Friday, August 19, 2011

a Moldvay oddity

Under the BX rules anyone can play one of the four human classes.  No matter how poorly you roll, you can still play a Fighter, Magic-User, Cleric or Thief.  AD&D has minimum stat scores necessary to get into these classes, which meant you couldn't play a clutzy thief or a foolish cleric.  Being a big fan of characters who suck, I'm all for allowing PCs to be terrible at their jobs.

The one place this great idea hits a speedbump is for magic-users.  Dig this chart:

You could squeak by on an MU with an Intelligence of 4 or 5, as spellbooks aren't necessarily written in Common.  But an Int 3 magic-user can't read his or her spellbook and has trouble pronouncing the words of the spell correctly.  Maybe the rare Int 3 MU is an idiot-savant, barely functional except for a natural talent at reading and speaking Magicese.


  1. They transcribe new spells by coloring inside the lines...

  2. Why does a spellbook have to have words at all? Why couldn't a int 3 MU put instead of an explanation a picture that to him represents what he needs to know about the spell. Thats why things like an airplanes in case of emergency pamphlet uses pictures, in case the person trying to read it can not in fact read it.

  3. Isn't that what Read Magic is for? "All spell books are written in magical words, and only their owners may read them without using this spell" seems to imply that spells in books aren't any kind of ordinary writing at all. Your master gives you a spell book attuned to you (however that's created, I don't think the rules say) and by virtue of its magic you can read its spells. He makes sure that Read Magic is the first spell in there, and now you're ready to be a magic-user despite your 3 INT.

  4. Joshua: So you would force that 1st level MU with an Int 3 to start play with Read Magic? Interesting.

  5. Jeff: well, according to tMentzer (isn't that B/X? I'm sometimes unclear on the nomenclature), 1st Level magic users start with two First Level spells in their book (Players Manual p.38), and according to the DM's Rulebook p 19. "The first spell given should always be Read Magic. This allows the character to read scrolls found, and would be a basic part of the character's training." Emphasis in the original.

  6. Oh, wait, you said Moldvay. Either never mind, or, well, I still think Mentzer's way makes sense.

  7. I have never really thought of the spellbooks as containing legible words. I always figured it was more of a book containing diagrams that help nudge your brain in the right way so that you can store your daily spells. Like how a smell can remind you of an event the books would contain pictures and words that best remind you of how you direct the magic so as to form a useful reaction.

  8. One quibble related to mechanics: a major thing that Fighters do (melee combat) is directly affected by their prime requisite.

    On the other hand, by your rules the powers of MUs do not depend on their Int scores (later, 1E makes the number of spells known depend on Int, and 3E added spellcraft checks).

    So, while Str 3 fighter is by definition "terrible at his job", this is not obvious for an Int 3 MU. You have two role-playing choices: either play an "idiot-savant" (the character is retarded, but his spells work out fine) or really play him terrible at his job -- make his spells fail a good part of the time.

  9. If I played a int 3 wizard I would play him like a bumbling idiot and whenever I went to cast a spell I would roll a die to see if I actually would attempt to cast it, cast something else, or not cast it but have the character act like he was really trying to cast it.

  10. Anonymous6:33 AM

    The possibility you overlook is the obvious one-- the player can be a MU, but cannot cast any spells without magical assistance (a ring of intelligence or something similar.)

    He would be able to use items (except scrolls) that are MU only. (staves and such.)

    Sort of like how Rincewind is a Wizzard in good standing with Unseen University, despite his complete lack of magical aptitude.

    Sure, such a character would be a challenge to play-- as if BX doesn't make that hard enough-- but, hey, you rolled a 3 for intelligence and decided to make a MU!

  11. Anonymous5:21 PM

    IIRC, when you have cast read magic on a particular text, you don't have to cast it again - it is permanently legible to you. So if an Int 3 character can convince a magic-user to teach him that spell, and he succeeds at casting it once on his own spellbook, he can continue to use and memorize the spell. He might never be able to write down new spells, but he can capture spellbooks from enemy magic-users, and he can use scrolls as long as he has a read magic slot available.

    An incredibly challenging character to play, but if played with ruthlessness and low cunning, it could prove a rewarding experience.

  12. Anonymous3:46 PM

    Spell failure (no effect) 5% per point under 9.

    Catastrophic spell failure (reverse effect, backfire, wild magic) 1% per point under 9.

    Which means an INT 3 M-U would have to roll d% every time he cast. On 01-06 he gets a terrible effect. On 07-30 it just doesn't work.

    "Normal" spellcasters with stats 9 and over don't roll. So it doesn't effect the game except for the dopes.

    Fighters get a similar effect from low STR, taking an increased chance to miss and reduced damage. Thieves have lower skill percentages because of underwhelming DEX. Clerics and M-Us should get the spell failure.

    Side note: in my game M-U spells are written in a magical language, equivalent to complex mathematical and physics equations, and everyone in the whole world who is an M-U writes in the same language because that's how you cast spells. The language doesn't have tools to express most ideas, so it's not useful as a Common Tongue. And it's not compatible with most brains so you need at least some magical training to understand it (there is no Read Magic spell).

    Nobody has asked yet why an antique, ruined civilization's spells are understandable when its general language isn't. Where did this magical language come from in the first place?

  13. Maybe I'm totally full of it here, since my old B/X, that I think was Moldvay (I started out when I was 10, in 1982, so never bothered to learn the editor's name) was lost in one of the many moves of my youth - and the replacement I bought on eBay a few years ago is Holmes, but I seem to recall that while there wasn't a class minimum, but there was a sort of inverse attribute requirement of the sort "a player with Wis below X can only play a Thief" with each of the four human classes having an inverse. So, an MU with a 3 INT was specifically excluded by a clause like that.

    Did I misremember?

  14. Frijoles, Jr: The 1st edition AD&D stat charts had stuff like that. Like on the Dex chart it said for like a 5 or 6 Dex "Anyone with this Dex or lower can only play a cleric".

  15. Ah, OK, thanks Jeff. When I started buying AD&D books (1983, I think), I didn't so much switch to AD&D, but mishmash a selection of the new rules into how I understood the game to work in B/X.

    Egregious misunderstandings and hand-waving abounded as I treated modules for one system or the other interchangeably.

    Also, my memories of the events of 30 years ago are a bit fuzzy for some reason. Possibly the result of a Confusion spell cast by a magic-user I crossed back when our gaming group called itself "Mage-on-a-meathook". Long story ...