Wednesday, January 4, 2012

B/X - New Magic House Rule

Sorry man, this is all I memorized today!
 One of the things that I don't like about the spell system in B/X (or any of the old D&D versions) is that certain spells are very unlikely to ever be used.  You know the ones.  Some good first level examples are Hold Portal, Floating Disc, and Ventriloquism.  The reason for this, of course, is that when a player chooses his spells for the day, he is almost always going to take things like Sleep, Magic Missile, or Charm Person - which are much more LIKELY to be useful.

Granted, a player might find a useful reason in the dungeon to need a Floating Disc.  In this case, he could go back to camp, sleep, and come back the next day with just that spell.  But by then the opportunity may be gone.  And it's not all that exciting and spontaneous.

So I was trying to construct a house rule which would allow players access to all spells (assuming they are high enough level to cast them), but at the price of having a chance of failure.  That way, when that odd opportunity comes up to cast Ventriloquism you can dramatically try to wrest it from your memory and cast it at just the right time.

So here is the rule.  As usual, feel free to suggest areas for improvement.

Magic Users and Elves no longer have to select their spells at the beginning of each day and no longer require spell books.  Instead, they have access to all level-allowable MU spells from the list of spells.  However, any time they wish to cast a spell, they must roll at or under their INT score on a d20.  If they succeed, they can cast the spell.  If they fail, they cannot pull the spell from their memory and that particular spell can’t be cast that day.  In such a case, the MU/Elf can’t take any other action that round.  However, they can still attempt a different spell in a later round or encounter – just not the same spell that has already failed in any given day.  If a spell is successfully cast once in a day, it can be cast again (assuming a spell slot is available) without rolling.  In no cases can an Elf or MU successfully cast more spells by level in a given day than the number allotted in the “Spells by Level” tables.  Thus, a 3rd level MU (Conjuror) could cast no more than two 1st level spells and one 2nd level spell per day.


  1. I would add maximum cartable spell level less the spell level being cast as a modifier to the effective Intelligence score.

    So, maximum spell level is 3rd level / casting a first level spell, INT is effectively 2 points higher

    Maximum spell level is 1st / casting a 1st level spell, no INT modifier.

    It makes lower level spell slightly easier to cast at higher level.

    I like the mechanic tho. Pretty cool. Might lift this myself for the Bard I'm working on LotFP's Weird Fantasy ;)

  2. Erik - That's a good addition to the rule. I think I'll modify my rule to include that.

    I'm looking forward to seeing more of the Bard writeup, although I don't own LOTFP so I'm not "getting" all of it.

  3. We ran into this problem too. The whole, "Well, I guess I'll just sleep and memorize the utility spell I need tomorrow" thing is just lame, you're right.

    What we did is implement a kind of ritual spell casting, a la Rob Conley's ideas in his awesome Majestic Wilderlands book (which I think actually derive from D&D4E, strangely enough). Basically, ritual spell casting allows a caster to turn the spell energy he has gathered for a memorized spell into another spell.

    The catch is that this process takes a full turn, so it can't be used on the fly. But neither does it require going back to camp and sleeping. And casters can still memorize the stuff they think they'll need in a pinch. So far it's worked out great.

  4. Bevisiscariot - that sounds pretty cool. What is this Majestic Wilderlands? Thanks for stopping in!

  5. The Majestic Wilderlands is Conley's take on the old Judges Guild Wilderlands of High Fantasy setting. It's written for use with Swords & Wizardry, a clone of OD&D, but it could easily be used with B/X or AD&D. James over at Grognardia did a review of it here: - although, characteristically, he disliked the bit about ritual spell casting, for reasons he outlines in the review.

  6. A free (no art) version of LotFP is available for download HERE

    I don't think that an ELf/MU should have automatic access to all spells of a given level. Such a character should still have to go through the process of learning a spell before being able to cast it.

  7. @ Bevisiscariot - thanks for the information.

    @ Perdustin - thanks. I just downloaded it. These free downloads are very helpful because if you love the book you can then turn around and buy them in all their glory.

    Your comment is a good one. For AD&D, I certainly see your point. After all, a MU should be able to build up a pretty good spell book over time (since they can be copied from scrolls, and because they can have a lot of spells in their book).

    For BX, it gets a bit more troublesome. For one thing (and I may write about this at some point), I don't think BX has any provision for copying scrolls into spell books - none! So in BX you can only use scrolls for casting from the scroll - not for copying into a spell book. Also, in BX you're only allowed to have the number of spells in your spell book that you can cast daily. E.g., a 5th level Elf in BX can cast 2-2-1 per day. Which means his entire spell book at 5th level can only have 2-2-1 in it. (See page X-11 of Expert book)

    If anyone has language in BX that is contrary to that, please let me know. But if that holds true, then an Elf or MU is NEVER going to take the more utility-like spells. After all, as a 5th level Elf if you can only cast 2-2-1, you're not going to blow your 2 1st level spells on anything but Sleep and Magic Missile.

    So I wanted ways to add more variety into BX spellcasters.

  8. I see where B/X is coming from regarding simplicity of spell acquisition, especially for players who like immediate rewards. However, accumulating new spells is such a good motivation for adventuring, I think it's a shame to waste it. Jeffro had a great idea along these lines (see HERE) where all spells must be found as scrolls in game (reading your other post about scrolls, I realize this means you need to house-rule scroll-copying rules). This also means that players don't need to be familiar with the spell list, and allows new spells to retain some mystery.

    I do actually like the resource management and planning aspect of preparing spells, but I agree that some spells see less use because of this.

    Here's another take on spontaneous casting:

    Magic-users may prepare spells as normal and cast them reliably. They may also attempt to improvise any spell that is in their spell book (i.e., that they have significant experience with). Casting time is standard, but the magic-user must roll a d6. If they roll equal to, or less than, their level, the spell is thrown as expected (though a 6 always means failure). If a 6 is rolled (even for a sixth or higher level magic-user), a save versus spells must be made, failure indicating that the spell backfires and causes some inconvenience or damage to the magic-user (by referee ruling). Each time this is done per day, the danger threshold for making a save decreases by one (e.g., the third spontaneous spell cast in one day would have a 3 in 6 chance of requiring a save to prevent backfire).

    I don't like tying these sorts of mechanics to ability scores, because it is my mission in life to de-emphasize ability scores. :-) Hence the d6 roll tied to level.

  9. I like a combination of the rules suggested:

    1) A spell not memorized the day before takes an extra turn to cast.

    2) Roll intelligence, modified by level of spell to be cast.

    I've been thinking a lot about spell casting lately, particularly about Clerics and their spells.

  10. Brendan - I agree that the resource management aspect is fun. So in my house rule, that would certainly be lessened. I think what you propose is also a good alternative.

    Why are you deemphasizing ability scores? Out of curiousity, which version do you prefer of D&D? Obviously, OD&D and Holmes don't emphasize ability scores much. B/X and AD&D place tremendous emphasis. Just curious.

    In your suggestion, what happens if a 2nd level MU tries to cast a spell he hasn't memorized? Is it like this:
    *If he rolls a 1-2, no problem - spell is cast
    *If he rolls a 3-5, the spell isn't cast
    *If he rolls a 6, there is a problem
    If a spell isn't able to be cast, is his "slot" wasted for the day?

  11. Niccodaemus - good idea. So that brings in the resource management side (longer casting time for spells you don't memorize), along with a chance of failure with the intelligence roll.

    I'm off to my son's rugby game, but I'll read your post a bit later about Clerics.