I always avoided playing wizards for some reason. Now I look at it, I believe I did not see their true capabilities possibly because I did not like the way other people played them. I have quite a big mouth and usually my characters reflect this trait. As a teenager, the players who favoured wizards were often the geeks (or so I thought then). I suppose it is easy to lead the party from the front so fighters, armored clerics and the occasional thief were my fare in AD&D. Now, in retrospect I can appreciate that the geeks were the ones who took the trouble to explore the rules more deeply than I did and realised the potential the mage offers.
Wizards in 3.5
I do not think anybody would disagree that wizards got the lion’s share of attention in 3.5, certainly when you consider just how much of the supplements is given over to additional magic. When I first returned to D&D I slipped back into the old habit. One cleric and a couple of fighters later I understood wizards better and never really looked back. The merging of casters into schools was a great innovation. Meta magic offers some unique refinements and casting quirks as well as real power. Finally, the shear customisation when combining these two features with other character traits makes the Wizard by far the most interesting class in its pure form.
Another feature I like in 3.5 is that you can play a “pure” wizard without him being totally harmless in a fight. One well chosen weapon skill, some constitution or strength and (dare I say it) armour and your rear rank victim can at least hold his own for a round or two. Going the other way can be equally rewarding. Pete, a regular in our Thursday night game played a sorcerer with a vow of poverty (Book Of Exalted Deeds) who was devastating if useless toe to toe. Admittedly I am stretching the wizards point a little but the concept can be easily transferred.
Wizards With Too Much Power
The one downside of the evolution of wizards during the life of 3.5 was that spells tended to escalate as supplements were released. Most would agree that d20 magic was very carefully balanced in the Players Handbook. Many of the enhancements and new spells did appear to give the wizard more than his fair share for the same cost in experience. I am told that in 4.0 this has been redressed but many seem to feel something has been lost in the redrawing. If this is so, it is a shame because a thoughtful GM and sensible players should be able to keep this flaw manageable through roleplaying.
My first real wizard in 3.5 (Corvell) started out as a spell caster using the gestalt character system in Unearthed Arcana. Largely pure, I decided voluntarily to limit his schools with his primary interest in necromancy. Whilst not a truly evil character, his unhealthy interest he strenuously defends as a curiosity for understanding “life force” (honestly) much to the concern of his more neutral companions. The consequence of my choice is that I work harder to be effective in a fight but the character feels rounded rather than a piecemeal collection of disconnected spells and powers.
Choose Your Wizard
When you look for inspiration, there are untold role models out there. Remember the strange old wizard in Conan the Barbarian called Subotai? He certainly does not fit the classic fantasy model as might Gandalf, Merlin or any of the countless high fantasy examples you might care to mention. You would not expect him to have a knock spell in his repertoire would you? So if you are another devout warrior player, take my advice and build yourself a thoroughbred wizard but let you imagination run wild with the endless permutations.