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.