1st Ed AD&D: Magic-Users


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Every party needs one. They are a burden and often unconscious, when it comes to picking teams, the Magic-user is the class many players choose last to play at 1st Level, or if they do play one, it’s as a multi-class character. 


However, the Magic-User class is also a premium investment. They provide the brains to the Fighter’s brawn; they provide the knowledge and study to the Cleric’s faith and doctrine; and in a similar vein to the Thief, they provide skills to the party no other class can possess.


In this treatise, it is the Author’s hope to provide a new way to see the Magic-User class, whether it is a Human or Demi-Human multi-class, in a different light. It is obvious to see their weaknesses, and they have quite a few, but to see through those to utilise their many advantages and strengths is the mark of a good player.


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People have questioned why this class is called ‘Magic-user’; the Fighter class isn’t sword-user and a Cleric isn’t a prayer-user.


The Magic-user class covers all manner of mystical ability and generally, spells known encompass all the schools of magic; the function of a Magic-user isn’t in the character's physical prowess and the energy to cast spells doesn’t come from some deity to whom an allegiance must be given. The Magic-user must work for his/her own advancement.


By the rules of spellcasting the Magic-user holds the magical formulae in his/her own mind and summons the power and energy to cast spells from the pure power of thought and learning. Once cast, the ‘locked’ formula disappears and only with rest and study can a Spell be loaded. 


In 1st Edition AD&D, the Magic-user per se isn’t an Augurer or an Enchanter. The schools of magic studied by the Magic-user fall across most disciplines equally (Illusion/Phantasm being the strict domain of the Illusionist sub-class with some very limited crossover).


A Magic-user may well be named Alric the Augurer or Belladonna the Enchantress, but the spells available to one are available to all. Therefore, in game terms, 1st Edition AD&D makes no differentiation between one Magic-user and another – that is entirely the player’s prerogative. The character’s background may affect the starting spells on offer and the spells the Magic-user learns will shape the character.


At low levels, being surrounded by stronger friends is a must. As a Character leaves the safety of the lab or classroom to begin adventuring, it is only in the company of others that the fledgling Magic-user feels safe.


Often armed with either a staff (a cheap stick found on the side of the road) or a dagger (the thing used to jam the frame and keep the widow closed) the Magic-user will also have the worst AC (Armour Class) in the party and without a defensive adjustment, this will be 10 (the worst AC available).


Into the world the Character is thrust, poorly armed and wearing no significant armour, all the while possessing d4 worth of HP (Hit Points) per level to keep the Character standing. With a 1st Level average HP of 2 or 3, the Character begins a career of lifelong study and adventure.


However, I hear you cry, the Character is a Magic-user and capable of casting powerful and destructive spells… not really. 


At 1st Level, the Character is able to memorise a single Spell per day. Once the Magic-user reaches 2nd Level, the number of spells memorised per day is 2. Unfortunately, when the Magic-user reaches 2nd Level, most of the Party will be on 3rd Level (or at least a good way toward it).


Why choose the Class? What does it offer to the Party?

The Magic-user seems the most likely to become less than useful, so it becomes imperative for the Player to work the character. The years of arcane study have allowed the Character to build quite an encyclopedia on foul monsters and strange beasts, using this can allow the DM to provide some insight to some of the trickier monsters (“Doesn’t everyone know to keep a handful of gems for the hungry Xorn”).


Having read lengthy tomes on the History of Magic, the character may have some insight to strange cults, places of interest, and a general knowledge of great and powerful personages.


The key to being valuable to the Party: Always get involved (“I analyse the pictogram. Can I decipher it?”), make use of the higher than average Intelligence as often as possible. Never be afraid to ask the DM to make an Intelligence check for observations, and to assist with conclusions (“What do I notice about the room? Is there anything that looks out of place on the book shelf?”).


As with the Thief, in more civilized areas, there will be a Wizards Guild, or Magicians Guild, or something of the kind. Becoming a member may prove to be a useful way to gain access to a half-decent library.


At lower levels, the Magic-user is in possession of a finite resource, some spells are powerful but others have very precise uses. Spellcasting as a Magic-user is about resource management and understanding once a spell is used, the spell is gone for some time.

Saving Throws

The following values make up a 1st  to 5th Level Magic-user Saving Throw matrix:

  • Paralysation, Poison, or Death Magic:  14
  • Petrification and Polymorph:   13
  • Rods, Staves, and Wands:   11
  • Breath Weapon:   15
  • Spells:    12


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Only Humans, Elves, and Half-elves can be Magic-users in AD&D 1st edition. The requirement for using Magic in AD&D is very specific and is therefore something only a few Races are capable of. 

The Elf and Half-elf Magic-user


Elves have a natural affinity to magic and this is reinforced by their Level of attainment (Max 11th Level), and also their age determination chart Elves and Half-elves are potentially Young Adults by comparison to their Human counterparts (who start in the Mature category). 


An Elf Magic-user with 18 INT (and therefore 11th Level max), can make their own spells, potions, and scrolls and therefore are in no way impeded in their creativity. The manufacture of true magic items can only happen at 12th Level and therefore only available to very special individuals.


Magic flows easily through the Elf and Half-elf that often the Magic-user is commonly part of a multi-class combination. Regardless of the class mix, the rules for Magic-users are almost the same with one main difference:  The Magic-user multi-class is able to cast spells whilst wearing armour, if there is a Thief class in the mix, the Leather armour limitation still remains. Apart from that, the armour restriction means to wear better than Leather armour the wearer must be a Fighter/Magic-user mix.


