Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Spell Gathering

It was recently pointed out to me that I have few posts on this blog on the subject of magic, and there is one simple explanation. This is one very large part of the original AD&D system that I don’t have a problem with.

To some degree, I have over the years sat down and done rewrites on many of the spells, tweaking them here or there to make them moderately more powerful, or moderately less powerful, as I feel necessary to keep a level of playability in my campaign. I have dumped the somatic and material components, something I’ve mentioned before. Beyond that, however, I can think only of one other significant change - and it doesn’t seem like a change to me, since it follows a practice that virtually everyone I knew adopted decades ago.

Before I get into that, however, I just want to say I’m going to be writing a number of posts in the near future about magic, all in answer to a very long email from a fellow named Andy, asking me quite a number of questions. It seems better to answer them here, since it is that email that told me I don’t write about magic.

As I understand it, according to either the Player’s handbook or the DM’s Guide (I haven’t bothered to look it up, I’ve never played by this rule anyway and I leave it to the ambitious reader to go find the passage), a mage is supposed to roll a percentile according to his or her intelligence for each spell - to see what they are capable of using. Out of the thirty first level spells given in the PH, a mage with a 17 intelligence (75%) would be expected to miss seven or eight.

(for clerics, druids and illusionists, the limitation is I believe the complete spell list)

Then, each day, the caster would ‘memorize’ the spells of his or her choosing, from among those which were successfully added to the spell book. If the caster were to be powerful enough to use two spells, then this morning they might choose jump and magic missile. But tomorrow, they might choose instead to take find familiar and shocking grasp. The logic is that the caster would take whatever spells from the list which seemed most eminently practical for that day.

The problem arises, always, in that the mage will generally fail to announce what spells they have taken that day ... until, of course, the encounter arrives. And then the caster will conveniently say that they have taken whatever is best for that moment.

For some of you that are out there, who write blogs and who comment on this one, that is all well and good. From what I’ve read, many soft-hearted DMs would insist on the caster taking the best possible spell. Why not give the caster precognition? Hell, why not give the caster the privilege of using ALL their spells, and as often as they want?

I learned to play this game with some rather stiff-necked folks, who got testy when the caster suddenly decided they had taken feather fall on precisely this day. And from there the arguments would start. Which led to soreness, which led to everyone agreeing to set a ‘default’ on the spells they would take IF it turned out they’d failed to announce them.

Well, obviously, the default was used more or less continuously, particularly as spellcasters gained in level to the point where they had ten or more spells they could use each day. Anyone would get tired writing them out over and over, in the world of pencil and paper - and most everyone just said fuck it and kept the defaults. Until, obviously, the group of DMs I played with (me included) made the final decision that everyone would use ONLY the defaults, and to hell with this picking spells every day.

And that is how I play it.

Most casters in my world have three first level spells to begin with (instead of one as in the PH), and these spells are unchangeable. I have been doing it this way for so long - and I have no complaints. I am flexible enough in my use of magic that mages feel, in the long run, as powerful as fighters, and so the methodology is accepted.

But it does assign a lot of the spells in the lists to the scrap heap. Who would take mending as one of their first three spells? Or as their fourth, fifth or sixth spell? Recently I am bitterly struck with the thought of those who might do that - a post I am saving for another day. The players I have wouldn’t.

The only time when mending might come up as a spell would be on a scroll. Who is making this scroll, I can’t imagine - perhaps some very low intelligence mage who failed every spell except mending. In any case, I can easily see such a person pumping out dozens, hundreds of scrolls for a local lord, who would then give them as gifts to other people.

The economic effects of this ‘giving out’ might be seen as significant - but I don’t think it would be. And it is the effect of magic on economics that I will be talking about next. This post was only to establish how casters obtained spells, and which spells they might be expected to have.