The Magic User as Delayed Gratification: Mentzer Reflections Part 9

I continue to work my way through the Mentzer Basic set.  The previous entry can be found here.

Magic-users suck.  And the book tells you how much they suck:  "Other Ability Scores are often low;" "Magic-users greatly fear damage;" all other classes can wear armor but "magic-users can only wear their robes;" "they are easy to hit;" "they have few hit points;" "one surprise could kill you;" "be sure to call for help if you get into a battle;" "Beware of other magic-users;" "never try to fight a monster hand-to-hand" (italics in original).

There's not much going for magic-users in the Basic set.  Really, you get two things.  First, the promise of further awesome power: "Magic-users start as the weakest characters, but can become the most powerful!"  Lightning bolts are mentioned, but we have to wait for the Expert Set for them.  The second thing you get is the sleep spell, which is a pretty good encounter-ender for the Basic level encounters.  So, in at least one encounter, the magic-user will be awesome. Other than that one encounter, however, the magic-user is just biding her time and hiding behind the fighter.

I was struck by how up front the Basic book is about the power curve of the magic-user.  They do not compare to other classes for the first few levels.  Implicitly, then, they are not for everyone.  As a player, then, you have to be patient, skillful, and in this for a longer haul if you want to have your magic-user doing a whole lot.  I think this asks a lot of 13 year-olds and is a marked difference from not only 4E, but even from 3E, where wizards get crossbows.  It's almost as if the Basic text is saying to the magic-user's player: "Patience, child. . . bide your time. . . let them do all the dirty work. . . then one day . . .one day you will make them all pay for their weakling jokes and snide comments with your FIREBALL . . . mwahahahahahaha!"

Or maybe that's just how I played my magic-user.

It also further justifies demi-human level limits, I think.  If the magic-user doesn't eventually grossly outstrip the elf in terms of magical power, then why bother to play the magic-user?

The rules for magic that follow are also very interesting.  Highlights:

  • The DM is in complete control over what spells the magic-user has.
  • Spell books are big and not really designed for adventuring.  Later in the magic section, magic-users are advised to bring a mule on adventures that last more than one day to haul the spell book.
  • All magic-users of less than 7th level have teachers, who give the magic-user her spells when she levels up.  The text notes "they will not affect most games."  I found this fascinating!  A built-in NPC patron!  How can that not affect the game?  In addition to the "go get this McGuffin" and "I can certainly answer your questions, young pupil" aspects, I can just see some PC magic-user getting fed up that the only spells he's getting from his teacher are Floating Disc and Locate Object and hatching a plot to off his teacher and steal his spellbook, which sounds awesome.
  • "Any magic-user can cast a spell found on a scroll as if it were memorized, regardless of the level of the spell."  Whoah!  A first level magic-user can use any scroll!  There's a way to get rid of that pesky teacher right there!  While she can cast a spell from a scroll, she can't put it in her spell book until she can cast spells of that level.  That's another interesting lesson in delayed gratification, as well as creating an interesting resource allocation dilemma.
  • Magic missiles do not instantaneously shoot from the magic-user's fingers.  Instead, a glowing arrow follows her around for the duration of the spell or until she decides to shoot it.  Of course, the duration of the spell is only one round, so I am not sure how that really differs from being instantaneous.
Reading through the other spell descriptions was interesting as well, but nothing jumped out at me quite as much as the magic missile, since that's the spell that gets used over and over again.

I (re)learned lots of interesting things about the Basic magic-user.  Sure, they suck and are likely to die a lot at first.  But make friends with the fighter and cross your fingers for a few scrolls in the treasure horde, and your magic-user could be well on her way to becoming a Conjurer!


  1. Damn, I forgot all about that "any level" clause with regards to Spell Scrolls. Maybe I need to play Mentzer, write up a whole bushel of fireball scrolls, and pass em out to my first level henchmen "apprentices".

  2. There's actually a discrepancy with the Magic Missile write-up. In the spell descriptions, duration is 1 Round. But in the reference sheets in the middle of the book, it's listed as 1 Turn.

    Several posters on Dragonsfoot argue that 1 Turn is correct, and then proceed to demonstrate how broken MM is for Companion or higher level casters.

  3. "magic-users are advised to bring a mule on adventures that last more than one day to haul the spell book."

    Seriously? That is nearly the dumbest idea I've ever heard of in D&D. Geez.

  4. @Brian -- Exactly! Instant artillery. Though I think making scrolls in Mentzer is a lot more difficult than just spending 25 gp.

    @Gwydion -- You're right! I see that now. 1 turn makes a lot more sense given how the spell is described. And I could see how, at 21st level or so, you could cast the spell 4 times and have 36 missiles following you around for a turn, which could do 72-252 points of damage. Maybe a missile cap house rule?

    @Endra -- How else is the magic-user with 8 strength supposed to cart around a 2ft square book that is 6 inches thick and weighs 20+ pounds? Maybe a henchman instead of a mule? :)


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