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Fixing the Wizard
[04/17/2003] [Matthias]

There has been outcry from the population about the relatively pristine Wizard class. Having been an Amtgarder since 1995, a 6th-level Wizard since ’96, and a defender of both sides of the Wizard power issue, I feel qualified to speak on this issue.

On the one hand, we have the people who defend the Wizard class as is, saying that it’s no great feat to deal with an enemy Wizard who has stocked up on the chief tools of his art: verbal magic and spell balls. You can charge them while they cast magic, flee out of range, or take a spell ball to the shield while you run them down. All of these are valid tactics of course, and all fairly useful if (and only if) you are dealing with Wizards with few of their allies about to defend them. But really, all you are doing is eliminating a Wizard when he is out of his element, when he is in a situation for which his class is not geared for survival. But anti-Wizard tactics (which apply fairly well to just about any caster as well as bowmen) isn’t the thrust of my article. Instead, I want to talk about game balance.

What is game balance? Without delving too deeply into this important topic, game balance is best achieved by giving each class a niche or useful role in which it can contribute. We have Warriors and the knight classes for infantry, Healers and Druids for medics, and so on. When one class can do too few things, it is impotent. When one class can do too many things, it infringes on the power of other classes. Either extreme is undesirable.

Therefore the question becomes, ‘what is the niche for Wizards’? Certainly the class is powerful, having some of the most potent magics in the game. We might infer from its magic list that the function of Wizards is for artillery. However, the Wizard has abilities which have nothing to do with death and destruction, but actually overlap the other caster classes to an extent. The Wizard is both versatile and powerful. It fills its niche and more. I conclude, therefore, that the Wizard is unbalanced as written.

Without offering it as an explanation, I am fairly certain I have a grasp of the origin of the Amtgard Wizard. They come from the fantasy medium where we see wizard characters who can do just a little bit of everything, and from the ancestral RPG of Amtgard (D&D) where wizards get all sorts of spells, save healing or resurrection. It is no wonder then that the Amtgard Wizard has the same sort of versatility, made deliberately to be head-and-shoulders above the other classes as an echo of the heroic Gandalfs and Merlins we all know and love. This extends not only to magic but also to melee selection.

The next question we must ask is how to fix this. By analyzing the problem, we already have some clues as to how to remedy the situation. We must throw out once and for all the archetype of the versatile Wizard. Such a view is, as we have already seen, incompatible with the “laws of nature” inherent in Amtgard’s rules of play which dictates the boundaries of game balance and fairness.

Now decreasing the power of the Wizard, while a popular solution, is ill-advised. Before we neuter the class by killing its raw power – which is more likely to destroy the class to no good effect – we ought to look at limiting the scope within which the class may exercise Ultimate Power™. Limit the versatility first. This isn’t foreign to us; we do the same with the other classes. We hobble them all in certain ways that make them easier to deal with.

What would a balanced Wizard look like? In other words, what would a Wizard that neatly filled its niche as an artillery-based class do? It would certainly be more specialized. Straightaway I would eliminate all the useful (but ultimately superfluous) protective and defensive magics: Defend, Warskill, Protection From Magic perhaps, Reanimate, Protection From Projectiles, Protect, Harden, Mend, Protection From Flame, Enchant Shield, and Honor Duel. All these magics infringe upon the niches of the other spellcasting classes, or unnecessarily beef up the Wizard itself.

While many of these magics have become traditional staples of the class, we must let go of these sentimentalities – in a way it’s sentimentality that’s let the Wizard continue in its current state until now. To cure the patient we must remove all the disease.

However, this process of fitting the class to its niche isn’t done. The class is undoubtedly the best-equipped for melee combat. As before, we cannot let attachment to non-Amtgardian Wizard subtypes like battlemages and such interfere with our attempt to make the class more balanced. Trying to excuse the wizard weapon in an attempt to do justice (or pay homage) to stickjock wizards will do Amtgard no good. I would recommend a more limited version of the Healer weapon selection: dagger(1), short(3), long(5), spear(3), staff(3). Your mileage may vary of course, but you get the general idea. Note the removal of the Warskill neutral.

Only after the Wizard has been suitably specialized for its niche should we look at powering down what abilities remain. In this I would be very careful. Magic, as a general rule, still consists of a set of ‘trump card’ abilities; this is ingrained too deeply into the game, in the form of checks-and-balances and caster ratios, for making Wizards equivalent to non-casters. (Remember that the 6.0 Bard suffered from that same fate.) Therefore I’d recommend that all the spell ball magics be kicked up one level except Magic Bolt. There’s the idea of adding a 2nd-level ‘Acid Bolt’ spell ball in between Magic Bolt and Lightning Bolt, as well.

Last but not least, I would reduce the class to three lives at all levels. Vivify (and Lich too, I suppose) should remain part of the class, but with three lives, having Vivify around does make sense as something other than as an added privilege on top of everything else the class is gifted with.

That’s how I would deal with Wizards. I think these changes would be entirely fair – not fair in the sense that the fans of the class have been empowered, because they have not – but fair in the sense that Wizards would be brought down to the level of everyone else, where they should have been in the first place. We would merely be being cruel to be kind … and in the long run doing Wizards and everyone else a favor.

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