You want to know something I like about Guild Wars where I think Dungeons & Dragons fails? (I’m referring specifically to the Fourth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons.) In Guild Wars, if you pick up a wand, a staff, or some other magical implement, and there are a lot of them about, you can make a magical attack with it, no questions asked. You can be a warrior, ranger, or nonmagical whatever.

Fourth Edition builds powers around the idea of the “basic attack.” Most at-will powers that a class has access to are better than the basic attacks that every conscious, living character can perform, but the basic attacks themselves are always mundane, nonmagical attacks with either manufactured or improvised weapons. I mean, boring normal stuff. Swords and clubs and axes and stuff. You know, boring normal stuff.

It means that to have magic, you have to have it. You have to be a spellcaster. You can’t just pick up a wand and wave it around. I mean, you could in Third Edition, but the wand could also blow up in your face if you waved it around without training in the “Use Magic Device” skill. It seems so tacky now, in retrospect, for a game about magic and dragons and stuff, to limit magic to wizards. Yeah, I’m oversimplifying, but still.

I think my problem is that “magic “missile is something that only the wizard can do. I mean, Dungeons & Dragons is supposed to be a pretty high-fantasy world, and it seems to me like anyone with a little bit of adventuring under their belt should be able to sling a basic orb of exploding magic. At the very least, it would mean that the wizard wouldn’t have to waste one of his rare and precious “spell slots” on it.

That might be where I’m going with this. The wizard class kind of really sucks in Fourth Edition, and I think it might have something to do with the fact that magic starts with the wizard, rather than having the wizard be the mighty end-all, be-all of magic. The wizard class is more the “sorcerer’s apprentice” than the PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWER guy we got used to over the last three editions of the game.

Essentials has done some interesting work with modifying basic attacks rather than simply handing the player new at-will powers. I think it’s a step in the right direction, but I think it might also be “too little, too late.” I mean, implements don’t have their own base damage, and spells function differently than weapons. I think a majority of players will start with weapons and move on to magic.

They’ll see much bigger damage with weapons than with magic, and while it’s great that there’s more balance between the magical and the mundane, I think they overshot a bit. I think part of simplifying the magic system to make it more accessible to new players should have included a bit of making magic more accessible to characters as well. And probably more than the multiclass feat, per-encounter basis.