Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Spells as Treasure

My players are stuck in an uncivilized land.  When leveling up this hurts the mages the most.  Why?  Because fighters increase their fighting ability, thieves continue to improve their craft and clerics get addition spells by their god.  What about mages?  They level up, but where do they learn their new spells?  There is no guild hall, no secret coven, no lonely tower in the wilderness (at least none that they've found) for the mage to go and learn new spells. 

Now spells become a commodity.  Something that can be traded among a few of the spellcasters that are on the same side.  And those scrolls that are often considered minor treasure become important.  To the mage, the most valued treasure. 

The rules I have in place for my current campaign is a magic-user may transcribe a scroll into a spell book, but it consumes the original scroll.  I pretty loose with the recovery of spells.  Just get a full night's rest and say you're recharging your spells and I'll let you know if all of them are memorized.  The other thing I've added is a version of Rob's (Bat in the Attic) version of ritual casting spells.  Great for utility spells.  Such as a detect magic.  When you're in a hostile environment keeping yourself armed is critical, so using a precious spell slot on a service spell is not often done.  But with the ritual spell, a magic-user can cast a spell by using 10gp of spell components/level of the spell and it takes 1 turn/level of the spell to cast.  Here again, since the players are in an uncivilized area they need to take time to gather the natural spell components available in the woods.  Which I've decided takes 1d2 hours/10gp worth of components.  *On a related note, I had all the players before the start of the game pick a secondary skill, like mason, leatherworker and so on.  If a player chose herbalism or some sort of wilderness skill this time is reduced by half.

I've always liked the idea of spells as earned or found treasure.  I have those spell compendium books so I have a lot of new and interesting spells the players may have never heard of or experienced.  It adds an element of surprise to the casting itself.  It is not a memorized effect.  So the caster will need to experiment a bit to discover the nuances of the spell.


  1. Interesting. There's a lot could be done here for sure. Maybe new and strange spells could be transmitted telepathically or arrive in dreams when sleeping in weird locales. Maybe familiars are found or find the mage, with a spell cast in song or howls.

    I like that secondary skill idea too. Great for added depth and more interaction with the environment.

  2. New spells definitely make good treasure. I'm thinking though that the spells to be learned by finding are the spells that are not related to the character's current spells.

    I liked the Final Fantasy series' concept of learning higher-level versions of existing spells, e.g. Fire Bolt I, Fire Bolt II, Fireball, and so on. The character gains these spells from growing understanding of fire magic, gained through practice.

    This would not allow me to learn Web, though, so Web would be a good treasure for this character.

  3. Nice idea. In away, making spells treasure actually re-establishes the "specialness" of magic.

  4. This is the ONLY way I allow wizard's to gain spells (hell, its a core component of Neoclassical Geek Revival). Wizard's don't share, so you have to find a wizard who croaked or find lost an ancient ones.

    Ways to gain spells other than the corpse of another wizard you might want to incorporate?

    1.) Astrology: Search the stars long enough and you might find a pattern with a eureka moment. Of course, when the stars line up in such a way, writing down the spell may be the wrong thing to do..

    2.) Cave Paintings: Ancient and old magic not seen in thousands of years.

    3.) Reverse Engineering: In the lion printing I beefed up Translate magic to also allow reverse engineering of items (destroy the item, chance to learn the spell). This meant potions, magical items and the like often get melted down in the lab..

    two sessions in, the first monster with a spell like power? Capturing and disecting live monsters in the lab became the next way to gain spells..Very wizard appropriate and unplanned.

  5. Porky > Good ideas. Like them. I always like to play a bit with the 'normalcy' of magic.

    Dariel > HackMaster does this also and I do like it. I make have to see if I can get it to work in game.

    Trey > I like it for that reason. Maybe this one mage has a certain spell the others are jealous of and will do anything to get that knowledge.

    Zz > I like all those ideas. Thanks for the input.

  6. This Blog is so interesting and Can you talk about the Black Magic Love spells also in general
    Thank you in advance

  7. I've always thought that this should be the way acquiring new spells is handled, even in the midst of civilization. At the very least, you would need to offer other magic-users something in return for access to their spells.

    I was recently chatting with Jeffro about something similar: having magic-users only start out with read magic, and introducing all new spells in game as scrolls (or the occasional captured NPC spell book). See this post of his. I really like the fact that this means the entire spell corpus is potentially unknown to beginning characters, and also how it simplifies character generation and means that all players start with roughly the same level of knowledge; there is no need to master the spell list. Maybe you're playing with the standard spell list, maybe not. Every new acquisition is an exploration.

    I love Zzarchov's idea about reverse engineering; that is definitely being added to my game now. I really need to make the time to read NGR thoroughly.

    Word verification: zooflam (yeah, that's an awesome word, and it should represent something, but I have no idea what).

  8. I always dealt with new spells as something that the M-U developed as they went along. Sort of like how a scientist or inventor is always working on a theory or project and when they gain a level, a breakthrough occurs and they get to pick a spell. Other spells they find, I would have them roll their 'chance to know each listed spell (Players Handbook p.10) in order to decipher them.

    Clearly you like to make your mages work for their spells, but what if you were allow them to roll their chance to know spells in order to develop them (i.e. pick a new spell of their choice upon gaining a level)? and if they failed the roll, then they don't get the spell?