Wizard’s Dilemma, part 1

Here's a wizard in combat.


Several people have asked me lately, how is a wizard supposed to survive on his own in the typical solo adventure, especially when he/she goes up against more than one foe or a monster he can’t kill with his first spell? I’ve been thinking about this situation for a few days now.  I discussed the problem with my son, Corencio, over supper tonight.  Corencio hasn’t played as much T & T as he should–that’s probably my fault for not insisting on playing more often, but when he does play, he usually plays a wizard, and he has been instrumental in saving the party in several games where I’ve seen him in action.  He has a good feel for how wizards should be played.

So, here’s the Wizard’s Dilemma: you are a moderately powerful wizard adventuring on your own, perhaps in a solo adventure, when you suddenly run into a group of relatively weak foes/monsters who attack you.  The only real area effect spell in T & T is Smog, and it doesn’t kill anything outright, simply weakens the foe.  Combat spells either make weapons more powerful or target one  specific foe.  The wizard in the solo is allowed to use combat spells, so he casts TTYF, slays one monster, and then goes down as the remainder of the group of monsters swarms over him and cuts/bites/mauls him to death before he can get off a second spell.

Corencio’s immediate reaction to the problem was to cast Protective Pentagram.  The pentagram creates a protective energy barrier around the creature touched–in this case the caster.  Neither spell nor weapons can penetrate this transparent wall of magical force for 2 combat turns.  The main problem is that it’s a level 4 spell that costs 24 WIZ to cast.  Not many players are going to have such a powerful wizard.

So, I asked him what he would do if he weren’t quite strong enough for Protective Pentagram.  He countered by asking if these small foes had missile weapons, and when I said, probably not, he retorted that he’d cast Fly Me, and lift himself up out of their range.  That’s only a 3rd level spell with a cost of 7, and it lasts for 10 minutes, which is 5 combat rounds.  Once safely out of range, he would pick off his foes one by one with TTYFs.

That seems pretty effective.  But I pressed him for more answers.  His third response was that any smart wizard ought to have a few warriors along to protect him in such situations.  I countered with, but you don’t.  You’re out there alone, and 5 goblins with monster ratings of 10 each are attacking you.  You kill one, and the other 4 swarm over you and slay you before you can do anything else.  And you’re not 3rd level, and you don’t know Fly me, or you’re in a narrow tunnel and there really isn’t room to rise above your foes.

Back in the day, no self-respecting magic-user would go adventuring, or even out to the market, without a bodyguard or two.

He then asked if this moderately powerful wizard was at least 2nd level.  You really shouldn’t be out where gangs can attack you if you’re not at least 2nd level.  I granted that he was at least 2nd level.  Then he said, “I’ll cast Hidey Hole, go invisible, step off to the side where they are not likely to find me, and quietly sneak away from them, or else use TTYFs to blast them one by one.”  This is only a 2nd level spell that costs 10 WIZ and it lasts for 5 combat turns.  Now the rules state that Hidey Hole reduces enemy combat totals by half, but in a game situation I’d be willing to rule that the enemy doesn’t get a combat total against a foe they cannot see, or otherwise find.  So, bloodbats could probably find a wizard inside a Hidey Hole by using echo location, but Goblins couldn’t.  Nor would a troll, an ogre, or any other humanoid creature.  Again, I would say the wizard’s chances are excellent for surviving once he’s inside the Hidey Hole spell.

By this time a pattern has emerged from Corencio’s thinking.  Instead of taking an offensive action first, the  prudent wizard covers his butt, and takes a defensive action first.  Once he has arranged it so that the enemy can’t hit him, then he either gets out of Dodge, or takes his foes down one by one.

This is brilliant, imho.  If you examine the first 5 or 6 levels of spellcasting, you will find a number of spells that can be used defensively.  In face to face play, this kind of defense first strategy is very likely to work, and the wizard, who should be cleverer than your average bash-em first warrior, should be able to make fools of his foes and triumph.  In solo adventures however, and I’ll admit I’m guilty of this, the adventure creator doesn’t give an option for a defensive spell–doesn’t think of it, or doesn’t consider how many different ways the wizard might have for evading trouble.  In fact, you’re lucky if you even get a “run away” option in most solos.

