Friday, March 3, 2017

B/X Spellcasting by the Book

I have a couple of Magic-Users in play which have now achieved second level, and house rules aside, I wanted to know how the Elf/Magic-User develops per a strict reading of the Moldvay/Cook red and blue books. 

I know this has been done to death, but I want to write it down for my own edification and invite debate on the practicality of the Rules As Written in play here on my blog.

The Basic rule book states on page B10, in regards to the Magic-User class;  "through study and practice, have learned how to cast magic spells." Part 3: Spells found on page B15 thru B18 describes what "study and practice" actually look like mechanically per the rules. The spell is "a memorized set of words and hand motions". A character can re-memorize spells once a day, and the spell caster may memorize the same spell twice. That there are the basics of spell casting and straight forward enough that these ideas are hardly debated. Same with; Magic-Users and Elfs may only memorize spells they know unlike the Cleric which can cast any of the spells found on the Cleric's spell list. This basic mechanic is well understood by players of B/X rules.

The Basic rule book also states the Magic-User's spells are stored in large spell books. "As magic-users and elves gain levels of experience, the number of spells they may use also increases." (page B16). So far so good except the Spell section here in the Basic book does not call out how a magic-user actually learns new spells beyond what they start with at the beginning of their adventuring career. There is the pointed statement that "A first level character will only have one spell in the spell book. A second level character will have two spells in the spell book; a third level character will have three spells in the spell book. The DM may choose which spells a character has in the book, or may allow the player to select them." This has come to be understood as an actual limit of spells a magic-user can have in their spell book. It is here on this point players will find a common house rule in most B/X campaigns, that is the DM allows first level characters having more than one first level spell in their initial spell book. That the first level magic-user actually knows more than one spell, but may only memorize and therefore cast one spell a day per the normal spell casting rules.

The final item from the Basic book I want to reference for this discussion on spells can be found in Part 7: Treasure, and this is in regards to the magic item known as Scrolls. Here a spell casting character can cast a spell without memorizing it and can also be of a spell level beyond their current ability. The magic-user/elf classes are restricted by needing to cast Read Magic on the scroll in order to understand it so that it may be used later. While this blog post is not about the importance of the Read Magic spell in B/X, for an up and coming magic-user by these rules it is pretty important.

So far, in light of the Basic rules, how a magic-user learns new spells is not explained. Maybe the Expert rule book will deal with this satisfactorily. Kind of. On page X11 we have these well known directions; "Magic-users and elves must be taught their new spells. Most player character magic-users and elves are assumed to be members of the local Magic-Users Guild or apprenticed to a higher level NPC. When player character gain a level of experience, they will return to their masters..." Blah, blah, blah. The paragraph even finishes with once again making it clear the amount of spells known and the number of spells found in their spell book are the same. Thus a 4th level elf will have a spell book with only two first and two second level spells. But what about player characters which are not like most? Are there other ways in which spells can be learned when leveling up increases the amount of known spells?  

Yes, if you look at Part 8: Dungeon Master Information, Magical Research And Production on page X51. I'm looking at the paragraphs for Spell Research. "New spells may be researched by any spell caster."

So, magic-user spells by the book: 

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.

Does this mean magic missile, web and the other standard spells on the spell lists need to be taught to be known? Not neccessarly. Call your researched web spell something else, give it its own "special effects", and duplicate the range, outcome and duration.

In essence being taught a new spell only requires one week of game time while researching requires two weeks and substantial money. This doesn't preclude the teacher who is teaching the new spell not exacting some cost for the newly leveled spell caster, gold pieces or otherwise.

In closing; adding a new, known spell to a spell book per the B/X rules is a time consuming venture which also requires the DM to establish how magic is taught in the campaign world. It also requires the DM to come up with, in conjunction with the player, how their new magic wielding character  came about his or her ability and how this relationship defines how new magic can be learned moving forward. It is easy to see why house rules sprung into existence to eliminate these hurdles for the gaming group sitting around the table ready to go. But I think there is some charm, some internal sense to these rules as written which can make for some great gaming fun and opportunities for PC's to contribute to the DM's game world.

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