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Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Materialism of Materialistic Spell Points

When I introduced the idea of magicians creating spell balls out of exotic herbs and other ingredients and using them to power spells in Materialistic Spell Points, I didn’t really go too deep into what that meant. These spell balls are physical objects, not an abstraction. Abstract spell points creates simple strategic choices: Spend your spell points as quickly as possible? Hoard them for emergencies? Adjust your spending rate during play? But a physical resource creates infinite strategic choices, for creative players. Anything you can imagine doing to a physical object, or to the process that creates that object, can affect the game.

I mentioned one such possibility: since there’s only a limit on how many spell balls you can make in one day, but no limit on how many you can carry, you could spend extra time and money (or no money and a lot more time) to make more spell balls. A 1st level M-U who memorizes spells can only cast 1 spell. A 1st level M-U who uses spell balls can make 2 or 3 spell balls, if there’s plenty of downtime, and be a little more useful on the adventure.

An M-U with one or two apprentices can have them do the dirty work of scrounging up ingredients, saving money while also shortening prep time.

If there are two M-Us adventuring together, and only one knows the Knock spell, but has run out of spell balls, the other M-U can share a spell ball.

A fighter can try to set fire to a magician’s belt pouch with a torch, hoping to prevent the magician from casting spells.

A thief can sneak up behind an enemy magician and attempt to pick the magician’s pocket, to get the spell balls. Or sneak into an innocent town spellcaster’s house to steal spell balls set out to dry, then give them to the party’s M-U to shorten prep time for an adventure.

Killing an enemy spellcaster in a dungeon might give an M-U a chance to restock on spell balls.

Capturing spellcasters and confiscating their spell balls gives a party a way of controlling their arcane prisoners.

A spellcaster taken captive after exhausting their spells can try to steal a spell ball as part of an escape plan.

M-Us can make spell balls to sell, or sell spell balls found as treasure. Fighters, clerics, and thieves can sell spell balls, too, and should be able to get XP for them.

The local wizard’s guild may have a monopoly on some spell ball ingredients so that they can sell spell balls at inflated prices.

If ingredients are rarer in some places, more common in others, merchants can set up trade routes to exploit the price difference.

Towns that limit or outlaw the practice of magic can search suspected magicians to see if they are carrying spell balls. Magicians can come up with clever ways to hide a stash of spell balls to sneak past checkpoints.

Written with StackEdit.


  1. And with that, you've sold me on the concept. It already sounded like a cool way to handle spell points, but this just pushed it over the edge and made me actually want to use spell points (in addition to Vancian casting, obviously)

    1. Thanks!

      One problem I'm beginning to notice, though, is that it's feeling less like the kind of magic elves would practice and more like what the humans should practice.

    2. Aye, that's true. I'd think elves would have less direct powers. Their magic is much more passive (some things they can due simply by virtue of being elves) or involves maintaining proper relations with the natural world (somewhat like humans and their retainers, but less mercenary)

      I may just incorporate your spell balls into an old idea I had: spell hanging, material components/spell balls and demon summoning are all different workarounds to lengthy casting times, making magic more practical. I'm thinking one could only prepare a very small number spells (and only one copy each at a time!), just like in The Dying Earth

  2. Why wouldn't every campaign start with: "we hole up for three years and crank out spell balls".

    1. Because time isn't the only resource required and the world isn't going to wait around for any one party. You need to adventure to acquire the funds necessary for spell ball production. Time spent on spell balls is time others are claiming the treasure

    2. Pretty much. If you spend extra time tracking down ingredients so that you don't have to pay for them, you still have to pay for food and upkeep. Plus, if you're scouring the same area repeatedly for supplies, eventually you'll exhaust the local resources. I would roll a 2d6 reaction roll every time after the first that you hunt for resources in the same area. On a 5 or less, resources become scarcer (halve effective Int.) On a 2, the area is exhausted and you have to move on... which means you are on an adventure, buddy!

      I have no problem with a campaign focused on a magician in the magical supply business and dealing with interruptions to their plan.