Something I’ve thought about for a while but never tried is giving magic-users a low-power combat power. The main point would be to give low-level magic-users something more to do; a side benefit would be that it would help address our desire to make low level characters a bit more survivable without doing too much to unbalance the design of the game.

What I’m thinking is that magic-users would gain the ability to fire a “magic blast” each round which requires a normal to-hit roll and delivers 1 hit point of damage if it hits. It would have a range of 20′. The way I’ve got it written right now is that on a natural 20, it delivers 2 points of damage instead of 1. The caster would require a wand, staff, or other “focus object” to cast the spell.

I’m not sure about its ability to hit creatures only struck by magic weapons. I’m leaning toward allowing it, but only for those struck by +1 weapons. Some of the more powerful sorts, which are struck only by +2 or better weapons, would be immune to the piddly little magic blast.

I’ve seen others suggest similar things in the past. Has anyone played with something like this? Any feedback or suggestions?

UPDATE: I meant to add that I see this sort of along the lines of the characters in Harry Potter going “Stupefy! Stupefy! Stupefy!” with their wands in the fight scenes.


38 Comments to “Magic Blast”

  1. spop says:

    Is it like a “force bolt?” Would you be able to use it in a non-combat situation as well? Like, could your magic-user break a bottle or zap a coconut out of a tree? And if you’re using race-as-class, no way should elves get this.

    • Kilgore says:

      Good question. I guess I’d see it as a weak magic missile, and I don’t allow magic missiles to do much other than deliver hit points of damage.

      FWIW, I’m planning to use a cantrip-like “magic trick” system that will have some tricks that allow breaking a bottle, etc. This magic blast was originally one of the possible tricks, but I split it off from that.

      • spop says:

        One thing that could be cool is maybe a higher level character can deal extra damage, say maybe one extra point of damage per every 3 or 4 levels. Nothing big, but you could take out giant rat or kobold in one blast.

        • Kilgore says:

          As I’ve got it now I increase the odds of getting a second point of damage every few levels (5th and again at 9th, I think) but have resisted the temptation to up it further. My thinking is that by the time M-Us get to higher levels they’ve got a lot more spells to choose from and to use daily, so the puny magic blast wouldn’t look nearly so attractive.

          That’s sort of what I’m going tor, but I can also see upping damage and making it a sort of “wizard’s duel” spell very much like Harry Potter being sort of cool.

          • spop says:

            I like the focusing object idea, especially if your characters
            are imprisoned somewhere – Give the magic user a shiv!

        • Kilgore says:

          Actually, using the 1hp still makes it just fine for a “wizard’s duel” if the idea is that it’s a sort of macho mano-a-mano show that young magic-users engage in to show that they’re not really the wimps that everyone else knows them to be.

  2. jstater says:

    Instead of damage, they could create small combat bonuses for their comrades. Thus, “Stupify” could involve penalizing an opponent’s AC by one if the magic-user manages to hit them. There could be hit adjustments, damage adjustments, etc. These probably wouldn’t be game changers, but they might be more substantial than 1 or 2 points of damage.

    • Kilgore says:

      Hmmm. That’s an interesting idea worth thinking about. If I use this, I plan for it to be used in either the missile or spell step of combat (B/X/LL style) which means that it would happen before melee.

      I have intentionally kept it not too “substantial,” though. I was originally thinking of 1d3 or 1d4 damage like a dart or dagger, but that is excessive for an unlimited-use ability.

      • MoonSylver says:

        I’d seen this on the LL board before: 1D4, same range as a thrown dagger, roll to hit (to hit bonus based on Int instead of Dex), which I liked the idea of a lot.

        Overpowered? Haven’t tried it in play yet. Stipulation of hands free & able to speak still apply. Still too overpowered? Require a focus such as a dagger or wand.

        That plus the “Colour of Magic” suggestion (allowing MU’s to do small things that they could normally do such as light a candle or open a unlocked, non stuck door, turn a page, etc w/ MAGIC instead of the mundane way) are two of the favorite MU house rules I’ve seen around.

        • Kilgore says:

          Thanks for the tip. I knew I’d seen it somewhere, but I had no luck searching earlier. Tried again and found it.

          We’ve talked about the “Color of Magic” idea too, which is also a good one. We’re thinking of using a cantirp-like system for minor spells, so between that, magic blast, and “Color of Magic” we need to keep things from getting too out of control.

          The thing I like about the magic blast-type thing is that M-U players will be able to be way more involved in regular play and make a measurable difference. Lighting a candle with magic instead of a match is quite cool, but it doesn’t really make a real big difference in actually playing the game most of the time.

  3. Al says:

    I did something similar to this, wherein a MU could discharge a spell as a blast of raw magical energy, doing 1d6 x level of the spell plus 1hp/MU lvl. So for instance, the 3rd lv MU, in a pinch, could sacrifice his memorized ESP spell to blast an orc for 2d6+3 points of damage.

