AD&D 2e, Dungeons & Dragons, Learn the Game, Wizards

Learning to Play a Wizard in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition Part 1: The Basics

One of the first things you’ll notice when beginning to play the Wizard in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition (AD&D 2e) is that while you may, eventually, have access to world shaping magics that you’re limited physically because you’ve been too busy studying the arcane arts to get outside and lift some weights. In a lot of ways it reminds me of the wimpy nerd stereotype that dominated the 1980s – a stereotype that also tended to encompass most Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) nerds as well.

. . . Spells are the tools, weapons, and armor of the wizard. He is weak in a toe-to-toe fight, but when prepared he can strike down his foes at a distance, vanish in an instant, become a wholly different creature, or even invade the mind of an enemy and take control of his thoughts and actions. No secrets are safe from a wizard and no fortress is secure. His quest for knowledge and power often leads him into realms where mortals are never meant to go . . .

Cook, 42

It’s almost certain that the goal in the above passage was to make Wizards seem like a powerful class that at upper levels could become the most powerful option for players in the base version of AD&D 2e; however, reading this description makes them seem more like a form of wish fulfilment for the picked upon and powerless individual who would naturally gravitate towards a class that allowed them to strike down their foes at a distance and escape any form of retribution. It leaves a poor taste in my mouth.

Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition (D&D 3e) would completely abandon this sort of grandiose language and instead make the wizard seem tame by comparison. There was good reason for this as many of the most powerful spells in a Wizard’s arsenal would be left behind when the game changed editions – most of them never to return to the game through an official channel (though players would create home versions to reintroduce them to new generations).

Moving on we find that Wizards cannot wear any armor, an aspect of the class that would be kept in D&D 3e, but unlike D&D 3e we’re given an explanation for why the class is unable to wear it:

. . . Wizards cannot wear any armor, for several reasons. Firstly, most spells require complicated gestures and odd posturings by the caster and armor restricts the wearer’s ability to do these properly. Secondly, the wizard spent his youth (and will spend most of his life) learning arcane languages, poring through old books, and practicing his spells. This leaves no time for learning other things (like how to wear armor properly and use it effectively). If the wizard had spent his time learning about armor, he would not have even the meager skills and powers he begins with . . .

Cook, 42

The text goes on to describe how a common misconception among regular people has it that armor actually causes magical spells to fail. It’s a neat anecdote that helps ground the class in the world by creating a game world story to help reinforce the idea that Wizards don’t wear armor. D&D 3e doesn’t provide any such grounding and it’s something that the class is sorely missing because there isn’t any game world reasoning to reinforce the concept. As a result, it often feels as though the only reason Wizards don’t wear armor is because . . . they don’t. There’s no intellectual underpinning so the restriction simply feels like a restriction on the class for game balance.

Like their D&D 3e cousins the AD&D 2e Wizard is restricted on the sorts of weaponry they’re allowed to use. Again, the AD&D 2e Player’s Handbook explains this with a logical underpinning while D&D 3e simply leaves it as a soft rule (any character could learn additional weapons and gain the use of armor through feats though Wizards found an increased risk of spell failure when wearing armor). AD&D 2e allowed Wizards to use daggers, staffs, darts, knives, and slings. The D&D 3e Wizard, by contrast, was allowed to use clubs, daggers, heavy crossbows, light crossbows, and quarterstaffs without burning a feat to learn the use of additional weapons.  It’s interesting that while the AD&D 2e Wizard could use the sling that the D&D 3e Wizard could not even though the sling is considered a simple weapon that requires little skill to use.

The next, big, change between editions comes when we move on to the discussion of hit points. Both the AD&D 2e and D&D 3e Wizards had a 1d4 Hit Die, but after 10th level the AD&D 2e Wizard only earns a single hit point with each successive level while the D&D 3e Wizard continues to earn hit points at the previous pace. The end result means that a D&D 3e Wizard could have 32 additional hit points at 2oth level over their AD&D 2e cousins at the same level. That’s huge bump in the survivability of Wizards between the two editions.

Learning Spells

In D&D 3e the wizard learns their spells in one of three ways: (1) they select two spells when they achieve a new level of their choosing [if specialized they must be from the chosen school of magic]; (2) the wizard copies a found spell from either a scroll or spell book into their own spell book; or (3) through independent research, by which they can create new spells the player has dreamed up (Tweet, 155). As you can imagine AD&D 2e is a bit more constrictive in how players are able to learn new spells. Not only must the player succeed on a percentage chance to learn and copy a spell to their spell book (see pg 22, Table 4) but they are also limited on the maximum number of spells they are able to  learn on that level (see pg 43, Table 21). Here’s the other kicker, “. . . Once a spell is learned, it cannot be unlearned. It remains part of that character’s repertoire forever . . .” (Cook, 43). This restriction would be completely removed from D&D 3e as “. . . Unlike bards and sorcerers, wizards may know any number of spells . . .” (Tweet, 54).

