I have two questions. First, Why require time and cost to learn spells if Decode Arcana will do it free and instantly? It is a first level spell so I would guess a player would learn it fast. And second, how come a MU must learn a spell before they can utilize it from a scroll? Did you figure they would want to learn it first anyway?Before I get started, let me make clear, for anyone who didn’t know, that the Decode Arcana spell is meant to replace Read Magic. A lot of my previous posts on Read Magic went into the thinking behind the spell.
Originally, Read Magic seems to have been a gatekeeper for using scrolls and magic items. There weren’t a lot of predefined details about the way spellbooks and learning spells worked in early games, so its only real effect was to restrict how many scrolls found in a dungeon could be used immediately. It’s limited to the number of Read Magic spells memorized.
Decode Arcana inherits this function. The way I’m imagining the spell working: a magician finds a scroll, which is written in some ancient wizard’s uniquely personal magical code. The magician doesn’t have time to decode the symbols, so they use Decode Arcana to immediately decode it. They now know what the scroll says and can use it.
That’s pretty much identical to the way most GMs use Read Magic. It’s just a different backstory of how it works.
What I changed, though, was: magicians can automatically recognize and use scrolls for spells they already know. Decode Arcana isn’t necessary. Limiting scroll use to spells the magician already knows sounds like a limitation, but it is actually a boost to ability: instead of a 1st Level Magician only being able to use one scroll max, assuming they’ve prepared Decode Arcana, they can use any scrolls of known spells they find, plus one scroll of an unknown spell per Decode Arcana spell used. Once Decode Arcana is cast to learn an unknown spell, that spell is known and the magician never needs to cast Decode Arcana to read a scroll with that spell on it.
This is a very complicated way to explain what’s ultimately a simplification.
That basically answers the second question. But why require time and cost to learn spells, if Decode Arcana does it for free? The magician might not know Decode Arcana. Without the spell, they will need to take the slow, costly way of learning new spells. But on the other hand, they aren’t completely locked out of learning new spells or even using scrolls, just because they don’t know Decode Arcana. They always have a way around it. However, they have a strong incentive to find and learn Decode Arcana as quickly as possible.
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