Dungeons & Dragons: Winning Tactics for Spellcasters

The following tactics will ensure your wizard (and most any dedicated spellcaster) lasts a short while longer than their low hit dice would otherwise suggest.

In many cases, these tactics and ideas are edition-neutral, but in all cases, read them with a keen eye to ensure they apply to your edition of choice. In the cases where they don’t, consider instead what rules or options might be available that would provide a similar result or benefit.

Wizard meme

These guys are sooooo pompous!

Tips & Tactics

Place your second highest score in Dexterity for Armor Class bonus. Going with Constitution for hit points never, ever reaches levels high enough to truly matter, though it’s not what one could ever consider a dump-stat.

Carry the party’s light source (alternately, utilize long-duration light spells or magic items). It’s rare that you’ll need both hands free, and dropping an item never costs an action. For valuable magic items with light effects on them, consider tying a thong around it so that dropping it doesn’t automatically mean losing possession of the item.

Have a ranged weapon as your back-up, non-spell attack. In AD&D, daggers (ROF 2) or darts (ROF 3) are the best. In later editions, consider crossbows if you already have proficiency with them (as rate of fire isn’t really a thing, so damage is more important). That said, it’s never worth a Feat, Weapon Proficiency, or other limited resource to crank up your skills with such a weapon; it’s a back-up for a reason. Save limited resources to boost the quantity and quality of your spells.

Equip flasks of oil (AD&D and earlier) or alchemical weapons (3rd edition and later) like alchemist’s fire, acid vials, tanglefoot bags, and thunderstones in order to have viable area-control attacks when your spells run out. Go cheap, buy in bulk, and take any precautions you reasonably can without encumbering yourself to keep said items from bursting before they are thrown.

Waterproofing of various sorts has existed for a very long time, and it’s perfectly reasonable to think most D&D worlds would have some means of doing this. Having a hardened lining for backpacks is similarly believable but might cause encumbrance issues.

Do the mapping and tactical planning for the group; make use of your high Intelligence score. Speak to your DM ahead of time about what their view is on memorizing routes, clues, historical texts, tactics, and other information so that you are both on the same page. Some DMs may prefer you “say what your character says” while others are okay with having you substitute Intelligence or other ability score and Skill checks to show off your character’s intellect. Either way, it’s vitally important that you and your DM have the same expectations of how this is handled.

In the case of spellcasters that use Ability Scores other than Intelligence as their favored spellcasting trait, really make use of any secondary aspects of that spellcasting stat. In the case of Sorcerers (Charisma), consider recruiting hirelings and henchmen and using charming magic, for example.

Any spellcaster should consider having a meatshield ally. Remember the cover bonuses provided by tower shields! You can quickly create a two-man, fortified siege engine with this setup. Likewise, make sure to have a spell or two that can beef up such an ally’s abilities, such as spells that provide additional hit points, defense, strength, and so on.

Seek cover whenever possible. The mechanical benefits of arrow slits, portcullises, and even wall corners can be quite powerful. In later editions, mobility is very important to move in and out of cover while still being able to cast spells, so be sure to understand movement rules and what terrain might act as cover in any given encounter.

At low-levels, in nearly every edition, sleep is a powerful spell. Keep it as the ace in your sleeve. When that spell is no longer sufficient to take on typical opponents (probably somewhere around 3rd level and up), stock up on defensive magic just as much as offensive.

Search for, purchase, and scribe magical spell scrolls whenever possible, especially those that feature good area effect, area control spells like sleep, or stinking cloud. Scrolls free you up to have some utility spells in your back pocket.

What are your tactics of choice for spellcasters? What’s your favorite edition-specific tactic or character build?

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neuronphaser is an editor, eCommerce consultant, web producer, and analyst living in sunny Hollywood, CA. He’s been playing tabletop RPGs of all kinds since 1985.

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