  4. Chris M says:

    I dig both this idea and Al’s sacrifice blast ideas a lot. So much so, that I’m going to put them both into play asap.

    What about the option of the magic blast doing 1 point of damage as a ranged attack, and addding 1 point of magic damage if the MU makes a successful attack in melee with the focus weapon(staff). That way the mu can still use the magic power if cornered.

  5. Mike Monaco says:

    Kind of like a spell or power they can use at will. This is the sort of thing that you’ll only see in the OSR! 4e would never include something so kewl. 😉

    Seriously I’ve been using something like that since AD&D, but we called them “darts”. I think you are proposing a magical dart that has a 20′ range and rof of 1, but needs no ammo. I’m not sold. Sorry.

    • Mike Monaco says:

      That plus the “Colour of Magic” suggestion (allowing MU’s to do small things that they could normally do such as light a candle or open a unlocked, non stuck door, turn a page, etc w/ MAGIC instead of the mundane way) are two of the favorite MU house rules I’ve seen around.

      OK, now I’m sold. I can see letting a wizard launch his darts magically, perhaps needing something of similar xcost/encumbrance to do it, and that’d be pretty cool.

    • Kilgore says:

      “Not sold” because it’s less effective than a dart?

      • Mike Monaco says:

        Not sold partly because it is more powerful than a dart (no ammo needed). But mostly because it is a solution to a non-problem. You’re MU has limited spells? Well, maybe try doing other things with your MU besides casting. Hire some men at arms and order them around. Buy some oil and a torch. Buy some darts. Etc.

        • Kilgore says:

          Thanks for clarifying on that. I am getting a lot of “why would anyone use this?” because of the low damage, and I can see the point.

          As for “doing other things” so far all I think all of the ideas I’ve seen (excluding new rules or powers) are:
          -hold the torch
          -throw oil
          -order men-at-arms around
          -throw darts or daggers

          Two of the four are direct attacks which deliver more damage than this proposed magic blast, but magic blast is bad because it makes magic-users too awesome in combat.

    • Kilgore says:

      On the Goblinoid Games board someone said it sounded “sorta like 4e” to which I replied: So what?

      A good idea is a good idea. I think this might be a good idea, and won’t dismiss it just because 4e does it.

      • Mike Monaco says:

        Not dismissing it because 4e does it. Dismissing it because it uses exactly the reasoning 4e used to do things that I think are not good for the game. If you want every PC to be awesome in combat, just play 4e. But it’s your game. Play however you want. I’m just saying I am not tempted at all by the idea AS A WAY TO IMPROVE MUs. I do however like the notion of allowing the MU to do things magically they could already do anyway, which is why the second comment say I am sold on it. Sorry if that was unclear.

        • Kilgore says:

          Dismissing it because it uses exactly the reasoning 4e used to do things that I think are not good for the game. If you want every PC to be awesome in combat, just play 4e.

          I’m not familiar enough with anything later than early 2e to know exactly what was done or what the reason was for doing it. Do you emean making everyone “awesome in combat”? This certainly does not do that.

          I do however like the notion of allowing the MU to do things magically they could already do anyway

          Which is exactly why I proposed the magic blast as an alternative to throwing darts or daggers.

          [EDIT] Oops, didn’t realize you were the same commenter as above. Not trying to pile on against you. Just curious about the resistance this is getting because I do not understand it.

          • Mike Monaco says:

            “Awesome in combat” was a little overheated (maybe 4e tries that but obviously your idea is not going to make 1st level MUs into artillery). I was a little quick to jump on the “The main point would be to give low-level magic-users something more to do;” part.

            4e pundits always carp on and on about how 1st level MUs in 1st/2nd ed. are too weak. I think 1st level MUs have plenty of options already. If you just want them do it with magic rather than darts, I have no problem with that. I prefer low-magic/ S&S games but the magic blast would be fine for high fantasy.

            Your idea seems like a natural progression from “Cantrips” which I guess arrived in late 1st ed. AD&D?

  6. Erin Smale says:

    A couple of things for your consideration:

    I’ve revised the magic-user class to give it a bit more ability, though this tack makes use of the RC general skills.

    Another bit I tried was introducing cantrips (don’t think AD&D cantrips here), which were minor spells that didn’t count against the caster’s daily allotment. Guidelines were:

    * Detect things within 1’/lvl (requires INT check)
    * Cause 1 point of damage (requires a staff or wand – this hits enchanted monsters, but bypasses AC; this might be like your Stupify)
    * Reveal properties of an item (must be held/touched); up to one property per level is known
    * Translate languages via INT check (applies to runes, non-magic scrolls); requires 12-level turns (minimum 1 turn)

    Each cantrip cast saps 1hp, which regenerates at the rate of 1 per round (8 hours of sleep restores all sapped hit points)

    These are fast and loose, and require some interpretation. Maybe this calls for a blog entry to flesh out…

    • Kilgore says:

      Wow. Thanks for the link. I had actually given the magic-user an inherent d6-based chance to detect magic until we added magic blast. Interesting that you gave a similar ability (first). I aslo like the identify-ish ability. I will definitely look this over as we work through this.

