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Race as Class: Magic-user

Chimera’s take on the B/X magic-user

This is Part 3 of a series to convert Moldvay Basic classes to Chimera. For convenience, you can use the Race as Class tag to view every article in the series, including the first instalment that contains the ground rules for conversion. This week’s entry: The B/X magic-user.

UPDATE (7/20/11): Clarified the magic-user Sperks and the Magically Attuned capabilities.

Moldvay Magic-users

Moldvay describes magic-users as “humans who, through study and practice, have learned how to cast magic spells.” (B10) They cannot wear armour, their only weapon is the dagger, and their hit dice is a mere d4. On the upside, they can cast spells, use certain magic-items, and, at higher levels, create new spells and magic items.

magic-user

Magic-user as class

I’ll be honest—I have some issues with the magic-user class, mostly because the XP requirements are widely disproportionate to the class’ abilities. [1]

The other problem is that the magic-user carries a lot of baggage, namely the Vancian model, which is more about the mechanics of spell-casting than a rationale for how magic works in the campaign. I’ve heard many Vance apologists defend the system with eloquence, and I can see their points—it’s just that I’ve never really cottoned to it. [2]

And, while great stress is applied in the rules to a magic-user’s scholarly pursuits, it’s really only when you start interpreting spell acquisition or using scrolls that these traits (and the magic-user’s intelligence) actually start to have in-game consequences. Otherwise, the class is pretty much an n-shot magic item.

But, my castigation aside, the magic-user is implied as the scholar of any party, capable not only of understanding and manipulating arcane magical forces, but being the “brains” of any operation. It’s the magic-user who translates forgotten runes, identifies strange objects, reveals the backstory of supernatural encounters, and (it is supposed) helps the party work smarter instead of harder.

Chimera Magic-users

Magic-users are humans who understand and use the magical energies of the setting to produce spells and invoke enchanted items. While generally immersed in study and research, adventuring magic-users invariably seek out magical knowledge, spells, and artefacts. Unused to combat, magic-users do not wear armour, nor are they proficient with any but the smallest weapons.

Magic-user (Mag) Advancement Cost [3]
Move Rate: 12”±1d6 0
Wound Limit: 1d4 1
Abilities: Academics, Observe, Wield 3
Perks: Magically Attuned (see below), Spells (select 4 schools at start of play, with 1 random spell per school) [4] 8
Flaws: Restricted Armour (none), Restricted Weapons (Small weapons only) -2
Total AdCost: 10
Special Perks (Sperks)

  • Alchemist: Improve Wield ARs when creating potions by level [5]
  • Artificer: Improve Wield ARs when creating powered items by level [5]
  • Magic Resistance: Improve Resistance vs. Powers by level
  • Scribe: Improve Wield ARs when transferring spells from scroll to spellbook by level [6]
  • Somatics: Able to wear armour, but at a penalty to Wield rolls (Light armour, AR -1; Medium armour, AR -2; Heavy armour, AR -4)
  • Spells: Access to additional power school
  • Strong Mojo: Improve Wield rolls with a specific power school by level
(+1/Sperk chosen)

Magically Attuned
Seems like the magic-user should have some “automagical” abilities: basic arcane skills that don’t require actual spells to achieve. Let’s try these:

  • Cantrip: Allows the magic-user to create a minor magical effect with a successful Wield roll, up to once per level each day, with the following restrictions:  The effect cannot cause more than 1 point of damage or 1d4 points of Fatigue, it must have instant duration, it cannot directly affect anything with an Encumbrance value greater than zero (0).
  • Detect Magic: A successful Wield roll detects magical auras within 1” per level; a Critical Success reveals the school of the power detected.
  • Mana: Roll 1d8 for mana
  • Read Magic: A successful Academics roll translates scripts written in arcane, lost, or forgotten languages; this skill is also required to understand a scroll before using it or scribing a spell into a spellbook.

Note that failed Wield rolls against the above do not impose Fatigue penalties.

Final Words

You know the drill: how well does this conversion “work?” As before, I’ll probably use this (or a variant thereof) to model the mages of Swords of Telm. Naturally, I’m curious to hear what you think.
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  1. There’s some math to support this in my Building the Perfect Class essay from 2003. Suffice to say it’s a game balance thing, which probably made sense in the Chainmail days, when a single Wizard could clear whole lines of Fighting Men off the field, but in the B/X context, I think it’s more appropriate to beef up the class and make it worthy of the high XP cost.
  2. I sense that the writers of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon shared this sentiment: Presto didn’t even come close to following the canonical rules for being a magic-user—he was essentially a Normal Man with a hat of wonder. Bogus.
  3. My target AdCost is 10 (2,500XP / 250 = 10).
  4. Upon learning a power school, magic-users get one random power from it straight away, but they have to learn the rest individually (CB/9). This is different from clerics, who can access every power in a school as soon as they learn it.
  5. This makes more sense when you understand the guidelines for creating powered items, which are, sadly for you, secrets known only to me. Actually, these are included in Chimera 2.0, but need to be updated, and I’ll share that revision via a separate post anon.
  6. This assumes that magic-users augment their spellbooks via scrolls, in the time-honoured B/X tradition; again, a topic better covered in a separate post.

Works Cited
Moldvay, Tom, ed. Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rulebook. Lake Geneva: TSR Hobbies, Inc. 1981.
Smale, Erin. Chimera Basic. Atlantic Highlands: The Welsh Piper. 2011.

  1. July 23rd, 2011 at 18:49 | #1

    I like the idea of the automagical abilities a lot. There was always a lot of interpretation involved with regard to the purpose of the Read Magic spell. I like the idea that a scroll must be read to be understood before it can be used. Don’t fully understand it. Can’t use it. The Mage is the great scholar of any party and giving him/her the ability to decipher arcane writings or lost languages is great. The movie Conan the Barbarian had a great Mage character in it to continue your friends of Conan theme. By Crom! I see a CF table for non-mages trying to read scrolls. Being able to detect magical auras is a fantastic idea. How about an ability to pull mundane items out of one’s magic hat. Just the thing needed, but it doesn’t last and turns into straw or dust later. Need a key for a lock, doff the hat and dig.

    Greg
    :-)

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