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.

4 Responses to “retroactive impro spells”

  1. 1 tavisallison
    October 7, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    I like this idea & it’d be great for a one-shot but in a campaign, if this were the only way magic-users cast spells I worry that it’d create either creative fatigue or the need to develop standardization guidelines to regulate the decisions about “what spell level is this?” that would tend to make the spells not as magical any more.

    I think it’d make a great magic item, though; a Book of Prescient Spells, prepared at the beginning of this age of creation by astrologers who could see who would be using it in the future and what spells they’d need. That way the DM could use it for foreshadowing (why is there a spell that turns you into green slime for 1d6 turns?), the player could use it for improv, and it could co-exist with the standard magic-use framework.

  2. October 7, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    Yeah, I wasn’t proposing it for a campaign or anything. Just for a one-shot, and then you’d have a whole bunch of new player-created spells to feature in the regular campaign.

    Tavis, you should totally work the Book of Prescient Spells into a post, or a Fight On! submission, or something like that. It’s an awesome magical item–possibly even an artifact. I may have just discovered Arnold’s quest/carousal objective!

  3. 3 tavisallison
    October 7, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    I’ve already got my FO! submission for this go-round, and I think you have a better handle on the Prescient mechanics anyway – go thou forth and write it up! (That could be the second published magic item associated with Zolobachai…)

  4. 4 Greg
    October 7, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    Really cool idea!

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Past Adventures of the Mule

October 2009

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