The Fantasy Trip: Wizard
The Fantasy Trip: Wizard Playtest Review by Travis Casey on 03/08/02
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
The basic "magical combat" element of TFT, Wizard didn't really bring anything new to the table in terms of mechanics, but did reach a height of clarity of "how things work" beyond the other magic systems of the time.
Product: The Fantasy Trip: Wizard
Author: Steve Jackson
Category: Board Game / RPG rules
Line: The Fantasy Trip
Page count: 24
Year published: 1977
Comp copy?: no
Playtest Review by Travis Casey on 03/08/02
Genre tags: Fantasy
This is the second in a series of "historical reviews". As such, it's treating the game in the context of the time it was written, rather than in a modern context. Ratings are given accordingly.
The Fantasy Trip: Wizard was the second game released in the TFT line. It was designed to be both a standalone "magical duel" game and the basic magic system for the TFT RPG.
Wizard was released in 1977, shortly after Melee. At the time, D&D and T&T were the two big fantasy games. Runequest, Chivalry & Sorcery, and other such "oldies" still lay in the future. This is the context of this review.
Physically, Wizard's rules came in a x" by x", 24-page rulebook -- the same dimensions as Melee. Wizard, however, packed in more information, and thus, wasn't able to afford quite as "nice" a layout as Melee. The table of contents was squeezed onto the title page instead of being on a separate page; there's no extra copy of the important tables in the rules; and, most importantly for the beauty of the presentation, there wasn't room to spare for the larger pieces of art like Melee had interspersed.
Still, while the layout was more packed and functional than that of Melee, the text remained clear and readable, both in font and size and in writing style. The rules covered much of what Melee did, plus added magic rules and a spell list with around 60 spells. For the time, it was excellent. Even by modern standards, the layout and writing are good (considering the cramped space).
The game's cover is still striking even today -- it shows a wizard with glowing green eyes standing over a warrior who's in the process of collapsing... and the warrior's screaming face has been removed into an orange ball which is floating into the wizard's hands. There's no spell in the game which is described as having an effect anything like that, but the image is still striking, both in the quality of the artwork and the disturbing imagery it carries.
The magic rules, of course, are the heart of Wizard. Like Melee, Wizard eschewed the idea of a level-based system (which both D&D and D&D were) in favor of an attribute-based one. Wizard added Intelligence to Melee's Strength and Dexterity, giving the system three attributes. All three attributes were important to wizards... which in itself made wizards unlikely to prevail against warriors in non-magical combat, where only Strength and Dexterity mattered.
Intelligence was used to determine what spells a wizard could know, and how many. Each spell on the list was given a minimum Intelligence which a wizard needed in order to learn it. The number of spells a wizard could know was equal to his/her Intelligence.
Strength and Dexterity still served the same purposes they had in Melee, but also had added uses for magic. Casting spells fatigued the magician severely, counting as damage -- and Strength was still the limit on how much damage one could take, so a weak wizard could not cast as many spells as a strong one. Dexterity was rolled against to successfully cast many spells, often with a range modifier.
It should be noted that much of this is very similar to T&T's magic system. That system also assigns minimum Intelligence scores to spells (and, for that matter, minimum Dexterity scores to some), and has casting spells drain effective Strength. However, as noted above, T&T is a level-based system; therefore, what spells are usable by a magician are very much limited by the magician's level.
The combat rules are those of Melee, reduced a bit by leaving out hand-to-hand combat, most of the weapon and armor lists, rules for thrown and missile weapons, and rules for readying a weapon. Overall, most of the actual rules of Melee are in there... there's just not much that can be done with them without the weapon and armor lists.
On the magic rules side of things, Wizard gave a good bit of information to help with adjudication of spells -- this was especially important in its "dueling game" mode, since run that way, there was no GM to decide rules questions. Where D&D and T&T were both set up so that almost every spell was a special case, TFT broke spells up into several categories and presented a section of general rules for each category. For example, where D&D pretty much left what illusion spells could do up to the GM, Wizard gave several specific statements about what its "images" and "illusions" could and couldn't do.
The spell list gave about 60 spells, of which around 40 were unique (the other 20 being more powerful versions of other spells). All the spells were combat useful, and most were strongly combat-oriented, making Wizard weak for use in a full RPG. Further, since magical combat under arena rules was the focus, Wizard gave no examples of magic items and no rules for them.
The mix of spells was interesting, and made for interesting combats -- there were a lot of the old RPG favorites, like a missile of fire, a sleep spell, and a paralysis spell, but there were also several easy-to-learn spells that summoned and controlled various creatures, images and illusions, and spells to fill areas with darkness, fire, or solid rock walls.
As a dueling game, Wizard was more varied, and generally more fun, than Melee -- the use of spells to alter the battlefield and the ability to create and control other figures (images, illusions, or real creatures) gave players a lot more options and flexibility. Since Strength served as both hit points and magical power points, battles still tended to be short -- if you did too much magic, you'd take yourself out without your opponent ever landing a blow.
As an RPG magic system, it was much too focused on combat magic. While one could easily use Melee as a reasonably complete RPG combat system, Wizard didn't have enough non-combat spells -- people interested in using TFT as an RPG either had to invent a slew of new spells, restrict the game to a fighting game only, or buy Advanced Wizard.
Where Melee brought a new level of detail to RPG combat systems, Wizard didn't do the same for magic systems. It was better organized than either D&D or T&T's magic system, and was the first non-level-based magic system, though.