Thursday, September 1, 2011

"But I don't Wanna Prepare Meteor Swarm!"

So, say you're running Grimpa the 20th level magic user. Grimpa's high up on the totem pole of the Order of the Green Hand, so it's her turn to help make a Wand of Magic Missile (we'll be using LotFP:WFRP rules for this exercise). The wand needs 99 charges; that means that Magic Missile needs to be cast into the wand 99 times, all at once. Grimpa, though, only has eight 1st level spell slots. We've got a problem. Either she's is going to need a whole lot of scrolls, which take a long, long time to make (and are expensive!), or she's going to need 12 other 20th level magic users to help her out.

Or does she? She's not going adventuring today. Her colleague Melmok, who has the unfortunate propensity to accidentally open gates to The Place Where Large Things That Kill You Live, is gone for the month. Her plans for the day include some pleasure reading, checking the library to see whether any lower level Guild members need any help and eating out with a couple friends. There's really not a need for any other spells. What about Grimpa's 37 other spell slots? Could she use those?

Which brings up a good question: can magic users fill spell slots with lower level spells?

I'm thinking of three pretty good answers for this.

1) No. That's not the way Vancian magic works. Everything has to fit exactly. You can't put a 9mm bullet in a .45 chamber and expect it to fire, can you? Don't complain, you get to break the laws of the universe every day while your buddy Thog over there only gets to bash skulls.

2) Sure, why not? Fill your spell slots with any spell that is of the appropriate level or lower. If you really want to cast Magic Missile a few more times instead of Web or Knock, what's that going to hurt? Now Grimpa only needs two colleagues to help her make the wand.

3) Yes. Also, you can cast more spells if they are lower level than your spell slots. You can fill a spell slot with 1.5 spells that are one level lower, 2 spells that are two levels lower, 2.5 spells that are three levels lower and so on. So Grimpa can cast three Magic Misiles with two 2nd level spell slots, two Magic Missiles with one 3rd level spell slot, five Magic Missiles with two 4th level spell slots and so forth. With this system, Grimna can cast her 99 Magic Missiles and doesn't need anyone's help in making her wand. She can even cast the Permanency spell that's also necessary for making the wand; all told, she could prepare 114 Magic Missiles if she wanted to.

What do you think? Is there another good answer to this question? I personally like the third answer the best. I doubt this kind of thing would be used by PCs very often, but I'd be interested to see whether they would in fact use this at all. It feels like this would open the door up for more creative spell use, but is it too lenient?


  1. Interesting question. I'd personally go for the #2 option, less fiddly. And, I don't see what not, it does seem logical, especially if you go with the idea that spells are just complex formulas scribed into the mind; makes sense that a place for a really complex and powerful spell allows plenty of space for lesser ones (and I can see why you like option # 3).

    I start my game next week, so might give it a go and see what my players think.

  2. My answer would be No. The reason being that spell levels access a particular part of the mind/soul of the caster and each level accesses different parts. They're not interchangeable. When the 1st level part is full, the 2nd level part isn't the right party of the brain/soul to hold the magic.

  3. I'd probably go with Joseph's answer, though the implication of the gun analogy is interesting. Can you expect it fire? Well, sometimes it works if the calibres are close, but most often you jam the gun, and sometimes to get a terrible explosion. I'd say if you're going to allow for option 2 or 3 there should be some risk involved.

  4. I would also agree with Joseph. It's telling that the spells per level stop dead for every level at 8 (not 10, nor 9, nor 15) so it seems that the intention was to keep every level limited to a certain amount of power.

    The nice part is, once the level one spells reach their cap, more and more of a wizard's brain (as a percentage) is filled with very powerful magic (imagine him or her as a collection of classics that happen to include "Dick and Jane" rather than just being a rack full of Seventeen magazines).

  5. Yes. There are tons of legitimate ways.

    She could use Rary's Mnemonic Enhancer (2E) which lets you rememorize a bunch of lower level spells when you cast it.

    And she needs to create a version of that spell for every spell level 2nd to 9th. This way she converts each spell slot into a bunch of other spells, the total spell levels of which are equal to the level of the original spell slot minus one.

