Thursday, April 25, 2013

Class Careers: The Magic-User

So today, while musing about RPGs, it came to me that taking a look at the career of an adventurer from their lowly beginnings to the top tiers of their class's power.  Unfortunately, a lot of the classes don't have too much going for them (namely the fighting-man/fighter) but there is one class that I simply must write about.

Whether you call it them Magic-Users, Wizards, Sorcerers, or anything else, the magic using classes are always the one with the most progressive power increases over their career.  The term 'linear fighter and quadratic wizard' come to mind.  It's true though.  As a fighter gets higher in level he gets better at... fighting.  And not much else, depending on your game system.  He might build a castle and become a baron or start a mercenary company, but the abilities of a 15th level Fighter versus a 1st level one are not all that different.  Magic-users, on the other hand, experience the starkest changes in power.   They start as pin cushions that will surely die if hit by nearly anything, but eventually can grow to being able to slay gods (in Raistlin Majere's case).

Below, using the terminology of Dungeon Crawl Classics, Adventurer Conqueror King System, and Swords & Wizardry Complete, we'll watch the path of a lowly peasant as he becomes a demigod.  I'll be using male pronouns for ease of use as I'm imagining myself in this role, of course. :)

Birth through level 0: With a meager amount of hit points and armed with a garden hoe, the pre-mage toils away in the fields as a peasant farmer.  His biggest worries on catching a good harvest before winter and not coming down with some common disease.  Should he fall down a flight of stairs he might just die.  He probably has never left his own village or town and his exposure to magical things are in legends and perhaps meeting a traveling alchemist.

Level 1: Whether by fate or design, the peasant goes on an adventure with a number of other normal individuals.  Many die but learning from this experience, our proto-mage becomes level 1.  Perhaps on this adventure he meets a mage who offers to take him as an apprentice, or a chance encounter with a magical artifact and/or spellbook sets him on his path to power. 

At this level of power, the mage is still barely different from his former peasant self.  He has enough mental energy to cast one spell per day.  His more brutish adventuring companions may snicker at his weakness, but when that spell goes off, it is miraculous.  The mage may turn an enemy into a fast friend before the others eyes.  Or illuminate a dark room with pure magic.  He may shoot magic energies at his foes or even put a whole group of malicious foes into a slumber, ripe for throat slitting.  The magic-user does not often show his power, but when he does the others are mystified.  This is sharp power increase from level 0.  The individual has forever stepped beyond their normal existence into one of power pursuit.

Level 2: The mage's power does not increase heavily here.  He is a little more resilient, and is capable of unleashing more of his cantrip-like power in a day.  He is still weak physically, and must be protected by the more physically inclined party members, but they value the arcane secrets the mage brings to the party's power base.  The mage is still mostly an apprentice though, and is finding more spells either through discovery of scrolls or tutelage by a master.

Level 3: Once again, the mage now has gained enough experience to reach a new level of power.  Along with being more resilient and casting more spells of the lower end of power spectrum, he gets his first taste of true power over reality.  The mage will be able to create magical darkness, detect magical or invisible objects and beings, confer invisibility to himself or others, unlock doors magically, levitate objects, bolster the strength of his allies, conjure magical webbing, and more.  Where the 1st level of spells were little more than a magician's farce and slight advantages, 2nd level spells can change reality on levels that would completely blow the minds of normal folks.  At this level, a magic-user could easily scare a small village into worshiping him.  Unfortunately our magic-user is still in an apprentice role.  Fortune either smiles or frowns upon him as he delves dungeons looking for arcane lore and scrolls/spellbooks.  His master may still be helping him, but his avenues of gaining more power are limited.

Level 4: Another 'dead level'.  More resilience and more spell casting capacity, but no true secrets of the arcane are uncovered.  It should be noted that the magic-user can survive a few hits from orcs and the like now, if he is lucky.  However, if the level 4 magic-user could meet his level 0 self, the poor peasant might bow in fear of the strange powers he now possesses.

Level 5: Now here is where things get interesting.  Perhaps leaving his master's wing, or setting up a small library/workshop in some hovel, the magic-user has enough arcane know-how to being researching things on his own.   He is able to brew potions, scribe his own scrolls, and possibly uncover arcane secrets of his own.  Further more, he can now cast spells of serious magnitude.  On a whim the mage can choose to fly, send FIREBALLS exploding on his enemies, summon monsters to do his bidding, and even breath water.  Obviously there are more 3rd level spells but these are examples of just how crazy the magic-user has become.

Level 6: Dead level.  More hit points and more spells per day.  It's important to note we are coming up on mid-career now, or near enough.  Even at this point, the magic-user could pose as a god to a village of dumb peasant-folk and any challengers would quickly be burnt to a crisp. 

