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OSR Old school wizards, how do you play level 1?


Since you don't need to spend gold on gear, you might want to invest in a hireling or two to survive. But other than that, throw darts, as others have mentioned :)

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Staff member
Depending (somewhat) on edition & campaign…

Throwing darts/daggers

Using my sling

Swinging my staff

Firing my longbow

Swinging my longsword

Throwing flaming oil/tanglefoot bags/marbles/caltrops

Watching for other threats


Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
You’ve cast your single spell for the day and combat breaks out again. How do you spend your turns?

Remember that combat isn't for Magic-Users...it's for the Dwarves, Elves and Fighters. You can try to fight alongside them, but you should expect to have a very short lifespan. Instead, I recommend you hang out with the Thief or the Hafling in the back line of the marching order, handing out potions of healing to those in need. The Cleric will appreciate the backup! Hold the torch or lantern. Throw oil and holy water, and the occasional dagger.
(*Caveat here: Halfling is the "secret Ranger" class in B/X and generally a better frontliner than an Elf, due to having the same HD and armor, faster advancement, greater resilience to poison, and better AC against large foes).

Stand back, keep watch in all directions, direct traffic, be ready to catch anyone who flees in fear, be ready to drag anyone downed on our side out of the combat, support the line where I can, and otherwise just do my best to stay out of harm's way. If I have to fight, my dagger or staff is at hand.

Or, if staff is my weapon I do have reach, meaning I can poke it through the front line or swing it over a short party member's head to reach a foe. I've done this numerous times.
Pretty much these. Although M-Us being able to use staves is not always guaranteed, depending on what version you're playing, and them having reach is a house rule outside of later editions. I like it as a house rule, though.

Keep alert for danger, hold the torch or lantern, throw daggers, drag bodies, throw flaming oil or holy water, or give orders to the hirelings. Once you've got a little cash, you should usually hire your own bodyguard Fighter, if you can.

If you're playing Holmes Basic you can also make scrolls at low level, a great rule which sadly didn't become core again until 3E, but some DMs of other old school versions are open to as a house rule. Some will also make scrolls available for sale in town from a local M-U. For example, in L1 The Secret of Bone Hill, the base town has Pelltar the Sorcerer, who keeps three apprentices employed scribing scrolls which are available for sale to adventurers.

But in an old-school game, especially at 1st and 2nd level when NO ONE has a lot of HP, in theory combat shouldn't be taking up a ton of the session. And there should be a decent percentage of fights that are functionally resolved in single round by Sleep, Turning, or one side or the other running away after a casualty or two (playing old school without Morale is always a bad move, IMO). So even just hanging back and holding the torch shouldn't be that big a deal because it's not that much time spent chilling out.

Players playing M-Us get to spend as much time as everyone else solving puzzles and exploring, negotiating with NPCs and the occasional monster who you get a good Reaction Roll with. More, typically, if you're playing OD&D or the Basic line with those language rules, because you get an extra language for every point of Intelligence over 10, so if you've got a decent score there you and any demihumans are likely to be the party linguists.

One thing I also noticed in an OD&D game I played in for more than a year is that M-Us have access to a surprising number of magic items which Thieves, Fighters, and Clerics can't normally use. As long as your DM is giving out a decent number of items those should pretty rapidly give you more options. And of course spell scrolls help too.

My answer is a little different. Don't play a level 1 Wizard. If you're in a 2e game, talk to your DM about playing a specialist Wizard. I say this because you're going to be limiting the potential spells you can cast, and you might want to find out if your DM will do you a solid by not throwing out a bunch of Evocation scrolls and the like if you decide you want to be an Enchanter.

If you're in a 1e game (or your DM is very much in the "the world does not change to suit the PC's" mindset, I suggest a good multiclass. Sure, you'll level slower as a Wizard, and even at higher levels, be about a level and a half behind a full class Wizard, depending on your exact choice, but I find that this gives you more to do to support the party for when you run out of spells.

A Fighter/Mage might not be tough enough to melee, but you can use a bow effectively. A Thief/Mage will eventually get some out of combat support. A Cleric/Mage, like the Fighter/Mage might not be a good choice for melee, but it's more spells, and everyone loves having more heals available!

EDIT: or if you're pre-AD&D, the Elf class is worth looking into.
Elf didn't become a class until 1981, for the record.

But your strategy isn't a bad one. The downside to multi-classing, or to playing an Elf in B/X or BECM, is how long it takes you to get a second and third HD. I had a really successful OSE Advanced Half-Elf character in an online shared world game who got into at least two or three fights where he would have died if he had been a full Elf, because he would have been a level lower and had fewer HP.
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My single spell of the day was hardly ever in combat. And if it was, it was usually sleep (encounter ender, right there). It was usually charm person. So during combat, I kinda was the fighter, as my charmed person did the fighting for me while I also attacked from range (the attack tables at level 1 were pretty much the same across the board, so I had roughly the same change to hit as the fighter did).

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