Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Spell Research

Ripper X's remarks on spell research on my recent Vancian Magic post got me looking through the different versions of the game (those that are on my shelf, anyway) to see how spell research worked. I was actually surprised to find that both Cyclopedic D&D and AD&D1 allow for spell research, but the way they go about it demonstrates two different philosophies:

-In Cyclopedic D&D, a magic-user's base chance of success is based on his Intelligence plus experience level, doubled, minus the spell level, multiplied by a different number depending on whether he's trying to research a "commonly known" spell (one that's in the rule book) or devise a new spell entirely. (It is easier, though only slightly so, to research a commonly known spell.) The magic-users pays a boatload of gold, puts in a certain amount of time, and makes his roll.

-In AD&D 1, the base chance of research is 10%, plus the magic-user's Intelligence and experience level, minus the spell level doubled. However, the magic-user can increase the base chance by 10% by doubling the gold spent on research.

In Cyclopedic, your ability to research spells is based entirely on your capabilities as a magic-user; a level 10 magic-user with 15 Int is going to be inferior to a level 10 magic user with 18 Intelligence, assuming they are working on the same spell. (For that matter, an 8th level magic-user with 18 Intelligence is going to have an advantage over his 10/15 peer, though the latter can research spells of a higher level)

In AD&D1, a wealthy mage can outdo a capable mage. If you have enough money to throw at the research, you can continue to push your base chance of success up. A mage with lots of money to spend can actually have a higher percentage chance than a mage who is more powerful or intelligent.

I think the two systems imply different things about magic: in Cyclopedic, the answer may or may not be there. I believe you are allowed to start the research anew if you fail, but if your percentage is low enough, it could take more time and money than an adventuring magic-user has. The solution may be beyond your grasp until you advance yourself a as a magic-user.
...in AD&D, on the other hand, the answer is there as long as you can fund the research. (Theoretically you could push the base chance past 90% if you had enough gold)

I am by no means complaining about these systems; they fit right in with my interpretation of Vancian magic being something that the mortal mind just isn't very good at. Even when a magic-user is high enough level to build a tower and attract apprentices, (Name Level) he only has a 49% chance to devise a new spell of the very first level...only 29% likely to research a spell of the fourth level. (Again, I'm assuming an 18 Intelligence here)

I think I might sprinkle some treasure troves with custom researched spells. Imagine how much money such a thing is worth? How much money went into the research? Would the magic-user hoard the secret, or try to use it to barter with other magic-users?

I used to favor spell point systems, but Vancian magic continues to grow on me as time goes on. I used to think spell point systems were more logical, but I see now it is just a different sort of logic.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post.

    A bit of 1e mixed in with Cyclopaedia's level-based approach sounds just right for this bear.

    Thanks. :)

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