Stumped on Magic Blast

I give up. Barring 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 Labyrinth Lord forum, I totally admit to not having the slightest idea what a lot of people are talking about.

Objection to giving magic-users a power that allows them to zap opponents for 1 or 1d3 or 1d4 damage is surprisingly strong. Far stronger than I would have ever imagined. It’s not like I’d base my game on what other people think, but I certainly tried to find out what the cause for the objections were.

Unfortunately, resistance comes from a wide range of directions, many of which are completely contradictory. It’s too powerful and unbalances the game…while others say it’s too weak to be of any use to anyone. It’s a completely mechanical effect which does not seem at all magical…while others claim it’s nothing but fluff and, therefore, pointless. It’s such an alteration to the magic system that I might as well play a different game…but it’s also so meaninglessly the same as existing options that I shouldn’t bother adding it. It’s not needed because magic-users shouldn’t be fighting during combat, they should be doing other stuff…then they suggest throwing daggers and hurling oil.

One thing I’m relieved about after all the comments on the posts and the forum thread is the fact that my suspicion that I don’t really “get” the magic-user class has been unfounded. For years I’ve tried to work out how they should be played, thinking I must be missing something totally obvious. The only thing obvious from the comments is that I’ve been doing pretty much the same things everyone else has and have not been missing out on the magic-user’s true calling.

So, in the face of surprisingly determined objection, the magic blast is in our game just like it was before I posted. I have been convinced, to my son’s relief, that my original scheme of 1 point of damage plus 1 extra on a to-hit roll of 20 was insufficient to convince anyone to ditch daggers and darts, so we’re going to go with 1d4 damage instead. Regardless of claims that it’s A) not flavorful at all or B) flavorful only but that flavor doesn’t matter, I would rather have magic-users using magic than throwing daggers like any old non-magical character.

I do honestly thank everyone who took the time to comment, particularly those who responded to my follow-up points and/or questions. Even though in some cases I pursued arguments in an attempt to understand them, I certainly harbor no bad feelings toward anyone who commented. I’m perfectly happy to debate things online without getting all worked up, and I hope that everyone else felt the same.

So your mages will hurl daggers and mine will hurl magical zaps. I don’t think the orcs will be able to tell the difference.

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28 Responses to Stumped on Magic Blast

  1. Koren n'Rhys says:

    I think it’s the right call, K. I was of the opinion that 1 point wasn’t enough when you could hurl that dagger for 1d4, so I think you’re spot on. It is just window dressing, but that’s the point. Now it’s a cool magic attack that only the mages can do. No different than 1d6 from a sword vs a mace.

    • Kilgore says:

      Now it’s a cool magic attack that only the mages can do.

      See, if just one kid says that, it outweighs a dozen grumpy grognards saying “that’s not the way Gary did it!”

  2. Shayne Power says:

    Good for you.

    I think the discussion your plans have stimulated has been worthwhile but ultimately: it’s your game. And like you say, the orcs won’t be able to tell the difference.

    I’m about to start a new game with my small people and I think I might follow your lead on this one.

    • Kilgore says:

      The mention of “small people” is right on the money.

      Somewhere in one of these threads someone mentioned the fun that simulationists (my word) have working a system (my phrase). I had not honestly considered that, and though it doesn’t change my opinion about magic blast or the nature of a fun game, it does point out a certain type of player who may not care that it’s not “fun” in the way I perceive fun.

      Kids are not likely to think that sort of thing is fun. Ask them if they want to throw a dagger or zap with a wand. I bet I know the answer.

  3. Zanazaz says:

    You’ve made the right decision. Like many have said it’s your game. I don’t understand what the big deal is? It’s not like your saying everyone should use the rule. I like it by the way, it is useful for low-level magic users.

