For those of you who have been somewhat hesitant to pick up 4th Edition, let me tell you something that changed my mind when I heard about it and maybe it’ll change yours: They fixed magic users.

The number one thing that bugged me about 2nd edition was the fact that wizards had only one spell. Maybe they had three in their spellbook, sure. Magic Missile, Sleep, Feather Fall, maybe? But you can only cast one per day. Oh, and you don’t get to pick it from a list. You have to choose it when you wake up.

So you cast, I dunno, Sleep maybe. Hurray. 1d4 goblins went to sleep and, for the rest of the day, you were a guy with 4 hit points and a sling. And you probably had to roll a 16 or better to do 1d6 damage.

The addition of sorcerers in 3rd addressed some of the bigger problems with magic. Hey, they could cast spells 3 times a day! Day one! Now, they only *KNEW* a couple of spells, but there are only a handful of spells worth knowing in the first place. Better to be able to cast the good ones at will than one one of all of them with 8 hours of prep. (Don’t get me wrong: Wizards make great NPCs)

4th Edition has finally nailed down and made the wizard fun to play: Magic Missile (or whatever) is an at-will spell. Just cast it! Now, it may *MISS* when you cast it… but you no longer turn into “weak dude with sling” the second the first round is over.

I’m getting into the 4th Edition Game more and more and finding that they’ve really done a good job updating the game to make it more of a thing like Gygax seems to have intended 1st Edition to be when he released it: a game where everybody has their own role to play and it’s a game for the *GROUP* to work together.

It’s weird because it seems that Pathfinder (Edition 3.75) has (finally!) turned into the “role-playing” game that role players had been leaving D&D for back in the days of Gurps and Warhammer tabletop…

Anyway, what stories have you?


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to


  1. I consider the fixing of the “linear warriors, quadratic wizards” problem to be one of the biggest achievements of 4th Edition.

    • It also always bugged me how fighters became better at hitting things by hitting things, Clerics became better at praying and hitting things by praying and hitting things, Thieves became better at picking pockets and backstabbing by picking pockets and backstabbing, and Wizards became better at casting spells by hitting things with a sling.

  2. Featherfall is a third-level spell.

    I often found Grease to be useful. A wizard (or sorcerer) could protect an entire flank for a few rounds by slowing all the beasties down for a round or two. Think of it as a poor man’s Web.

    Way back in the 1st Edition days there were no offensive spells in the 2nd level list, either. It was Magic Missile or Burning Hands or Shocking Grasp and then the long wait until fourth level when you could add Fireball to your spellbook–but don’t fail that check to copy it into your spellbook!

  3. I am one of those that is not a big fan of 4e. It reminds me too much of WoW or the likes. Also, I find making a character and figuring out his path to greatness… boring in 4e. The last problem I have is wrapping my head around some classes at will powers. The rogue is the worst. Who in their right mind woudl not take Sly Flourish? Why is the hell does you opponent never figure out your feints?

    Pathfinder is my favorite out of the D&D versions. They have come very close to getting it right. First level wizards are almost right. Most will have 3-4 1sl level spells at first level, if they specialize they have a first level power they can do 4-8 times a day (some are better than others), and they can cast their 0 lvl spells at will. Of course, these spells are pretty pathetic, but it is better than missing with a sling.

    To me what makes it great is the compatability to 3.5 books. Call me a power gamer all yuo want, but I love being able to mix and match classes with feats to make really cool character mixes. That is one of the big things I find fun to do. Still, Pathfinder made the basic cases much better, so that those people that do not like looking for these mutli-class combos, can have good characters without it.

    Still, I think it is better to start characters at 3rd level in Pathfinder.

    • I have played one game in my life that lasted more than 10 sessions.

      The rest have been 4-6 and, prior to that, 1 or 2 with something happening to break the group up because someone has a baby or something like that.

      • No, but I have talked to a couple people who play it regularly (3-4 characters at max level).

        Our magpie nature does not help with advancing characters very far as we flit to the next game. Maybe we can try to stay with something for longer. I would like 4e, because I would like to see how the 4e progression works for real and not in my theory. I am not sure how well that would go though with the reluctance of our DM.

        • I’m still planning on hankering for a Dresden game when Ghost Story comes out… NEXT MONTH!!!!!

          • is that the game where the setting is destroyed by massive fire bombing?

          • This is a true story:

            A few years back I was arguing about WWII and, in one of the offshoots about Total War Theory, I mentioned Dresden.

            One of my interlocutors came back asking me what in the hell a fantasy wizard had to do with anything.

            He was not kidding.

          • To add to the absurdity, this was before I was intimately familiar with the Jim Butcher books. I had no idea what he was talking about when he asked me about what wizards had to do with the conversation.

  4. I still run 1e, ’cause I’m old school like that, yo. But my house rule list is long.

    I’ve always worked around the magic-user problem, here’s my solution:

    One, house rule has always downplayed the “you forget the spell” business. I’ve always used the “mana sink” explanation for spell casting. So as a Magic-User, you don’t have to pick your spell at the beginning of the day; you know your spells, and when you choose to cast one you burn up your tank, not your memory. Spell energy is banked in levels; if you’re able to cast 3 first level spells, one 2nd, and a third, you can actually cast 8 total spell levels of spells. You want to bust that out as two thirds and a second, go right ahead.

