Wednesday, October 12, 2011

everybody else sucks too

So I guess while I've been hitting the books there's been another "1st level MU's suck" flare-up.  I find it very hard not to blame these attitudes on some combination of poor DMing and poor play.  (I.e. Either the player isn't playing as smart as they need to and/or the DM is too harsh.) But on the other hand, I currently use a specific ruleset that is pretty unfriendly to the other classes. To whit:
  • Elves need 4000xp to reach 2nd level.  Sure, you rule the school at 1st level, but you still reign over first level when half the party is rocking out at third.
  • Clerics don't get a spell at 1st level.  I don't even like clerics and I think that's harsh.
  • Thieves only get d4 hit points.  Poor bastards.
  • Fighters get only d8 for hit dice, no d10s like in AD&D and no d12 barbarians running around either.
  • No weapon specialization.
  • Two-handed weapons make you lose initiative, so most fighters only do d8 damage at best.
Also, with 3d6 in row, that d8 fighter may have a Con penalty.  And everybody always rolls hit points in my game, no max at first level, no wiggle room for a low roll.  A one hit point fighter is a distinct possibility.  Then add in that I don't use platemail in fake England circa 1140 AD and the ACs for clerics/fighter/etc are pretty poor as well.  But that's a campaign house rule and doesn't necessarily enter in here.

So DMs, before you agree that 1st level magic-users suck, ask yourself whether the 1st level versions of the other classes in your campaign suck hard enough.  How easy do you really want first level to be?  (That's not a rhetorical question.)


  1. Yes, 1st level suck's. I do things just a little different. You roll for your hit points, but if you roll a 1 you go to 2 Hit Points. And each player gets a " Save my @ss" card for 1st level. They can use this for anything, as long as they use it before they get to 2nd level. Otherwise...yea 1st lvl sucks butt!!

  2. I had a 1hp dwarf once. poor bastard didn't have a chance. The first time the swords came out he went down like a sack of rocks. My next human fighter rolled 8 hit points. Now he was a sight to see. 1st level sucks because to survive you must work together and bond as a group. The hard suck builds big fun!!

  3. Anonymous11:12 AM

    Exactly! Everybody complaining is just looking for hand outs.

    I've soloed dungeons as a first level wizard...well, I tried, a gargoyle ate me. The point is: grow a pair. Go die in a dungeon.

    If the DM went easy on me, I'd feel like I was robbed of my challenge!

  4. I am repeating myself I do believe but: I have lost a lot of characters and I have played a lotta 2hit point wizards. But I have never lost a 2-hit point wizard.

    Sneak, buy oil, own dogs, stand in the back, be full of guile. Or GTFO.

  5. I'm in a ConstantCon game tonight. I'm playing a fighter who rolled a 2 for his hit points, adjusted down to 1 for his poor constitution.

    If he survives the night, I will be astonished.

  6. I realize that this makes me some kind of hippy-pinko, but I allow a 3hp minimum for new characters except MUs, they get 2 hp min. The question is what does a toughguy DM do when a character with a Constitution penalty rolls 1 hp? Allowing the character to live would be an admission of wussiness, no? But letting the player roll a new character--when we all know s/he rolled a 1 on purpose cuz s/he didn't want a character with a crappy Constitution--seems like he/she pulled one over on you.

  7. I pretty sure most rule sets indicate that even with a crummy Con you start with at least one hit point.

    Also, this was not intended as an I'm More Badass Than You Because of How I Run D&D post. I'm not kidding about that last question. "I want everyone to make it out of 1st level alive" is a perfectly legit stance. Rather, the point that I was trying to make was that I think some of the whining about the MU is based upon power creep in the other classes, rather than anything wrong with the MU itself.

  8. Small price for the MU to pay for being so powerful later in the campaign.

    I agree with Zak S on this one, don't look to your class abilities at 1st level. Find other ways to not just survive, but to make yourself an asset to the group.