  4. The Bane says:

    I like the idea, especially in a Swords & Wizardry style game with set damages. I always wanted something more from the Magic-User. More so after reading about their perceived 900XP inflation, in the article about “Building the Perfect Class”. Now they might be worth it…

    I may be biased though. I seldom play Casters of any sort, not because the idea of Casters is unappealing, but rather do to the limited functionality that I perceived in them and the ‘fear’ I had of blowing the use of that one spell I had for the day at the wrong time… now if I ‘blow it’ I can still contribute magically without being a winged dagger chucker.

    Thanks for bringing the topic up. I wish I could have responded on the original topics. This has made me feel more comfortable in doing something similar.


    • Kilgore says:

      I seldom play Casters of any sort, not because the idea of Casters is unappealing, but rather do to the limited functionality that I perceived in them and the ‘fear’ I had of blowing the use of that one spell I had for the day at the wrong time… now if I ‘blow it’ I can still contribute magically without being a winged dagger chucker.

      Exactly. I have no doubt that M-Us can be played effectively without a magic blast. Duh. But because of the way the magic system works (which I’ll admit not being a terribly huge fan of) the downtime during play is off-putting. I just want to make what’s already being done a little more magical.

  5. DungeonicaDude says:

    Having lurked on this thread and over at Labyrinth Lord I was surprised as well by all the fuss and contradictory views.

    I’m starting a similar game with young people using LL and plan to do the same that you are doing. They still have to roll to hit and it just intuitively makes sense to me.

    The only hesitation that I have is the unlimited nature of it. If it is to be comparable to darts or thrown daggers, those items run out whereas the blast could go on ad naseum.

    A Magic-User were locked in a room could just hurl an unlimited number of magic blasts for hours at a time at the wall or lock to break it, whereas a dart or a dagger would break eventually or yield diminishing returns.

    I might implement it so that there is only a set number of blasts per day, such as equal to your INT or CON. I know this smacks of 4E, but it does put a cap on it somewhat.

    • Kilgore says:

      I will agree, the unlimited nature might be a bit of a problem. I’d rather not track uses per day as it would likely be a fairly large number, more than the simple 3/day or whatever.

      I’ve thought about tying it in to a CON check or something, making the player roll both a CON check of some sort and the to-hit simultaneously, and it only “fires” if the CON check passes. Sort of representing fatigue and making CON matter for M-Us a bit more. But I haven’t tried that yet.

      I’m hoping the unlimited uses are not an issue.

  6. Stuart says:

    We used “Zap” (d3 dmg) in our B/X D&D game last year. It’s the Actual Play podcast on my site (Expedition to the Ancient Academy) if anyone is interested in hearing how unbalancing it was in play (eg. not at all).

    I wouldn’t worry about number of blasts per day… it’s just not going to become an issue. 🙂

  7. JD Higgins says:

    Here’s how I would implement this rule:

    – A “zap” is a magical ranged attack that any magic-user can perform, even if he’s out of memorized spells. The damage is 1d3 and the range is 30’/60’/90′. A normal missile attack roll is require to hit with the “zap”.

    – In order to perform the “zap”, the magic-user *must* be carrying a wand. Not necessarily an enchanted wand of any sort; just any old stick that the magic-user can point at his target while shouting “abracadabra” will do.

    – The amount of magical “ammo” for the “zap” is somewhat limited. A magic-user can “zap” not more than once per round, and no more that one “zap” per point of Intelligence in a single game turn (encounter).

    • Kilgore says:

      I’m just using straight 30′ range (same as a dagger) and must be using a wand. Not planning on a limitation at this point other than 1 per round. We’ll see how it goes in play.

  8. Cameron Wood says:

    Well, dang. I spend a couple of days not following links and I miss a discussion that dealt directly with something I’ve been mulling over for the last 48 hours or so.

    Here’s my take on it.

    • Kilgore says:

      Copying my comment from your blog here:

      That’s an interesting way to do it [spend 2hp or more per blast]. I’ve also thought of tying physical limitations (a CON check of some sort) to a magical blast. The M-U is channeling raw magic energy through his body, so to speak, rather than controlling it with a spell. So maybe his body doesn’t take it so well or hold up too long.