      • Erin Smale says:

        Sure. The idea was to get the MU to do more magic-usery things than increase combat potential (which, as you point out, happens at higher levels anyway). We thought of stuff wizards were “supposed” to be able to do, and the revised class and cantrips (or the way we handled them) fit the bill.

        I also really like Al’s idea of sacrificing a memorised spell to release raw energy as an attack. Personally, I’d rule that a wand or staff is required, or some sort of focus, but it’s a nice option in a clutch situation, and certainly reasonable from both an in-game and game-balance perspective.

        • Kilgore says:

          I like that sacrifice a spell to unleash raw magic, and it fits in very much with our explanation of how magic “works.” Game-wise, it sort of reminds me of the later-edition rule that clerics can trade in spells to heal. MUs trade in spells to attack. Makes sense.

      • Kilgore says:

        Gah! Short sword?!? That’s crazy. LOL.

        I have been fighting the urge to expand the number of weapons MUs can use. Not because I think it doesn’t make sense (because I think it could) but because MU players will end up with lots of dead characters.

        • Erin Smale says:

          Heh. Call me crazee 😉

          I approached it from the “How about 1d6 instead of 1d4 damage” side of things (see also: Weapons and Damage on the WP site – specifically how class impacts offensive capability when using variable weapon damage).

          Maybe think of it as a long dagger instead of a short sword. Still, in all campaigns I’ve ever played, hand-to-hand fighting was always the MU’s last resort. With low AC, low hit points, and crap “to-hit” rolls, wielding a two-handed sword wouldn’t be enough to entice MU players to wade into melee…

          • Kilgore says:

            I agree that MUs SHOULD NOT wade into combat. But I know my players, and they have yet to learn the art of living to fight another day. (Not that several harsh lessons have not been given…) We’re wearing out dice rolling up new characters all the time.

            Anyway, I had missed that you were using that weapon damage system, though I read it when you posted it and like it. I’m resisting that or other “damage by class”-type schemes because they threaten the cross-compatibility that I’m trying to maintain with our system. (Not sure why I care so much, because I’m not planning to try to sell it or anything.) But if I write adventures for our system and then post them or send them to Knockspell or something, I don’t really want clerics with swords or magic-users with battle axes.

            Our clerics are basically Jedi Knights, so the sword thing would fit perfectly. But it’s maces instead of light sabers.

  7. Stuart says:

    We used a “Zap” at-will spell in our old school D&D game last year. d4 damage (like a dart), unlimited ammo, but shorter range and required the magic-user to be holding their wand. We also had some other minor at-will type spells (Glow, Hover, Spark, etc)

    • Kilgore says:

      I’ve finally started listening to the audio of your game and completely stole the “glow” idea for our cantrip-like “trick” system we’re looking at using in addition to this magic blast.

      In fact, I had originally included the magic blast in with the tricks (which all have one-word names) and called it “zap,” which I also stole from your game.

  8. yeah I’m in the not sold camp. Other than for role playing coolness why would any supposedly intelligent magic user use this over a thrown dart or dagger which do more damage, can be poisoned, do criticals (if you use such a system), can be set on fire to alight some oil(darts). All the darts/dagger a mu unburdened by armor/shield/helmet/weapons is effectively unlimited ammo over duration of typical combats.

    I’m against the whole idea personally. There’s plenty for mu to do other than “damage” just like the fighter and other classes. Although, I totally love the colour of magic ideas (I’ve seen numerous).

    • Kilgore says:

      A lot of the feedback I’m getting is asking why even do this if it only causes 1 or 2 hp of damage. Some of that feedback is coming from my son, who is co-writing our homebrew game with me. I can see the point and agree. 1d4 damage might be coming.

      I’m also going to put up another post on playing magic-users at lower levels and asking how others do it, so be ready with some of your ideas/experiences. In my games for the past 30 years playing magic-users at anything below 5th level has been a terrible experience.

  9. Chris M says:

    I’ve always felt the MU weapon restrictions were nonsensical at best. I use the class based damage rule for them and allow them to use any non-exotic weapon they choose.

    Why would/should/could/n’t a MU with a moderate strength defend himself with that Dwarven axe or hammer that’s just sitting on the floor next to him?

  10. […] feedback I’ve received so far on the magic blast idea has been great. Lots of good points and suggestions have been made both here and on the thread […]

  11. David says:

    I have absolutely no problem with d3 or d4 points of magical “zap” powers. I also like Al’s idea of sacrificing a spell for an increased zap. Kinda like how a 3.x cleric could sacrifice a spell for instant healing.

    If I recall correctly (this was a long while ago) I think I used a similar rule back when I played RC D&D.

  12. […] any further comments that depart pretty significantly from what’s already been said on the Magic Blast and Playing Low Level Magic-Users posts from the past several days or the thread over on the […]

  13. […] a few links regarding the Magic Blast and Low Level Magic-Users I’ve been posting about […]