  9. Even with max hp's at 1st level, that chances are still high your character to bite it anyway, so rolling up hp's never made sense to me. Playing a fighter who gonna go down probably after getting hit once? What's the point of even playing? That's why I like using a modified version of Arduin's HP system.

  10. Even with max hp's at 1st level, that chances are still high your character to bite it anyway, so rolling up hp's never made sense to me.

    You're right. Might as well start everyone with 1 hit point.

  11. I too have players roll for hit points. Not because I don't like them having a chance, but because the they're just too beefy at 2nd. Honestly, I've seen more 1HP characters make it to 2nd level than 8HP characters.

    I like it when as many characters reach 1st level as those that don't. So if I have a group of 5, before all five reach 2nd level, we should have had 5 deaths.

  12. I am definitely in the "survive to 2nd level" camp here, but then my players also don't look at first level as the level you survive your way through by having your hirelings hurl themselves at the problems. (I've never quite understood the appeal of playing the game so that your hirelings are performing all of the action, either.)

    This isn't judgment on other people's playstyles, of course - I haven't ever played that way and so I haven't seen why you'd play that way. But since the OSR exists in the first place, mileage varies. ;)

  13. Anonymous2:04 PM

    Good points.

    I think people playing M-Us just aren't using the tools available to them.

    Examples from 1E AD&D:
    Darts throw three per round. That's three chances to hit for 1d3 damage each. Since everyone at first level hits the same (do L1 Fighter classes hit AC 0 on 19?) it's a great way to pick off already-injured 1HD monsters and those small sub-1HD types like Giant Rats.

    You can be the guy carrying the torch! This frees up other PCs to wield two handed weapons like bows, big swords, and also weapon-shield combo.

    Likewise, if someone else throws a flask of oil you can throw your torch to light it.

    You're the guy with nothing in his hands and an action every round. You can be the one opening and closing doors to prevent pursuit, etc.

    Your starting gold may be enough to buy a war dog, since you don't have anything else to spend it on. Awesome! That dog represents a 2HD attacker using the monster attack charts, 2 dice of hit points that other PCs might soak up otherwise, and a natural AC 7 without dog barding. He's a better fighter than anyone else in the group except maybe the Fighter in heavy armor. And he's 100% expendable.

    Your one spell of the day needs to be Sleep. There is no contest. If you don't start the game with Sleep, that is the first spell you need to choose when you rise to second level. Sleep is the best spell until you hit level 3 or so. It's a win button for most fights and saying you can do it only once a day is churlish.

  14. Well, Kirti the 1HP fighter survived. He survived because technical issues forced the cancellation of the game, but it counts, right?

  15. "I pretty sure most rule sets indicate that even with a crummy Con you start with at least one hit point."

    Yeah, I was just being a wise-ass.

    But your question is how easy do you want first level to be, and I've always felt that what makes the early levels so much more fun to play than higher levels is that you can always see the grim reaper out of the corner of your eye. Or, if you only have 1 hp, he's holding your hand through every step. It's a nervewracking way to play, but it's also thrilling if you pull it off. If you survive you'll look back on those days as the golden age of that character.

  16. The fact is, I’ve seen so few 1st level characters die that I’ve never seen the need to make 1st level easier.

  17. "Two-handed weapons make you lose initiative, so most fighters only do d8 damage at best."

    There are instances where having a longer weapon, especially one with a point on the end of it would give one an advantage in striking first. It's once an opponent gets in close that the big weapons lose their punch.

    To compensate for this, medieval swordsmen grasped their long and two handed swords along the blade and directed the point with the off-hand. There was lots of grappling going on in most fights. something which the D&D rules don't cover.

    since 1977 there has been a renaissance of medieval fighting styles and historical weaponry. We have found that medieval European fighting arts were extremely sophisticated and the weapons were not the unwieldy clunkers portrayed in the basic rules and the Player's Handbook.

  18. "You're right. Might as well start everyone with 1 hit point."