      The problem with using hit points, IMHO, is that it would almost never get used. If that’s how you see it, that’s cool. But what “fledgling magic-user” is going to spend 2hp, half or more of his total, to zap someone. In my mind, they’re just back to flinging daggers.

  9. Erin says:

    Surprising resistance. You should tell detractors to go zap themselves…

    Anywho, FWIW, good for you. It’s your game, your campaign, your players. Do what you think is fun.

    I like the simplicity of it, though if you *were* to place a limitation on use, maybe maximum daily zap damage cannot exceed MU’s hit points? Only if you find it gets overused down the road.

    • Kilgore says:

      maybe maximum daily zap damage cannot exceed MU’s hit points

      Hmm. That has merit. I keep thinking any limit (if used) should be tied to a physical characteristic of the character. You know, he’d be wiping sweat from his brow late in the battle in effort to keep channeling this magic energy. Hit points do that, though actually expending them (as in the idea above) seems TOO limiting.

      I just think 4 per day (max hp at first level) isn’t enough. Hp + CON might make sense, but then the number is bigger than I want for something to have to track. (Though I guess tracking arrows is in the same range.)

      I keep coming back to some sort of check (CON or less on 1d20 or similar) but then it gets more complicated than I want.

  10. David says:

    If you drop the range to say 20 or even 15, and maybe drop damage to 1d3 then you could probably not worry about charges, or shots per day. As soon as you add in shots per day, your M-U will strap on that bandoleer of darts or daggers.

  11. jstater says:

    There’s no wrong way to do it. Rule Zero dude.

  12. bat says:

    Yeah, stick to your guns.
    The OSR is weird some days more than others. Rule the way that you want to, as jstater said, use rule zero.

  13. Shane Mangus says:

    In the last campaign I ran I allowed magic-users to cast magic missile every round, just as the spell is written, but they had to roll to hit and did not gain any additional bonuses to their roll. Another stipulation was that some sort of casting devise had to be used — i.e. a rod, staff, wand, orb. If these devises were not available, or the magic-user was disarmed then the spell would not function properly. Also, I asked the player to customize their magic missile to give the game more flavor, so for example it could look like a huge eagle’s claw or a shooting star or what ever they desired. It turned out to be almost a signature for the magic-user, and it became part of their persona. In my experience this worked out very well, and it attracted players who normally did not play magic-users to do so.

    Also, it did not break the game, or give the game a “munchkin” feel at all. Since the magic-user had to roll to hit without any bonuses it seemed to be a nice trade-off. As for comments about how this type of addition smacks of 4th Edition, I did not come to that conclusion at all after seeing it play out in game. In my opinion it just made the magic-user feel more magical.

  14. MoonSylver says:

    Good for you. I’ve been following the comments on here & on the LL thread closely, as this is a subject I’ve thought a lot about recently, & like you I was a bit surprised at the resistance to the idea & never really could discern the reason WHY…?

    At the end of the day, IMO all you’re doing is giving them a Magical version of something they’re going to do ANYWAY (load up on daggers to throw & burning oil).

  15. Zanazaz says:

    My only adivce is to keep it simple. Don’t worry about uses per day. If the players start abusing it, then you might hint that there may be drawbacks to extended use of the magic blast. If they use it more than say 10 combat rounds in a row, then have them make a CON check, and failure could result in them passing out, or perhaps losing the ability to use magic blast for a day or so.

  16. Jorrett Cayman says:

    How about taking a page from Holmes’ book on allowing scroll making. However, instead of just scrolls allow zap wands as well? It helps put a drain on gold, and gives wizards reason to buy something besides food, robes, and a dagger.

  17. Oh, duh. Before I read that comment about scrolls and wands, I wrote something up on exactly that idea. I’ve suggested the Holmes solution before, but this time, I went with cheaper cantrip-based scrolls and wands.

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