This Blog 2019, Goals and Grommets

Inspired by the 2019 goals post over at Charles's Dragons Never Forget Blog, I figured I would do the same thing. 2018 right around ...

Thursday, March 26, 2015

I hate spell lists

Ok, I have to admit I feel a bit dirty typing this. I hate spell lists.
(A door slams violently as Otto leaves the room.)

Whopping huge lists of spells are sort of my great D&D buggaboo. I know lately I have picked on hit points allot, but honestly I have no real beef with hit points. I can look hit points in the eye and say, "Buddy no one understands you and you kind of  smell like old Doritos's but I still love ya" and be done with it.

Show me an endless list of  spells collected by "school" or in alphabetical order and I have no such  understanding. My eyes glaze over.

This cow is so much a baller.

Whats worse the  spells are one of the  great D&D unspoken sacred cows. DON'T MESS WITH THE SPELLS or for better or worse it's just not D&D any more.

I just grabbed my print version of OSRIC off the shelf the spells chapter runs from 35 to 120.

(book total is a hefty 396 pages I think that's around 21 percent of the book.)
Fifth edition Players book  has spells from page 207 to page 289. 
(That's 82 pages out of 320 pages or something like quarter of the book.)*

I know second edition is similar my point being that's about  a quarter of all  the pages in D&D players handbooks I don't really want to read.

I'm not going to suggest ripping all of the spells out of  your favorite game and rebuilding the  magic system. That would be fun, but not here.

What I think would be great, is to avoid the scenario of  the player finding a scroll of fire ball, reading it, scribbling it in a spell book and having the same damn fireball every other character and NPC has and has had since 1978. My goal as a game would be to see every player spell-caster having a suite of unique spells that are not found in that 20% of the player,s hand book.

What I am going to suggest is this. 

If your favorite game has rules for spell research, use them from the start with the players. 

Ask the  player what he or she wants the  spell caster to be able to do. Use the existing spells as guidelines, but allow the  descriptions of  what exactly the spells are and do come from the  players.

Always  ask:

  • What do you want the  spell to do?
  • What would it look like when you cast it?
  • How would you plan to use it?
The  players will hand the GM a new spell on a silver platter.

Sticking with  Fireball as a nice familiar example:
If he player says, " I want to research a spell that creates and explosion and  blows the living begee-buss out of everything in an area."

That's a fire ball. Sure.
But players rarely stop there, they come up with  crazy, amazing ideas that make a fire ball so much more than that.
  • What if the fire ball is a touch spell that effects every thing but the caster?
  • What if it leaves a camp fire behind?
  • The  fire is in the infra red spectrum so it's invisible to everyone but  those with infra-vision.
  • It's not fire it's an explosion of (could be a thousand things.) of Negative energy.
  • It's not physical damage it's and explosion of psychological energy that affects targets minds.
  • The explosion does not effect animals, only humanoids.
  • The  explosion does not effect inanimate objects.
  • The are of effect is the  size and  shape of a huge sword emanating form the caster.
  • The spell can only be cast onto an arrow fired by another.

As a GM that means having to let go, and say 'It's OK that the players have some strange spells."
remember it's OK because all this tinkering with spells opens up other opportunities for the GM.
Spell research set the  players up for having to go find rare components. A PC wizard with interesting or powerful custom spells is sure to attract attention having other wizards who may covet their spells. A thief might be sent to steal lab notes or worse yet a spell book, things could get chippy among the  wizards of the old order. Spell research  eats gold and  keeps the spell caster needing an income. The  fodder for n industrious GM is almost endless.  Lastly if the GM gives the players an opportunity to research custom spells from early on, logically the players can assume their opponents will have custom spells of their own. This blasts the  doors down  concerning what the GM can spring on the  players. If you can think it, the enemy might cast it. Then it might be the  player coveting someone else's spell book.The player having access to a web spell that explodes into searing rainbows after a number of rounds equal to their level is a small price to pay for so many adventure opportunities.

Think about using  custom magic and the rules the game you choose to play  offers for creating spells right form the start ad see where things go from there.
It has to be better than one more magic missile?**

Thank you for reading, please scribe your comments in the spell book below.


Another post on the same subject from "Froths of DnD"

This post From "Don't split the  Party"  Was HUGELY influential in forming the thoughts that went into this post. While It's not exactly the same thing, but it got me thinking about spells differently and that's whats important. A big thank you goes out to  Google Plus's own +Heiko Wiebe for pointing me back to that post, after I looked for it all afternoon yesterday.

*DCC Classics has  Spells form lie 127 to page 301, but honestly it's all so amazing and includes things like "The caster turns a small geographic region to stone" that I honestly can't even call it a spell list in the traditional sense.

** Our group has a long standing  tradition of letting the  caster choose what their magic missiles look like. We have had everything from  flaming skulls, to arrows, to most recently  pine cones.

*** Joseph Wright - Alchemist

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