While the multi-class Magic-user has some advantages, the racial limits for the Magic-user Levels are based on the value of the Intelligence statistic, and as a result are restricted to Levels 9 to 11 for an Elf and Levels 6 to 8 for the Half-elf.


For the Half-elf, the occupation of Magic-user is more like a hobby than a profession, as the bits of magic picked up here and there come easily due to the Elf heritage. As the fabrication of Scrolls and Potions are allowable at 7th Level, only the Half-elf with 17 INT or higher will ever create them.


For the Half-elf, the best combination of multi-classed Magic-user is Magic-user/Thief; the unlimited levels of the Thief mean that HP are always increasing – even if it is by half d6 per Level – but the Levels increase steadily. A Fighter/Magic-user combination would produce a Fighter of 6th to 8th Level, and the lure for the mad rush of HP at lower Levels is quickly abated as the Character ceases all Experience progression.


From a game mechanics point of view: the amount of X.P. required for the Fighter to gain 8th Level, the Thief would be on Level 10, any HP benefit from the extra H.P. of the Fighter class is almost negated.


The most common Elf multi-class is the Fighter/Magic-user, allowing for a wide array of weapons good 'to hit' capabilities, solid HP at low levels, and the option of utilising Elfin Chain mail. The drawback is the level limit applied to the Fighter class (5th to 7th Level) depending on Strength score.


For the Elf, the Fighter/Magic-user/Thief combo provides the best option; the additional ‘to hit’ bonuses for swords and bows makes up for the (more than likely) 5th Level Fighter class, the Thief progression as mentioned above continually adds to the HP (1 or 2 HP per Level), and if the highest statistic goes to Intelligence, followed by Dexterity, the 9th to 11th Level Magic-User can make the most of the spells and any Dexterity bonuses available can assist the Thieving abilities and improve the AC. The primary drawbacks are related to the Armour limitations. even if the Character finds/obtains Elfin Chain mail, the Thief element cannot use abilities while in the armour.


Having said that, the triple combination means that HP are almost always trickling in, and barring Constitution adjustment, at 1st Level, the Fighter/Magic-user/Thief will start with 3 to 6 HP.


This combination makes the Magic-user quite robust.


Gray Elves

The most common category of Elf for players to select is called the High Elf. The Players Handbook (in the Elf listing) suggests reading the Monster Manual for further explanation of the race. Inside the Elf entry from the Monster Manual, there is a sub-Race of Elves called Gray Elves – there is also a brief reference to the sub-race in the Age table of the DMs Guide.


This race is found in the World of Greyhawk setting, and with the DM’s approval a Player may choose to be a member of this race.


From a Lord of the Rings reference, the Gray Elves are those found in Rivendell and in the Grey Havens, with the High Elves representing the Lothlorien Elvish kingdom (and other Elves not from Mirkwood - equivalent to Wood/Sylvan Elves in AD&D).


The primary difference for Gray Elves is their higher Intelligence; they forgo the +1 modifier to Dexterity and instead have +1 Intelligence. Allowing a maximum of 19 Intelligence; and in turn 19 INT (with the DM's approval) can increase the Magic-user’s maximum level attained to 12th Level.


In AD&D the Gray Elves are a dwindling race and are considered quite rare, in the World of Greyhawk setting, the Gray Elves congregate in two almost entirely Elvish communities the Elven province of Highfolk has approximately 20,000 Elves, and only 1,000 Gray Elves among them; and the Kingdom of Celene, where they make up less than one-third of the Elven population (approx. 9,000 in number).


They can be distinguished from other Elves as they have a slightly different look (their eye colour is often amber or violet and they have silver or pale golden hair) and because they live twice as long as other Elves, they have a particular presence about them.


In all other respects, the Gray Elf is exactly as the High Elf in special abilities, class, and level restrictions.



The Human has no limits to the maximum Level attained. Therefore a Human Magic-user and an Elf Magic-user both progress at the same rate, but even with a lower Intelligence, the Human will continue to study and progress well beyond the Elf compatriot. 


At the Minimum X.P. required, a Fighter/Magic-User of 5/5 will need 40,502 X.P.; the single class Magic-user by comparison would have attained 6th Level, and until 9th Level the X.P. bottle surges the Magic-User forward at a rate faster than the other Classes.


Even at 12 Intelligence (allowing for 6th Level Spells), the Human Magic-user of 18th Level will be prolific in spell, scroll, and magic item manufacture.


Up until 3rd Level the single class Magic-User will continue to play a supporting role within the Party, the Clerics will heal, the Fighters kill, and the Thief skulks around performing recon missions. The Magic-user must wait; wait for that moment to become involved - the most precious of resources being held only when needed. Either by increasing in Level or by using their vast knowledge available to that class, the Magic-user eventually becomes a force to reckon with.


As for weaponry, the Dagger, Dart, or Staff option offers little hope for getting into the thick of melee combat; therefore remaining at range is the better option. Both Daggers and Darts are missile weapons and have the same Short Range 1”. This keeps the Magic-user at incredibly short range, but for the lower Levels of experience this is the risk.


The key takeaway here is that a Human Magic-user is in for the long haul.


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