Fun Times With Wild Mages

Today we discuss 2nd edition and why it’s way better than 4th edition:

Dear DM,

Why do a lot of people seem to dislike the Wild Mage in Tome of Magic from AD&D 2nd edition? I am thinking about trying to start a 2nd edition gaming group on my college campus and just wanted to know.

Anyone that follows my blog knows I’m not a huge fan of 4th edition and like to whine a lot about the good ol’ days of roleplaying when we had negative Armor Class.  As such, the above question, to my mind, is essentially asking: “Why doesn’t everyone still play AD&D?”  If I had it my way we still would be, but I think I’m in the minority there, so I won’t dwell on it too much.

First things first, a brief discussion of the Wild Mage for anyone unfamiliar.  Tome of Magic was a supplement created to add more variety and depth to spellcasters in D&D.  One of the additions was the Wild Mage – a wizard that tapped into the raw and unpredictable Wild Magic – creating sometimes wacky results.  These random results come in the form of Wild Surges, and include things like:

Caster smells like a skunk for the duration of the spell
All creatures within 30′ of caster begin to hiccup (+1 to casting times, -1 to THAC0)
Target turns to stone

Some of them are beneficial, some of them are harmful, some are just plain silly, but the Wild Mage highlights the most important aspect of roleplaying to me: having fun!  If we can’t goof off and add some humor to the gaming table then what’s the point?  I’m not interested in grinding for levels and maximizing party effectiveness.  I’m interesting in laughing and playing with friends.

D&D started out as a way for imaginative geeks to have a good time together.  Even AD&D was a slight shift away from that, as is evidenced by the “Advanced” part of the title, somehow implying that it was made for the most elite gamers.  Probably most of the changes to D&D came down to money.  Even Tome of Magic, which I think is awesome, was probably thrust out into the market to help boost revenue.  D&D was failing miserably by the time the early 90’s rolled around, and it wasn’t until 3rd edition came out that it gained popularity again.  And a lot of that was just clever marketing, not because it was necessarily a superior product.   But before I start meandering away on a rant, back to the main point: the Wild Mage.

For me, the Wild Mage represents everything that is the antithesis of 4th edition, and this is why I think some people don’t like it.  Yes, the Wild Mage has some potential for brokenness, especially in regard to their ability to control potentially powerful artifacts such as the Deck of Many Things.  But ultimately it’s up to the DM to decide what’s too powerful.  That’s what House Rules are for.  A lot of D&D players these days are interested in “serious” gaming, meaning they want to find loopholes to exploit, the most ideal combination of feats, and the fastest way to kill everything and level up.  Playing a Class that is inherently based on randomness detracts from these desires and goals, or they can be taken advantage of in really lame ways.  The serious gamer wants as much control as possible over their character and its actions.  Introducing some light-hearted tomfoolery is just bad for the game.  To which I reply: get over yourself and stop taking a game so seriously.

AD&D wasn’t the most well-thought out gaming system.  It wasn’t the most perfectly balanced.  It left plenty of room for confusion, arguments and open interpretation.  But wiggle room means plenty of room for fun and creativity.  So I say “Hell yeah you should start an AD&D campaign!  And double-Hell-yeah someone should play a Wild Mage!”  If you don’t take the game too seriously, you’ll definitely have a good time.  The same thing applies to life.

Roll it like you mean it.

As always, we need more questions! 

If you wish to submit a question to the Dungeon Master, please e-mail them todungeonmastermind@gmail.com, or you can Tweet me a question @AskthedDM. And make sure to review the disclaimer.

You can also see me in action in the webcomic, One Die Short.

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6 Responses to Fun Times With Wild Mages

  1. EVLMRFEAR says:

    I involved a whole campaign around it with some extended effects. I made my own randomized wildsurge effects and the fact that over time wild magic causes the wild mage to go insane later in life. This happens to be very challenging for the pcs. Also I made a very powerful wild mage npc that has found a way to eternal life thru means of wild magic. For every wildsurge there is a very small chance that this powerful wildmage would be able to posses the surge and choose his own effect. The chances increase depending on the age of the caster. Truly fun stuff!

  2. Adeeba says:

    I have been telling people about 2nd Edition wild surges for a long time. They create some wonderfully hilarious situations, especially if your DM (which mine did) makes his/her own, very creative list. Wild surges are one of the many reasons I continue to stick with 2nd Ed. after all these years.

    So glad you wrote about this!

  3. Dave, Player, DM, man about town says:

    Wild mages sounded very fun to me when i read their description. I however, play ye old Dwarven Cleric. Im really hoping my group will get started.

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