I really really need to get back to blogging. In the short term, here are some ideas I posted to a thread about Middle-Earth magic, which may also be useful for other settings with a similar approach to magic: spell-casting and spell-casters are very rare, as are over-the-top magical effects, but lesser magic items seem more common, at least in certain areas. It’s inspired by that old Dragon article “Gandalf Was Only a Fifth Level Magic-User” by Bill Seligman (The Dragon #5, March 1977) and a suggestion I’ve seen floating around to make elves clerics instead of M-Us.
Magic-Users use spell research rules to prep spells. It takes a minimum of 1 week per spell level to prep 1 spell. The value of the library used counts towards research costs, so the few libraries that exist, such as in Isengard or Minas Tirith, are priceless.
Spell scrolls do not cast spells, they teach spells, and there are only one or two scrolls for each spell known, so if you want to cast fireballs, you’d better figure out where the Scroll of Fireball is, and ask to borrow it for five weeks.
Wands and staves can be crafted to allow you to cast one specific spell repeatedly, as long as you know it and have it prepped. Roll 1d6 when used: if the result is equal to or less than the spell level, the wand/staff shatters from the strain. The length of the wand or staff, in feet, must be at least twice the spell level. More than one spell can be imbued in a wand or staff, but the total number of spell levels is used with the spell research rules to determine the cost and time needed. Crafting time is in seasons instead of weeks.
Elves are clerics, the only clerics. Their magic comes from nature, and they can only cast a spell in the location where they prepped it. That natural location becomes their “library”, for the purpose of “research” and preparation. They can’t make or use magic wands/staves, but can make other items that carry elven magic in them: healing lembas bread, globes that give off light, boots and cloaks of stealth. Again, crafting time is in seasons, and anything that isn’t single-use item has a 1 in 6 chance of failing when used. On the plus side, elven magical items may be used by anyone.
Dwarves aren’t spell-casters, but they can create arms and armor with magical durability and sharpness. They can also create stone structures that can move on their own when triggered by a spoken password or other condition.
Because of the added restrictions, the standard class restrictions for magic-users and clerics are lifted: either of them can use any weapons and armor. Magic-users thus look more like ordinary people who can occasionally work magic. The rules about libraries and research means that spell-casters will be taking frequent trips to distant locations in an attempt to refresh some spell.
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