Monday, March 08, 2010

The Wonderful Scrolls of Doctor Holmes

Over the weekend I was flipping around in the blue Basic D&D rulebook edited by J. Eric Holmes. One of the better-known quirks about the Holmes edit of D&D is the easy scroll rules. Any magic-user, starting right from first level, can make spell scrolls at the cost of only 100gp and 1 week per spell level. No doubt you can see the big gain here for MUs: once the party lands 100gp or more in loot they can dramatically increase the number and variety of spells available to the one shot wonder in the pointy hat. I adopted this rule in my first World of Cinder campaign and one of the most successful characters of that venture was a scroll-wielding magic-user. At one point Carl, the player of the magic-user, took a wad of cash and whipped up one of every spell he could cast, thereby avoiding the "Aargh! If only I had memorized X!" effect that often bedevils magic-users. 3.x D&D's Scribe Scroll feat was basically the same mechanic, so I wouldn't be surprised if that part of the system was suggested by someone who started with Holmes Basic.

The treasure section of Holmes Basic also has a couple neat bits about scrolls in it. The random scrolls section provides the possibility of finding spells scroll of one to three spells each, cursed scrolls, and three kinds of protection scrolls (vs. lycanthropes, undead & magic). According to the text following the magic item tables all spell scrolls are for magic-users only. Clerics are out of luck, except for the protection scrolls that anyone can use. One interesting lacuna is that the rules don't specify how to generate which spells are on the scrolls, allowing for the possibility of putting cleric spells on magic-user scrolls.

"Ridiculous!", you may scoff, "Dr. Holmes never intended the DM to put cure light wounds in the hands of M-Us!" Maybe, maybe not. Check out this next part. Here's the last three items on d10 chart for generating random scrolls:
8 Any potion spell except delusion or poison
9 Any ring spell except wishes or regeneration
0 Any wand spell
First off, the terms "potion spell", "ring spell" and "wand spell" sound like a lot of fun. Under this set-up the wand spells that can be found on scrolls are magic detection, secret door & trap detection, [cone of] fear, [cone of] cold, [cone of] paralyzation and fire ball. The 'ring spell' scrolls are invisibility, animal control, plant control, weakness, protection +1, water walking, fire resistance and contrariness. For 'potion spells' we get growth, diminution, giant strength, invisibility, gaseous form, speed, flying and healing.

There's lots of juice in those 'spell' lists. Here are some random thoughts:
  • Because of the four attack wands, the chance of getting a scroll you can use to zap enemies with is higher than it appears from just glancing at the random scroll chart. Ditto your chances of getting a Scroll of Invisibility, since both potions and rings come in that variety.
  • A Scroll of Healing is the same as Cure Light Wounds in effectiveness. A first level magic-user with one of those babies is actually a better healer than a first level cleric, who gets no spells under the Holmes rules.
  • If I was playing an M-U and I found a Scroll of Secret Door & Trap Detection I'd immediately ask the DM if I could put that spell into my spellbook. If the DM said no, I'd then ask if I could use it to make researching such a spell easier.
  • On the other hand, maybe magic shops might sell scrolls that magic-users can use but they can't put the spells into their spellbook. Sounds like a good way to keep the magic shops in business. "Sorry, but that Scroll of Cold comes with DRM, so you can't put it in your spellbook."
  • A Scroll of Contrariness and Scroll of Weakness look like curse scrolls, but what if you could cast those effects onto other targets? Making the evil wizard's pet minotaur Contrary seems like a cool thing to do.
  • Wouldn't it be even cooler to use a Scroll of Gaseous Form on a dragon and the poor vaporous beast is forced to watch while you loot it's hoard?
Holmes isn't my favorite version of the game, but I'm really digging on these scroll rules.