Heading out of town for a few days.
In the meantime, I’ve been reading me some Jack Vance – it’s amazing how many things, subtle things, that D&D jacked from him.
You hear “Vancian Magic” way too often in this hobby from people who don’t understand what it means. Yes, the disposable spells and imprisoning/memorizing them is Vance to the core.
It also implies a bunch of other shit. Research, experimentation, Lost Spells in the Dark and Weird places of the world, barely-controlled Tech and Nanotech. One of the reasons I’ve always had a problem with the 3x + (and even 2e to an extent) is that they simultaneously make research less-attractive/non-existent, and make magic too mundane.
See, a “Wizard” is different than a “Magic-User”. Magic-users, what the common folk call “wizard”, simply have magic. I’ve used several in the past that were 0-level NPCs and/or other classes, but had access to a magical tool, even a toy, or some internal mutation that gave them power.
A Magic-user is a deceptive bastard who uses fear and magic to keep himself off the pyre and serve his needs. Magic-users wield nothing more than a tool; they are laborers, not craftsmen, of Magic – and by 4e, they are all that remains.
Wizards and Magi, though? They almost understand magic, even are magic to some degree. A Wizard hunts power, knowledge, tools. He hoards as the Dragon, jealous of power, laboring to keep it hard by and thieve it from the less-worthy. A true Wizard does not have equals, but enemies, masters, inferiors, puppets; those with a hold on his soul or his power, and those who depend upon them. Wizards deceive, yes, but also play with Magic in a way a simple “user” never will.
Wizards study, and often die for, their Art – for a Wizard is an Artist, a Craftsman, a maker of Wonder.
The longer or more tightly-regulated the spell description (with limited exceptions), the closer you move to nothing but Magic-“Users”. When Grease stops conjuring a layer of bacon fat in an area and starts becoming “You can but make someone slip, or disarm them”, a Wizard isn’t the only one who loses out.
The entire game feels the hurt, for creativity and “breaking the rules” with magic are the very substance of the fairy tales and sagas we draw from.
More importantly, these acts should be part of the stories we write on our own every time we hit the table. Our tales are of finding wealth and creeping under the weight of dread, exultation and mourning, and above all being clever gits who do what we shouldn’t with every tool we have, because that’s the way Humanity works. It’s what we’ve done ever since we rejected the Garden, and it’s our fucking inheritance right alongside the weight of Adam’s Curse.
The Game shouldn’t be an endless walk down a barren corridor, whose seamless and indestructible walls lead into an unbranching infinity forever interrupted with doors, should not consist of hunting for the one and only key on our collective belt that will fit this lock.
Branch the corridor, tear down the walls. Give your players toys, not just tools; marvel at what they make of broad, Weird powers instead of simple rayguns and a really big sack they fill with FPS-style first-aid kits.