Level 7: More fun!  Another spike in power as the magic-user has access to level 4 spells.  Tales could be told of the mage who tamed a monster, drew doors to other places, mastered the elements and caused an ice storm, or crafted walls of ice and fire.  And at least we have the iconic power of reality of turning something into something it is not.  Fighter giving you a hard time?  Turn him into a rabbit.  Though foes can be turned, it's possible they could resist but when you turn a dragon into a salamander, no one is going to mess with you.  The mage's powers of reality are truly fearsome at this stage.  The mage is lucky to have gotten this far into his career without dying.  His tales are surely being told already, legends to be sure.

Level 8: Dead level.  You know the drill.  It should be noted that the mage can now cast a total of TEN spells per day.  His 'work day' is much longer than when he first started out.  He can waste lower level castings on more mundane tasks and save the big guns for dire situations.

Level 9: Alrighty.  What a long road it has been!  Chances are the magic-user decides he needs a place for all his library books of arcane lore he's been finding and builds some sort of Sanctum.  He may be approached by apprentice mages, much like himself at levels 1-3.  He also begins to dabble in the creation of magical items.  Maybe does his Fighter-buddy a solid and crafts a burning longsword for him (or curses it for fun).  To get the materials for such ventures he may begin creating his own dungeon to hold monsters he is raising or has charmed into living there.  He is 'that strange wizard who lives in the tower on the hill'.  Children tell scary stories about him.  He may be playing a larger role in the politics of a region, perhaps playing an advisory role to his fighter-buddy who built a fort in the wilderness.

He has access tot he fifth level of spell casting, meaning he can create terrible undead to do his bidding, conjure walls of stone or iron out of thin air, appear magically in places in an instant, and more.  He is a force to be reckoned with, even on his own.  We begin brushing the heights of power reserved for mythic beings.

Level 10:  Yeah yeah, keep it coming.  If the wizard hasn't retired yet he will now start getting into heavier stuff...

Level 11:  If before he only had a sanctum (ACKS) he now goes full-bore for a big ol' Wizard's Tower (S&W:C).  He may start researching great rituals of ultimate arcane power.  More servants, apprentices, mercenaries, and creatures folk to him.  His power reaches beyond even just spell casting.  He controls the fates of many others.  His dungeon might be getting quite large, with adventurer's plundering their deeps for treasure.  He might spend his free time creating magical constructs to do his will or be his servants.  The blasphemous cross-breeding of different monsters from his dungeon may be occurring.  In a sense, the mage is playing 'god'.  Creating new life forms and breathing new life into inanimate objects.  On the other side of the coin, he could be creating undead, or even working on turning himself into an undead lich so as to prolong his existence and continue uncovering more powers over reality.  Oddly at this level no new spell levels are opened up.

Level 12: More of the same, except level six spells are unlocked. He can control weather itself, magically force others into completing quests, turning people to stone, moving mountains, summoning great beasts, or even simply commanding creatures to die on the spot.  To say there are magical forces beyond this to be learned is insane, but the wizard will pursue this power.  He is nearly a demi-god already. 

Level 13:  Dead level.  Keep going.

Level 14/15:  From here the Wizard's power increase again.  He is charming plants to his bidding, conjuring demons from the abyss, reversing the force of gravity, creating duplicates of himself, and manipulating reality to an even greater extent.  All this as long as he has uncovered the knowledge necessary.  If the secrets cannot be researched by himself, he will use his vast array of tools and minions to help him.  He could be the great villain of a nation, as power corrupts.

Level 16/17: The power spike here is not as noticeable, as the Wizard has already risen to heights of power rarely known on the face of the earth.  He can create clones of himself, pull large numbers of people into his thrall, make temporary magical effects now permanent, and more. At this point these powers are merely a bonus to the incredible power he already wields.  Only one last step to go...

Level 18/19 and beyond: The last rung of magical power is now attainable.  The wizard can use astral projection to be places unseen and still cast his powerful spells, he can open portals to other planes of existence (even the Abyss itself), stop the flow of time, rain down meteors to the earth, and reach the ultimate level of reality manipulation (wish).  The Wizard is a godling.  The vast array of power wielding by this being is immense.

From his lowly beginning as a peasant-farmer, our 'hero' has climbed the mountain of power and is capable of truly incredible feats of magic.  Whether he uses it to challenge gods, keep the peace, or rule the world, he will leave his mark in history.  The equivalent level fighter might be a great emperor and fearless warrior, but even he cannot stand against a 'wish' to remove him and any memory of him from the universe. 


As you can see, the journey and career of a magic-user is fraught with danger, especially at low levels.  However, eventually the magic-user becomes as powerful as a mortal being can be.  An interesting journey to be sure, not counting the great epic tales the magic-user had as part of that career.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing this.  Whenever my players complain about having to be the squishy mage with a handful of hit points, I'll point them here so they can appreciate the power that could await them! :)


  1. Thanks for putting some perspective on the magic-user progression of power. I have always been struck by how casually even a player of a 5th or 6th level mage throw around what are really fantastic, unbelievable powers, and I love how you ground this in a way that shows just how crazy that is if you think about it.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. Glad you liked it. I think players often forget just how fantastical their own characters can be sometimes. I tried to write the descriptions from the perspective of a lowly commoner, at least in part. I don't know too many people that can turn invisible. :)