Friday, March 3, 2017

B/X Spell Casting by the Book (cont.)

I'm going to finish my research on how magic-users and elves are able to learn and acquire spells per the rules as written for the Moldvay/Cook edition of Dungeons & Dragons. In my initial post I examined the text to find out what the authors actually say on how these two classes use magic.

My examination, as it has in the past, leads me to a lingering question, to what the authors don't say about magic-user spells. Specifically spell books. The all important, never without item of every magic-user and sword wielding elf. Within the spell book is all the spells these characters know. It is indeed the beating heart of these two classes and without a spell book the character does not have the ability to re-memorize spells each day. 


If a spell book is stolen, lost or destroyed, if it needs to be replaced it comes at a tremendous cost in time and money as detailed on page X11. This has always led me to assume the spell book was inherently magical, but no where can I find in the books rules supporting this assumption. I'm sure I'm not alone when turning to the description of the spell Read Magic hoping to find how you utilize Read Magic to use another spell caster's spell book like they would a scroll, or add new spells to your own spell book. But no, the rules are silent on the matter. 

Here is what (yes I am taking another stripe off this beaten horse) the spell (page B17) actually says in regards to spell books; 
"...spell book is written so that only the owner may read them without using this spell." 

If you are like me you have always made the leap that if you cast Read Magic on someone else's spell book you can read the spells written therein. But it doesn't say that. Taken the words as written it is just saying you don't have to cast Read Magic to read your own spell book. And that means, while expensive to replace, your spell book is not inherently a magic item. Casting Read Magic on someone else's spell book would have the same effect if they cast it on a book on pig farming, that is, nothing. The spell book is nothing more than a notebook of complex formula and instructions in a custom cypher so as to imprint a known spell to memory. Think of a spell book as a recipe book while a scroll is a frozen dinner.  As a magic item the scroll needs to have Read Magic cast on it to activate. It  needs to be "popped into the microwave" before the imbued magical energy can be released. Mmm, Hot Pockets. The spell book on the other hand is inert. Put it in the microwave and you get nothing one can eat. A magic user cannot just read from it and cast magic. They actually have to spend time memorizing the spell, to in fact become imbued with magical energy. The spell book is just a necessary tool to accomplish this.

And it shouldn't be lost on a player that there is no restriction on making additional copies of the spell book to prevent future downtime in the event of a destroyed or otherwise lost spell book. Well, I'm not real sure on this point, but I have not found it written in the rules that there is a limit to the number of spell books which can be manufactured. Someone please correct me if it is in there. 

Now, you may not like this arrangement, and the legion of house rules which have sprung up around how magic is done in B/X seem to indicate many players and DM's don't, but I believe this is how it works for Moldvay/Cook.

So, magic-user spells by the book, cont.: 

1. Spell book limited by spells known. 

2. New spells can be taught to the magic-user per the rules on page X11, and

3. New spells can be created per the rules on page X51. 

and add;

4. Spell books can only be read by the one who wrote it.

From these maxims I can deduce to my satisfaction the author's clear directions for spell acquisition and as a DM decide if they fit how I want magic to work in my game world. 

As written though here are my thoughts on B/X magic. It is straightforward and clear, it gives a wide range of customization for the player, it gives real purpose for the accumulation of wealth, and bakes in wonderful plot hooks and adventure ideas for both player and DM.

[Footnote] Here is a link to a post on the Ode to Black Dougal blog which originally got me thinking on how players and DM's bastardized the original B/X rules for magic.