Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The DMG, Section by Section, Part 15: Character Spells – Spell Acquisition

This next section is super interesting to me, which, along with real life lately, is why I've taken such a long time to write it up. Expect some non-DMG magic posts in the near future.

Day-to-Day Acquisition of Cleric Spells

The big thing about Cleric spells, that I actually don't think I've heard about in ~3 years of following OSR blogs, is that Clerics don't get their spells directly from one source, but from three:

–1st and 2nd level spells are acquired through the Cleric's training
–3rd, 4th and 5th level spells are granted to the Cleric by supernatural servants of the Cleric's deity
–6th and 7th level spells are granted directly to the Cleric by the Cleric's deity

This is very interesting flavor, first of all, especially since the interaction with the supernatural servants is left very open ended and I think it has a lot of room for roleplaying, but the main practical ramifications of this three-tiered system seems to be that Clerics have trouble getting access to high-level spells if they haven't been acting in accordance with the desires and ethos of their deity. Basically, every time they pray for spells above 2nd level they also get chewed out and told to atone for any bad stuff they've done. DMs are supposed to keep track of concrete actions the Cleric has performed that don't line up with what the deity is all about and lay them out whenever the Cleric prays for spells. The Cleric's deity is even stricter than the supernatural servants, but both will give quests to Clerics that are difficult enough that Gary says that the Cleric will be granted the spells necessary to complete the quest. This all applies to Paladins and Rangers, at least when it comes to spells, as well, which strikes me as interesting, since it seems to be saying that Paladins can greatly displease their deities without breaking the terms of their Paladin-hood.

Gary also outlines the hardships involved in Clerics switching deities (the second time they switch deities, they'll just be struck dead).

Acquisition of Magic-User Spells

In AD&D all 1st level Magic-Users are newly "graduated" apprentices of other Magic-Users of at least 6th level. Their master, as a parting present, gives them a spell book with four spells in it: Read Magic and one defensive, one offensive and one miscellaneous spell, randomly chosen by rolling d10s. It seems that AD&D has exactly thirty 1st level spells, but since every Magic-User gets Read Magic and Nystul's Magic Aura and Tenser's Floating Disc are never given to a Magic-User by a master, a roll of 10 on one of these rolls means that the spell is chosen by the player. This is a really nice system, I think, and it's replicated and slightly tweaked in John's awesome document here. (Thanks, John! I'm planning on using your document as the foundation for spells in my games from now on. I wish you had a blog I could link to.)

Gary also hits on the effect of Intelligence on the Magic-User's ability to learn spells. First of all, Intelligence will limit the number of spells of any one level a Magic-User can know. Secondly, with the important exception of the original four spells in the spell book given to him by his master, a Magic-User has a percentage chance to be able to learn a spell that must be rolled when trying to learn a spell; if the Magic-User fails, apparently he will never be able to learn the spell.

Acquisition of Illusionists' Spells

Illusionists differ from Magic-Users in two important ways: Firstly, they don't use Read Magic, but instead use a secret language that all Illusionists know for their spells; Read Magic, or anything of the sort, is not needed. Secondly, they only have 12 1st level spells, which aren't divided into offensive, defensive and miscellaneous categories; the player simply rolls a d12 three times to determine the 1st level Illusionist's starting spells. There is no mention of whether Intelligence affects the ability of an Illusionist to learn spells, but my guess, from the way the section on Illusionists seems to imply that Illusionists work like Magic-Users in every way except for the exceptions listed, that this works the same way for Illusionists as for Magic-Users. My guess is that this is spelled out in the PHB.

Spells Beyond Those At Start

Each time a Magic-User levels up (not when they gain access to a new spell level, which was news to me) he gains a new spell, presumably of the highest spell level available to him. Gary is silent on how to determine which spell this is or what the in-game justification is (I assume that at least some of this is included in the PHB). This means that unless a Magic-User finds spells in another way, the he will always only have a number of spells equal to his level plus four.

Magic-Users, then, will be constantly seeking to find spells in other ways. The first way Gary discusses is getting spells from other Magic-Users. "Superior players will certainly cooperate; thus, spells will in all probability be exchanged between PC magic-users to some extent," Gary says, and advises the DM neither to suggest nor discourage doing this.

PC Magic-Users obtaining spells from NPC Magic-Users, however, is another matter entirely and Gary expects DMs to play the Vancian-style zero-sum game Magic-User culture to the hilt. Gary advises that PCs buying spells from NPC Magic-Users should "pay so dearly for [spells] in money, magic items, and quests that the game is hardly worth the candle." Gary assumes that the PCs will still pay for these new spells, thereby draining the PCs of excess wealth. Henchmen and hireling Magic-Users will offer only slightly better terms: if an employer proposes a trade of spells, the price will be a spell of equal value plus a bonus; if a PC compatriot of the employer proposes the trade, the price is double the value of the spell and a large bonus (from the example, it sounds like sets of three expendable items or a single magic item is a good guideline for the larger bonus). Gary does allow for the previous nature of the relationship between the PC making the request and the henchman/hireling, as well as the personality of the henchman/hireling, to modify the price of trading spells.

Gary points out that this extreme reluctance to share spells on the part of NPCs will make spells found in dungeons or through research extremely valuable to the PCs Magic-Users. He states that, "Magic-users will haunt dusty libraries and peruse musty tomes in the hopes of gleaning but a single incantation to add to their store of magic." I'm unsure whether that is a direct reference to spell research or a separate, flavorful phenomenon that Gary doesn't flesh out; my guess is that it's the former.

One mechanic I wish Gary would have included is how to handle NPCs coming to the PCs for spells; surely every other Magic-User is just as desperate for spells as the PCs, right? So why wouldn't they be coming to the PCs, willing to make unfair trades for the new spells the PCs found in their last dungeon delve? Mechanically, this would even out the zero-sum game so that the PCs don't always get the short end of the stick. This might ruin the constant leeching of money from Magic-User PCs, but it also doesn't strain my suspension of disbelief.


  1. That section of the DMG always bothered me. It seems like a set of very harsh rules put in place to prevent "hire the henchman, trade spells, and then fire him." And there isn't any guide for NPCs paying PCs with 2-3 spells and a ring of invisibility for some dinky low-level spell, either. It lacked believability - you couldn't get an even trade, and what you had wasn't really worth anything except as part of a trade. It just seemed like Gary being extra-harsh to ensure other DMs didn't give stuff away to easily.

    1. I agree that it doesn't make a lot of sense; I think Gary got the seed of avaricious Magic-User culture from the Dying Earth stories, but then Gary's adversarial relationship with his power-gaming players and his drive to strip them of wealth raised running the culture that way to a whole new level. I'm going to post some excerpts from some Dying Earth stories that I think will back this interpretation up.

      And I agree that it doesn't make sense that NPCs never approach PCs. I plan on writing a mechanic for that at some point.