Wizard! (Half-bard, y’all) What is he good for?
The player who animates Mississippi Jed came back to an old question that we had previously explored. The first time around, the question was, “Since a GURPS wizard isn’t going to be throwing around pyromaniacal death in the style of Tim the Enchanter, the way we’ve come to expect and love from the D&D magic-user, what’s a wizard’s job, in Dungeon Fantasy?”
At the time, the key answer was “Dealing with attackers that the front-line fighters can’t touch.” Oh, I mentioned all the utility of having a party member who can sense magic, both for picking out the good loot and for avoiding traps that the scout can’t even see. I’m sure notice was taken of buffing the front-line fighters. Bottom line, though, players like to go looking for the place where their character can step up, roll up its sleeves, and calmly announce: “Don’t sweat it. I got this.”
Best delivered when the rest of the party is having a “Game over, man!” moment and soiling their armor, naturally.
And that was that, for quite some time. Now, though, we’ve seen how Jed operates in play, and the question has come up again. This time, we’re looking for specifics. “Great,” the player says, “I’m the wizard, I’m in charge of MC Hammer and all other things you can’t touch. So what do I do to them?”
Like, specifically? OK.
The first question is, why can’t the target be touched? As is the way with GURPS, there are a couple of options. The big two are Insubstantiality and Injury Tolerance (Diffuse). The first, Insubstantiality, is the real deal, for creatures that just don’t interact with the physical world. The second is for things that are physical, but not really solid, like slimes, oozes, clouds of evil vapor, swarms of demonic rats, and so forth.
If the enemy is really-and-truly insubstantial, a wizard might be able to apply non-physical magic, like Charm or Sleep. In DF, the most likely opponents with true Insubstantiality are ghosts. They’re more of a job for the holy guys. Still, if it’s got a mind to befuddle or control, a wizard is better equipped to handle it than one of the sword-swingers.
A Diffuse enemy is trouble for folks fighting with melee weapons. The solution is area-affecting attacks. Think of a swarm of army ants. You won’t get anywhere trying to use an axe on them. Even if each blow kills dozens, the carpet of insects just keeps marching. However, if you pull out a flamethrower, they crisp up wholesale. You can apply damage to an entire hex-full, rather than trying to fight them on a personal scale.
Now, maybe the DF wizards aren’t the “rolling thunder” that a high-level D&D wizard can be*, but area-of-effect attacks are still their thing. Others might make do with lobbing potions or getting inventive with the environment, but nobody has the wide selection of Area spells that arcane spell-casters do.
In fact, if you cast your mind back to the very last session, the party was beset in a small tunnel by a Diffuse swarm of fire-crazed rats, until Jed turned them back in disarray with an area-affecting spell. Isn’t it great when one’s natural instincts and the rules intersect?
* A point which I’m currently accepting for the sake of discussion, but not necessarily agreeing with. I’m pretty sure a sufficiently motivated DF wizard could potentially create a global (or plate-shaped, if your world is flat, I guess) apocalypse, with the right selection of spells. It’s like, who would win in a fight between Bat-man, Bruce Lee, and President Obama? If we’re talking about a fist-fight, that’s one thing, but if it comes down to it, nuking Gotham is a heck of a hay-maker.