Sunday, June 24, 2012

Reading Room: Magic-users by Retro-clone

"Are you sure that's not just a tackily-designed magical
spear? Because if it is, none of us can use it."
Similar to my entries from last year for the Fighter, Cleric, and Thief classes, I'm reading through the retro-clone descriptions of the Magic-User / Wizard Class to get some sense of the essence of the character class before building it in HERO System 6th Edition. Here are the older posts:

Yes, there is an 6th Edition Fantasy Hero book out -- HERO prides itself on allowing folks to build exactly the characters they want -- I'm just trying to figure out what I want from the classes first.

Basic Fantasy RPG says:
Magic-Users are those who seek and use knowledge of the arcane. They do magic not as the Cleric does, by faith in a greater power, but rather through insight and understanding. Magic-Users are the worst of all the classes at fighting; hours spent studying massive tomes of magic do not lead a character to become strong or adept with weapons.They are the least hardy, equal to Thieves at lower levels but quickly falling behind.

The only weapons they become proficient with are the dagger and the walking staff (or cudgel). Magic-Users may not wear armor of any sort nor use a shield as such things interfere with spellcasting.

A first level Magic-User begins play knowing read magic and one other spell of first level. These spells are written in a spellbook provided by his or her master.
It's interesting that both clerics and mages perform 'magic', but the sources or catalysts are viewed as different. In particular, the emphasis on insight and understanding suggests that mages are privvy to deeper knowledge about the esoteric arts, and perhaps the world in general (though they would be pegged as lacking in street smarts, if their wisdom score is low).

As is common to the D&D paradigm, they only get two weapons -- the dagger and the walking staff or cudgel -- and it's presumed that they're not quite as skilled with them, as they get the worst weapon bonus advancement in the game. Still, it can be inferred that perhaps they use these implements in intricate ways in spellcasting, because using either of these implements in combat does progress beyond pre-novice levels.

Here, it's suggested that magic-users may not wear armor or shield as they interfere with spellcasting. Arguably then, lower level mages might carry armor and shields around with them -- for use once their store of spells has been used up for the day. It would certainly lead to their survivability. The question of encumberance comes up, however, and given the stereotypical low-STR mage, the heavier armor and shield options immediately drop away.

Spells are assumed to be acquired from a master, and the first spell granted is read magic, plus one other spell. It can be inferred, therefore, that the mage may have cast other spells appropriate to 1st level during the apprenticeship, but these were learned from the master's spellbook during the learning stage.

Labyrinth Lord says:
Sometimes called wizards, warlocks, or witches, magic-users study arcane secrets and cast spells. Magic-users are able to cast a greater number of increasingly more powerful spells as they advance in level.

However, they are limited in their choice of weapons, as they are only able to use small weapons such as a dagger. They are unable to use shields or wear any kind of armor. For these reasons, magic-users are weak at low levels, and in an adventuring group they should be protected.

Magic-users carry spell books, which hold the formulae for spells written on their pages. A magic-user can have any number of spells in a spell book, but can only memorize a certain number of spells that he can know off-hand to cast at any time. This number increases as a magic-user increases in class level.

Reaching 9th Level: When a magic-user reaches the 9th level, he is able to create spells and magic items. These rules are in the Magic Research portion of Section 8.

A magic-user may build a stronghold, often a great tower, when he reaches level 11. He will then attract magic-user apprentices (1d6), who will range from level 1-3.
Here, magical ability seems to derive from arcane secrets -- knowledge of esoteric magical lore kept hidden from the general populace -- rather than being attributed to deep insight or understanding. It is knowing, perhaps even memorizing these things, not necessarily comprehending them that is key to arcane power.

On weapons and armor, they are specifically proscribed from using any (except for 'small weapons'). Rather than ascribing this to the needs of spellcasting, this suggests that there is an absolute lack of emphasis on it (and they pick up the small weapon combat skills as a necessity from adventuring, albeit very slowly). It also suggests that perhaps there is another reason -- interference with arcane abilities beyond encumberance, perhaps due to physical reasons (metal interferes with spellcasting) or mystical reasons (the crafting of weapons and armor clash on the metaphysical plane with a spellcaster's ability to tape the arcane).

Mention is made here of being able to create one's own spells and magic items, which suggests experimentation with the memorized formulae above. This portion of their career seems to parallel the default view in Basic Fantasy RPG -- one where experimentation and engineering of magical spells and artifacts require the intuition and understanding of the principles of magic.

