Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Don't Lab Me In

My path of thinking up until yesterday ran as follows:

Mr. Wizard
* Several of the classic magic-user spells can be duplicated by more mundane, "scientific" activities like research in a lab, digging in a library, or just straight up buying stuff. Why throw a low-grade damage spell when you can throw a dart? Why cast Mount when you can buy a horse? You can research, replacing Identify and Comprehend Languages; dowse, replacing Detect Magic; throw oil, pour acid, spread grease ...
* So it would make sense that if wizards are to have "at will" skills, they should be mundane skills like research or alchemy, while spells are restricted per day or effectively per encounter.
* Most of these abilities would require some kind of base like a library or laboratory, which the character could borrow from an established wizard at first, and work up to owning their own.
* The skills would automatically succeed in this base, or at least only fail on a very low chance. The wizard could also try to use the skills in the field at a lower chance of success; trying to remember how that ancient script goes, for example.

This would lead to a vision of the low-level magic user as a dart-throwing, horse-buying, half-mundane scholar; a scientist-wizard, as in historical medieval times when the realms of science, magic and medicine were not all that distinct. Very "Forgotten Realms, " Greenwoodian realism, the kind of thing that appealed to me in the fantasy settings of the 90's.

But the more problems I had implementing this, the more I started to kick against the very idea. The One Page idea doesn't have space to mess around. Its character classes need to shine in bold, distinct primary colors, not "realistic" but drab mud-hues.

Put this in your lab and smoke it!
The hell is SCIENCE? You want me to MIX CHEMICALS IN A LAB? Screw that! A wizard does everything by magic. He lights his pipe with his thumb. Has a minor demon do the dishes. Magic upholds her very costuming, in most cases! (see illustration)

And on top of that, your wizard is an adventurer. Can't be tied down to a lab for too long. Even renting out a lab in each new town is a bit too much of a chore. That kind of mundane stuff is for other people to do, and for adventurers to pay for in rich yellow coin looted from a moldering tomb.

So instead of lab abilities, I've decided to add one page of low level spells, and just increase the number of spells available per day. That's coming up next, along with a specific mini-debate about the Identify spell.

Did I make the right call?


  1. I think it really depends on one's setting. I don't know that I'm sold on the "does everything by magic" idea as that soon leads to Harry Potterish territory that may mudane-ify magic too much for me. On the other hand, I certainly think ostentatious wizards use magic when they do have to just because.

    I do like the idea you hint at that D&D magic-users aren't scientist or researchers. These are just fly by the seat of there pants guys that live fast and die young. They're mainlining magic to get them to a specific goal, not trying to get published in thaumaturgic journals. Given that sort of view, I could support the low-level spell idea maybe.

    They're just such show-offs!

  2. Maybe it's matter perspective. Instead of doing everything with magic, wizards view their power as something too great to waist on frivolity. They have arms, they can wash their own dishes.

    I like what Trey said about "mainlining magic." Excellent imagery, but I've always got that sense from sorcerers, not wizards. Wizards plan ahead, look at options, and determine the best course of action. Sorcerers just do it.