hit points)- so in your example, the monster could output sufficient damage to kill a level 18 MU in one round.*

Moreover, level 18 MUs would be facing the cream of the crop- the equivalent of Dungeon Level 10. That was the "Arch Devil / Demon Prince / Elder Titan" category. Importantly, you wouldn't get a red dragon; you'd get two.

The point is that at any given time, if a MU was facing level-appropriate monsters (or NPCs), they would likely be able to output sufficient damage to kill him in a round. Not always. Sometimes you'd have to look at the monsters' extra abilities. But you were always a bad few dice away. And this is before getting into multiple monsters.

35 hit points isn't a whole heck of a lot for 18th level. The point I was making is that there were many ways to take 35 points of damage in a single round for an 18th level character.


*In this example, on rolls of 6 and 7 (d8s) and 10, 7, and 6 (d10), you were dead. That's not Yahtzee. And that's not taking into account the breath weapon, which was a much bigger problem.
 

Blue Orange

Explorer
Not sure if this counts or not, but I played the heck out of the old Goldbox games, Pool of Radiance (as mentioned before) and its three sequels, not to mention the three Krynn games and two Savage Frontier games, and worked with FRUA (the construction set) some. While no computer game can really simulate live tabletop play (especially in the 1988-1991 time period where dungeons were 16x16 maps and you could hide from monsters by running behind a wall), some of the things you're saying do ring true.

Only the first game started you at 1st level (with read magic, shield, sleep, and detect magic as described). The inefficiency of the 1st level mage is well-described--sure sleep would take down a gang of kobolds, goblins, or orcs, but after that you were pretty much useless.

The higher-level wizards got pretty powerful, though. One thing is that limits on damage output by level started with 2nd ed--the last in the series, Pools of Darkness, let your characters get up to 40th level, which meant your fireballs did 40d6 damage, in an era when monsters rarely had more than 100 hp. Even before that, though, the fights in the later games tended to devolve into spamming fireball on large numbers of monsters.

The somewhat-famous (to retrogamers anyway) first sequence of the final fight in Pools had a sequence where you face about 8 dracoliches in addition to a similar number of custom monsters (Bits of Moander, shambling mounds with a petrification or poison touch attack, Blue Bane Minions, demon analogs with blue dragon breath weapons and Fire Shield permacast in the era when it did double the damage you struck the enemy with, and Pets of Kalistes, custom giant spiders with basically the spellcasting ability of a 13th level magic-user). The whole thing turned into a Wild West-style who-has-the-highest-DEX-shoots-first-and-lives, because you had to drop a Delayed Blast Fireball on them before they wiped you out with their lightning breath. The next sequence involved your party taking on seven beholders...and there's one after that.

If you like tactical combat and can tolerate (or actively enjoy) over-the-top cheese, I actually recommend them highly. ;)
 

Not sure if this counts or not, but I played the heck out of the old Goldbox games, Pool of Radiance (as mentioned before) and its three sequels, not to mention the three Krynn games and two Savage Frontier games, and worked with FRUA (the construction set) some. While no computer game can really simulate live tabletop play (especially in the 1988-1991 time period where dungeons were 16x16 maps and you could hide from monsters by running behind a wall), some of the things you're saying do ring true.

Only the first game started you at 1st level (with read magic, shield, sleep, and detect magic as described). The inefficiency of the 1st level mage is well-described--sure sleep would take down a gang of kobolds, goblins, or orcs, but after that you were pretty much useless.

The higher-level wizards got pretty powerful, though. One thing is that limits on damage output by level started with 2nd ed--the last in the series, Pools of Darkness, let your characters get up to 40th level, which meant your fireballs did 40d6 damage, in an era when monsters rarely had more than 100 hp. Even before that, though, the fights in the later games tended to devolve into spamming fireball on large numbers of monsters.

The somewhat-famous (to retrogamers anyway) first sequence of the final fight in Pools had a sequence where you face about 8 dracoliches in addition to a similar number of custom monsters (Bits of Moander, shambling mounds with a petrification or poison touch attack, Blue Bane Minions, demon analogs with blue dragon breath weapons and Fire Shield permacast in the era when it did double the damage you struck the enemy with, and Pets of Kalistes, custom giant spiders with basically the spellcasting ability of a 13th level magic-user). The whole thing turned into a Wild West-style who-has-the-highest-DEX-shoots-first-and-lives, because you had to drop a Delayed Blast Fireball on them before they wiped you out with their lightning breath. The next sequence involved your party taking on seven beholders...and there's one after that.

If you like tactical combat and can tolerate (or actively enjoy) over-the-top cheese, I actually recommend them highly. ;)
Heh, the reason I brought up PoR earlier in the thread is that I recently re-started the series a week or so ago. I've cleared the slums and gotten everyone to levels 2 - 3, and plan on tackling Sokol Keep once I get home from vacation!
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
The rules for initiative were in the PHB. They weren't organized into a single neat section like the DMG, but it was there.
You could have stopped at "... they weren't organized": 1e initiative rules as written were a 5-alarm nightmare. :)

We long ago simplfied them and beat them down into something playable, a system we still use today. We also converted casting times so they'd work with 6-segment rounds (never made sense that casters used a 10-segment round [6 seconds each] while everyone else used a 6-segment round [10 seconds each]).
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
That said, it's helpful to look at what the rules provided in terms of spellcasting. There were a number of structural features in the rules to keep magic users in 1e at a relatively lower power level, especially in combat (out of combat was a different story).
Agreed.

That said, it was quite common to discard a lot of rules; weapon speed factors, weapon v. ac adjustments, and so on were not used at many tables. And it was not uncommon to see tables that didn't take into effect the length of time it took to cast a spell (or the whole V,S,M).
Yep. We dropped weapon speed and weapon-vs-armour type ages ago, but we've kept (and always will!) casting times and components.

