As always, when I say AD&D I mean 1st edition. If there isn't a efreet on the cover and you're not prying out the eyes of an idol, I'm not interested.
After our last game session, we'd ended early so we chitchatted about AD&D and did a Q&A on the module we'd used. One thing we talked about were spells.
When to use spells
It's not always clear to players, especially relatively inexperienced AD&D players, when to deploy spells. They're use it or lose it, but they're also a limited supply, and often do things you cannot do without magic. You're torn between the need to conserve your spells for real need, and the need to use them to avoid costs to other resources.
Personally, I find the whole "When to use spells" question a lot of fun to think about. In my own philosophy its relatively simple. For me, it's simply this:
Use a spell when you have a good opportunity to use it.
My way of thinking is this - you don't want to use spellcasting as a desperation move. A lot of the spellcasting can be described as basically flailing for success - casting Command at high-level foes, hoping for a missed save, Hold Person to bail out a fight going bad, Fireball because there doesn't seem to be a way to reach a distant or fortified foe, Magic Missile because the mage doesn't have anything else to do. Sleep maybe when you're getting overrun. That generally doesn't work well because those aren't the best conditions for those spells.
Instead, you use Command when you need a way to distract a foe for a round, especially a low-level one who doesn't get a save. Hold Person to open a fight, targeting dangerous opponents. Fireball when you have an open area and many foes to potentially hit. Magic Missile to hit low-AC targets you can't touch otherwise, or enemy spellcasters - either to kill them or interrupt up their spells. Sleep is a great fight-opener against low-level foes, as it can drop a lot of them in short order before they accomplish much (or anything, even.)
By all means, pull spells out of your butt when things go badly, but don't expect them to work as well as they would had you chosen better circumstances. I try to think of ways to have a spell end a fight at the beginning, not turn it around at the end. By using a limited-use resource of a spell early and effectively you can save yourself needing to use other resources to solve this same problem. A spell deployed when it's the best opportunity to maximize its benefits should mean minimizing other costs in the long run.
That's my approach anyway. I'm also the kind of player who tosses torc grenades into bar brawls because it's a heck of a target. Maybe we'd have won that fight anyway, without the grenade. Who cares?
That said, it does mean you need to know what your spells do, and have given them some thought on how to use them. With tournament PCs, that's an issue. Maybe you'd never bother with ESP or Levitate or Mirror Image but there it is, on your sheet. You need to find a way to make it shine . . . you don't have a lot of them, so you can't spray them around and hope. As a GM, you can - your NPC is probably going to die that fight or cause a TPK, so go for it. Use them all, as fast as you can. As a PC, though . . .
That's my thoughts on it, in any case. I'd love to hear other people's working theory on spell usage. Not specific spells - just an overall strategy on what spells are for in general.
When to use healing spells
This one I've been giving a lot of thought.
My players generally use them right away. After a fight, as soon as you're down enough HP that a maximum roll would heal them all (don't want to waste any), they'll heal people up. Have 25 HP and suffered 9? Cast Cure Light Wounds, and get him to 17-24 HP. This means that, pretty quickly, they're out of healing spells.
I'm thinking that's a mentality brought about by three things:
- being used to games where healing is plentiful, or at least replenishible.
- a use-it-or-lose it attitude - you don't want to die with healing potions unquaffed.
- feeling vulnerable when you're down HP in a harshly deadly game and going to 0 HP takes you out for extended time, not just until you're healed.
I also mentioned to my players that I was thinking you might need to save healing spells. Yes, the guy with 25 HP who is down to 16 after a fight is more vulnerable than when he's fully healed. But what happens when you're in a fight later, and another fighter starts with 20 and then is at 15, 10, 5, because he just can't seem to catch a break on the "to hit" rolls? Then what? It might be useful to have the spell then, and apply it to keep someone up now instead of to minimize the risk of someone going down later.
Healing potions as well - it doesn't take that long to drink them (although it does take 2-5 segments to take effect.) They might be more useful as a mid-fight boost than in just pools of replacement hit points between fights.
Of course, you'll need them between fights as well . . . but how to deploy them? As soon as possible, to keep as far away from 0 HP as possible for as long as possible? Or when needed, because you don't really know who'll get to 0 HP first or who will be most necessary to keep alive later? And if it's a mix, how do you decide what that mix is?
I'm wondering what other people's strategies are.