[RPG] How to help the low-level spellcaster PCs feel more useful


My party right now consists of a pair of incredibly optimized characters (a half-orc fighter and a ranger/scout), one fairly well optimized character (a swashbuckler who's thinking about mutliclassing into rogue), and two not very well optimized characters at all (an archivist and a druid). Importantly, the two spellcasters' players are new to the game and I don't want them to feel useless or make the lower levels a slog.

Now I'm familiar with 3.5's class tiers and everything I can tell is that in mixed parties this is kind of the preferred set up (unoptimized casters letting optimized lesser mortals compete with them), but at the low levels we're at right now (everyone's character level 3) all it's doing is emphasizing the problems on the low end of the Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards scale.

I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions for helping my spellcasters not feel quite so superfluous at these low levels. What I'm looking for are really useful 1st/2nd level spells I can suggest, handy low-powered magic items I can plop down (I've already got an Extend Spell Metamagic Rod waiting for them to find), or especially any kind scenarios or other tips & techniques I can use as a DM to help emphasize the role of the spellcasters in encounters.

Some additional info: I'm pretty strict with what I allow my Archivist to learn (he can purchase scrolls from domains for the Sovereign Host gods from Eberron, and had been stumbling across scrolls from some of the less reputable religions, but other then that is restricted to the Cleric list. I've also pretty much kept him from learning druid-only spells.) The Druid is a Greensinger (also from Eberron) so has access, at this point to Charm Person and Daze Monster in addition to her normal spell list.

Best Answer

The easiest way to emphasize your casters in the early game, is to throw in lots of relevant skill checks, particularly knowledge or spellcraft checks. Almost any spellcaster is going to have relevant skill modifiers, and it proves their place in the party.

A related option is challenges tailored to make spells useful. A small item you need is on the far side of a chasm? Summon Nature's Ally or Mage Hand can help with that. Having ambient magic, or an arcane trail to be tracked with Detect Magic also calls out your casters.

Also, it's been my experience that Druid is one of the better low level caster classes, with cleric because of free swapping in of Summon Nature's Ally spells, reasonable combat ability (3/4 BAB, d8 HD, not terrible armor, buff spells), and their selections of durable spells, such as Produce Flame and Call Lightning.

For the Archivist play to their skills and their Dark Knowledge ability. Throw in a fair number of the types of enemies Dark Knowledge helps against, and they should feel pretty useful.