Friday, March 18, 2011

so hey, I made this diagram

I made this chart because I'm trying to figure something out.  I have two contradictory impulses when it comes to rules for Magic-Users.

1) I like the simplicity of "Here's your list of spells known, pick 2 from column A and one from column B that you have ready to go."

2) I also enjoy seeing magic-users track down ancient tomes to try to glean new spells from them, wrenching every last iota of power from those faded glyphs and obscure charts.

Anyhoo, step 3 above is the basic mechanic of the Vancian system.  Step 2 often ends up working via fiat in my experience, unless your DM actually uses the "% Chance to Know" chart from 1st edition AD&D/Holmes Basic/Supp 1 Greyhawk.  I like the idea behind the % to Know chart, but the implementation is dry and sparse.  Step 1 and Step 2 have a pretty interesting implementation in Call of Cthulhu that might be worth ripping off.


  1. So in our campaign we're using the Vancian magic with Holmes' % to know. At first I only let the magic user discover new spells by adventuring. I liked that idea. However, playing every other week for 3 hours a session and using (at the time) 3d6 in order left the magic user with an only above average INT. So when the MU finally began to level and 'learn' the new spells that he found it was a bit of a drag when it turned out he didn't learn any of the spells he found.

    Some may say, so be it and I would as well being a MU of such low INT (makes the smart ones pretty scary), except that it was a bit of a drag for the player to go month after month after month being not much use to the party.

    We've since bent and flexed the rules a bit but I still believe in the concept as is working fine.

    The chart says it all.

  2. I always used the %known and max/level for my games; even use the similar rules in 3.5 too.

    My wizard loved to collect spell books. Has a ton of them looted from various bad guys :)

  3. Maybe that should be % to know... per week of study.

    So you need to practice a bit before you get the hang of those new spells.

  4. Professor P12:03 PM

    Something I have recently been thinking about is how a magic-user actually learns a spell from a spellbook, scroll, or research.

    Is it just reading the spellbook or scroll? What does research actually entail? In my mind, whether it be reading or researching, the magic-user actually needs to try and memorize the spell and cast it. My guess, is most people just handwave this during the roll to learn the spell.

    I actually think this can be an interesting step in and of itself. For example, take a 5th level magic-user trying to scribe fireball from a captured spellbook or even from research. What happens? Again, in my mind, the magic-user should be trying to 'memorize' it and cast it. Does he do this in a lab? inn? library? That seems impractical and stupid. If the spell works, he's just blown up the library and perhaps himself.

    What I'm thinking is the magic-user tries to force it in his mind in the library/lab/whatever and then go out to an empty field and try to cast the spell. The DM can draw up some random table or use the % to know roll to determine the outcome. If the roll is successful, the fireball is cast and the magic-user now understands the spell and can scribe it in his book.

    If not successful, well, the result depends on the roll. Perhaps the spell just fizzles. Perhaps the spell only creates enough fire to light a torch and now the MU can scribe the first level spell or cantrip 'MU's finger BIC lighter'. Perhaps the MU blows himself up. You get the idea.

    I'm basing this partially on Cugel and his inability to properly memorize and cast spells and partially on what I think 'makes sense'.

    Perhaps the DM rules that the an unsuccessful roll means the MU cannot learn that spell until he gains the next experience level. Perhaps, if the failure is not spectacular, i.e. the MU doesn't blow himself up but creates a burst of flame, the DM says the MU can try again after spending some more money on research and thus raise the % chance to know.

    I think I'll stop here because this is getting long, but I'm glad you posted this because I believe there is a problem with the spell learning system.

