A while back — a year ago, maybe more — I had a character I really enjoyed playing, a chaotic neutral fighter/wizard named Zilanderan who was obsessed with the planes and alternative realities. He was a fun character, but alas doomed — he died fighting the thralls of the Temple of Elemental Evil. After he fell, his fellow Blackrazors were beaten back from the battlefield, and his corpse was left behind. Unfortunately for Zil, the mad temple cultists took his body and offered it as a sacrifice to their dark and terrible god Stan (otherwise known as Tharizdun, referred to as “Stan” by the characters for fear of uttering his true name).
Zil was replaced by a pure wizard named Merwyn, primarily because the party needed an arcane spellcaster. Given the lethalness of the campaign (we don’t call it the “Redshirts” campaign for nothing), I never expected Merwyn to last more than a few sessions.
Amazingly, he has. More amazingly, he’s proven to be remarkably competent and has rapidly progressed to 10th level. He’s a generalist mage, with a slight emphasis on evocation spells, and over his surprisingly lengthy adventuring career, he’s managed to accumulate quite a haul of magical scrolls, wands, potions and even a staff of ice! Of course, part of the reason for this is that he’s the only true mage in the group — there’s a bard, but aside from that the Redshirts are remarkably light on arcane magic and heavy on divine. As a result, most of the arcane magic items find their way into Merwyn’s pouches and pack.
As to what I owe his continuing survival, I think it’s a combination of good preparation and good luck. He’s been good at getting up his defensive spells prior to or at the start of combat, and has been fairly impressive in battle, felling foes with a variety of spells with surprising effectiveness. He also goes out of his way to make sure he’s got a ready-supply of needed scrolls and potions, so if by chance his own spells run out, he has something to fall back on.
I play him almost entirely as a support-type mage, rather than a glory hound, and he usually hangs back and throws about spells as needed, laying down a walls of ice, summoning needed creatures to provide flank (and thus set-up a sneak attack, and laying waste to underlings with well-placed fireballs and such. It’s just that when he does target offensive spells, amazingly, they actually work.
He also gets limited support from his teammates, which undoubtedly helps, but the key word is limited. I can’t count the number of times he’s been left behind (the rest of the party having charged headline into battle) and then been set-upon by the enemy in a rear-guard strike. Mind you, I don’t fault my fellow players for this at all — among the Blackrazors, this sort of thing constitutes a plan.
Indeed, at this point it’s been used so frequently it should probably formally join the ranks of our other battle plans, as in “Abandon the mage to fight for himself, thus provoking the rear ambush. Then fall back to save his corpse.” Not quite as catchy as our signature plan of course (“Hit Hard, Hit Fast. If That Doesn’t Work … Run Like Sissies”) but not all can be.
Yet, in spite (or perhaps because?) of this, Merwyn’s continued to survive and thrive, and the character I thought would last two weeks is quickly on his way to becoming my second most powerful in the campaign. Something else has happened as well — a character I started playing without much enthusiasm, simply to fill a hole in the Redshirt lineup — has become one of my favorite characters. It’s a strange thing, to be playing this accidentally effective mage, but I’m enjoying it all the same.