I was up till...oh...2:30 or something in the morning reading the first twelve issues of Dragon magazine (at the time called simply, The Dragon). I went looking for a particular article, which then led me to another, thence to another, and so on until I finally just said, 'whatever...I'll just read the first twelve issues and see where it takes me.'
Minus the fiction, of course...boy, there was a LOT of fiction back in those days. Much more than what I remember back in the mid-late 80s (when I first started reading Dragon). Anyway, the main article of interest for purposes of this post is Bill Seligman's March '77 essay, "Gandalf was only a fifth level magic-user," found in The Dragon #5.
I love this article...perhaps not the way it is written (though the point here is not to critique Mr. Seligman), but the concept. That is, the idea the man is trying to express. The point (for those who don't have access to this particular issue) is that the abilities displayed by Gandalf throughout both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy can be modeled in OD&D (the only edition at the time) with the stats of a 5th level magic-user. That is to say, the majority of magic Gandalf displays in the text can be mimicked using existing 1st and 2nd level spells (or slight variations) with only the occasional use of a 3rd level lightning bolt spell...though the author points out the latter could possibly be explained by Gandalf's use of Narya the Great.
Seligman also states that Sauron's displays of magic can be modeled with a 7th or 8th level caster's ability (or 12th level "if you're going to be nasty" and allow that he has the control weather spell). Personally, I'd say that Sauron is at least 11th level in D&D terms, given his ability to manufacture magic items (like, ahem, magic rings).
As I said, I really like this. For one thing, if you look at the Tolkien books as adventure guides, you can see just how much is possible with a 5th level Magic-User carrying a bunch of utility spells and one (maybe two) "blasting" type dweomers. Gandalf is no slouch as an adventurer, being quite clever and not reliant on his magical abilities. It helps, of course, that he carries a sword like Glamdring (presumably the sword-equivalent of something like the dagger +1, +2 vs. goblins or similar)...but I've seen plenty of low-level (and not so low-level) magic-users that would be skulking around the back of the party, even with such a blade. Clever and yet bold: this is the kind of character I'd like to see in my own games...but herein lies the problem.
|Being 5th level means needing an umbrella.|
Just not quite right.
["JB! D&D isn't Tolkien!" Got it...just bear with me, ok?]
The problem (or, more accurately, MY problem) is that D&D is too slow to get to (what I consider to be) a competent level of magic, is too quick to ascend to lofty superhero levels of power, and too focused on combat, in general...the latter due to the nature of the game.
[plus, not enough geezers (though I recognize that may not be everyone's style)]
That all counts as ONE problem, by the way...it's a problem of granularity that doesn't really exist in the other classes. Characters increase in effectiveness doesn't jump in the same leaps and bounds as other classes...the differences between a 1st level fighter and 5th level fighter are very minimal compared to the difference between a 1st level (raw apprentice) MU and a 5th level "Gandalf." The gulf between the 5th level Gandalf and the 12th level Sauron is gigantic, which is a good thing....until you consider that it's not so terribly hard to advance from 5th to 12th level. Certainly it doesn't take thousands of years (considering the age, experience, and power of Tolkien's "Big Bad Guy") of game time...depending on the amount of playtime, the generosity of the DM, and the skill of the party, and the particular edition being played, a player could reasonably expect to reach 12th level within one to three years of play. I know 3rd edition shot for about one level gained per month (assuming weekly sessions). That is a fast, fast road to power.
How to rectify that?
Much as I liked the essay about Gandalf being "only" 5th level, there IS a part of me that says "how weak sauce!" when you know that it doesn't take that much effort to get to (and beyond) 5th level. Hey, Old Man: he who falls behind gets left behind, ya' know?
Okay, that's one thing I want to talk about...the article made me consider that Vancian magic isn't that terrible as put forward in the original LBBs. But there's tweaking that needs to happen with the advancement dynamic of the wizardly class to get to what I want to see. That and I think I'd like to restrict the variety of spells available to the mage...even more than I've already planned for my "basic" game.
But that has to do with a different issue that I'll be discussing in Part 2.