In my previous AD&D 1e campaign, I gave any wizard who joined a magical order a very minor magic item as part of the membership. This item varied from order to order, but was usually something like this:
A wand that fires a beam of fire at one target, the caster must make a regular “to hit” roll with the wand, and it does 1d4 points of damage. The wand has 100 charges and cannot be recharged. It has a range of 30 feet.
The effects could vary a bit depending on the order (slightly longer range, but less damage and ice instead of fire; or area of effect, but only 1 point of damage, etc.)
My reasoning was, that mages ought to be fighting with magic rather than throwing darts. The wands allow them to magic-it-up, even if the game effect was similar to chucking a dart or dagger.
As I convert my setting for ACKS, I’m wondering whether to include these minor wands for mages who decide to join a magical order (which would entail taking the Collegiate Wizardry proficiency). In practice they were not game-changers in AD&D. But, on the other hand I don’t have vivid memories of them getting scads of use either. My own illusionist (when a player took a turn behinds the screen) got more use out of flaming oil than his stun wand, I seem to recall.
It’s a relatively minor item and I doubt it would be particularly unbalancing. The only area where I can see it impacting gameplay might be when the party encounters creatures that can only be harmed by magic weapons or spells. A 1st level mage tosses a dagger cannot harm a wraith, but a 1st level mage with a wand such as you’ve described can.
One, perhaps inelegant, way to stop this issue is to make the minor magic item attack non-magical for purposes harming invulnerable creatures Maybe it conjures non-magical fire to throw or simply telekinetically propels a mundane object through the use of magic, so that the activation is undoubtedly magical, but the thing that does damage is not.
On the other hand, you can just give mages an inherent advantage at killing invulnerable things at low levels. They still probably won’t be doing as much damage as a fighter with a good magic or silver weapon (though at significantly reduced risk).
I do find it strange how little mages have to buy at low levels. If you look at the templates in the players companion. Many mage templates have half their starting money in coin, while many other non-caster class templates spend almost all their money on armor and equipment. Fighters can get better armor, better secondary weapons, etc., but a mage is pretty much set after the spellbook, dart, dagger (unless they have healing). In D&D 3.X, low-level wizards could grab a crossbow, take some alchemists fire (without risking painful death like my mage henchmen), buy low-level scrolls, and even some new spells. I just find when I’m equipping mage npcs I get half way through and go “Okay, so now what.” Then there is the low-level mage’s one-shot-ness, where they turn into “the guy with the lantern” after blowing their spell (even though that spell can end a fight.
Making cheap magic items seems against the ACKS spirit, and they are quite powerful as it is, but I wonder if giving a mage another money sink at low levels and a way to contribute to battles after blowing their spell would be nice. Maybe an alchemical crafting system outside the potion system? Something that makes items on the level of herbal healing items or military oil/acid?
technically everyone can spend on reserve XP, and being the most squishy mages should probably invest heavily in that. they can also hire meatshields… errr, henchmen to stand for them and in turn they will be responsible for those henches’ armor.
I’ve been looking for ways to model the military mages in Thomas Harlan’s books in ACKS, who IIRC magically enhance their sling bullets (my copies are on another continent and I can’t seem to buy e-versions). That strikes me as having the flavor I’d want, filling the same niche as this, without being a necessarily-magical attack at an early level.
(Add sling to proficiency list, give them +1 to hit OR +1 damage or some other marginal benefit to reflect the magic…)
I’m house ruling simple at-wills like in 4E D&D. I also am replacing “cant’ be harmed” with simple damage reduction. That way, the wraith or the werewolf can be hurt without magic, just not easily. And while I love the non-memorization of spells in ACKS, I still think that mages need a little something to do when their spells run out.
I created a risk/reward system for my game. If you want to cast more than your daily allotment of spells, you can. However, each extra casting results in an escalating chance of something bad happening. I have Arcane and Divine mishap tables to cover when things go wrong.