Increasing Spell Variety

Pic from Netherlands Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Many systems for fantasy gaming have a list of spells as long as I am tall, either in the main book for players or in optional expansions. Usually, on creation, a player will pick 3 to 5 of these for his character and they often include things such as magic missile, read magic and burning hands or their equivalents.

Not everyone was aware of this when I played 2nd edition AD&D, but there were actually other 1st level spells available for novice mages and specialists to select from besides Magic Missile and Sleep. — Excerpt from the Dwarf this morning.

A GM who wants to address this situation has a few choices. You can get amazingly imaginative and come up with encounters for which these spells are required in order to succeed but I’ve chosen a different path – consumable magic spells.

Consumable magic is when a character has a limited number of spells, such as on scrolls, and when cast they disappear. In order to cast another spell, the character must first hunt up or create a new scroll or other item associated with the spell. If the Game Master randomly determines spells found, this means the PC will have to get creative using what’s in his inventory instead of shooting little firey darts at everything that threatens him.

I’m lazy. Consumable magic means I can just write the story in my head instead of having to tweak it out of recognition for a particular goal when writing an adventure. Let my players get creative on this one.

The downside? One must continually include new spells in trasure for the characters to find or they quickly run out of options of the magical nature. In a high fantasy setting, this probably isn’t a problem as scrolls and other magical items are already going to be a big part of what players loot.

In a low magic setting, though, it causes a conundrum. Scrolls, potions, item of wondrous power, aren’t that common but if they aren’t that common why make a mage in the first place since you’ll quickly run out of spells to use in any situation.

One solution brainstormed by one of my players is to make some fraction of the spells permanent and all the rest consumable. This way, the player always has something he can use if spells aren’t part of the loot that day – which should be at least half the time in a low magic setting. The rest of the time, I can randomly determine the spells found which he’ll then add to the few he always has to overcome challenges.

I think this might work out well and allow us to see a great variety of spells not normally found in a fantasy game, which is kind of ironic given it’s a low magic setting.

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2 Responses to “Increasing Spell Variety”

  1. TheLemming Says:

    I have to admit I like this approach really a lot, magic gives me a damn headache at the moment. We got a nice mix of more and less experienced gamers, and a particular girl who admittedly doesn’t bother about rules or guidelines a lot lately became fond of playing clerics and wizards. Actually I understand the basic notion but it really is giving me a hard time to hear from her that she isn’t really interested in preparing anything or putting some heart into her characters (though she ends up liking them very much) and on the other hand have her complaining about being not powerful enough…
    but I’m ranting.. sorry

    It seems to be that your approach has a little bit of the Unearthed Arcana one with spell components to influence the actual basic spell, was it meant that way? Like you know how to basically do a missile or shield but need a few ingredience and can conjure some fire, water, wind or something else?

    I would really like it very much if you got into detail a bit more on it.

    thanks for sharing this,

  2. viricordova Says:

    Markus, sounds like you two need to sit down and work out what her problem is exactly 🙂

    When I first conceived the idea, I hadn’t Unearthed Arcana in mind but I read so much, so voraciously, I was probably influenced by it in some way.

    This post on Project Valiant goes into more detail about the idea. Feel free to let me know if you have more questions.

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