Friday, April 13, 2012

Men and Magic Examination Pt 3

I've started giving the spells a new, thorough, read-through. Of course, the first thing that struck me was the brevity. The spell descriptions are brief to the point of being terse. Some spells probably need some clarification, but the nature and wording will be specific to the group and campaign. Not so much house rules, more like clarifications, like in the DMG.

For example, Charm Person jumped out at me right away. Its duration is "Until Dispelled", and it can be used to lure NPCs into the caster's service. Obviously, the subject of the charm won't seek dispelling. It would potentially be somewhat contrived to have another NPC realize the situation and arrange for a dispelling. So, it is conceivable that a Magic-User could have an entourage of free, charmed help following him around. I will clarify Charm Person as follows, should I run an OD&D game:
  • A Magic-User may have no more persons in thrall than his level plus his Loyalty Base (from Charisma, Men and Magic, pg11);
  • The caster may not release a charmed person at will. The spell must be dispelled.
That seems to me to be logical, simple, and effective, without being too restrictive or heavy-handed. Once I have all my spell clarifications worked up, I'll post them, for those interested.

Here is something very interesting
On page 19, it states:
Spells & Levels: The number above each column is the spell level (complexity, a somewhat subjective determination on the part of your authors). The number in each column opposite each applicable character indicates the number of spells of each level that can be used (remembered during any single adventure) by that character. Spells are listed and explained later. A spell used once may not be reused in the same day.  (Emphasis mine)

I know a strict interpretation of this would not be popular. Memorizing a spell more than once so it can be used more than once is a staple of D&D. But was it always? I can't say. I definitely played back in the day, using the LBBs, but I never played a Magic-User back then. I know that when I saw someone else memorizing the same spell more than once it seemed like a revelation to me, because I'd never considered it.

Think about a strict interpretation for a minute, though. I like it, and here's why.
  • It makes Magic-Users more interesting. M-U's should be masters of a mysterious power. They should be able to perform a variety of tasks and feats using their magic. A Magic-User that uses all his available spells to memorize Charm Person is pretty two dimensional. 
  • From a Vancian magic standpoint, it makes sense. Jeff Reints posted a couple of excerpts from Mr. Vance on his blog (read it here). These serve to really illustrate just what Vancian magic means (hint: it does not mean Fire-and-Forget). Judging from the picture of magic painted by those excerpts, I can't imagine having two (or more!) of a single spell trapped in my head. In a way, it seems to me that it would be twice as difficult to retain them, almost like they could gang up on your mind. Of course, there is nothing mechanical to support that, it is purely role play. Which is the name of the game, after all.
Read Magic
Read Magic is a strange beast, to me. It is hand-waved in virtually every set of house rules known. It basically has to be, right? How is a Magic-User supposed to read his spell book if he can't cast it? Yet, its use is deemed mandatory in the LBBs.

I have given this a lot of thought, because I don't want to just gloss over the LBBs. The whole purpose of this exercise is to re-learn D&D from the floor up, and in so doing gain a deeper appreciation for it. I can't do that if I arbitrarily declare that something simply makes no sense, and ignore it. I will be much better served by trying to understand how it fits and how it is meant to be used, rather than just calling it antiquated and moving on.

So, in that spirit, I must say that I think it is the wording that's the problem. Rather than Read Magic, I believe it should be called Master Magic. A look at the spell's description will help understand why I say this:
Read Magic: The means by which the incantations on an item or scroll are read. Without such a spell or similar device magic is unintelligible to even a Magic-User. The spell is of short duration (one or two readings being the usual limit). Men and Magic, pg 24
 Items and scrolls. For items, it simply reveals the command word, or may be construed to reveal the function of the item. Scrolls contain spells, not merely spell-like effects. Spells in the Vancian sense are essentially alive, chaotic beings of magical energy. They are not merely words anymore than the scales and fangs are the snake.

The way I see it, with a scroll, the spell is being pressed into the parchment rather than the caster's mind. The spell is seething and writhing on the scroll just as it does in a caster's mind. When cast from memory, the caster has already mastered the spell and bent it to his will, which is why there is no casting roll. When cast from a scroll, the spell is almost ballistic, kind of point-and-shoot. There's still no casting roll, of course, but it does need to be commanded from the scroll and given purpose. Read Magic is the spell for that. Considering my interpretation of the role play involved, though, I do believe Master Magic is a more apt term.

Obviously, this isn't the only way to interpret Read Magic. I was just looking for a reason to include it, along with a way to justify it through role play, since it seems so important.


  1. I would rule that read magic is not required for a character's personal spell book (which was personally created), since the description of read magic only specified items and scrolls. (That is also consistent with the later AD&D clarification and seems to fit here too.)

    I do think it would be interesting to really enforce the need to use read magic to use scrolls created by other characters. The AD&D version requires read magic to be use to initially decipher a scroll, but only needs to be done once any time prior to using the scroll (meaning that practically speaking it always happens off camera during downtime). Maybe read magic needs to be memorized and cast when the scroll is actually being discharged.

    I also like the interpretation of using read magic as a kind of identify spell for some items.

  2. After reading your comments and re-reading my post, I realized a couple of things. First, that I wasn't paying very close attention. Read Magic is indeed intended for scrolls and item inscriptions only, NOT for the caster's own spellbooks. Secondly, I didn't communicate my points very clearly. I was trying to say pretty much what you did, Brendan, and that is that Read magic only need be cast on a scroll once, at the initial reading. I would also require it to be used when working with a spellbook written by another Magic-User.

    Also, I was thinking about something else. Considering the nature of Vancian magic, it seems appropriate that there be a Write Magic spell as well. Perhaps more properly termed "Embed/Impress Magic". It would be necessary to create scrolls, transcribe spells, or create items with command words.