    That is:

    If you're 20th level in 2E, you memorize this:

    5 Magic Missiles
    5 RME 2nd
    5 RME 3rd
    5 RME 4th (standard)
    5 RME 5th
    4 RME 6th
    3 RME 7th
    3 RME 8th
    2 RME 9th

    You wake up and memorize all that. Then you cast an RME 2nd and rememorize a Magic Missile with it. Then you cast an RME 3rd and rememorize two Magic Missiles with it. Then an RME 9th and memorize 8 Magic Missiles. This may take many days to load up enough Magic Missiles into memory. By the end you have 130 Magic Missiles memorized.

    If you don't have to sleep 8 hours before rememorizing using a Mnemonic Enhancer spell, and it's just the 15 minutes per spell level, we're talking 125 x 15 minutes for the rememorization process, which is just under 32 hours. I'd call that four days' prep work.

    Alternately, the enchanter could pick up a Ring of Wizardry, maybe some Pearls of Power, but this wouldn't shorten the 4-day rememorization time. It would let her carry a bunch of extra useful spells so she's not a sitting duck, or make up for the higher spell level when enchanting a Wand of Fireballs or something.

    Also I don't see a problem with using a magic item to cast the charges into the Wand of Magic Missiles. If she has a Staff of Power (one with an absorption ability like a Staff of the Magi), she could use that as an extra battery of 24 Magic Missiles (and recharge it along the way by casting Meteor Swarm into it to regain 9 charges, for example).

    If she had spell-storing Ioun Stones she could prep by filling them with Magic Missile. A Vibrant Purple Prism would hold 2d6 spell levels (I assume this is rolled when you find the item), so we have an average of 7 levels of spell storing per stone. If she created 14 of them she would have plenty of Magic Missiles along with her own 5 to supplement.

    She could have lower-level Magic-Users help too. Anyone 13th level with 5 Magic Missiles is just as good as a 20th level M-U in this case. But a 5th level dude has 4 and is so much cheaper to hire. After all, if you're a Lv. 5 PC and someone asks you to hang around for 5 minutes to make a hundred GP you'd jump at the chance, right? The enchanter just needs to secure the services of 18 of these lowbies at once on the same day (so she should try to get 36 because most will flake out on her).

  6. Oops, just realized you're not using D&D. But is there a reason why a spell storing item or a mnemonic enhancer spell couldn't be created by the enchanter in that game?

  7. Also, isn't it possible to enchant the wand with 5 charges, then begin the "recharging" process to fill it up?

  8. For something like this, when he's going to be in his tower, sure. #3 all the way. Out in the field, #2. Here's why. In his tower, he's nice and protected, and focused. In the field? Not so much, and his brain can' handle the extra load.

  9. @Simon Forster: I'd love to know how it works out for you if you end up using #2.

    @Joseph Browning: Yeah, that's a perfectly reasonable way to rule. I'm just not seeing any reason to rule that way from an outside-the-game perspective.

    @Spawn of Endra: The gun analogy is what originally sold me on Vancian magic, and it's what I go back to whenever I'm theorizing about it. Interchangeable cartridges is kind of asking for an analog to spell slots, isn't it? What would a +P spell look like?

    @Taketoshi: That's an interesting hypothesis. I wonder if there was a deeper reason to end at 8 slots per spell level or if it just kind of corresponded with the end of the spell slot chart.

    @1d30: Interesting. I'd never heard of Rory's Mnemonic Enhancer before, though that isn't surprising, considering that, of all the editions of D&D, I'm least familiar with 2E.

    Using lower level colleagues would probably be an option for Grimpa, since she's presumably doing this at a Guild dormitory, so there should be plenty of them around.

    So far as not using D&D, well, LotFP:WFRP is close enough by my standards. I use it's rules for most magic because it has succinct, clear rules for magic. Under LotFP:WFRP rules, the number of charges a wand or staff has is determined by the number of spells that are cast into it during its creation, so only enchanting it with 5 charges would mean that it only got 5 charges. I have no idea how standard this mechanic is across versions of D&D.

    @David: That makes sense, from one point of view. On the other hand, one could rule that once the spells are memorized, it doesn't matter how much stress a magic-user is under, since the spells have already been loaded.