Archive for October 4th, 2009


retroactive impro spells

A thought experiment:

  1. Make a high-level Magic-User.
  2. Don’t pick any spells yet.
  3. When you encounter some setback in the game, declare that your high-level character had spent months painstakingly researching a spell just for this occasion.
  4. On the spot, invent the ideal spell.  This is pretty easy in Basic D&D: figure out the range (typically 60, 120, or 240 feet, or personal), the duration (usually 1 turn/level, 3 turns, or 6 turns), and the effect.
  5. The Dungeon Master then determines the spell’s level, whether it requires a save, etc.
  6. The spell “just happens” to have been in your load-out for this adventure.
  7. Give the spell an outlandish name.  Chris Pound, as usual, has suggestions.

Once you’ve filled up all your slots on a particular magnitude of spells, guess what?  Any spell which would be of that magnitude, is now one magnitude less.  So: if you used up all your third magnitude slots already, and come to a conundrum that really needs a third magnitude spell to solve – guess what?  you only have a second magnitude almost-but-not-quite-good-enough solution.  The Dungeon Master is encouraged to reduce the spell’s magnitude by introducing an unwelcome complication rather than simply reducing the range or duration.  You could, of course, avoid this complication by starting over with a higher magnitude spell, but it would occupies a more valuable slot which you might need later on when things really get ugly.

There seem to be few real-life examples of players actually researching new spells in Dungeons & Dragons, even though it’s been part of the rules since the dawn of time.  This seems like a particulary fun way to go about it, and might make for a very entertaining 1:1 adventure.  Given that Jack Vance’s Dying Earth characters always happened to have a contrived spell that was perfectly suited to any occasion (until late in the story when nothing seems to go quite as planned), this might be a way to mimic that effect.


sometimes the bar eats you

Things didn’t go as planned.

My character, Arnold Littleworth, survived the adventure, but I had to leave the session at the 4 hour mark, by which time we hadn’t even made it to the dungeon.  Don’t get me wrong, some fun stuff happened!  A high-level Wizard and her companions were sent to assassinate us (we negotiated our way out of trouble), we discovered the Thieves Guild had sabotaged our headquarters (and like half the buildings in town), and we cast limited wish to complete Adrian’s quest (restore his memories).  But no gold, and no experience points.

But the depressing thing is that my worst fears were realized: I had missed too much time, and was basically a tourist in an intricate adventure story.  I didn’t understand most of what was happening in the dungeon, the political shenanigans were opaque to me, and because I hadn’t helped recover the limited wish scroll I didn’t get a vote in how to use it.  (Not that I blame them!  This is a symptom, not a cause.)  I’m a short-timer, and therefore a second class citizen.

A new player joined our group today, and it’s interesting to compare experiences.  I think Lisa, playing the Lydio the Amazing Spider-Dwarf, was every bit as confused as I was.  But she also seemed pretty excited and intrigued.  I wonder if that’s because this was the excitement of learning more about a strange new environment, versus my sadness at learning less.  She’s got something to look forward to.  Whereas I’ll probably continue to miss more and more hours of play (I already know I can’t make the next game), and a campaign that I had once knew fairly well will become increasingly remote.  It’s like a gamer version of Flowers for Algernon.

Anyway, it’s something to think about as I reevaluate my relationship with the hobby.

None of this is a reflection on Tavis’s GM style, which is uniformly excellent.  Nor is it a reflection on the other players, who are a lot of fun.  (Chris, I want to see that picture of the sad-eyed griffon-puppy.  And it was nice to meet you, Nils and Lisa!)  Everyone else at the table was having a pretty good time.  But it kind of felt like going over to your friend’s house to watch him play video games.  It’s fun to hang out, but that’s a different kind of fun than being able to collaborate creatively with your peers.

Past Adventures of the Mule

October 2009

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