    Two, second house rule has always allowed you to tap the tank anyway. You just pay for it. If you’ve already tapped yourself out for the day and the whole party is about to get killed by an onslaught of orcs, you can throw that fireball.

    You’re going to take (spell level) x 2 in damage to do it, though, and take (spell level x 2) temporary loss to INT, too. You get back 1d4 of INT a day (no other recovery short of a Limited Wish works, damage can be healed normally).

    Whenever your INT drops, you have to roll your current “know spell” percentage for each spell you know; if you blow the roll, you have to re-memorize the spell from your spell book under the normal memorization rules, as you damaged your memory a bit (thus retaining the spell caster’s paranoia about keeping his/her spell book in good condition).

    This actually makes Magic-Users a lot more effective even at low levels, especially if they got lucky and hit a 4 on their hit points roll and have a decently-high INT.

    A 1st level magic-user with 4 hp and an INT of 15 or higher can cast three 1st level spells at first level, they just knock themselves out doing so. 🙂

      • Nope.

        As you can guess from the fact that I still play 1st ed when I do play, I’m not too up on the newer releases.

        AD&D (1st), GURPS (sort of a hybrid 3rd ed), Palladium, Champions, Paranoia… those are all relatively high on my pile of RPG rule sets. I’ve got a bunch of older stuff down at the bottom.

        The only thing that’s come out in the last decade that I’ve used is Mutants and Masterminds, which was okay. A little too four-color, though.

      • Interesting side note:

        When you get 9th level Magic-Users you get to see some very interesting variants in playing style. One who will use all of their spell levels on machine-gunning lower level spells (Magic Missile, although it does little damage, is great at keeping opposing spellcasters who like the bigger spells from concentrating and finishing their routines), and others who like to hang back behind a wall of brutes and Summon Ye Elde Nuclear Weapon Blasts.

        One other thing that was common was letting players play “normally restricted to NPC” spell casting classes, usually pulled out of Dragon magazine. I was (and remain) totally okay with players playing character classes from Dragon Magazine; the whole “it can imbalance your campaign” didn’t bother me so much, the two times it got out of hand I just executed the characters (confession) to get game balance back into sync.

        The Duellist, the other-aligned Paladins, the Bounty Hunter… those are all usable player character classes among others.

        I tried porting the Warlock from Palladium to AD&D; creating a spellcaster who was focused entirely on element-based spells. It was okay. I can dig up the class description if you’re interested in seeing it.

        • I can totally see that. You’ve got, what, 60ish levels worth of spells at that point?

          Running through a crowd with burning hands for the entire fight vs. casting chain lightning every three rounds? That’s a toughie.

          • Really creative players mix and match.

            One wrinkle which I thought of was letting people do stacks. Haven’t ever used it in play, though; it would work great for adventures that aren’t dungeon-focused, and make Magic-Users actually effective in mass combat (which, they frankly, ought to be).

            Let’s say you want to cast Fireball. It’s a 3rd level spell, and would take 3 spell levels worth of spell to cast. You’re fifth level, and thus would cast a 5d6 fireball with a range of N” and an AoE of M” radius.

            By doubling-up on the energy cost, you could double any one of the effects. So you could double the range, or the AoE, or the damage (or duration, for applicable spells). Quadruple up the energy cost, you can double two effects. Octuple up the energy cost, you can double up three effects. Each doubling also doubles the casting time, though.

            So a sufficiently high level of Magic User (say, the aforementioned 9th level dude with say 60 spell levels of spell) could cast a 18d6 fireball with double the normal range and double AoE out of doors, at a cost of 24 of those energy levels and octuple the casting time.

            In practice, this won’t get used very often, of course. But it does let your Gandalf flamroast an oncoming goblin horde when you’re out of doors.

            When I suggested this, the players were all for it. And then I casually said, “Of course, this would apply to the monster spell casters and NPCs, too”, and they started to look leery. Eventually it was voted down as too complicated.

            I think they were just terrified of what sort of havok I would bring forth with an ancient spellcasting dragon.

          • Sounds like you’re re-inventing 3.5 edition psionics.

          • Years ago I played with 2e and did the same thing you are talking about, with the wizards just having a total amount of spell levels. It started as a magic item I gave a wizard in the campaign that allowed that, but people really liked it and I added it as a regular wizard ability for later campaigns.

            That dropped away with 3.5 and I am not sure why. It took my group a long time to warm up to any 3e. We just house rule 2e for year, but when we finally changed, we loved 3e. The customization of your characters were awsome. It sold the group. Now, with 4e, that customization seems to be missing. Though I do wonder if part of that is not having anything more that the Player’s Handbook.

    • This is very similar to the magic system used in a 3.5 setting called Midnight. It’s a very interesting setting overall, basically all the gods are cut off from the world except the God of Evil and he successfully took over most of the world a century ago.

        • It should still be available from RPG Now. It’s bleak, but fascinating. The Elves and Dwarfs are fighting a last stand against orcish armies. The gnomes ply the river trade while secretly working for the resistance. The halflings are feral nomads, and orcs are intelligent and disciplined.

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