D&D General TSR to WoTC shift--OR--the de-prioritization on Exploration spells/classes

Croesus

Adventurer
Kind of an aside, but most of us have seen, in one thread or another, complaints about how spellcasters constantly step on skill classes' toes. They can find traps, cross ravines, sweet-talk NPCs, locate the treasure, etc. with a simple spell. But in reading this thread, I realize those folks have it exactly backwards.

OD&D and 1E lacked even rudimentary skill systems, thief excepted (and boy, was that rudimentary). If you wanted to sweet-talk that guard? Roleplay it and hope your GM gives you the result you want. Or just cast charm person. In a cavern, the exit from which is 20' above? Cast levitate. Locked door blocking your path (especially arcane locked)? Cast knock.

Spellcasters were the original skill monkeys.
 
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Voadam

Legend
Kind of an aside, but most of us have seen, in one thread or another, complaints about how spellcasters constantly step on skill classes' toes. They can find traps, cross ravines, sweet-talk NPCs, locate the treasure, etc. with a simple spell. But in reading this thread, I realize those folks have it exactly backwards.

OD&D and 1E lacked even rudimentary skill systems, thief excepted (and boy, was that rudimentary). If you wanted to sweet-talk that guard? Roleplay it and hope your GM gives you the result you want. Or just cast charm person. In a cavern, the exit from which is 20' above? Cast levitate. Locked door blocking your path (especially arcane locked)? Cast knock.

Spellcasters were the original skill monkeys.
OD&D core didn't have thieves, just fighting men, clerics, and magic users, so spells were pretty much the only defined non combat/hazard mechanics. Everybody had to roleplay/skill play out most everything non magic.

Then thieves were designed by a guy and then adapted by Gygax in OD&D Greyhawk as a magic user variant variant who traded spells per day for at will use of some abilities with crappy success percentages and less increase in different abilities over time with lower xp costs and leather armor.

That original thief design hurt non magical mechanical skills for a long time.

Nonweapon proficiencies as developed in Oriental Adventure were pretty cool in part because while they could be very narrow (tea ceremony, etc.) were not as incredibly handicapped in doing their thing as starting thief skills.
 
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Sacrosanct

Legend
Kind of an aside, but most of us have seen, in one thread or another, complaints about how spellcasters constantly step on skill classes' toes. They can find traps, cross ravines, sweet-talk NPCs, locate the treasure, etc. with a simple spell. But in reading this thread, I realize those folks have it exactly backwards.

OD&D and 1E lacked even rudimentary skill systems, thief excepted (and boy, was that rudimentary). If you wanted to sweet-talk that guard? Roleplay it and hope your GM gives you the result you want. Or just cast charm person. In a cavern, the exit from which is 20' above? Cast levitate. Locked door blocking your path (especially arcane locked)? Cast knock.

Spellcasters were the original skill monkeys.
The flaw in those arguments, especially in early D&D, was that it assumes the caster:

  • has the spell in the spellbook
  • has it prepared
  • was able to learn it in the first place
  • isn't interrupted
  • has the proper spell components

All things that aren't nearly as problematic in modern editions. Not directed at you personally, but a lot of folks I see make that argument either never played AD&D, or forgot/didn't use those rules. A 3rd level MU has only 2 first level and 1 second level spell. The odds of going into a dungeon only with spells that overlap a thieves' ability is almost nil*. For example, knock (open locks) is a 2nd level spell. Congrats, you burned your 2nd level spell on it, now what are you doing for the rest of the adventure?

The bottom line is that a MU isn't going to have the spell slots or spell availability (in the their spellbook) to be able to dedicate more than just a few spells until they are at name level or above. When the thief (who will be a higher level due to xp charts) will have a reliable chance of success at nearly everything and can do it over and over. It's important to have those spells, but you only have the ability to use a few of them. Thus the importance of a class like the thief. I wouldn't call someone who can open one lock a day a "skill monkey".

*in my OP in this thread, I guessed 50% were utility based on anecdotal experience from 40+ years of paying 1e.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
The flaw in those arguments, especially in early D&D, was that it assumes the caster:

  • has the spell in the spellbook
  • has it prepared
  • was able to learn it in the first place
  • isn't interrupted
  • has the proper spell components

All things that aren't nearly as problematic in modern editions. Not directed at you personally, but a lot of folks I see make that argument either never played AD&D, or forgot/didn't use those rules. A 3rd level MU has only 2 first level and 1 second level spell. The odds of going into a dungeon only with spells that overlap a thieves' ability is almost nil*. For example, knock (open locks) is a 2nd level spell. Congrats, you burned your 2nd level spell on it, now what are you doing for the rest of the adventure?
The rest of the day, you mean. I'm pretty certain that by RAW you could memorize different spells from your book the next day; meaning if your memorized 2nd-level spell today happens to be Stinking Cloud but you've got Knock in your book, if no other way past the door presents itself then tomorrow you can memorize Knock instead.

I'll admit that over the years the one thing about 1e mages I came to loathe was spell pre-memorization. The 3e Sorcerer mechanics were a revelation.
The bottom line is that a MU isn't going to have the spell slots or spell availability (in the their spellbook) to be able to dedicate more than just a few spells until they are at name level or above. When the thief (who will be a higher level due to xp charts) will have a reliable chance of success at nearly everything and can do it over and over. It's important to have those spells, but you only have the ability to use a few of them. Thus the importance of a class like the thief. I wouldn't call someone who can open one lock a day a "skill monkey".
Agreed.

The main issue I always had with pre-mem. was it meant the same very few spells always got both a) sought out and b) memorized, meaning wide swathes of niche or single-purpose spells never saw the light of day even though mages had them in their books.
 

Voadam

Legend
The main issue I always had with pre-mem. was it meant the same very few spells always got both a) sought out and b) memorized, meaning wide swathes of niche or single-purpose spells never saw the light of day even though mages had them in their books.
In my experience it varied.

Since 1e magic users gained spells through acquisition and not through choice at levelling you might only have a niche third or second level spell in your spellbook for a while. While you might seek lightning bolt, fly, and so on to prepare as fantastic spells, if all you have is sepia snake sigil or illusory page in your spellbook you prepare one of those and think long and hard about how you can possibly leverage it. What you find in an adventure can really define your magical tool set as an MU in a campaign.
 

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