On Spellbooks

AD&D 2e allows the player to use a variety of objects for their spell book: “. . . A wizard’s spell book can be a single book, a set of books, a bundle of scrolls, or anything else your DM allows . . .” (Cook, 43). This is vastly different to the way that D&D 3e would conceptualize the spellbook as “. . . A large, leatherbound book that . . . has 100 pages of parchment, and each spell takes up two pages per level (one page for 0-level spells) . . .” (Tweet, 111). It’s fascinating to see how D&D 3e made moves towards formalization when it came to the basic components of the game and largely attempted to beat back the tendency of D&D groups to create their own, unique understanding of their games.

The Mage

What D&D 3e would simply call the Wizard was the Mage in AD&D 2e. This version of the wizard was capable of the broadest magics, however they sacrificed the most powerful specialized spells for their variety (Cook, 44). They’re based on the most powerful fictional mages you can name: Merlin, Circe, and Medea.

The Schools of Magic

There are nine different schools of magic that are divided into eight greater schools and one minor school. The eight greater schools of magic are as you can see in the below illustration.

The natural conclusion from that graph is to assume that each school is opposed only by the school directly across from it on the illustration, however, that isn’t the case as most school are opposed by at least two other schools and some, such as the Enchanter, Illusionist, Invoker, and Necromancer are opposed by three or more schools (for a complete list please see table 22 Wizard Specialist Requirements on pg 45 of the Player’s Handbook).

Works Cited

Cook, David “Zeb,” et al. Player’s Handbook for the AD&D Game. USA: TSR Inc, 1996. pg 22, 42 – 45 PRINT

Tweet, Jonathan, et al. Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook Core Rulebook I v3.5. Wizards of the Coast. USA, 2003. pg. 52 – 55, 155. PRINT


10 thoughts on “Learning to Play a Wizard in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition Part 1: The Basics”

  1. Small clarification.

    “(1) they select two spells when they achieve a new level of their choosing [if specialized they must be from the chosen school of magic]”

    The wizard only has to have one spell in their chosen school, if memory serves. Otherwise, spot on.

    Another thing worth mentioning is that AD&D 2e mages can only cast one spell per day at level 1. 3e wizards have access to not only one first level spell (and I believe more if they have higher intelligence), but also have 3 cantrips. More magic than the 2e mages.

    I’ve had difficulty determining how many starting spells 2e mages get. I know they have to roll to see if they can learn a spell, but I had trouble finding out exactly how many spells they get. Did you find that in your readings?

    In 2e, mages don’t get access to extra magic with high intelligence, they just have access to higher levels of magic and they get a higher chance to successfully memorize the spell. By comparison, clerics get extra spells per day with higher wisdom scores.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jeff, all that information can be found in the DMG, page 41. The book suggests that magic is one of the areas that the needs DM oversight due to the power it can bring to the game.

      Page 41 outlines three options: Player Choice (the PC selects his/her spells and the DM rolls to see if they are learned, and is repeated until all the 1st level spells are chosen), DM Choice (PC gets read magic and detect magic, and four other spells of the DM’s choice), and Player/DM collaboration (PC starts with 3d4 spells, two of which are read magic and detect magic). Note that in the first option, read magic and detect magic is not given.

      There’s also a neat little rule about the acquisition of spells beyond 1st level (also on page 41). This spell can be learned in one of three ways – DM choice, Player choice, or Random Roll. The PC gets the spell for free and doesn’t have to roll to learn it…if the DM chooses (or the spell is determined randomly). If the player chooses it, then it is implied that the roll needs to be made. Also, if the mage is a specialist, the rules state that the spell should come from specialist’s school.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks Gus! I guess you can tell which book I’ve read more often. It would have been nice to have a single line in the mage description saying something like “See the DMG for more details” or “Ask the DM for rules on acquiring first level spells”.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I was kind of on the fence with the Player’s Options books. I liked how they had the DIY classes (hint: they broke down all a class’s abilities into points, added new abilities, and you bought what you wanted…neat concept). I did not like the DIY races, because some of their abilities were tied to the sub-stats that were introduced in the book. The kits in Skills & Powers were decent, too, if I recall correctly. Spells & Magic definitely ramps up spellcasters!

      Liked by 1 person

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