Monday, October 15, 2012

The DMG, Section by Section, Part 16: Character Spells – Recovery of Spells, Spell Casting and Tribal Spell Casters

I'm still – slowly – working on the ideas I've got from the last section, but it's high time I resumed this series.

Recovery of Spells

Gary gives a short table for how long you have to sleep to be able to memorize new spells; these range from just four hours, if all you want to memorize are first or second level spells, all the way to a whopping twelve hours if you want to memorize a ninth level spell. The implications for this are interesting: low level Magic-Users, Clerics and other spell casters now have no excuse for not standing watch at night, and there may come times when a high-level character chooses not to rest long enough to memorize their highest level spells. Interrupting a high-level enemy Magic-User's 12 hours sleep certainly becomes an attractive strategy. While I find all of these ideas interesting, though, I just don't expect them to come up that often in gaming, or perhaps to even come up at all.

After a spell caster has rested sufficiently, each spell takes 15 minutes per spell level to memorize. Even more than resting times, I've always had a problem with this approach, for a few reasons. Again, I don't really see the point of the extra math, it doesn't fit my reading of the source material in the Tales of the Dying Earth (specifically in the first few pages of Turjan of Miir), and, least logically but most viscerally, it clashes with my preferred metaphor for Vancian magic: loading bullets into a gun, which is quick and easy.

Insight into how variable rest time and lengthy spell memorization times make the game better is very much appreciated.

Spell Casting

Gary goes into a half page of explanation of how AD&D Vancian magic works, in-game. Basically, each spell brings energy from another plane to the caster's plane and channels it into the spell's effects. In exchange for the energy from the other plane, material components (the caster's breath, when none are listed) are destroyed to provide the energy to send back to the other plane.

Gary also mentions the the first two Dying Earth books (The Eyes of the Overworld and The Dying Earth) and John Bellairs' The Face in the Frost, a book I haven't heard of before or remember reading any reviews of on OSR blogs, as inspiration for the way AD&D magic works. I'm guessing that a good deal of the elements of AD&D magic I don't recognize from Vance are from the latter work, which seems to be highly recommended by Bellairs' fellow fantasy writers. The Face in the Frost is now on my reading list.

On the other hand, even if I thought that Vancian magic needed this level of explanation, I don't like this explanation of how magic works. This isn't making it into my game.

Tribal Spell Casters

Certain humanoids and a few other groups (cavemen, ettins…) have spell casters in their tribes. Shamans are the tribal equivalent of Clerics and may go up to 7th level, depending on species, while Witch Doctors are the tribal equivalent of Magic-Users and may go up to 4th level, depending on species. Both NPC classes have limited spell lists and only Cavemen may have both a Shaman and Witch Doctor in one tribe. Altogether, a helpful but not terribly exciting section.


  1. From Wikipedia:

    "Prospero's practice of studying his book of spells the night before he might need them may have helped inspire the game's requirement for magic users to do the same."

  2. My justification for the rest and prep times are that a) the magic-user needs to sleep in order to generate the requisite energy, and the varying lengths of time are because energy is needed in varying orders of magnitude (I could explain this in more detail if you need me to); and b) the prep time is the actual casting of the spell, which is then held in prepared state for triggering, which is the short ritual that we generally think of as "casting the spell" (usually taking 1 segment per spell level).

    1. That certainly can be one way to have magic work in the world you're running or gaming in; it's certainly not the only way. If you like the flavor of magic working that way, that's all the justification I think you need to run it that way.

      My question, though, is whether there are gameplay, as opposed to flavor, arguments for including these AD&D magic rules in a game. Do they make something easier, or create interesting choices (I think they have the potential to, but don't think that that will actually happen all that often), or somehow improve actual gameplay? That is, is there a reason why I, who doesn't like the flavor of these rules, might want to include them anyway, because of how they will improve my game?

    2. Ah, I see what you mean. Yes, there are potential gameplay reasons. The most important, I think, is to enforce the idea of limited spell resources, but giving the players a specific method which they can exploit in some cases (or which the Referee can). I'm sure that there could be an easier way to do it, but to a certain extent complexity gives the players more levers to pull, as it were.