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Monday, May 25, 2020

Travel Spellbooks

Related to the topic of emergency spell casting is the idea of “travel spellbooks”. These are spellbooks that are small enough to take into dungeons.

I never liked this idea.

Forget about the size factor. Yeah, I imagine spellbooks to be pretty sizable things, about the size of a shield… but there were portable books in the Middle Ages, mostly prayer books. More important is the way it redesigns the way spells are imagined to work.

Magicians aren’t supposed to be prepping spells in the middle of an adventure. They have a limited number of spells they can “take with them”, so to speak. If magicians have full access to every spell they know, there’s less of a challenge for the player, They aren’t making strategic decisions in advance and hoping they picked the right spell. And it makes the class more powerful compared to other characters. Would you let Fighters have access to a “travel armory” to refresh their arrow supply or swap ineffective weapons and armor? Or a “traveling merchant” with an infinite stock of equipment so they can buy some holy water and garlic in the middle of the dungeon which they just found out is swarming with vampires?

Also, if travel spellbooks exist, why aren’t all spellbooks travel spellbooks? Why bother with two sets of spellbooks? Why have scrolls, which is a sanctioned way for magicians to have extra spells, if they’re just going to have infinite spells anyways?

But there may be a way to have “travel spellbooks” without throwing out the existing spell system and class limitations. Let’s look at the two extremes: scrolls vs. spellbooks, to see where the travel spellbook would fit between the two.

  • Cost 100 coins per spell level
  • Weigh no more than a dagger
  • Contain a single spell
  • Are consumed when used
  • Can be used quickly (1 or more rounds)
  • Cost 1000 coins x (2^Level) per spellbook
  • Weigh about the same as a shield
  • Contain all spells of a given level.
  • Are not consumed when used
  • Take longer to use (turns or hours)
A travel spellbook should be somewhere in the middle, in terms of cost and weight, and have at least one limitation from each extreme.
  • Cost 200 coins x (2^Level) per spellbook
  • Weigh about the same as two scrolls
  • Contain a single spell
  • Are not consumed when used
  • Take longer to use (2d6 x Spell Level turns)
  • (Use the Emergency Spell Casting rules to speed this up at the risk of variable results)
This makes a travel spellbook a way to have a small number of refreshable spells, but because of cost and weight, still enforces the need for players to make strategic decisions.

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