The idea came from a thread on the Goblinoid Games forum, by the inestimable Lord_Kilgore, wherein he states that he's been tossing around an idea about Magic-Users. In his own words:
Has anyone tried giving magic-users a low-power combat ability? I'm thinking of giving all M-Us the ability to fire one "magic blast" per round which requires a normal to-hit roll and delivers 1 point of damage if it hits. It would have a range of 20' and require a wand or staff or something to use. I'd probably give 2 points of damage on a natural 20.
The main point would be to give M-Us more to do at low levels and make them more fun to play without ramping up their power much or making them too useful in combat. But it beats an M-U loading up on daggers or darts to throw all the time. I've seen this idea before.
It stimulated an inkling of a thought inside my brain. I'm in agreement, don't get me wrong; based on my understanding of Vancian magic, limited as it may be, actual spells are rather laborious and powerful affairs, even at low levels. Magic isn't something one can learn in a day, and even at the lowest levels of mastery, it has serious effects.
To that end, it's not unreasonable that magic could have some "bleed off" effects, such as the ones I put into words in a response to his post:
I actually kinda agree. I've been a big fan of the idea of "reserve feats" from 3.x edition, although not of their execution (at all). I think that as long as a player holds a spell in their mind, they can use some minor effect related to it, sort of a "bleed over" effect based on what they've memorized.I don't particularly like just a "magic blast" power, even if it is just a minor power that they have. Magic Users, to me, aren't just flingers of fireballs and lightning bolts. They're sorcerers of mystery and a little bit of mayhem, conjurers of more arcane secrets than "magic blast whenever I feel like it." They should evoke a feeling of more subtle magics. Besides, I don't think it's quite appropriate to have Claghorm the subtle enchanter with a slick tongue and guile fling little blasts from his staff the same way that Explod-o the evoker might.
Maybe a memorized sleep spell could make a kobold have to save or have a -1 penalty to his next attack, since his arm is lethargic, like he just woke up.
Maybe a memorized magic missile could grant the ability you're talking about, with a 1-damage blast that he has to throw like a regular ranged attack.
It's kind of flavorful, it lets the players be creative, gives them something to do, makes M-Us more magical, and makes different M-Us feel different, instead of them always trading minor blasts back and forth.
That's my 2c, anyways.