Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Nerfing the Magi

So, I was in the middle of writing a post about Captain America, but this will have to wait for the moment...time to take the plunge and get this over with.

From the Cook/Marsh (B/X) Expert set:

Magic-users and elves are limited to the number of spells they may know, and their books will contain spells equal to the number and level of spells the caster can use in a single day (thus, the books of a 4th level elf will contain two first and two second level spells).

(page X11)

Most player character magic-users and elves are assumed to be members of the local Magic-Users Guild or apprenticed to a higher level NPC. When player characters gain a level of experience, they will return to their masters and be out of play for one "game-week" while they are learning their new spells.

(page X11, emphasis added by me)

Magic-users may add more spells to their spell books through spell research.

(page X7)

Spell Research. New spells may be researched by any spell caster. Research requires both money and time spent out of the campaign.

(page X51)

Upon reaching 11th level, a magic-user may choose to build a tower...a mgic-user who constructs a tower will gain 1-6 apprentices of levels 1-3.

(page X7-X8; again, emphasis added by me)

Based on the text of the game, I am revising the acquisition of magic-user and elf spells in my B/X game. In reviewing the rules, I've decided on the following interpretation (and not without a bit of internal debate):
  • Magic-users and elves may know a maximum number of spells (that is, they may have a maximum number of spells in their spell book) equal to the number of spells they can cast per day. Why they can't "store up" extra spells or rob spells from other magician's tomes is a mystery that one can interpret in a variety of ways (and I'm not going to make something up right now). While this is a change from how I was running the game earlier (I was allowing spell research to "add extra spells" to the spell book), I feel this is the correct call for the sake of game balance. Even AD&D limits the maximum number of spells available to PCs based on Intelligence, so I don't feel bad in limiting the maximum number of spells that can be known...though I'm guessing this won't sit well with my players.

  • Magic-users and elves learn their new spells for "free" so long as they are apprenticed to a higher mage. I am tempted to cut players off at 4th level, for a couple/few different reasons: A) the wizard in his tower attracts apprentices of levels 1-3 (which can be interpreted as levels 1-3 being the collective "apprentice levels"), B) 4th level is what I consider "hero level" for most classes based on the break point it provides for most B/X classes and the fact that it is the 1st level of "Expert" play (levels 4-14), C) I've seen 4th level as a cut-off in other places as well, notably Dragon Lance (where magic-users were expected to take their Test of High Sorcery at level 4). Also, at higher levels elves and magic-users start to gain more than 1 spell per level, making that "week off to get spells" rule especially kind.

  • A magic-user or elf who is NOT apprenticed may only add spells to his spell book through spell research. There is no minimum level for spell research (unlike magic item construction).

All right, that's it...and that's probably enough for now. Here are a couple different ideas I'm consiering adding that AREN'T based on the rules of the game:

1) Bonus spells for magic-users/elves based on their Intelligence score (sorry, no bonus for clerics/Wisdom).

2) Toying with the idea of a "graduation test" to level up beyond "apprentice stage" (like the Test from Dragon Lance).


  1. there are various points in the B/X books where I feel like they skimped on rules not out of some grand design, but because they were running out of space. How they handle spellbooks feels like one of those.

    If you're approaching B/X as a beginners' set from which players are eventually expected to "graduate", then it makes sense. But if you're viewing B/X as the pinnacle of all versions of the game, then it's an area where it seems to come up short.

    Choosing which spells to bring is one of the main tactical decisions a player gets to make, and acquiring spells one of the classic motivators for such characters. Being BTB in this case just seems to limit the game unnecessarily.

  2. So, magic-users and elves know enough spells (and only enough spells) to fill each slot once, with a different spell in each slot? In practice though, they can prepare other spells in different numbers, doubling and tripling up on favorites? This sounds fairly plausible (and plausibly fair) to me.

    It's not old school, but with spell knowledge that tight it might be worth allowing spontaneous selection for casting. It would really suck to find that even though the spell you need right now is among the spells you know, you can't get at it (and unlike 3.x, you don't have a wand or scroll to fill the gap).

  3. Not really a major change to the game. Other than the one spell researched last week, there's been no opportunity to learn spells anyway. The campaign has had one MU level up once. I think all the elves have died too quickly for it to be an issue.

    How you're interpreting the book is how I read it. I was surprised to be given the opportunity to do spell research last session. Retconning it is not a big deal though I did think it was a nice way to siphon off my otherwise useless money.

  4. @Iron Goat, I think you're right that the B/X game sucks in this regard but I at least appreciate a fairly strict interpretation of the rules. I'd rather play by-the-book than a bunch of vague house rules that change weekly.

    My main problem with the magic user in B/X (and other older editions) is that the game balance of "weak early on but very powerful at higher levels" doesn't work that well these days because there's not enough game time to level him out of being boring to play. I'm looking at 8 months of "cast my one spell and throw daggers". It's the not-a-teenager-with-all-weekend-to-play-anymore problem again for me.

    One good thing about 4E is that it starts characters out at the "hero" level with decent abilities you can use every round. It doesn't have the "hey guys, I cast my Magic Missle spell, let's go back to town" problem.

    I actually like the peon-as-adventurer thing to a certain extent though. DCC RPG mercifully compresses that down. If your 0-level 2 hp dude survives for one session or adventure, you get to be a fairly awesome 1-level character.

  5. I recall a rule somewhere in my Mentzer basic PHB that states all Magic-Users under level 7 must have teachers (of L7+) who do not go on adventures.

    I don't know how that jibes with other editions, but should I run a D&D game at any point I'll certainly be using that particular rule morsel

  6. This is part of the game I always ignored. Magic-users already have to earn more experience than any of the human classes, they have a measly 2-3 hp at first level, they absolutely cannot contribute to combat (thrown daggers with the worst attack matrix in the game) and they get their one spell per day and that's it. (Granted, some of those 1st level spells like sleep and charm are pretty awesome...) but then, as posted above, you get the whole "gotta go back to town" problem.

    I like the idea that wizards can have stacks of spellbooks, but that the spells are so potent and perplexing that they can only carry a few at a time.

    I don't know...lately I've been thinking that magic-users get the shaft too much at low levels. As another comment also stated, these days it's tough to have a game that stays together long enough for the Magic-User's slow power curve to actually balance out.