Tuesday, April 21, 2009

An Addendum to Spell Research

A new way to spice up the spell research process came to my mind last night and I think it’s a potentially cool one that allows the players to both contribute to the shared setting and rewards their creativity.

While I was researching the rules for spell creation in the various editions of D&D, one facet of it was repeated in both 1st and 2nd edition AD&D. In both those rules, the cost of spell research was based on the assumption that the character had access to a library (or shrine in the case of clerics). If they didn’t, the cost of research was either increased or they had to spend funds to first acquire a library.

While this is a little more convoluted than the spell research methods I intend to use, the idea of a personal research spell library is an alluring one – especially considering my profession as a librarian and archivist. I love adding new books complete with titles and authors to the game world for players to find and ponder over. It stands to reason that part of the monies spent during spell research goes to cover the purchase of arcane grimoires and obscure religious tomes to reference during the creation process, and this is covered within the abstract method presented in the game’s mechanics.

Rather than gloss this over, I thought that I’d integrate it with actual play a bit. My thought is this: for each 2,000 gp spent on the creation of a new spell, the player must give me the name and author of one book which was used in the spell creation process. The name must be indicative of a very specialized work that would pertain to the spell his character was attempting to create. So if Mack the MU was creating his magnificent mauler, Mack’s player might say that one of the tomes Mack bought to assist this process was Inquires into the Application of Conjured Downward Forces by Schumpti Rock-Dropper. That sounds specialized enough to me. It’s certainly more of a dedicated-sounding title than The Codex Supreme: Treatises on All Known Magicks.

Having deemed the book acceptable, both Mack’s player and I make a note of the fact that Mack now owns this book. At some future time, Mack’s player decides that there really needs to be a spell that would fill the gap that feather fall usually does (check the rule books, feather fall doesn’t show up until 1st edition AD&D). Deciding to fill that gap with a new spell called Mack’s delicate descent, our exemplary MU heads back to the spell lab. Now the cost to research such a spell would usually be a minimum of 2,000 gp. However, since Mack already owns a book dealing with conjured downward forces and thus being a reasonable reference source for his proposed new spell, I decide to give him a break on costs – say 500 gp. Mack only needs to spend 1,500 gp, Mack’s player has added a bit of flavor to the campaign world, and I have a springboard to use for new set dressing on future adventures. Maybe Schumpti Rock-Dropper has written other books and there’s an Inquires into the Application of Conjured Upward Forces to be found in the next arch-mage’s tower. Simple, imaginative, and conducive to the shared world experience - it’s a win-win for everyone.


Joshua Macy said...

That's pretty cool.

My one hesitation about just swiping it for my game is that I'm not sure what it does for the feel of how commonplace books on esoteric subjects are. If you can always find one exactly on topic for whatever spell you're trying to research, even if you count that as part of the hundreds of gold you're spending, it sort of makes me think of a medieval amazon.com...or at leas inter-library loan. If I were to adopt such a rule, I might think about how to flip it so that your research agenda is driven by what rare books you've managed to acquire unless you're really willing to put extra time and effort into scouring the setting for exactly the book you need for the effect you want. Hm...

Stephen Simpson said...

One notion of my own here ...

A potential issue with that is that it sort of presumes a modern (or at least medieval) publishing philosophy. If you're some evil/paranoid/distracted wizard, you may not be terribly keen to offer up your insights.

Sure, some would ... pride and recognition would certainly be as relevant to fictional wizards as they are to real-life scientists. But many more would keep secrets to themselves.

I generally use a model that's "book light, experiment heavy". In other words, I have my wizards seeking out rare components and then conducting experiments (sometimes they go "BOOM" or attract the notice of extraplanar observers...).

I will then sometimes supplement that with stolen/recovered/discovered private notebooks or grimoires -- akin to your library idea, but a little more idiosyncratic perhaps.

All in all, it's probably just different means of achieving the same end result.

Michael Curtis said...

I think that both of your concerns are valid points and I would have been in the same mindframe not too long ago.

In more recent times, however, I'm trying to let go of the tendancy to toe the line of what is rational or realistic. I really don't want to concern myself with whether or not there would be a compariable publishing industry in my own pseudo-medieval setting as there was in it's real world counterpart. I'm cool with letting slide the fact that not all such grimoires would be readily accessible to even magic-users.

The main purpose of this variant is to allow the players to have an impact on the shared world experience and to allow them to pencil in the finer details of the world in which their characters dwell. To me, this is more important than maintaining an unshakeable sense of realism.

But as S.S. CFA points out, it's ultimately just another way to reach the same final destination.

Joshua Macy said...

That's a good point. I think I'll give it a whirl.

Timeshadows said...

A nice touch. Thanks. :)

Joseph said...

Neat idea! And indeed a bunch of such titles are going to be in the next iteration of CotMA:


Great minds!

Anonymous said...

I like this. I've been getting complaints about spells "missing" from the old school games, and my response has been "Well, if you know what you want to make, why not research it?"

I may have to steal this "name the book you're using" idea.