What's the worst that could happen?
Hello there, glad to see you again. Yesterday we took a look at our cleric Ian as he went through the process of making a healing potion, and took a very brief look at how magically crafted items fit within the game’s economy. Today I want to take a look at another facet of the magical research system, that of researching spells.
After our ACKSgrinders broke up and went their separate ways Harald the Fighter and Bill the Mage went off to enlist in Duke Absolutelyhasaname’s conquest of the Orclands. Bill, somehow, manages to survive his time in the Duke’s service (probably due to all of his new friends heroically sacrificing themselves for his safety). Harald picks up some new skills in Riding and joins up with the heavy cavalry. This will be important later, but that’s probably a story for tomorrow.
For now we’ll focus on Bill’s excellent adventure. As he levels up over time he is able to (assuming access to a mages guild or a suitable master) train up and add new spells to his repertoire. Each level he would learn additional spell(s) up to the number of spells each level that he could cast each day. Unlike his initial spell selection which is assigned by the judge (or random), there is no such guidance on how the additional spells would be obtained from this training. As I am solo I’m going to just roll a die and see what he randomly learns, but obviously in a standard campaign the judge could determine that certain masters & guilds have access to specific spells or even potentially allow the player to choose.
2nd lvl- Light
3rd lvl - Levitate
4th lvl - ESP
5th lvl - Water Breathing
Oh man. Now those are some winners. Bill is well on his way to being the most powerful battlemage in history. His spellbook now has 9 whole pages filled and 91 blank pages begging for useful magic. Knowing that his service with the Duke was coming to an end and that he was going to have to meet back up with the ACKSgrinders at the end of the year, so he decides to spend the time to research a new spell himself before he loses access to his master’s library.
As a 5th level mage he is now able to independently research spells, which will require a magic research throw of 12+(1/2 the level of the spell being researched rounded down). Everyone knows exactly what spell Bill is going to go for, so he’s going to need a 13+ to succeed. However his magical engineering proficiency reduces this back down to a 12+. In addition it will cost 3000 gp and take six weeks to complete the research. So we go ahead and roll the die and…
Oh man, I was really expecting this to be a massively underwhelming failure due to my typical dice luck, but what a pleasant surprise. Sure, fireball has probably killed at least as many hapless adventurers and coins as it has helped, but what wizard can resist? Now Bill can come back to the ACKSgrinders and show that he is a mighty thaumaturge capable of leveling terrible arcane force against his foes.
But first he needs to spend some time to incorporate the newly researched spell formula into his repertoire. Seeing as he doesn’t foresee a need to breathe underwater in the near future, he decides he would like to add fireball to his spellbook and spends another three weeks and 3000gp attuning to the magical forces needed to conjure up the fiery forces needed. He retains the spell formulae for Water Breathing in his book, and may choose to pull it back into the rotation at a later time. A little over two months, and 6000 gp in expenses, after starting this process Bill now has access to the spell he had been waiting his entirely life to learn.
Now, let’s consider something a little less unorthodox. The rules do imply there is also the possibility for a player to use magical research in order to create a new spell. The main difference here is that they’d need to work with the judge to determine the factors of the spell and what its effective spell level would be. This also changes the modifier on the magical research throw from +1/2 level round down to +1 per spell level. The core rulebook doesn’t go into too much detail on how to evaluate a spell for level, but unsurprisingly the Player’s Companion does go into much, much, more detail.
I was able to get my hands on my friend’s (yes mom I have friends) copy of the Player’s Companion and it includes options for magical experimentation which addresses the concern I’d had about the costs and failure probabilities somewhat at the very minor risk of complete catastrophic failure and mishaps. I can hear the riverboat gambler within just shouting in glee. It even includes a section on breakthroughs which can result in a spell being 1/2 to 2 levels more powerful than its baseline (which provides an in-universe explanation for some of the discrepancies between spells like sleep & fireball being ridiculously more powerful than their same level peers). This is the kind of detail I love to see.
First the spells are arranged into eleven broad categories (blast, death, detection, enchantment, healing, illusion, movement, protection, summoning, transmogrification, and walls). Each category has a range of effects that set the base cost for the spell, which is then modified further by targets, range, duration, saves & source resulting in a “total cost” for the spell with every 10 points roughly corresponding to the spell’s level (ie a 26 point spell would be a third level spell). So for example, let’s say Bill wants to make a 2nd level blasting spell so he’s gonna try to budget for ~20 points without going over. So let’s go with a spell that can deal 1d6 damage per level (27 base) with a max of 3d damage (x0.33 modifier), dealing earth damage (x1), targeting a 10’ diameter sphere (x1.25) at a range of 60’ (x0.7) instantaneously (x1) that allows for no save (x1) and is an arcane spell (x1) for a first total cost of … 7.79. Holy crap, that kind of area damage effect could be a first level spell! There is some language that states that damaging spells should generally be odd level spells with even level spells generally being for defenses and utility. Looking to max out this spell a little bit more and use up just a smidge more of that 10 point budget for a first level spell… he’ll bump the area up to a 15’ diameter sphere (x1.5) and end up at 9.35 which should pretty easily classify as a Level 1 Spell. Wow.
Mudball Range: 60’
Arcane 1 Duration: Instantaneous
This spell hurls a ball of hardened dirt a a point up to 60’ away from the caster. Upon impact the ball bursts open spraying jagged shards of debris dealing 1d6 points of earth damage per caster level (maximum of 3d6) to all creatures within a 15’ diameter of impact.
Deciding to go for it Bill does some conventional experimentation during the research in order to gain a +2 bonus to the throw at the risk of a minor mishap (how bad could it be) should his research fail. His research throw needed is 12+ base (increased by 1 for creating a new spell) for a 13+ target. He has a +1 bonus for his magical engineering proficiency, and an additional +2 bonus for the experimentation for a total throw of 10+ needed for success. Not bad! With an 11 he squeaks by without mishap and thanks his lucky stars that he decided to experiment.
Ok, I can say that I absolutely love this system. Hands down. Magical research and creation in BX and AD&D is so nebulous puting everything in the hands of the DM to put a judgment upon the spell’s effective level. Being able to take a spell to the DM and say “this is how it is calculated and what its effective level should be and I can prove it mathematically.”
Anyway, I’ve spent a silly amount of time going through a few different permutations of this, but it’s been an absolute blast. I don’t normally roll wizards, but this system makes me want to more than ever before. Tomorrow we’ll check in on Harald’s efforts to recruit and train some soldiers. But for now, I’m going to call it a night and hope to see you tomrrow for some more of my pointless musings.