In my novella The Screaming Spectre... No wait, I have to say something about that. It was supposed to be called The Singing Skull, but the publishers overruled me on the title. Just so you know. Anyway, I put in a scene to show what I thought about the "type II fireball" approach to magic, and here it is. Heroquest, the boardgame on which the story was based, is still available, as indeed is the book itself on Amazon UK. Don't care for prose fiction? Well, you may like the 148-paragraph gamebook section in the back. And if you do like it, try comparing it with this passage from one of my Knightmare books that also describes what a sorcerer of the Dragon Warriors world is like.
`You are both too young to remember much about Balthazar,' said Baskaino. 'He was a legendary figure — like one of the great wizards of ancient times.'
`He must have had many powerful spells,' said Kashor, whose thoughts always turned to the lure of great magic when he had to work at his books.
`Of course he did,' said Baskaino. 'Spells you can never imagine. But, Kashor, you understand nothing if you think that is the measure of a wizard.' He put down his pen. 'Listen, then, if you want to learn the ways of magic. One story that was told in my childhood recounted how a plague had settled on the Empire. Whole villages became deserted, and if you walked the streets of any town you could never escape the sound of mourning from behind shuttered windows. Bodies had to be piled on to carts and buried in mass graves, since the plague was vicious and swift. You might see a friend hale and hearty one day, only to be startled by the sight of his lifeless corpse on a burial cart the next day. . .'
By now even Kashor, despite himself, had put aside his pen to listen to Baskaino's tale.
`Balthazar went looking for the plague,' he continued, 'and met it on the road to Borghaven. The plague had taken the form of a little old woman carrying a broom, though of course no-one could see that except a wizard like Balthazar. They walked on for a league or so without exchanging a word, but the plague was curious and finally asked Balthazar where he was bound. "To Borghaven," said he. "I mean to claim many lives there."
`Well, "That you cannot do," complained the plague-spirit. "I have prior claim on those lives . . ." Oh, but this is no doubt just a silly story,' said Baskaino suddenly, turning back to his copybook.
`No, no!' cried Osric and Kashor together. 'Do go on.'
Baskaino shrugged indulgently. 'Well, the upshot of it was that Balthazar challenged the old plague-hag to a dice game. She readily agreed, and the two of them hunkered down in the middle of the road over the dice she had — two yellow dice carved from dead men's knuckles. "If you win," said Balthazar, "we'll agree that you go on to Borghaven and beyond. But if you lose, you must go back to the land of the dead and never again visit the world of mortal men." The hag nodded, and then they threw the dice…'
`And Balthazar won?' said Kashor in an awed tone.
`No, he lost. So they walked on again towards the town. But after another league or so had gone by, the plague could not restrain her curiosity and she said, "You must have claimed many souls in your time."
`At this Balthazar only shrugged, smiling as though modesty forbade a reply. The plague licked her bloodless lips with a bloodless tongue and doubtless thought, why take the long walk to Borghaven when she could feast on one who had in turn (as she supposed it) feasted full on mortal souls? Another league passed, then Balthazar said, "I might consider another wager, for it is fine sport. Let us dice again. This time, if I win you must go and never return, just as before. But if you win, you may have the life that beats here . . ." Balthazar touched his heart . . . "but then you must be gone from the mortal world."
`The plague readily agreed to this, since she now believed that Balthazar's one life would sustain her more than a thousand paltry normal souls. So she took out her dice and again they rolled.'
`And this time Balthazar won?' said Kashor.
`Of course not!' said Baskaino scornfully. 'This was Death whom he diced with. So when the dice were cast, the plague-spirit took Balthazar and led him away to the end of the world and then said, "Now I leave this world never to return, but first I shall have your life." And she raised her broom whose touch was death.
`But instead of flinching, Balthazar only stood there and said: "Our pact was that you would have the life that beats here . . ." So saying, he opened the front of his robe and took out a tiny mouse that had been nestled against his chest, asleep. This he gave to the plague. She uttered none of the hideous curses that a mortal might when thwarted, but just gave a sort of sigh and then drew back out of the land of the living. And so Balthazar drove away the plague.'
`But how did he know he'd lose the dice games?' Kashor wanted to know. 'Both times? And how did he know to have the mouse under his robe?'
`He knew,' replied Baskaino with a condescending smile. 'That was how great a wizard he was. Great enough to cheat Death.'
`But he didn't even use a spell!' Kashor blurted.
`Pah, you fool!' replied Baskaino in a voice dripping with contempt.
Kashor turned to Osric for support, but Osric could only shrug and say, 'What spell could you use against Death, after all?'