    Man, and I thought I was a killer DM. I'm a big softy compared to you. ;-)

  19. in 1st edition, I used to just allow wizards the same bonus spells per level for INT that clerics had for WIS, and restricted their weapons allowed to dagger & staff.

    balance was never really an issue and it eliminated the whole "whelp, Johnny One Spell blew his load on a goblin, make camp, set watch, go to sleep." after clearing a single room.

  20. Anonymous7:29 PM

    Small price for the MU to pay for being so powerful later in the campaign.

    I'm eternally jealous of those of you who've played a campaign for more than five levels. I love the idea of INFINITE COSMIC POWER, but I've never played any character long enough to see MUs get there.

    I see enough groups dissolve, campaigns fall thru and gamers move away that I don't need a high risk of character death to get a sense of accomplishment when someone levels up.

  21. 1st level character blood matches the decor of all my best orc and kobold caves and its so easy to get

  22. Anonymous10:13 PM

    A 1st level magic user has the potential to end a battle before it begins depending on spell used. They do not suck, they only suck at direct combat, and even then not a whole lot more than other 1st level characters (at least in older non-Advanced D&D.) It's even possible for a 1st level M-U to have higher HP or deal more damage in a round than the fighter, since we are using dice here.

  23. How much would it cost to brew a sleeping poison? Put that on a set of darts and your 1st level M-U's good to go, even solo. Or nausea poison; anything that'll at least incapacitate the opposition. Steal a page from the druids and have a paralytic curare-type sap available from plants growing around the dungeon, which the M-U recognizes 'cause he's all really smart & shit.

    Or you can take advantage of that 18 INT and all the languages it buys you to take tongues suitable for parleying with monsters. Get 'em fighting among themselves and pick off the weakened survivors. Cripes, it's not even like you have to work at getting orcs or hobgoblins to fight among themselves. A few words in the right place...

    or give the M-U PC a skill in ventriloquism - it wouldn't be as good as the spell, but if it can distract the guard long enough to sneak past, who cares?

  24. Anonymous9:30 AM

    I appreciate the stance that a 1st level MU is fine as written (and that everyone kind of sucks at 1st level), but I smirk at the argument that this is because of AD&D's rates-of-fire rules, the availability of War Dogs and (possibly!) armor for said dogs. Isn't it possible that a person complaining about MU's is playing, say, a B/X game without "war darts", much less armored dog hirelings?

    Put another way: If your players are complaining about the uselessness of 1st level MU's, you should at least briefly entertain the idea that it's your fault. Then show them where the oil is in the equipment list.

  25. I wrote a semi-coherent blog post about the different psychology of magic-using and fighting type PLAYERS (rather than characters), that lead to different kinds of success and perceptions of balance:

  26. Philo Pharynx7:39 PM

    I have to admit I just don't see the fun in this type of game. More power to you if that's what you and your group likes. But if people are grumbling about it, maybe they want a different style. (I noticed most of the commenters here are GM's.) Personally I want a Hollywood blockbuster with the warriors squaring off against giants and the spellcasters throwing huge spells. Compared to that a lot of these games look like malnourished peasants being devoured by rats.
    Tequila sunrise, if you want a high fantasy game, then play a high fantasy game. You can simply start at higher level, or switch out the rules to something more in line with what you want to see. There are dozens of systems out there. If your group doesn't last long, then run something short and memorable.

  27. I love the grind of making it from 1st level to 2nd! The low level wizard's "Player" should be cunning enough to find ways to help the party even after he casts his one spell. Those that realize this have it right. If your DM is not creative enough to allow you to do usefull stuff other than cast spells then he is the one who "Sucks". :)

  28. "Personally I want a Hollywood blockbuster with the warriors squaring off against giants and the spellcasters throwing huge spells."

    Sure, but I also want the satisfaction of getting there. Anyone can just plonk down a pre-generated hero and be, you know, heroic. But D&D is also about the journey to become that hero.