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.