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Saturday, May 3, 2014

This is a post about high level wizards (AKA.. the lost post of foundness)

Old school wizards.
Lovem , or  get dimensionally gated away to Taturus...

In my last post I wrote a bit about how I want to handle wizards and spells in general in my latest game design effort. With this post I want to tackle the general idea of wizards in a fantasy RPG, and how I think in some way s they have been historically mishandled.
(that referenced post is here)

I mentioned in that same earlier post the idea of Quadratic Mages vs. Linear fighters and  provided a link to an article that give the idea a better treatment than I could hope to.
Here it is again

After reading that  I had a bunch of information to think about but what continued to come to mind  is the one thing being left out of the equation in most of the wizard discussions I have seen. That thing is the game master, and he or she has a lot to say about how wizards are going to be handled as they progress in levels.

In my opinion, wizards should be special, flexible and powerful at high levels.  Looking at characters as stat blocks, and saying “The level 20 wizard is out of whack because it can do X amount of damage in one round while the level 20 warrior can only do Z amount of damage in the same round,” is counterproductive to developing good stories.
I agree that on paper the warrior has reason to be jealous, but is the warrior jealous? No, the warrior is to damn busy riding out with a phalanx of knights behind him to do battle with the minions of the wizard’s next most powerful rival before the bad guys can sack the nearest port.
The party wizard is cloistered in his tower while his spirit is matching wits and battling minds with that same rival off in some bleak corner of the ethereal plane.
At high levels every player (Not using “character” here with purpose) deserves a share of the limelight, deserves  to have activities in the campaign that are designed for them and allow them to shine. Generally speaking most characters will grow out of facing of with room after room of monsters in some dank dungeon basement eventually. When that transition take place the traditional structure of party becomes less useful and a new group of powerful allies is born.

This where I think a lot of games / campaign mishandle wizards. Yes after level 13 or so AD&D wizards start to statistically leave the other classes behind. In my opinion there comes a time when wizards should no longer be lining up against ranks of baddies like the rest of the  sword swinging normies. A Gm has to recognise the transition and  move the  players and the characters into new phase of adventures. The temptation is to keep doing the same things, only with bigger badder monsters. At some point with many games, the party will run up against something that really only that high level mage can handle and the fighters will be looking at each other thinking "so um why did we come along?" 
(In Ad&d second edition, I take the easy way out I have the  levels from 5th to 10th take a while, so the party spend more games in what I like to think of as AD&D 2nds sweet spot.)

Every high level character should have his or her place. Considering a lot of things trace back to The Lord of the Rings, let’s look there for a second (Nobody geek cop me here, I'm no Tolkien expert.)  Gandalf does not succeed without the hobbits, or Aragorn, they all played their parts.
After  merry and Pippen are reunited with the majority of the party, the fellowship in many ways breaks apart each going their own way and using their  individual skills to effect the war of the ring. Aragorn enlists the ghosts of the men of the White Mountains, only he could do that.  Gandalf broke the spell over King Théoden, and fiddled with the palantír, things Aragorn was not suited for. In fact Gandalf did his best to keep Surumon focused on the black gate and not looking  for two hobbits climbing mount doom, the high level wizard matching wits with is greatest foe.

(For the public record there is this "Gandlaf was a fifth level wizard" which is a great read and an interesting intellectual exercise, but putting levels to fiction doesn't work, Gandalf was the shit.)

A powerful mage in an RPG should be presented with situations that are suited to them and others that simply spread them too thin, or at the least require them to think further afield than “METEOR SWARM!” Making that happen is up to the GM.

Balance in game design is important, however in roleplaying games unlike other games there is a safety valve known as the Game master that has the ability to cater challenges to the players, and the capabilities of their characters. Alot of games balance issues can be mitigated or even eliminated if the GM  does not look at characters as a stat block, and considers what the high level wizards (warrior's / priest's / thief's) place in the overall fiction should be.

As always question comments and shenanigans are encouraged!
Thank you for reading.

Some wizard related links:
3.5 look at wizards downtime
Many faces of Merlin
Wikipedia entry "Powerful wizards in fiction"
Roles of wizards in  fantasy literature (good Read)
Wizards realm wizards in fantasy

This is a lizard dressed as a wizard, I found it on Imgr when I mis-typed