This Wizard’s Dilemma might indicate at least one place where the T & T combat system is at least slightly broken or inadequate.  I say “might” because I think it is more likely to show a place where the players are inadequate, but . . . perhaps the rules should spell out ways of handling such problems.  A new edition of T & T will probably come out this summer, and I’ve had some thoughts about how players might cope with the Wizard’s Dilemma, even if the solo text doesn’t give them the option of using defensive spells.  I’ll talk about other ways out of the situation in part 2 of this essay.

If you can think of other ways to get around the Wizards Dilemma, or if you wrote a solo adventure for wizards and dealt with the problem inside it, then please leave a comment.



Wizard’s Dilemma, part 1
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12 thoughts on “Wizard’s Dilemma, part 1

  1. Brilliant! I usually just try to zap the crap out of everyone. No wonder I die so much as a wizard! Zap! Zap!……………..(no more zapping due to a viscous maiming in progress……). I should probably learn to play smarter. duh.

  2. I think that a lone wizard going through a solo mission should at least have the chance of staying out of the range of the oncoming enemies, even if he can’t fly. It makes sense that the enemy characters wouldn’t just sit there and take it, but for the first round it also makes sense that the wizard would almost be able to get a “free” kill in before the combat turns into straight melee. If the wizard player wanted to customize the rules maybe they could possibly make a savings roll against the highest rank of Spd/Dex/Lk with a difficulty based on the lvl and/or number of monsters that he is fighting. The thinking here being if the wizard were fast, dexterous or just plain lucky, he could try to avoid melee for as long as he could. One more option would be to create a talent that is defensive. I am new to T&T after all, but if I’m right the wizard could use his spells and his talents in the same turn. A talent that allows a wizard to hide or maybe forces the enemy to make an intelligence savings throw to avoid becoming confused/scared after seeing their buddy get fried may be an option. I think there are any number of things like that a player might try and be justified in doing so, but there should always be a chance to lose or what’s the point?

  3. I wonder if combat (for both wizards and warriors) could use a “run away” option. In playing solo adventures by the book (like at http://www.freedungeons.com/ ), my characters only survive if I:

    1. Have previous experience with the dungeon.
    2. Avoid as many monsters as I can remember.
    3. Avoid. Fighting. Anything.

    Sorcerer Solitaire has a point where you can earn 100 AP by watching some water creatures dance. I worked one wizard up to level 2 by playing through the same path nine times. Then I took him somewhere else, and he died. An official escape route from combat might give characters a better chance of reaching level 2.

    Team/GM games probably incorporate this mechanic automatically. For solo adventures, T&T is a tough place to live!

  4. What about Oh Go Away? I’ve always understood “Oh Go Away” to be a spell that works on groups: so a wizard confronted with a mass of foes whose individual MRs (or characteristics) could be expected to be lower than his IQ/LK/CHA could be driven off: not a popular option with large parties jonesing for adventure points, but I should think the lone spellcaster would fall back on this one if he were outnumbered. Most solos won’t offer that option, though; more often than not the foes come one at a time, and are bigger, so OGA wouldn’t be useful anyhow.

    As far as adventuring in a GM’d situation, it seems to me that a wizard would have a pretty easy time recruiting a couple of rogues to take point and to watch his back. They’ve a natural incentive: “Get me through this alive, and I’ll teach you another spell, Grasshopper!”

  5. I think that y’all have some great suggestions here. I’m primarily concerned about using wizards in solo adventures. I think that giving your wizard a chance to run away via a saving roll on luck, dex, or speed when severely outmatched in a solo is a good idea even though it isn’t “written into the adventure”. I wish there were more solos that were wizard friendly. Some that I play say that there is not magic matrix, so spell-casters must adjudicate spell effects for themselves. This is a great opportunity to be creative in my opinion.

