Review of The Power Gamer's 3.5 Wizard Strategy Guide

Review Summary
Comped Capsule Review
Written Review

November 4, 2005

by: Jeremy Reaban

Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)

Want to learn how to be a better roleplayer or get every drip of angst out of your characters? This book is not for you. This book helps you tweak out your wizard or sorcerer to kick the most ass possible, especially those angsty types...

Jeremy Reaban has written 125 reviews, with average style of 3.51 and average substance of 3.94. The reviewer's previous review was of Dave Arneson's Blackmoor.

This review has been read 12505 times.

Product Summary
Name: The Power Gamer's 3.5 Wizard Strategy Guide
Publisher: Goodman Games
Line: d20, Power Gamer\'s Guide
Author: Glyn Dewey, Jason Little, Anthony Pryor
Category: RPG

Cost: $19.99
Pages: 96
Year: 2005

SKU: GMG4311
ISBN: 0-9768085-0-1

Review of The Power Gamer's 3.5 Wizard Strategy Guide

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The Power Gamer's 3.5 Wizard Strategy Guide
(The 100% Official Guide to Kicking Monster Butt and Winning the Game)


Strategy guides and hint books for computer adventure and role-playing games have a long history , existing almost as long as the games themselves. I remember long before the internet, reading walk-throughs and hints from Scorpia in Computer Gaming World and on the dial-up service GEnie. They've now become almost an industry to themselves, with virtually every game getting at least one official guide and many popular games get one or two unofficial guides.

However, a strategy guide or a hint book to a pen & paper roleplaying game is somewhat novel. I can't think of any before this series, "The Power Gamer's 3.5 ___________ Strategy Guide" from Goodman Games (in this case, "Wizard". It's dedicated to helping players create characters who excel in combat (and all around adventuring) created purely through the use of the actual core-rules, not additional splatbooks.

I guess for one reason, creating characters to take advantage of the rules system or maximizing a characters abilities according to the rules is often given a bad name, "Min-maxing" or "Munchkin". But it's like watching reality TV. A lot of people do it, few people admit it.

Another thing, few companies want to admit their rules systems are broken or can be exploited, and so won't publish a book on it themselves and other companies really can't (or won't). Since d20 lets anyone publish, not just the company that put out the original rules, other companies can.

Although the name of the book say it's for wizards, it's actually also for sorcerers as well. On the other hand, it says for other arcane spellcasters, but the other arcane spellcaster, the Bard, isn't really covered. So it's just for Wizards and Sorcerers. Or "Mages" as the book collectively refers to those two classes.

It's solely based on stuff in the d20 SRD, so it's 100% "official", that is, no 3rd party feats or skills or spells or such. So if you are a player, the advice in this book should apply to you unless your DM has house rules. And even if he does, then it will at least get you thinking strategically and tactically when it comes to your character.

The Book Itself

The book divides spellcasters into 4 archetypes - Blaster, Controller, Saboteur, and Support Specialist. Blasters deal damage to enemies, Controllers manipulate and weaken opponents, Saboteurs alter the battlefield and and Support Specialists make the rest of the party better. By picking one (or maybe two) archetypes, the mage can do that job better than if he tries to do something of everything.

The first part of the book deals with creating a character. That is, which races work the best, and how to assign a character's stats, as well as feats and even which familiar is best.

While some of this is obvious, a lot depends on what sort of role the mage will play. For instance, while everyone needs a high intelligence (or charisma for sorcerers), "blasters" will need a high dexterity to help them with their ray and touch attacks. While not every archetype has a different priority, there is some difference.

Spellcasters have two special sorts of important feats: metamagic (which improves spells cast) and magical crafting (which lets them make magical goodies). The wizard gets a fair amount of feats, but a sorcerer doesn't, so just which feats to pick can be very important.

Which is the better metamagic feat, "Empower Spell" or "Maximize Spell"? In most cases, according to the guide, "Empower Spell" is better since it costs one fewer spell level. Similarly, just which item creation feats are best to get? What are the downsides of each one? And how about other general feats, which ones are worth taking? Most players I know take "Combat Casting" to help spellcasting in combat, but this book makes an excellent case that "Skill Focus (Concentration)" is an all around better pick.

