... now with 35% more arrogance!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Mundane Spellcasting

Something Andy Bartlett wrote about zero-level thievery and spellcasting on the Known World, Old World blog and a completely unrelated forum discussion about legendary weapons has got me thinking about the magic research rules again. I know, sounds completely random, doesn't it? But bear with me.

I've occasionally talked about re-purposing the magical research rules for other things. What I want to explore in a series of posts is one way of doing that. And I'm starting with this passage in Andy Bartlett's post:
"But, of course, not all thieves are Thieves, not all 'fighting men' are Fighters, not all priests are Clerics, and... not all students of magic are Magic Users? Yes, possibly even the last case should be true. There should be 0 level scholars, cunning men and wise women who can work some petty magical effects, at great expense, effort or sacrifice, but on classed and levelled Magic Users can work magic with true power."
But how to implement zero-level magic use? I suggest that ordinary scholars have to make magic scrolls to cast spells. True magic-users have the exceptional ability to memorize spells and cast without scrolls, which ordinary mortals can't do. Also, ordinary mortals can't always read a scroll correctly: non-magic-users must make a reaction roll to see if the scroll works, (Neutral/6+ on 2d6,) fizzles (Bad or 3-5 on 2d6,) or backfires (Very Bad/2 on 2d6.)

The cost to make a scroll should be high for non-magic-user scholars. I'd base it on the magic research rules. A quick run-down: it costs 10,000 gp to research a 1st level spell, double for 2nd level, and doubled again for each additional spell level. But that's to create a spell that an M-U can cast repeatedly. Set the cost to one-tenth that, or 1,000 gp, for something that works only once, in this case a scroll.

There's a chance a scholar can do it for less, just as there's a chance to successfully research a spell at a lower cost. Spending half as much gives 50-50 odds; spending only a tenth gives only a 10% chance of creating a useful scroll.
Let's change it to a d20 approach: 50 gp for a 1 in 20 chance, an additional 50 gp for a +1 chance. We could make this a roll-high Target 20 roll, but by making it roll-under, we can do a little trick to make Intelligence relevant:
  •  If the roll fails, but is still less than Intelligence, no work is lost. Next roll is based on total cost.
  •  if the roll fails and is greater than Intelligence, the scroll is ruined. Start from the beginning.
  •  Optionally, a roll of 20 means the scroll is cursed.

The minimum time required to create the scroll is 1 week per spell level, plus an additional week for each additional roll to complete the scroll. Magic-users, of course, can create scrolls cheaper (100 gp for 1st level spells, instead of 1,000 gp) and with no roll required. Optionally, allow an M-U to do a "rush job" in a single day and make the d20 roll, with the M-U's level as the target number: any roll higher than the M-U's level means the scroll isn't finished, and if the roll is higher than the M-U's Int, the scroll is ruined.


  1. I'm liking where this is going.

    I've been knocking around ideas for an Early Modern campaign, and at the moment I'm reading The Queen's Conjurer, a non-fiction book about Dr John Dee, which means that I'm taken with the idea of determined 'normal men' (to use a D&Dism) doing some kind of magic by way of great effort. In other words, keeping magic in the game world, without everyone having the 'point and click' magic used by the PCs.

    A similar system could also have non-Cleric priests working minor miracles by way of their piety and that of their congregation, wise women brewing potions, etc. all without the game world needing levelled characters of whatever level having access to these powers on daily demand and leaving the players of Level 1 PCs feeling insignificant.

    I just checked LotFP, which allows MUs of any level to create scrolls and potions (and so are rules are easily bent to allow 0 level nearly-MUs to create these items at some risk), A 1st level MU with a 1000sp (gp in standard D&D) library could create a 1st level scroll at a cost of between 100sp-600sp. Without access to a library, the same scroll would cost between 200sp-1200sp. The risk comes in the player deciding how long (and therefore, how much money) the MU should spend on creating the scroll - the player declares before the roll is made, and if the player has 'underinvested' the time and money is wasted, with a 10% chance of the MU receiving a Curse.

    1. I've long been a supporter of reaction rolls to represent faith instead of clerics memorizing spells. What I normally do for non-cleric priests is attach the divine spell to the location rather than the priest. Thus, a particular shrine may be well-known for curing disease. Investment in the church or temple is thus equivalent to magical research. The congregation has no direct effect, except that a large pious congregation can donate more money.

      I have some ideas about how libraries would affect arcane research, but I'll save that for another post.

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