2014-07-30 Research

I was reading Gavin Norman’s post on spell research and did not manage to leave a comment. That’s what I hate about blogs these days. Too often, leaving a comments has become too complicated. So now I’m posting it here. I wanted to offer an idea for spell research (which doesn’t happen in my campaign) that works like my chase rule. It’s a 2d6 test with a table of drawbacks. For example:

Research: If you’re nearly done, roll 2d6. On a 2, it explodes, destroying much of your glass wares (500 gp) and setting back your research. On a 3–6, you are suffering delays. You need another week. On a 7–9, choose two points from the list. On a 10–11 choose one point. One a 12, you succeeded, no problem.

  • you need a specimen of a magical creature; choose one of the following: basilisk eye, chimera tongue, displacer beast tentacle, phase spider silk, unicorn horn, xorn tooth.
  • you need more information; pick a wise one to contact: Sutr, an efreeti lord in the City of Brass, Lady Gerdana, the legendary elf queen of the Sea of Five Winds, Senator Schwarz, a collector of art items in Tlan, Qwaar the Axiomatic, on Righteous Timing, one of the wheels of Mechanus, …
  • you are missing a crucial bit of context; pick a tome to find: The Hidden Metamorphoses, Advanced Ursomancy, …
  • the intended range is drastically reduced; pick one lower than what you hoped for: 60 feet, 20 feet, touch, self
  • the spell’s deadly energy is spread out; pick one: double the radius and deal one third of the damage, deal one die of damage per round, it goes off in 1d4 rounds instead of right now
  • the effect is partial; examples: invisibility only works for you but not the things you are wearing, flying only works in the absence of wind, knocking on wood doesn’t open doors, it breaks them
  • the effect is flashy when it was intended to be subtle; examples: the detection of lies work because angry ghosts appear to accuse the liars, invisibility works but you you give off a pungent cinnamon fume, the transformation of self works but you always end up covered in blood as you are turned inside out for a second
  • the powerful spell is tainted by demonic powers; every time you cast it, abyssal side effects happen

The list of strange creatures, wise ones and magical tomes needs to be adapted to your campaign. You don’t necessarily have to replenish the list as the easy complications are being picked. This is how initially, research is easy. Later, it gets harder as all the nearby wise ones have been contacted, all the creatures that are easy to slay have been killed, all the obvious tomes have been found.

Also, since I’m using the best magic house rule ever—a strict reading of the magic system—and since I give experience points for gold spent, I have no need to siphon off gold or to force magic users to spend extra in-game time researching. Why should research therefore take 1000 gold pieces per week and a week per spell level, or other some such number? Before introducing this house-rule, I’d probably say that you get to roll once per in-game week of research. Most of the time my game runs as one session per in-game week, so if the party returns home, or if the magic-users and elfs have henchmen doing the research for them, no problem. If they need to do the research themselves, then I’m sure they can talk the other players into spending an extra in-game week resting. My plots are rarely that rushed, so that should not be a problem.

License: Please accept this text as a gift. It is licensed to you for any purpose with no requirements whatsoever.


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I’m thinking of rewriting this in order to make sure people know when a reroll is possible. For example: “You can always decide to keep on researching and reroll next week. If you had to pick points from the list, however, you are still exhausting your options: those items will no longer be available to you in the future.”

I really dig this research rule. I may adopt or adapt it for my own game. Wish I’d seen it years ago. :)

Brandes Stoddard 2017-02-06 22:18 UTC

Thanks! :)

– Alex Schroeder 2017-02-07 07:59 UTC

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