Sunday, January 25, 2015

Spell Lists

So, I'm thinking. We have colleges of magic that provide a handy way to "channel" magic users onto a particular path to power. We have clerical domains which define a cleric's deific proclivities. Didn't spell lists do that back in the misty ages of yore? At least sort of.

Look at the Illusionist. I'm too lazy to go rooting about for more examples. If you read this blog, you already know. You may not agree with my assumptions, but you know that there are a multitude of unique spell lists fine-tuned for specific classes. I believe that spell lists were an early effort to "univeralize" at least one aspect of AD&D. Second edition took the colleges of magic established in 1st edition and used them as a tool for defining "subclasses" of magic users. It extended the concept to clerics with the notion of Domains.

Now, I want to make clear: I think it was a good direction. Unfortunately, the more one-size-fits-all a thing gets, the more likely it is to not fit quite right. There may be a certain group of spells that a class should be able to cast, but they belong in a category with spells that have no place in the class concept. Perhaps you want a class to have limited spell casting, not just categorically, but in absolute variety, as well. That is where individualized spell lists come in.

With individualized spell lists running hither and yon throughout a campaign, the question becomes "Can my magic user learn/use spells from a subclass' spell list?" My personal answer to that is "Sort of". My ruling would be that a character could learn from another's spell list if it is of a compatible type of casting, clerical or arcane. If that condition is met, then the character has to research the spell, essentially converting the spell into a format they can utilize. The character would receive a bonus to his research attempt should he have access to a spell book containing the spell, or expert instruction from a caster who knows the spell.

I'm thinking more and more about implementing limited spell lists for certain classes, or ones less limited but still unique, a la the illusionist. I'm not dead set against rangers or paladins having some spell-like abilities, I just feel more comfortable with the idea that they have a much narrower selection. In my mind it makes it easier to view them more as magical abilities, rather than spells. I hate to paint it this way, but I will: they are like Daily Powers. There, I said it.


  1. "Daily Powers?!? In the name of Gygax, I rebuke you!" (j/k). The way I did that in my campaign is to divide the magic-user into general subclasses, like Sorcerer and Astrologer. Then I would say they have access to the whole M-U spell list, but the first spells they take each level must be of a certain type (information/divination type spells for the Astrologer, for example). And, of course, the player must come up with general special effects for his spells (a Necromancer might shoot a black ray for Magic Missile). That way you have distinct flavors without sacrificing playability. Making a mage a "specialist" in 2nd Ed tended to pretty much make a character next to useless.

  2. I am trying to do this for a B/X campaign (as opposed to one-shot) game. Wizards would learn what their masters know (or think appropriate), priests learn what their superiors know (or think appropriate). Since you cannot copy spells from scrolls ("strict reading of B/X") the only other option a player has is spell research or finding another teacher/master. Of course it's generally frowned upon to go "outside the hierarchy" of whatever "organization" a character is part of. I think this makes for a much more interesting dynamic than the usual "chaotic set of spells I happened to find in various hoards along the way" wizard. So yeah, total +1 from me. :-)

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