One of the problems with having with more than a decade's worth of posts is that every time I sit down to write up my latest thoughts on a subject already broached, I have to read back through all the posts I've already written on the subject.
Well, I suppose I don't have to...I could just fly off the handle (my usual m.o.) and let the chips fall where they may. But the fact, there are still folks showing up to Ye Old Blog and reading my ancient posts, and my conscience tells me I should strive for some level of consistency, at least enough to say "my feelings on such-and-such have changed since 2011" or whatever.
[really! Last week, I had someone commenting on a post I wrote back in 2014, while still living in Paraguay. And this week, I had an email from a French blogger who wants to translate some 2012 entry I posted about abstracting armor rules]
So it was this morning that I was combing through the 50+ posts on magic-users I've made over the years, looking to see what I've written on the subject of spell books. Also, had to check the 60+ posts on "spells." I'll be honest...I got pretty bored with the exercise and, quite frankly, there wasn't much there that stood out anyway.
I'm considering cutting spell books from my D&D game. Since my family will probably be rousing themselves from slumber soon, I'll try to be as succinct as...well, as I ever am (not that succinct, I realize)...in explaining my thought(s) here:
#1 My journey with magic-users has come a looooong way since I started this blog. Prior to blogging, I never gave much thought to magic-users at all: I didn't play them in other people's games, and the few who showed up in my own game weren't anything too spectacular (they were infrequently run and frequently died). Plus, it had been so long since I'd run an old school game, my memory was probably on the "hazy" side. Once I started blogging, I started running/playing games again, and this led to all sorts of hare-brained ponderings on the class.
#2 To sum up my thoughts on "what I've learned about magic-users over the years" (through actual play): The class is nicely balanced. The class should probably start with multiple spells (2-3) instead of one. Vancian system = good idea. Removing spell duplication (memorization of 2x fireball or 3x sleep, for example) improves versatility and encourages creativity and proactive thinking in players. Knife-fighting mages are somewhat distasteful (personally), but a "necessary evil" and well-modeled by the magic-user's poor combat skills.
#3 In older edition games (i.e. pre-1983, i.e. pre-any edition I enjoy playing), spell books are poorly defined/described, if at all (we'll leave aside the physical dimensions specified for AD&D in 1985's Unearthed Arcana tome). We know magic-users have spell books. We know that they study the books (in the morning) to regain their daily allotment of spells. We know it's one of the things that distinguish the magic-user from other classes (save, perhaps, the illusionist subclass). Most everything else about the spell book, however, is pretty much unknown and (thus) often ignored in actual play.
I think back to my own youth, hauling around my own "spell books:" the four or five AD&D hardcovers I used to create the "magic" of my own campaign. A backpack with 20-30 pounds of books was just how I rolled in those days...on foot, on bicycle, or on the bus. I would carry my books everywhere...certainly to my friends' houses, but also to school and back...never knew when one might have the time to do some quick reading (or even gaming). The city bus to my high school in downtown Seattle was a long one (including a transfer/wait in the University District)...close to two hours round trip every day...and I would spend most of it reading. Even when I stopped playing D&D proper, I was still carrying a ton of RPG books (in addition to school texts).
There would have been little room in my backpack for rations and rope, had I been an adventurer, let alone treasure.
Per OD&D, a magic-user has one spell book for each level of spells obtained...thus a 12th level wizard would have six books total. The DMG lists the encumbrance of a "book, large, metal-bound" as 200 coins (20#). In both OD&D and AD&D, a backpack has a capacity limit of 300 coins, meaning only one such book could be hauled at a time...and this is born out later in the UA's description of the "standard" spell book ("traveling" spell books, also described in UA, are a different matter, each having 6# of encumbrance and a quarter of the spell capacity of the sturdier "standard").
But does a spell book need to be this bulky and magnificent a tome? How about a diary or journal or a handful of scribbled notes. The kids and I were watching the still entertaining 1968 film Blackbeard's Ghost the other day, in which an 18th century witch's spell book is discovered: a small packet of pages rolled up and concealed in the handle of a bed warmer. Each spell has a small description of what it does, along with the incantation needed to pronounce it...what more does a spell-caster need, really? A normal (i.e. "untrained") person isn't going to know the gobbledy-gook words a wizard needs to say to bring a spell to life, and the wizard herself will need to study (and silently practice) the words many times before she can recite them from memory...probably a task that should be done daily, given the odd twisting of the tongue required (these spells aren't written in Greek or Latin).
Anyway, it doesn't really matter because (as I said) in actual play, the spell book concept is generally glossed over...at least until someone remembers the thing at a most inconvenient time. "Hey, wouldn't that subterranean river risk getting the pages of my spell book soaked?" or "Hey, does that dragon breath have a chance of destroying the contents of my backpack (including, like, ALL my magical knowledge)?" In a recent game, my son's magic-user was captured and thrown in a prison cell. While he was able to escape both the cell and the dungeon, he did so without his backpack of equipment...which we figured had been the place his spell book was stored. This ended up being a huge pain in the ass for the player (though it was eventually resolved).
Here's the thing: I realize the image of the wizard studying her ancient tomes is an iconic one. I realize the book-learning helps distinguish the character from other spell-casters, and that it is tied to intelligence (the ability score) in much the same way that prayerful meditation is tied to wisdom. But is it really worth the fuss? That is to say: if I said 'the spells you know are the spells you know' and allowed a wizard to cast each once daily without any spell book at all, would the character class suffer? Not even that: would actual play suffer? Would the game suffer, for me NOT making magic-users carry/own spell books and NOT making them study/memorize spells every morning (though still limiting them, mechanically, to the fire-and-forget Vancian style play we know and love)? Would it be weird to NOT distinguish magic-users from other spell casters by removing this anchor known as the spell book? Would it be bad?
All right...the kids are up (actually, they've been up for about 40 minutes...distracting me ever since), so I need to go cook some breakfast. More on this later.