2013-11-26 A Strict Reading of the Magic System

Brendan was thinking about limiting magic users on Google+ and I started thinking about my own house rule...

I’ve been using the strict reading of the B/X spellbook rules for a while in my campaign.

What I’m seeing is that magic users worry about the spells they will eventually pick because they know the number of slots is limited. Read magic is important because it grants access to scrolls and without it scrolls have no value since you can’t copy spells from scrolls.

What I’m also seeing—but I don’t know whether that is related—is very few magic users and the few magic users I’ve seen are all low-level henchmen to player characters of a different class with levels 4–6. It seems to me that magic users die quickly when the whole party is low level and that’s why my players have been avoiding them as primary characters. I don’t think this is due to my house rule.

What I’m not seeing a lot of—even though I hoped to see a lot of it—was player characters seeking out high level magic users and elves in order to gain access to new spells. The characters learn new spells from the few magic users and elves they meet during their adventures. Maybe I need to add rumors about particular spells.

For now I’m still happy with how things have turned out even though they didn’t turn out exactly as I had hoped for.

More thoughts about reading B/X D&D in the links from my Ode to Ode to Black Dougal.



Part of my reason to make spell selection more meta (not treasure that you can find in the game world) is to not make this choice so important. It all happens automatically according to game rules with no explicit justification provided within game play. (The new spells could be justified any number of ways depending on the character.)

As a player, if I needed to decide whether any given spell is worth dedicating a slot to, I would probably dither. What if I was able to find fireball (or whatever) later? So that’s why I prefer the roll/pick method. I think it will help avoid choice paralysis.

There is still plenty of other magic power for magic-users to find while adventuring (wands, scrolls, etc), so I don’t think that prepared spells need to be part of that.

Brendan 2013-11-27 20:03 UTC

Excellent point about choice paralysis. I’ll have to check whether the players running magic users and elves are keeping empty slots because they haven’t found a spell they like, or haven’t had an opportunity to talk about spells with a magic users and elves, or whether they feel paralyzed by choices available to them.

AlexSchroeder 2013-11-27 22:30 UTC

I just realized that Adventurer Conqueror King uses a system close to what I use and calls it a magic-user’s “repertoire”.

“Arcane spellcasters have only a limited repertoire of spells. The base number and level of spells in an arcane spellcaster’s repertoire is equal to the number and level of spells he can cast per day.”

There’s also a long section providing a poetic explanation of the repertoire ending with: “Having a spell in the repertoire is thus an ongoing effort, like maintaining a friendship or remembering a song.” I like it.

As for adding new spells:

“Their masters will teach them spells equal to the number and level of spells the caster can use in a single day.”

The ACKS is more lenient, however. You can expand your repertoire using scrolls, spell books and research.

“If a new spell is found on a scroll, or another arcane spellcaster’s spell book, it may be added to the arcane spellcaster’s repertoire if the character can still learn new spells of that level.”

The one big difference I see, however, is that magic-users and elves are not required to memorize their spells:

“Unlike other fantasy games, in Adventurer Conqueror King, spellcasters do not have to “memorize” or “prepare” their spells in advance; they can choose which spells to cast at the time of casting from among any and all the spells in their repertoire [...].”

My rule has always been that you can prepare spells to have them available for combat, or you can leave those spell slots unused and take a turn (ten minutes) to memorize or pray for a spell later during the date. That will obiously preclude their use when being surprised by foes. Maybe I should just switch over to the ACKS rule, since I have noticed that players dislike the need to memorize spells at the beginning of the day and as a player, I have the same problem.

AlexSchroeder 2013-12-07 12:58 UTC

Writing years later, I’ll say that I did in fact switch over to the more lenient interpretation ACKS provided. Memorizing spells is boring, specially if you limited repertoire already limits the spells available.

See this page from my house rules.

– Alex Schroeder 2017-02-06 11:39 UTC

Here’s James V. West thinking along the same lines: OSE and B/X Spellbooks.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-01-19 22:04 UTC

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