Finally, there is a statement on the typical path of growth on the magic-user career. It is an interesting statement on what typically happens in the adventuring world for the successful mage.

Sword & Wizardry says:
The Magic-User is both a figure of mystery and a student of mysteries, steeped in ancient and arcane knowledge. As a Magic-User you have studied long hours deep into the candlelit nights, delving into the parchment pages of cobweb-covered magic tomes, learning the intricacies of magical circles and runes, the strange significances of the stars and moons, the disquieting theories of mad philosophers, and above all, the casting of magic spells.

You can be a truly devastating opponent as long as your fellow adventurers protect you from physical combat, in which you are the weakest of all the character classes: completely untrained in the use of armor, barely adequate with even the simplest weapons, and having fewer hit points than most other members of an adventuring expedition. You are not limited to the role of providing the party with offensive spells, though, for your spellbook provides an array of other spells that can be critical for surviving the perils of dungeons, lost temples, and other such places where you might venture in search of treasure and knowledge.

If you succeed in such forays into the wild and dangerous places of the world, you might eventually rise to such heights of power that you can build a mystically protected tower for your researches, create fabulous magic items, and scribe new formulae for hitherto unknown spells. Such great Archmages can sway the politics of kingdoms, commanding respect and fear across the realms.
Mages here are cloaked in mystery and no mean amount of sinister imagery, and the fact that they deal with mysteries and perhaps occult secrets that are perhaps meant to be kept to a privileged few. Here it's mentioned that they ignore 'even the simplest of weapons' and even their hardiness in combat is touched upon.

However, the power they may accumulate will eventually grant them the ability to shake the futures of realms -- should they survive.

OSRIC says:

Magic users are a rare breed—practitioners of the mysterious art of arcane spell casting. A lengthy apprenticeship of study and practice allows these somewhat eerie individuals to store arcane energy within their minds and to release it in the form of spells. Magic users cast spells by speaking a few magic words, weaving complex gestures in the air, and employing rare and magical materials. While magic users (with illusionists) are the weakest character class in combat, this weakness is balanced by possessing the most powerful and versatile spells in the game.

The full underlying principles of magic are beyond mortal comprehension; even wizards of the profoundest intellect struggle from momentary inklings to understand its more complex patterns. Nevertheless, those character who possess formidable intelligence and a certain intuitive gift, who are willing to devote themselves to a lifetime of study, may in time sufficiently master the art to be capable of shifting mountains and shattering entire armies. High-level magic users are the most feared and dangerous characters in the game.

Magic users do not gain bonus spells for high intelligence scores; intelligence does determine which spells they can understand and how many spells they may learn for each spell level.

Magic users are dependent upon their spell books, and normally may only cast spell they have learned from these books (exception: magic users may cast spells from arcane magical scrolls). Mages may not cast spells from divine, druidic or phantasmal magic scrolls. The acquisition of a new spell is difficult and demanding and must normally be accomplished through adventuring, although the mage will automatically receive one new spell of the highest spell level that he or she may cast upon acquiring a new level of experience.

Magic users are the only class capable of fabricating magic items that they cannot themselves employ. Clerics, druids and illusionists can fabricate magic items, but only those they themselves can use; items such as magical swords, that no primary spell casting class may use, are in their creation the sole province of magic users.

At 11th level, a magic user may establish a stronghold (usually a tower or small keep) in the same manner as a fighter.
The mechanism of spellcasting it touched on in most detail here, where in 'arcane energy' is stored and released after an apprentice has learned the techniques necessary to do so. However, it is suggested that the true underpinnings of magic are unfathomable to mortals; it is something approached and manipulated by beings who -- even at their hightest levels -- are considered as wasing into the shallows. They are akin to physicists and engineers working on the Manhattan Project, unlocking deadly secrets that can shatter worlds.

Perhaps this can be a reason for the number of magic-users who go 'mad' as they seek to control or master aspects of the arcane whose costs may not ever be fully understood.

It's also stated that magic-users are the only class capable of crafting magical items that other classes can use. An interesting insight that adds further weight to the image of a magic-user as perhaps someone interested in the machinery of war, but unwilling or unable to devote the time to becoming a practitioner. Especially since more efficient avenues to waging it lie just around the next unlocked secret or rediscovered spell.

Consolidated Class Guidelines

This is a tough one, rather similar to my difficulty with the thief. I need to define either one or many valid views on the magic-user, and then define how that is handled mechanically, as well as setting-wise.

I think there's a solution for great latitude in the class, but it takes a bit more reading, thinking, and writing to crystalize.

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