Enough of this negativity. Let's get down to unsolicited advice. Before we can get our characters going, we have to pick spells, abilities and gear. Here's a run-down of what we want to keep in mind.
We can break these into five different categories, based on what the spells do for us and for others. I'll discuss them in order of importance ~ that is, what spells do we want to take first and from the beginning.
Offensive: whatever our conception of the character, however we feel about what a spellcaster does or doesn't do, we're acting the fool if we don't take at least one attack spell, right off the top. The best spells are undeniably those that cause damage. Influential spells, such as those that charm, hold or physically affect creatures are nice, but most of those are designed for use with humanoids. During the crunch against a creature without intelligence or with eyes, as is often the case, a strong illusion or light-driven spell is going to prove useless, as are spells that change the environment or the creature's emotional state. On the other hand, pure damage spells are universal. They work against everything.
As well, we and our party are going to get into a situation where some creature just won't die, though it must be in the neighborhood of five hit points or less. This is just the time we need a magic missile or a low-damage chromatic orb. It doesn't matter if it only does 2-5 or less. Save it up and use it at that crucial moment that will end this thing, finally.
Protection of Others: there are many spells that provide aid to others in times of distress. Bless or the cleric's Prayer spell is like that. Protection from evil (or malevolence). A wall of fog. Any spell that will make things easier for as many fellow party members as possible. I don't recommend that all our spells fall into this category, but we should be sure to take at least one if we can. Obviously, the most important are healing spells, mostly because they can be the last ditch saving grace when a party member is slipping into the grave. Take one of them first, then consider the others.
Protection of Self: these are fine, but they are of secondary importance to any spell that can protect more than one person. Yes, we want to survive and yes, it helps others if we are still around to cast spells. But if the others don't survive, we're alone. We should think about that. So while eventually we will be taking a good, solid protection of self spell, like sanctuary or jump, we should make sure we're a strong protector of others.
Everyday Spells: these won't keep us alive in combat, but they're useful enough to be of value all the time. A magical mount that enables us to travel, a familiar that we can find, a hut that protects us at night, something unseen that can serve us continuously or cast a light so we can see in the dark. These are all good ~ but understand, they are really the 4th most valuable things we should be thinking of. These are luxuries, not necessities, and too many luxuries will take up magic slots that could have saved the lives of our friends and ourselves. So limit the number of luxuries to a minimum.
Spells that Solve Problems: many of the spells available are tremendously useful ~ but only in rare, obscure situations. Sometimes, the situation might be common enough to consider the spell: the need to climb something or not fall to our deaths. But really, how often do things need mending, when we can't just do without? How often does a small rainfall help? Isn't that remove fear spell just going to sit useless in our pocket most of the time? Before taking spells that do nothing but solve unlikely problems, we should really, really think. Perhaps we should be taking a spell we will use, rather than a spell we might use.
Here I am thinking of my sage abilities, but the advice above that applies to spells should, in some degree, apply to skills as well.
Skills can rarely be applied to causing damage or even to direct physical offense, unless it augments some power we already possess. We can take advantage of that, yes, but it risks our becoming a one trick pony. What value has the pony got if it can't do a second trick? So while hitting really hard is better than just hitting hard, maybe hitting hard is enough for now and it might be a good idea if we can jump the gorge instead of dying in it.
The same applies with regards to skills that help everyone and skills that just help me. That latter may matter as regards to our self-image, but as skills are in short supply, being that we can only choose so many, we get a better capitalization of those skills if they can be applied to more people. If they can help the whole party find something or protect themselves against something, we're getting more bang for our buck. After we make everyone else a little safer, then we should think about ourselves and what we want.
That sounds a bit preachy, I know. I'm really just talking about the better chance of survival for everyone. If we are there to help our party, our strong and living party will be there to help us when we need it. It is a change from an overt dependence on self-reliance to mutually assured survival ~ and yes, it means trusting other people. For many, that is a damn hard thing to learn.
Armor & Weapons
How I have watched party after party equip themselves! Armor, then weapons, then maybe they start thinking about clothes, very often forgetting their boots ... and then we begin the selection of tools, toys and, finally, just general stuff.
I don't have much to say about armor. Players depend on it a lot, are very uncomfortable without it and would rather move slowly and be armored than enjoy the freedom of living without it. I suppose that we must defend ourselves like a turtle if we have the capacity, so I won't fault players here for taking that route.
With regards to weapons, I have a few suggestions. Pick one solid hand-to-hand weapon up front. One-handed weapons leave us open for using a shield, but a two handed weapon is fine. This first weapon shouldn't be too long, we are going to want to use it in close quarters. A sword, a battle axe, a mace, a spear, a club or a quarterstaff is best, depending on our class. Clubs and quarterstaffs break but can be easily, and cheaply, replaced. Spears can also be thrown, if need be. If we don't have a strength bonus at all, a mace is better than a sword because it won't roll 1s for damage. Battle axes are good for breaking in doors and other things and swords are just a good, all-around sturdy weapon, with the benefit that none if it is made of wood.
Most of the time mages and illusionists will take daggers rather than a quarterstaff. The dagger doesn't do much damage but it can be thrown and hey, the two classes only get one proficiency to start. My one contention is that daggers thrown by a mage class that start by needing a 21 to hit AC zero makes for a lot of missing and very little damage done when a hit does happen. How many times have I see a mage throw three daggers, hitting only once, and then for 1 damage! Might just as well wade in and try with a quarterstaff. At least if the goblin hits us for 1d6 damage, that's meaningful damage the fighter hasn't taken and it makes a bigger difference to the overall fight than standing to the side tossing metal pieces at walls. But of course, that would demand our thinking of others ~ which, as I said, is hard to learn.
Okay, second weapon: take something that can be thrown without loading. A dagger is fine for a second weapon, a hand axe, a warhammer, a javelin perhaps and, of course, a spear. We should then get into the habit that the first weapon we pull is not our main weapon, but our secondary weapon, which we're going to start by throwing. Then we can draw the main weapon while we wade in.
Third weapon: now that we have something we can throw right off, pick something we can load and fire. A crossbow is fine, but plan on using it once and then throwing it away in favor of our main weapon, because it won't be worth the time it takes to reload it. If we want to use it twice, we'll hire a servant to reload our crossbow for us, while we kill things. Nothing is more useless than a fighter standing around loading things.
If we want to fire something more than once, then we should go with a sling or a bow. The benefit of a sling is that stones are cheap and plentiful and the tool weighs nothing. We never have to worry about having a bow strung over our shoulder while we're climbing through some hole in the ground. The bow, on the other hand, does more damage and has a slightly better range. Still, most of the time we're going to be shooting at things within 50 feet. Range for either will be the same, most of the time.
Finally, a last weapon. Here we can think about getting a specialty device. A bludgeoning weapon for things that can't be cut. A polearm for its reach. A spear versus charge. Something that hooks or disarms, if our DM allows that sort of thing.
Thinking about it, I believe this is going to require a post of its own. I'll work up a list of ten or twelve things that we always ought to have with us and write that out.