What spells a mage casts is just as important as how well he casts them, so there is a large chapter on spell selection.

For damage spells, there is a handy chart which displays the average amount of damage done by that spell by each level of the spellcaster. Including lower level spells maximized and empowered by metamagic and how much damage is done if the target makes their save.

Spells for other archetypes aren't as obvious, but each gets a breakdown on which spells are worth using and which spells sound useful but aren't.

Some of the advice could be clearer. For instance, there's a section called "The Half Life of Burning Hands" which discusses how some spells are more useful at lower levels, but then get to be less useful as the casting level increases. It shows a chart of an empowered Fireball vs. Cone of Cold and how Cone of Cold does more damage at higher levels.

I would have liked to have seen charts (or simply a list) of other spells that are also less useful at high levels. It mentions that "Scorching Ray" is starting to get long in the tooth at 15th level, but provides no alternative to it.

They say clothes make the man, and there is certainly some truth to that when it comes to what sort of gear a mage has. This guide shows which items are generally too costly for what they deliver, while what other items are bargains.

This is especially useful for players who are familiar with earlier versions of D&D, but not 3.5. Because some magic items have changed dramatically in their usefulness. For instance, Bracers of Armor. They used to be pretty decent. But now they cost more than the bonus they give is really worth, since a similar result to a +4 Bracers of armor can be achieved by using 2 pearls of power to simply cast "Mage Armor" twice a day with a savings of about 14,000 gp.

So you've finally got your mage statted up, feats selected, spells picked, decked out with magic items. Time to chew bubblegum and kick ass. But how to best deal with a type of an opponent? Well, that's covered here, too.

Opponents are broken up into five different categories. Critters (animals, oozes, plants, vermin), Fiends (outsiders, elementals, dragons), Terrors (aberrations, constructs, fey, some magical beasts), Toughs (giants, humanoids, teamsters), and Undead (me after that last joke). With further advice with dealing with enemy spellcasters.

Each archetype of mage is given advice on how to tackle that given category of opponent, along with a more specific example of an opponent in that category.

Lastly there is an appendix listing which spells are best for each mage archetype as well as various probability charts. I'm not sure you'd want your DM to see you use this book, so I don't know how useful those are in practice, unless you want to photocopy them and hide them in your copy of the PHB.

The book is apparently aimed more for function than looks. It's nice and clean looking, but has no artwork in it except for the occasional diagram or chart. As it is, the book is pretty much full, so I guess there is no room for artwork, but if there had been, I think some cartoon/comic style illustrations similar to some in the original Dungeon Master's Guide would have been appropriate.

Final Thoughts...

The book is a well written (and often funny) and fascinating analysis of the wizard and sorcerer classes, and in a way, of the magic system of d20. It's not just for power gamers or munchkins, any d20 player will gain insight into the arcane magic system. Also it seems quite valuable for would be game designers, especially ones making new spells, to accurately gauge the power of their new spells. It's also just the thing for DMs who want to make their player's lives miserable, yet stay within the rules.

It's not perfect though. I would have liked to have seen more info on multi-classing and prestige classes. There's really very little info on that, just a small bit in the feat section analyzing some possible feat selections for a fighter/wizard or paladin/sorcerer. The exclusion of prestige classes is somewhat glaring, since I would suspect most high level characters would take one, but aren't sure if some of the abilities are worth the loss (for instance, the Arch Mage gives up some slots to get some other slots, so which is better is hard to say without a rigid mathmatical analysis that this book thrives on). I also would have liked to have seen some prebuilt sample mages at various levels.

So it seems to me, they could have made a more comprehensive book, including that (particularly info on prestige classes, as they are important to mid to high level characters) and perhaps some artwork and made into a 128 page book (which also generally are a better deal for the consumer, since they only cost a few dollars more). Still, not being the publisher, I just don't know how feasible that was. A few typos (including the dreaded page XX error) are about the only flaws in this product. B+

(4.5 for Substance rounded up since it really is useful, 3 for style)

(And yes, my blurb doesn't make much sense, but at 4 am in the morning it was amusing enough...)

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