How are the non-Wizards also fun at high level?

Wizards are special. They can invent new spells and make lots of different magic items. Their spells provide interesting choices. At high level a Wizard can be a highly customized even in games where there isn’t much customization available (B/X, 1E, 2E). In games with pottery-style customization (where you can mold your character but once fired in the kiln you don’t get to change those choices, such as 3E) the Wizard can still completely change his approach by researching a bunch of different spells (some game time and money).

I think the Wizard has an incredible amount of interesting things he can do at high level. What does everyone else have? In 1E/2E, nothing much except followers. In 3E there is more customization for all character types.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: you’re a Wizard and you want to make a long-range courier system. Packages and information. You could use the standard options available to you in the rules:

Make some teleport pads to transport items from post office to post office,
Charm peasants and ask them to ride Light Warhorses between towns,
Charm Griffons or whatever and have them fly between towns,

But why stop there? You can make new spells!

Create a spell that burrows a 3′ tunnel through earth and stone and reinforces the walls. Dig secret access shafts along the route. Two parallel tunnels allow unobstructed two-way traffic. Create a variant Reverse Gravity that affects only a 5′ column but really long and at any angle. Semipermanency that sucker and you can ignore it for 1 year per level. Put a water pool at each end to catch the waterproof packages.

Create a chain of stationary, mid-air Continual Unseen Servants who hand packages off to each other.

Create a Continual Dimension Door spell that has a short gap distance and a maximum weight limit per round, with the option of making it visible or not. Create a midair chain of them so a package flies out one Continual Dimension Door and enters the next one immediately.

—-

I guess what I’m getting at is the M-U has such a bounty of cool opportunities and nobody else gets anything remotely as good.

I’m not making that tired and void “M-U is a win button” argument. I don’t care about how powerful it is (though of course versatility is powerful) but just how well your desires as a player can be fulfilled through your character’s abilities. If you don’t care about followers, most of the 1E/2E classes look like a bummer at high level compared to an M-U. In 3E you’re just doing more damage or getting to trip or disarm or go berserk so you can kill it differently. Or everyone gets M-U-like powers such as in 4E and Gamma World. Or everyone’s an M-U like in Ars Magica. Or M-Us advance like snails and everyone else has magic-like tech like in Shadowrun.

Then again, what if it’s okay that you don’t get to interact with the world in lots of cool ways? Maybe a player doesn’t care about that or doesn’t want the hassle. Maybe you want to roll up a dude who stabs things, name him Snarls Charley, and get to playing.

Depending on the campaign, your interaction with the world can be meaningful and fulfilling because the world is relatively small. In a megadungeon, you interact with features of your dangerous world on a turn-to-turn basis. Who needs to worry about magical FedEx when there are Green Devil Faces to poke at?

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7 Responses to “How are the non-Wizards also fun at high level?”

  1. mikemonaco Says:

    The other classes get to do much more ‘social’ activities. They acquire underlings or followers, build hideouts, and so on. Different editions do a better or worse job of putting this explicitly in the rules but if you make it to high levels, I hope you & your DM are able to recognize that you can do things that are no in the rule books!

    Fighter: build a castle, defend it; or: raise an army, conquer; go questing or dueling all over; etc.

    Thief, Assassin: start a guild; feud with other guilds; intrigue; murder a king; start a war

    Cleric: found a temple or holy order; and/or all of the above

    I guess that might not seem fun to some players, but different strokes.

  2. jrients Says:

    1) Explore the crap out of the campaign map.
    2) Tread some jeweled throwns under my sandaled feet.
    3) Find legendary monsters, kill them.

  3. Dave R. Says:

    Maybe I’ve had a non-typical experience with D&D, but my first thought was “what fraction of games actually reach high levels in play?” Personally, I’ve been playing for 15+ years, and starting at 1st level, I’ve hit maybe as high as 10 once in 3.0, and nearly that in an AD&D game where we were getting fed experience.

    So, do I just fail at D&D, and everyone else is pulling off these long-running epic campaigns and this is a real, practical problem in play? Or if not, is the concern more theoretical than practical? ‘Cuz personally, I’d be happy just to get to the domain game organically at all; vanilla domain management would be a treat for me.

    If it’s a problem of theory or principle then I could speculate that a fighter could use his followers and castle and domain resources to start pushing the setting and implementing schemes in the same way the wizard uses spell research. But I don’t actually know; if you’re up against this in play then obviously not.

  4. 1d30 Says:

    @mike: Yep, but in my experience most players aren’t too interested in stronghold development and mass combat. And you can build a stronghold anytime and hire retainers, that’s not something you have to wait for.

    @jeff: Sounds good, but you’re doing those things the same way you did it at lower level: Fighters stab, Thieves sneak and lockpick, Clerics cast their short list of Cleric spells.

    @both: Those are things that M-Us get to do too, except they can make up new spells that do it in a variety of creative ways / easier / faster / cheaper / more reliably.

  5. 1d30 Says:

    @dave: I’ve found that the way I like to run a game is based on the length of the campaign in real time. If we plan on this being a one-year campaign, I amp things up and throw in more treasure and generally set up an enriched environment. People gain about a level every other weekend or sometimes every time.

    If it’s a one-shot I go for the moon because I don’t have to deal with that guy having a Vorpal Sword that animates the severed heads so they fly around and bite people next weekend.

    The Gygaxian Standard Advancement Rate based on the 1E rules seems to suggest a campaign that you plan to run forever and people gain a level maybe every 3-4 weekends depending on how hard they push the dungeon. I’ve heard accounts that Gygax’s own Mordenkainen ended up being only around 18th level because once he hit high level he trotted him out only for special adventures.

    It also matters how you bring in new PCs. If you start everyone at level 1, low-level attrition will prevent advancement until everyone is level 3 or so, which might set the predicted level back several months.

  6. mikemonaco Says:

    “high level a Wizard can be a highly customized even in games where there isn’t much customization available (B/X, 1E, 2E). In games with pottery-style customization (where you can mold your character but once fired in the kiln you don’t get to change those choices, such as 3E) the Wizard can still completely change his approach by researching a bunch of different spells (some game time and money). ”

    In B/X though you lose the old spells tho–you only can know as many spells at a given level as you can cast! FWIW.

    “@mike: Yep, but in my experience most players aren’t too interested in stronghold development and mass combat. And you can build a stronghold anytime and hire retainers, that’s not something you have to wait for.”

    The money required for a stronghold is not available to low level PCs, unless you are not playing with XP for gold or something. And hiring retainers and attracting a following per AD&D are two very different things. But the crux of the matter is that your players are not interested in the kinds of world-altering stuff their kind of class can affect. Too bad.

  7. 1d30 Says:

    Partly this may be because I don’t focus enough on politics. It’s a good place for improvement for me as a referee!

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