Spell Research

An alternative system for creating new spells

The process of researching spells is the process of creating new spells from scratch. For all spell-casters, it’s the only way to customise magic. For any DM, it’s the most creative method of introducing new spells into the campaign.

Spell Research Basics

When a player has an idea for a new spell, it should be introduced by his PC as the product of spell research. For clerics, successful spell research involves communing with their deity and then performing an appropriate service. For magic-users, spell research is more “scientific”: diligent experimentation with arcane ingredients, ancient lore, and long-forgotten secrets.

Before commencing research efforts, the player needs to explain the spell to the DM: what it does, how much damage it inflicts, how long it lasts, the spell’s range and area-of-effect, and, perhaps most importantly, the spell’s level. If the DM approves, the PC may begin spell research. If the DM does not approve, he is free to modify whatever aspect of the spell doesn’t fit. The DM and the player should make every effort to work together in this respect: after all, the spell may belong to the player, but it’s going to be used in the DM’s campaign.Regardless of what sort of spell is researched, there are two phases to the process. During the first phase of research, the spell-caster discovers how to create the new spell. For clerics, this information is revealed through divine communion; for magic-users, this is determined through research and experimentation. During the second phase, the caster actually puts into practice the instructions he’s discovered.

Clerical Spell Research

Clerics may research their own spell prayers as soon as they are able to cast spells (i.e., 2nd-level, according to the OD&D rules). Before beginning research, the cleric must gain the permission of his elders. This is because neophyte clerics (read: those below name level) are expected to tend to the daily activities of the church: spreading the faith, conducting regular ceremonies, learning the holy scriptures, polishing the alter service, etc. Spell-casting is a divine privilege and likely represents the closest contact the cleric will have with his deity during his mortal life. It is remote possibility that low-level clerics will be permitted to engage in such a lofty pursuit as spell research.

When permission is granted, the church elders will instruct the cleric to perform some sort of communion with his deity, who, in turn, will reveal to him the instructions required to obtain the new spell prayer. Naturally, the mode of communion varies from immortal to immortal: fasting, meditation, seclusion, and sacrifice are all possibilities. Regardless, the communal period takes one day per level of the new spell. At the end of communion, the cleric must make a spell check roll; if successful, the cleric has received and understood the divine instructions. If the roll fails, it means that either the cleric did not receive the instructions, or that the deity chose not to reveal them. In either case, the cleric must roll on the Spell Failure table and may not try again until gaining another experience level. At the DM’s option, the spell check roll may be modified by the cleric’s degree of piety and devotion—for good or ill.

Only after following the deity’s instructions will the new spell be revealed to the cleric. Typically, following the instructions is tantamount to pursuing some sort of quest or pilgrimage, or performing some divine service. In planning this quest, the DM may use two rules of thumb: first, the instructions should consist of at least one step for each level of the new spell; second, from start to finish, the quest should consume no less than one month of game time per spell level. Whilst questing, the cleric may not deviate from the path set before him by his deity. The cleric may have to adhere to other restrictions as well—not using a mount until the quest is complete, for example—at the option of the DM. It need not be mentioned that such quests provide excellent adventuring opportunities for the cleric and his fellows.

When the quest or service is completed successfully, the new spell is revealed to the cleric, who may add it to his lectionary (his church will naturally expect to add it to their catechism, as well). Regardless of what happens during the quest, the DM is the final arbiter of its outcome. In this respect, the DM is urged to exercise common sense above all—if the cleric’s party worked hard and co-operated to complete the quest, it probably deserves to be rewarded. Conversely, the deity will probably withold the spell if the quest wasn’t taken seriously, if many of the individual steps failed, or if the cleric’s party significantly deviated from its mission’s path. As always, it is up to the DM to do the right thing by rewarding good play.

Magical Spell Research

Magical spell research is far more “scientific” than its clerical counterpart and may be conducted by a magic-user as soon as he has access to a properly equipped and well-stocked laboratory, as well as reference materials. For a magic-user, spell research is a process by which fundamental arcane energies are blended with mundane elements—materials, spoken words, and gestures—in just the right proportions to create magic force. Unlike a cleric’s service and devotion to his deity, a magic-user’s research is often just a matter of proper ingredients, time, and money.

Magical spell research begins with the magic-user’s access to ancient lore and arcane references. Old tomes, dusty grimoires, forgotten histories, unreadable sigils and glyphs, and incredible legends are the meat of a magic-user’s initial research, for these resources contain the instructions the magic-user needs to create his new spell. A magic-user’s initial research costs 10 – 100gp per day of research; this money is used for travel expenses, access to reference material, translations, personal expenses, the occasional bribe to a librarian, etc. The total research cost is determined in secret by the DM; we suggest a base 20 – 400gp per level of the new spell. When the magic-user finally spends enough money to meet or exceed the base cost as determined by the DM, the wizard’s initial research is complete (note then, that the total number of days required to conduct initial research is unknown).

The culmination of the initial research period is a list of ingredients required for the new spell. There should be at least one ingredient per level, and, as suggested in RC/250, each should be rare and exotic. By rule of thumb, no more than 50% of the ingredients will be readily available (for a price of 100 – 1000gp each); the remaining ingredients must be acquired through special means (read: adventures). After all the ingredients are secured, proper experimentation may commence. While experimenting, the caster cannot engage in any activity save for the minimal tasks required for daily existence (eating, washing, sleeping, going to the library, buying research supplies). If the caster is seriously interrupted before the research is complete, the effort spent is ruined and the process must begin anew. The DM must decide what constitutes “serious interruption,” but some suggestions are: any adventuring, fighting, exploring, et. al. A good rule of thumb is any physical activity that takes more than a half-day to complete (excluding a good night’s sleep) is probably a “serious interruption.”

The experimentation period should consume no less than one game month per level of the new spell, during which time the stock of necessary ingredients will be depleted. At the end of this time frame, the magic-user may make a spell check roll. If the roll is successful, the new spell is complete and behaves as expected; it may be added to the wizard’s grimoire. If the spell check roll fails, the research is flawed and the mage must roll on the Spell Failure table. The research process can be repeated, but it must begin from the absolute beginning.

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Erin Smale

Erin Smale is the author of the Chimera RPG and WelshPiper.com, a sporadic, rambling blog that provides tips and tools for the time-challenged game master. He lives in secret along the New Jersey coast with his ass-kicking wife Kim and astoundingly cute dog Bella.

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