We added 'body points' to allow for the idea of long-lasting effects of getting hurt; and as body points are something you have before you even start adventuring, the net effect was to give everyone a few more h.p. In theory this helped low-level survivability. In practice...well... :)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
One of the real challenges both I and other DMs have found with higher-level 1e-ish play is trying to find ways to effectively threaten the 85-hit-point Fighters without wiping out the 20-hit-point mages and without always having to resort to save-or-dies.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
The 1e thief class is a cruel one. Their chances of success at doing the things they are supposed to do is so abysmal for so much of their leveling progression. Considering that a big part of that would've been trying to find and disarm traps, their poor skill at doing so would've made them the most likely to fall victim to them.

2e enabled you to use kits and special gear to at least be okay at a few things early on, but the class didn't really become viable until 3e.

I didn't do much with rogues in 3e I must admit, but the 5e rogue is so nice. When making a PC I often try to "plug gaps" - much more comfortable to do so now. Their capacity to get themselves out of trouble is very nice.
 

Ace

Adventurer
He may not have been overly found of MUs, but boy .... he really hated thieves.

It's funny, because you read the PHB and you're all like, "Well, it's hard to be a thief."

And then you read the DMG and it's all about nerfing what little the thieves can do!

The thief was a class pushed into the game by players . Some combination of attribute rolls, surprise rolls and player ingenuity were supposed to handle those tasks.

The cleric , monk and others were also like this. The classes of course suffered for it as until 3E D&D had mediocre mechanics for things like stealth.

As to the MU, its really not very good except in the hand of a good player and even when you use max HP as many did, it was far too fragile. It ended up being "toss a spell." ad the rest of the game darts or daggers from the back.

However this because both the magic item economy and hirelings/henchmen got sidelined in play. Magic items in 1e and before were very common and mid level MU (5 or 6) may not have many personal spells but he'd have many items even a wand with lot of charges. Clever players could often find enough items to outfit the entire party and have enough left for henchmen too

From the DMG 1E

Henchmen, whether male or female, are greatly desired by the discerning players, for they usually spell the difference between failure and success in the long term view. They are useful in individual adventures as a safety measure against the machinations of rival player characters, provide strength to the character and his stronghold, and lastly serve as a means of adventuring when the player character is unable to. “

A PC MU with decent rolls might have several henchmen. hired mercs, a war dog and a large party of adventurers (player groups were often 6+ back in the day) with their own guys in some cases which can handle a lot of troubles.

We never used henchmen or hirelings or honestly reaction rolls that much which is a shame, They were a major part of the game that became to cumbersome in the kind of play that developed.
 

Wasteland Knight

Adventurer
Good observations! I played a lot of AD&D “back in the day”, and the OP rings true.

lots of MU characters never made it past 1st level. Since Sleep was an extremely effective 1st level spell in 1E, I remember low level MUs basically being one or two shot Sleep spells then throw some darts!

I also remember few games actually using speed factors or segments, but I think maybe play was influenced by speed factors. Plenty of games I played in would resolve each round by first going through any missile fire, then melee and only then spells.

IIRC, being a multiclass demihuman Fighter/MU let your cast spells in armor and wield Fighter weapons, because I remember a lot more multiclass MU characters than pure MU characters.
 

Hussar

Legend
@Man in a Funny Hat made a number of excellent points, but, I'd also like to address the XP thing as well. Yes, at 1st to, IIRC, 4th or maybe 5th, MU's needed a lot of XP. Then ZOOM, they just rocket up levels. To the point where they are generally one level ahead of fighters until 14th level. It was a wonky progression.

But, I'm frankly baffled why all these MU's get into melee combat. Didn't you guys plug up the front line with a couple of fighters and a cleric? Poof, no one can reach the MU and you cannot fire through melee easily. It was ridiculously easy, most of the time, for the MU to stay out of combat.

And, of course, I notice that this discussion has completely ignored magic items. Let's not forget our 100 charge wands of fireballs or magic missile. Those can't be interupted. If we're talking a double digit level MU, he's likely picked up half a dozen wands, a staff and possibly a rod or two. It's not like anyone else in the group can use them. And with the gobs of charges that AD&D wands had, it's not like you'd ever run out either.

Who else in the group did you give the Bracers of Defense to? And the ring of protection? We drilled our MU's AC into the stratosphere as fast as we could. Which also tended to mean that the MU had insane bonuses to saving throws as well - effectively saving on 2's and 3's by the time we hit double digit play.

And, this also ignores the fact that a lot of AD&D spells had insane durations. Charm person could last for WEEKS. Protection from Evil BLOCKED all physical attacks from extra-planar creatures. Stoneskin (Unearthed Arcana) lasted until you had taken X number of attacks and blocked all physical damage until then.

It's not like MU's were helpless here. Let's not oversell things.
 

Good observations! I played a lot of AD&D “back in the day”, and the OP rings true.
It seems to be stating the blindingly obvious to anyone who has ever played 1st edition to me.

And I still don't get the purpose of pointing it out. 1st edition was 1st edition, for those of you who liked that sort of thing 1st edition was the sort of thing you liked.
 

Wasteland Knight

Adventurer
It seems to be stating the blindingly obvious to anyone who has ever played 1st edition to me.

And I still don't get the purpose of pointing it out. 1st edition was 1st edition, for those of you who liked that sort of thing 1st edition was the sort of thing you liked.

What's the point of your comment? Why do you seem to be both condescending and rude in response to a perfectly reasonable post I made? Seriously, don't you have basic good manners?
 

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