Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Spells: Reform or Revolution?

So, a lot of the old school takes on spells are reformist in nature. They take as given the lists and general powers of spells as laid down in OD&D and tweaked over successive versions of the game. Sleep is always level 1, fireball level 3, clerics have bless at level 1 and so on. Within this framework there is maybe an attempt to tone down some of the more out of kilter powers, or drop a few spells (like Know Alignment) that prove to be fun-killers in play.

Of course, there's a label hanging over any attempt to completely remake the spell system. I'm conscious of the danger of coming up with a Fantasy Heartbreaker, as much as someone trying to recruit for the ideal Tom Petty backup band.

(Okay, that was a bad simile.)

So, which way to go? Take the basic spell list and just add and tweak a little? Or completely rip the structure down from top to bottom?

Point: Much of the appeal of old school gaming is having a very simple lingua franca of concepts - classes, levels, abilities, d20 to hit.

Counterpoint: Players who are into spellcasters and magic-users in particular don't mind having to pore through a spell list, learning the minute pros and cons of a set of spells they may not have committed to memory. With this in mind, why not have the spell list be something completely new? The quick starting group can always just roll up, say, 3 or 4 spell choices from a list, point out the appropriate pages in the spell manual, and have the caster's player study up on those in between stops on the trek to the first adventure.

Hmmm. I'm leaning toward the revolutionary option. Damn the torpedoes ... as Tom Petty would say.


  1. Here's an idea I've been messing around with an pondering in the last few weeks having to do with magic-users and spell casting:

    A magic-user may use one spell per day for each level of experience he has. At first level, a character begins with a spellbook of 4 spells that are usually nonstandard and randomly rolled for. At least 1 spell must be combative in nature and at least one spell must have little to no foreseeable combat use. Spells range from levels 1 to 5 (max level in my games). A magic-user may prepare only spells of equal or lower level than himself. at use. Spells range from levels 1 to 5 (max level in my games). A magic-user may prepare only spells of equal or lower level than himself. A spell, no matter what the level takes one spell slot to prepare (remember, magic-user have on spell slot per level), but a single spell may not be prepared more than once.

    It might be a great way to get some more use out of your spell effect generator.

  2. That has a real Dying Earth feel to be sure. I like it as a way to get the more unusual spells into play. How do new spells get learned?

  3. Spell books are written are different, often ancient or dangerous, languages. Most of a magic-users training is studying and learning these languages. Magic-users have a 2 in 6 chance of knowing any encounter language. If a magic-user knows the language, then it takes one day to learn a single spell.