Old School Specialized Magic-Users

A lot of times I’m happy with the classic four usual suspects for classes but there’s always something that nags at the back of my mind and that’s specialized magic-users. The examples that come to mind are the Illusionist, the Necromancer and the Witch.
Now there’s some really good variations on these in different old school games but none just quite hits my sweet spot. But then part of my problem is that I don’t know where that sweet spot is.
Personally, I’m not crazy about added a new class for every class archetype. But falling to the pathetic fallback of just “play the character that way” and just pick the spells that fit. Just isn’t quite right either. I like things simple but this choice is too simple.
Now, there a couple things that I do like that I think are useful. First, there’s the mercurial magic from Dungeon Crawl Classics. A simple great way to add some variation and color to existing spells. I’ve been toying the idea of sort doing class variants but that’s almost like writing a new class.
To put it bluntly, my aged grognard brain has been running around in circles thinking about this. And basically, I’ve gotten no real inspiration. So what’s a guy to do in a situation like this? Well, blog about it and see what the great Internet has to say. So hit me folks. How do you deal with alternate Magic-Users? And if you’ve got any neat ideas about variations on other classes just speak up.

4 thoughts on “Old School Specialized Magic-Users”

  1. First: I’m no grognard, and I’m still not clear on what exactly the defining features of OSR games are and aren’t, so if my ideas fly in the face of the aesthetic, ignore.

    It seems a simple halfway point between ‘just play it that way’ and building an alternate class is isolating one or two things that define the variant and an equivalent number of features of the base class that are not part of that idiom, and swap them out. It’s not just for magic-users, either: I let my players make up martial arts styles all the time with three questions: “What advantage are you hoping to see?”, “What ability are you willing to give up for it?”, and “Are they pretty much equivalent?” You’re still keeping most of the base class as a template, so it’s not as much work as creating a different class, and asking players to choose just one or two things helps them isolate which things about their variant should be mechanically different, and which are just colour.

  2. What separates an OSR game is up for debate in some sectors of the Internet. But that’s not what we’re on about.
    Good ideas, Mark. Thanks. Sort the main thoughts that are bouncing around in my head.

  3. I have been out of RPGs for a couple of years now, but AD&D is still my favorite. Could you elaborate (or have you already?), a bit about the “mercurial magic from Dungeon Crawl Classics”? I may be in (temporary) retirement, but I am definitely interested in what’s going on.

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