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Thursday, September 19, 2013

What the LBBs Imply, Part II

Continuing on from Part I of "What the LBBs Imply", here is some more discussion of magic, and some conclusions about what the "base level" of D&D magic is. (I don't really intend to start a heavy-duty series on this that will continue for the next several weeks, but really just wanted to do maybe two posts about magic and leave the series open for future parts on other topics.)

I didn't make a big deal of it last time, but in the section on the costs of spellbooks (Men & Magic, p. 34) it states simply "Characters who employ spells are assumed to acquire books containing the spells they can use, one book for each level." As many have pointed out, there is no exception given for Clerics; this comes along in Greyhawk. Also, the rules are not clear as to whether characters must pay for their first "book of second level spells" and so on.

Immediately before the spellbook rules are the magic research rules, and the rules plainly state: "Both Magic-Users and Clerics may attempt to expand on the spells listed (as applicable by class)." The "as applicable by class" might be an indication that a Magic-User cannot research a healing spell usable by Magic-Users, and a Cleric cannot research a Magic-User spell. Or, perhaps, it only indicates that the spells they create can only be added to their respective spell lists and will only be usable by their class; if a Magic-User finds a Cleric spellbook, it might count as research materials, but the M-U can't just copy the spells therein; they must research.

previously investigated Read Magic, but I should point out again, for the purposes of this series, that the Read Magic spell only states that it is the "means by which the incantations on an item or scroll are read." It does not mention spellbooks, which leaves open the question of whether spellbooks really contain spells, in the same sense that scrolls do. Also, since magic is specified as being unreadable without this spell, and Clerics do not have Read Magic, this is possible further support for the idea that Cleric scrolls are meant to be used by Magic-Users.

What I think this all means is that, although Gary and Dave had more detailed rules in place, even before the publication of the LBBs, the magic system in the LBBs is intentionally sparse and missing many of the elements we later assume to be distinctive. I think the by-the-book magic system is this:
  1. Spellcasters of any sort have books. If they lose their books, they can't choose spells on their next adventure.
  2. They do not, however, forget how to cast their spells. The books just enable spellcasting in some way, and do not contain spells except maybe as notes on how to use the tools in the books.
  3. Spellcasters are limited to a certain number of spells every adventure, based on level. The backstory on why is up to the GM or group.
  4. Scrolls are a way around this limit, but are expensive. They also allow casters to cast spells they couldn't otherwise use.
  5. Read Magic allows you to use a scroll. You can't normally use scrolls without it.
And that's it. The characterization of M-Us as memorizing spells before each adventure was certainly in use at the time the LBBs were published, but is not really part of the system, any more than the idea that Clerics pray for spells (which first gets mentioned in Greyhawk.) I think the basic system was designed for a very direct, practical "fantasy treasure hunt" game without much speculation about how magic really worked or how the society functioned; all of that is stuff we're supposed to add as needed.

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