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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.


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

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

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2013-11-26 Downtime

My websites are hosted on a virtual machine called psithyrus. It was down for many hours and it just came up again. I don’t know what happened. One moment I’m reading mail and nearly two days later it’s rebooting.

Nov 24 04:50:05 psithyrus dovecot: imap(alex): Disconnected: Logged out in=34 out=674
Nov 26 01:27:16 psithyrus kernel: imklog 5.8.11, log source = /proc/kmsg started.

Most of the sites are not terribly important—such as this wiki blog of mine—but I feel bad for the Campaign Wiki users. :(

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2013-11-26 Licenses and Followup Projects

Today I was asked via email whether the author of a One Page Dungeon released under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license could revisit the adventure and release a different (longer?) version using a different license. Here’s what I replied, slightly edited.

You can release everything you ever wrote under as many licenses as you want. Thus, you can work on your previous One Page Dungeon Contest entry, with the same map or a different map, the same or a different text and release it under a proprietary license, a Creative Commons license, or whatever other license you like. The situation is different if you’re building on somebody else’s work: somebody else’s map, somebody else’s monsters, etc. This is true for any other of your One Page Dungeons. You wrote it, you get to change it and release it anyway you want. The only thing you cannot do is prevent other people from building on those old One Page Dungeons that you released under a CC license. But that covers only that particular map, that particular text and doesn’t affect anything else you care to publish.

You’re good to go! :)


Feel free to send me any other licensing questions. I’m not a lawyer but I’ve been thinking about licensing issues for a long time. 8-)


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2013-11-26 Wilderness Encounters

Ian Borchardt recently wrote a lengthy comment in reply to Andy Standfield’s Google+ post about determining CR/EL for monsters. He allowed me to repost it and all he asked for was me mentioning “that it was a G+ comment and therefore not a literary masterpiece – more a stream of thought.” Slightly edited.

When creating a wilderness encounter table for a sandbox game don’t bother with the details. Work out the likelihood of an encounter with creatures that feels right to you and use common sense in the application of the results. Encounters shouldn’t be in “balance” with the party.

Remember that in a sandbox game, an encounter does not actually mean that the characters have an immediate direct combat encounter with the creature. For example, a party of 1st level characters are travelling through the wilderness and you roll up an ancient blue dragon. Instant party death. right?

No. Have them encounter the dragon on the wing, hunting food. The party won’t have enough meat, magic or gold to be worth the dragon’s bother so it will probably keep on the wing. Meanwhile the characters have definitely encountered a blue dragon and can relish the magnificence of the fantasy encounter (or more likely the terror as they huddle under a tree hoping the dragon hasn’t seen them [“Ha!”] and won’t eat them).

But what’s the benefit of this encounter that wasn’t, you may ask? I’m glad you did! The party now know that there might be a lair of ancient blue dragon somewhere in the vicinity (and by that I mean easy flight range) if you are in the wilderness. They might remember this for later, once they are powerful enough to feel they have a good chance of adding dragon slayer to their resume. But in the meantime the presence of the dragon is going to colour the region through which they are travelling. For example any herds in settlements are going to be small to avoid being a tempting target. Towns might even have an arrangement with the dragon were suitable “princesses” are offered up for sacrifice – and they might actually prefer visitors to one of their own daughters. The dragon might even need a set of human hands and be looking for a set of adventurers to do a task for them. Whilst a threat works everyone knows adventurers are mercenaries and will do anything (even kill) for filthy coin.

Ed Simbalist (one of the authors of Chivalry & Sorcery) wrote an excellent essay back in the day (1978): Monsters are people too which really is recommended reading [C&S Companion – hard to get though now]. Monsters aren’t there as adventurer bait, but usually doing their own thing. Role-playing should be important for the monsters as well. For example, the party is at camp roasting a deer they shot earlier in the day, when they “encounter” a goblin patrol. Certainly this could devolve into a fight but what if the reaction roll is friendly? Perhaps the goblin patrol is actually lost and their leader doesn’t want to admit it (but pretty soon his troops, tired and hungry, are going to revolt). And that roasting leg of deer smells sooooo good. Perhaps they can bluff a tax for travelling through “their” lands. Except the people around the fire seem to be rather hard-bitten warriors rather than peasants and are not likely to be particularly surprised or overawed by a mosquito-bitten goblin troop? You now have a role-playing opportunity – never underestimate the benefit of intelligence (in the scouting rather than goblin’s lack of sense) and making friends. Even with goblins.

That’s all up to how you apply the encounters you generate. But there is still the important part of the players reaction to encounters. And that is to use reason. The sandbox game, unlike the heroic story-path game, isn’t there in the world for them. It’s a living breathing world without them, and the encounter table should realise that. At times they are going to encounter stuff that is too tough for them to beat, in which case running away is an important alternative that often seems to be forgotten by a lot of modern players that think the world must be all about them.

Special small regional encounter tables are a good thing too, although they often develop in play – for example one region I kept on rolling dwarves, which lead to the fact that there was a big mining boom going on here, so the regional chart got created with a lot of dwarvish and mining aspects. Including an encounter of gold nuggets in a creek bed. As our different encounter tables for civilised, frontier, and wilderness areas. And don’t forget all the non-monster encounters. For example, encountering an army off to war leads to “you have been recruited” or even “your horses have been recruited – here’s a chit for them (accompanied by the soldiers laughter as they lead your food and horses away)”. And affect the surrounding game. Good sets of encounter tables drive a sandbox game by presenting stuff. Also a good idea is to have a set of unique encounters on file cards. This could be stuff like villages, big monsters in lairs, and the like. When a “unique” encounter is rolled, shuffle and pull a card. That encounter is now there. Replace and top up these file cards occasionally, and remember to keep track of where the used ones were used.

Good stuff.

My own take on wilderness encounters can be found in my Swiss Referee Style Manual.


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