Monday, December 17, 2018

Gygaxian Magic-User Spell Usage

Question: In what proportion do Gygaxian magic-users tend to prepare spells of different use-cases, such as offensive, defensive, or miscellaneous types?

This may be of interest in loading out wizard-types in the same sensibility as the original game designer. Obviously it doesn't make sense for wizards to sit around without any martial spells at all, nor would it make for an interesting game. On the other hand, there seems a need for wizards to have some spells usable for things like information-gathering and research, since presumably they are engaged in that most days in their lair, not combat.

"So, then, does a threatened cleric cast a know alignment spell upon an aggressor? Or a hold person? Obviously, the latter choice is far more logical in 99% of the cases..." (AD&D DMG, p. 105)

Methods: What I've done below is scan through the main Gygaxian adventure line -- the T-G-D module series -- and make a tally of all the spells explicitly prepared by the magic-users there. This includes predominantly humans and Drow, as well as tournament PCs given in the 1981 publications. The coding to O-D-M (offensive, defensive, and miscellaneous categories) has attempted to follow the example in AD&D DMG p. 39 for wizard 1st-level spellbooks. Notably, in the "defensive" category we include any type of barrier or travel spell (per DMG p. 39: hold portal, jump, spider climb, feather fall). The "miscellaneous" category is predominantly information-gathering spell (e.g.: comprehend languages, detect magic, identify, message, etc.), as well as some other types.


(ODS spreadsheet here.)

Conclusions: We found 18 magic-user types in this search. Broadly speaking, looking at the total percentages in the lower-right of the table, we can say that offensive-defensive-miscellaneous spells appear in a ratio of about 3:2:1 (suitable for d6 rolls). Initially I expected a higher proportion of miscellaneous type at the lower levels, but this is not borne out: e.g., percentages for offensive spells by level run 62-42-59-62-45-60%, with no consistent pattern. Follow-up questions could be to detect patterns in load-out in terms of relative highest level per caster, or for bias compared to overall proportions in the rulebook spell roster, but these seem unlikely to be productive.

One thing I did look at was the few cases where spell books are specified for these magic-users, beyond just the spells they have memorized (N = 4; Burne, Falrinth, Deggum, and Senshock). In these cases, the proportions seem flipped for the additional spells: roughly in proportion 1:2:3. The number of added spells in one's book varies between about 100% and 200%, with an average close to 150% (somewhat higher than I might have initially guessed).

It should be pointed out that my list only includes spell levels 1-6, because (a) I'm mostly interested in the context of use for an OD&D game, and (b) only one caster in the series above has spell levels 7-9 (namely the lich Asberdies lurking in D1). Another observation is that the total number of detailed magic-users is itself smaller than I might have expected; to a large degree, Gygax's go-to spellcasting bad guys are predominantly evil clerics. (e.g., temple in B2, Lareth in T1, commander in T2, female Drow leaders in GDQ, etc., etc.). This is somewhat interesting in contrast with the near-nonexistence of spellcasting priest-types in the pulp literature (which I've written about on this blog too many times to count, perhaps).


9 comments:

  1. Any spells that often showed up? Sleep, fireball, magic missile, invisibility?

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    1. Good question, I didn't think track individual spells. I have a sense that were a lot magic missiles (maybe not many sleeps, possibly related to likely level of PCs). E.g., Deggum in T2-403 has nothing but 3 magic missiles and 2 invisibilities (along with more multiclass cleric spells).

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  2. This is one of the (multiple) reasons that I've taken a different tack with magic-users recently: I don't allow MUs to memorize duplicates of spells they know. Combined with the standard B/X take on Vancian magic (a magic-user's spell book doesn't contain more spells than she can cast in a day), it assures mid- high-level magic-users carry (and make use of) a wider variety of spells.

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    1. Agreed, that's been a core OED House Rule for a long time! (link) Since 2012, according to my archives. So many good reasons to do this -- I think it matches the Vancian thematics better, and also simplies record-keeping.

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  3. I love this line of research, Delta. It does make me want to go over my notes looking for gaps in the spell lists for spells that would be useful in the library or laboratory, but would require more creativity to be handy in the dungeon.

    It also makes me wonder how scrolls fit into the mix, especially player-made scrolls. While everyone is happy to have more firepower, the huge capacity of wands delivers that in abundance, and the list of wands leans heavily to offense. One-use scrolls are perfect for specialized utility spells, where the extra resource cost makes sense as a way to be prepared for a contingency that lasts until required, while leaving the relatively cheap memorized slots for the more generally applicable offensive and defensive spells.

    In turn, this makes me consider scrolls biased towards general utility as standard equipment/treasure for NPC magic-users.

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    1. Thanks and excellent point! When the option is available, my PCs definitely seem to do that (more utility/miscellany on scrolls). I suppose there's also the possible use-case of someone using them as a means to transmit new spells to someone else's spellbook.

      I will point out that I reduce wand charges in line with Moldvay/Cook (full 20 in wands, 40 in staves), as the OD&D numbers are so super-enormous, and even reduced to this level the price per charge (in OD&D) still seems worthwhile.

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  4. Any reason to focus solely on published material? As opposed to deciding a methodology for your own game, I mean. We should expect example characters from modules and game supplements to have a disproportionate mix of offense/defense/utility magic because these products are all about supporting the core of the game, i.e. killing things and taking their treasure. Might it make more sense to approach with assumptions about the world, how wizards learn magic and the sort of magic they're likely to possess?

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  5. apologies for being months out, but I would say a good rule of thumb for emphasizing the /feel/ of Gygaxian wizards is 2/3rds offensive, 1/4th offensive, and the balance is utility. This changes at 14th+ level, and with the following "must have" utility spells: polymorph other/any object, limited/unlimited wish, enchant an item, permanency. Wizards also wrote their own spells and having 20-70+ different spells, with 10-20 different spells memorized wasn't uncommon, but you would always see something like a Magic Missile, Fireball, Lightning Bolt, Wall of Force/Iron/Fire, and another Fireball or Magic Missile.

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    1. Well, that's an interesting take on it. What would be the context where your intuition comes from, personal play?

      (Note that I'm playing OD&D mostly with just LBBs, so none of the "must have" spells you mention are in my game except for polymorph other.)

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