    Word Verification: linglinc - perhaps a 'skill' an MU can learn to raise his % chance to know a spell. =)

  5. I like the idea of having mages gain spells from found tomes and scrolls. I figure spells are wickedly complex and require constant practice and fiddling - to keep on top of - like concert level violin practice. So I work that into my homebrew Beacon like this:

    "Arcane magic must be learned on a per spell basis and can be made into scrolls readable by its practitioners. To learn new spells
    the caster must write the spell into their ―spell book, aka their collection of spells so they can
    refresh their knowledge of it – they must frequently study their spell books in order to reacquire the spells in them. A caster can only cast spells he has studied in the last few weeks so the loss of spell books is a large concern."

    It's loose and a bit flexible so you don't have to police it too much or have the mage carry around their entire library (and they can put together a care package for a long trip if necessary) but it still keeps that idea of study and careful tending of the spell book in place. Of course transcribing the spells into their own personal collection takes time (1 day / spell level) and money (1000gp/ spell level) which I think is a good thing.

  6. This is one thing I do like about 3e. The way you have to roll Spellcraft to learn new spells -- and if you fail, you can't try again until you gain another level. I've always wanted to run a game that largely revolved around the wizard(s) in the party tracking down new and unusual spells for various purposes, and collecting libraries of spells they don't know yet but might be able to learn with a bit more experience.

  7. % to know is pretty limiting when you also have class restrictions on what the PC can do. Magic users are limited in terms of equipment for instance.

    Recall that Cugel carried a sword, which he used more than his very limited magic abilities.

    Without that you end up with the magic user being a drag to the party, limited to spells s/he started with.

  8. I don't know how CoC works, but what if you did this: Find a tome cast at reduced efficiency (shorter range, less damage, shorter duration), find another dusty tome of the spell written by a different author, improve your efficiency with that spell.

    Might get fiddly keeping track of what each casters spell does, but every spell book found would be exciting.

  9. If magic users have to find their spells, that becomes another incentive for the group to adventure. "I hear tell that the last known copy of Digby's Digit of Doom was in the possession of Luminius the Gyromancer, who died of the Crimson Flux in the Year of the Great Chicken Blight. i have a map right here..."

    Also, perhaps there are versions of a spell with flaws that block one of the magic user's slots somehow, until they find out how to correct the spell. That might make using spells from sources you don't know a dangerous proposition!

  10. I've been playing with time constraints in a way that creates Steps 1 and 2 in your diagram. You have to put research time in to learn a spell even if you have another wizard's spellbook in front of you; a spellbook step-by-step directions so much as arcane notes and vague descriptions about state of mind and so on. Learning a spell *if you have a reference like a spellbook* takes a week and 50sp per spell level (in a silver-standard setting.) So even if a wizard finds a scroll or captures a spellbook, it may end up sitting in his library until he has the time and money to put into figuring it out one spell at a time.

    There's a deal-with-devils shortcut to power in the house rule, but that carries its own problems.

  11. Anonymous3:14 PM

    This talk of Holmes, CoC, and ancient tomes has reminded me of one of my favorite threads on Dragonsfoot from a couple years ago. It's quite long, but the best parts begin on page 10, here:

    Just thought some readers here would be interested in reading that thread if they haven't already.

  12. I've seen PLAYERS of magic-users that your diagram would apply to. They have every D&D book known to man, they have possibly even read half of them, and then there is the handful of spells they understand the mechanics for and those are the typical ones that get chosen to memorize everytime they make a MU. Just sayin', it's kind of humorous to me.

  13. I was broadly thinking about the same thing in the last day, and I agree there's a tension between impulses throughout the editions.

    Re: Fiat in step 2 -- My greatest desire, what wasn't done in any edition, is to have to pick a "master" (or "college") with a predefined spellbook, and on level-up get to go through that list with your chance-to-learn roll(s). Wrap the whole issue of sub-classes and specialists into that idea. Branch out with anything you find adventuring as a bonus.

    But it's campaign specific and doesn't create gobs of new rules to sell. (Plan to write more on that in the future.)

  14. This sounds like it would work well with some kind of scaled magic. Certainly you can use this effect now, but you can't make it above G H I without finding it in a book.

  15. i really dig your take on magic, especially the new spells! give us more!