  6. I look at the problem from a totally different perspective. The ability to cast spells is just a bonus for the low-level wizard. He can blast the first goblin with a TTYF at closed range, and then, during the next round (melee combat), he can use 2 daggers very effectively and kill them all.
    If you don’t believe a wizard can be efficient with weapons, look at the September-Novembre 2011 posts about Itash on the Lone Delver blog, by Dannnherrrrm (e.g. http://danhemsgamingblog.blogspot.com/2011/09/itash-against-buffalo-castle-delve-1.html).

    • Dan, I like the scenario you posted for the most part. I don’t know what other GMs do (I have only met one other T&T GM in person in my life, and that was about thirty years ago) but I’ve generally been of the mind that for wizards, fighting with two weapons goes against the spirit of the rule restricting wizards to the little weapons. Fighting with two weapons is hard to do, and if wizards don’t the training to handle a proper sword, I’d wonder if fighting Florentine wouldn’t be beyond them. On the other hand, there’s nothing in that says a wizard can’t fight with a pair of sax-knives as long as he’s got the strength and dexterity for the both of ’em, so…

  7. As far ar using ‘Oh Go Away’ is concerned the rulebook speaks of a single target.

    Cast ‘Dem Bones Gonna Rise’ to call up one or more skeletons to help you.

    Casting ‘Little Feets’ doubles your speed for 10 minutes and may enable you to run away.

    Duck into a side corridor and cast a ‘Mirage’ spell of a wall behind you.

    Cast a ‘Mirage’ spell of something large and scary like a Balrog. The problem is that it does not move or emit sound.

    If you allow spells from the ‘Codex Incantatem’ supplement there is a level 1 spell called ‘Take That You Fiends!’ (TTYFZ), which allows the caster to distribute damage among any number of foes within range.

    During the invasion of Khazan on Longest Night I was considering casting an ‘Arrowstorm’ spell from ‘Codex Incantatem’ but that is a 5th level spell and anyway the Trollgod pulled us out before it became necessary.

  8. I’m toying with the idea of a Talent, name something along the lines of “Combat Casting”, whereby the wizard (rogue, paragon, other spellcaster) would make a DEX SR, difficulty determined by spell level and total MR of opponents. Success would allow him to get off a spell that round and still use melee fighting (what the heck, he’s mainly a defensive fighter anyway), failure means he has to choose between the spell or melee, and a botch means he’s completely blown it – no spell OR melee that round! (Ouch!) Im thinking the difficulty should be the level of the spell, plus 1 for each 40 MR OR PART THEREOF of opposition there is – MR 1 to 40 adds 1 to the spell level, MR41 to 80 adds 2, and so forth.

  9. This (and Part 2) is excellent stuff, Ken. Solos are a bit of a write off for wizards because they can’t/don’t have the flexibility of game play. Once a wizard gets to Level 4, he/she and the party have got it made – Hidey Hole, Poor Baby, Fly Me, Protective Pentagram, Smog, Wink Wing with these under the belt, a dungeon gets trashed pretty quickly! That just means the GM has to think more laterally and the game gets better!! It’s a good thing that the adventure is more than blasting pyrotechnics from the wizards.

  10. I wish I could play a wizard character as smart as Corencio can. His Iron Man method of flying out or range & blasting em is so simple, I couldn’t believe I didn’t think of that. Maybe, that’s why I play a warrior instead. Can a wizard move away from the situation when a Protective Pentagram is in effect? 2 combat rounds is not very long. If I were a goblin, I’d simply follow the wizard or wait until it’s down and pummel him as soon as I could.

  11. All told, I’d say that the Wizard’s Dilemma isn’t an indication of T&T’s system – neither 5th nor 7th ed – being broken, so much as a deficiency in the realm of the solo adventure. Face to face, it’s nothing a little cleverness won’t fix, and we gamers ought to be clever, yes? As far as the solos are concerned, well, they’re built on the limitation of choices, which is one reason they work at all. That said, it would be an interesting exercise to design a solo that allows for more flexibility in combat, magical and otherwise. A thorough, well-thought-out magic matrix might be the solution.

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