Thursday, July 12, 2012

A New Spin on Magic: Pt 3

An excellent point was brought up in comments on Pt 1, concerning Scribes banking a bunch of scrolls, presumably during downtime. I have thought about it and have some ideas. I want to put them in a new post, though, so the ideas, and comments on them, have their own "home".

Under this idea scrolls are two things: not cheap, and fragile.

Ink is Not Cheap

Encoding scrolls requires special ink. This is an abstract concept, which individual referees may make as detailed as desired. I intend to keep it fairly abstract, as I present it here. It costs 100 gp per level of spell for the ink. Anytime a Scribe is in a town or larger, he may purchase ink simply by player declaration. The player notes how many gold pieces were spent on ink, and that is that. Of course, ink may also be found as treasure, which could be significant at lower levels or further from civilization.

Scrolls Are Fragile

Scrolls may be carried in reasonably durable containers, but they are bulky and make getting the desired scroll in play more difficult. At best, a container could provide a saving throw bonus to any scrolls in it, based on hazard. Unprotected scrolls would be subject to destruction from the most basic of hazards, especially water. Rain, creek/river crossings, or even water based attacks targetting the Scribe (they're not hard to spot) can ruin exposed scrolls. Of course, fire spells disaster for scrolls, as does acid, or anything with that form of attack, such as green slime.

Oops, I Meant to Grab the Other One

Finally, a large number of scrolls will make it increasingly difficult to grab just the right one. Of course, this being old-school play, clever players will describe in detail how the scrolls are tabbed and organized. Yet, in the heat of the moment there should always be some chance of grabbing the wrong scroll. I think that's how it should be handled, too. Not with some sort of fixed amount of time to fish it out, but with a chance to grab the desired scroll. That can then be modified by how they're carried and organized.

Limit the Number of Spells per Scroll

This would be based on level. Say, something like the maximum number of levels spells they can put on one scroll is equal to their level? That keeps the other limits above in play, but isn't too restrictive. Besides, with the fragility of the medium, would a Scribe put too many spells on one scroll anyway? All your eggs in one basket and all that.

These are just some ideas to offset players taking a week or so of game time to craft a library of spells. I'd like to hear others.

And Another Thing

In a similar vein, I think beginning Scribe characters should be allowed to start with one scroll of each spell they know.


  1. I think that requiring a substantial amount of money for each cast is going to be prohibitive. No other class needs to spend a few hundred gold per day just to do its basic function. Now of course everyone likes the "magic is rare and powerful" trope, though few systems really go there. I think it can work, but only if the caster has something else he can do. Given the total incompetence of D&D MU's at anything OTHER than casting spells its usually not happening.

    To combine your thoughts with mine on this, here's a suggestion: perhaps scrolls are basically temporary, but addition of a certain 'active ingredient' to the ink makes them last longer. (This could be as simple a thing as gold dust, or something more esoteric if you prefer.) A scroll written without it only lasts a day. A scroll written with 5gp/level of the ingredient lasts a week, etc. Perhaps 1000gp/level suffices to make it effectively a permanent item.

    1. I hadn't considered that point. You're right, of course. No other class has to pay-to-play. In the back of my mind I was considering the material expense to be rolled up in the gold-for-XP equation. However, at higher levels with increasing larger treasures, the cost factor would cease to be a balancing consideration anyway. So, that really doesn't work at all.

      I like the "active ingredient" idea in principle, but I am afraid it would cause more book keeping at the table. Asking players to track which scrolls were written with how much gold dust could become tedious. Then, I would need to "check their math" sometimes, if questions arose. I would have to determine the permanence of any purchased scrolls, and the relative costs.

      I want to stress that I like the idea, I'm just afraid the execution wouldn't work for me personally.

      The more I think about it, the more I think simple, logical, in-play controls are the way to go. Things along the lines of what I mentioned with environmental factors and so forth. They don't put an unnecessary monetary burden on the character, or an unnecessary book keeping burden on the player. I would never use such a thing arbitrarily, trying to screw a player who played smart and fairly managed to stockpile some extra scrolls. If I design things with an eye toward paying attention to detailing naturally occurring "scroll hazards", though, a natural balance should happen organically and as part of the unfolding campaign.

      Or maybe I'm full of shit.

  2. 1) Critical Mass. Since magic affects reality, too many spell levels in close proximity become unstable...

    2) Magic scrolls attract the Undead, since magic is the source of their existence it's food for them.

    3) Spell-eaters. Like rust monsters, but they feed on magic. If you didn't like #2.

    BTW-Gray text, highlighted with white on a charcoal background is impossible to read except at a very low angle.