Monday, October 18, 2010

Gaining Mastery

Is everybody sick of reading about spell mastery yet?

Too bad.

Here's the first draft of my spell mastery house rules. They're a bit clunky, and I'm open to suggestions on how they might be improved. Here goes:

Magic-users can achieve spell mastery. Any spell memorized by a magic-user can be replaced at will by a mastered spell of the same level or lower.

Magic-users who wish to master a spell must first find a mentor. Mentors are hidden mysterious beings - ancient, inhuman, possessed of alien intellects and appetites - that seek to advance their own goals, which most mortals find inscrutable. (None are of lawful or chaotic alignment.) Those that dwell in the material world are invariably found in inhospitable, near-inaccessible locales. Others must be entreatied in the otherworldly realms where they reside, be they nightmarish hells of impossible angles or gauzy opiate dreamlands. Though no two mentors are the same, they are universally temperamental and notoriously difficult to approach, each one first requiring a particular set of cryptic gestures, obscure passwords, outre offerings, etc. before any requests are entertained.

Furthermore, no mentor knows all of the spells in existence. (For example, Three-Headed Oul-Balam grants mastery in spells dealing with visual illusion and invisibility, while Glatth, Eater of Doves gives instruction in spells of travel, movement, and teleportation.) To research the means of finding a mentor capable of teaching mastery in a specific spell requires a significant investment of time and money.

The first time a magic-user attempts to find such a mentor, he must first invest 1500gp per spell level and one week per spell level desired, then roll under or equal to his Intelligence score on 4d6. Subsequent visits to a mentor who the magic-user has previously contacted cost 750gp per spell level, and the Intelligence check is made on 3d6. If the Intelligence check fails, the money and time are lost, and the magic-user must start again. If the Intelligence check is made, the magic-user has successfully contacted the mentor, and the chart below is consulted.

(The money and time represent mystical research of the proper etiquette, the purchase of the required offerings, and either an expedition to whatever inhospitable place the mentor inhabits, or the rituals - magical, drug-induced or otherwise - necessary to visit an otherworldly one. At the Labyrinth Lord's option, the costs in time and money may be waived if the magic-user and his PC companions agree to undertake an adventure in search of a hidden mentor.)

Spell Mastery Attempt Table (2d8) For a particular mentor, each roll below 12 provides a cumulative +1 modifier to future rolls on the table, until the result is 12 or higher. Once a result of 12 or higher is rolled, the modifier is reset.

2-3 What is the meaning of this? PC has offended the mentor somehow. Roll on the Spell Mastery Mishap Table below.

4-5 This should suffice. Mentor teaches PC a new spell of the Labyrinth Lord's choice. New spell is of the level in which mastery was desired, but is not mastered.

6-8 Is this what you seek? Mentor grants mastery in one spell currently known to the PC, but not the one the PC wanted (Labyrinth Lord's choice). If none of the PC's spells are those in which the mentor can teach mastery, see "This should suffice", above.

9-11 What have you done for me lately? Will grant mastery in exchange for a favor from the PC. Roll 1d6: (1-2) valuables (3-4) magic (5-6) mission. (The Labyrinth Lord should make the cost proportionate to the spell's power.) If the PC is unwilling or unable to pay the price, see "Get thee gone" on the Spell Mastery Mishap Table for consequences.

12-14 Very well; I shall show you the way. Mentor grants mastery in one spell of the PC's choosing.

15-16 You have long been a favorite of mine. Mentor grants mastery in two spells of the PC's choosing, and marks the PC physically in some fashion. (The Labyrinth Lord should devise a physical change that relates thematically to the mentor.)

Spell Mastery Mishap Table (2d6)

2 This I command. Mentor places a quest or geas spell on PC (no saving throw). Even if the mission is carried out successfully, mentor will not grant mastery.

3-5 The stars are wrong. Mentor refuses to grant PC audience. PC can try again in 1d8 weeks.

6-8 Get thee gone. Mentor ejects PC from premises and will provide no aid for 2d4 months.

9-11 Darken my door no more. Mentor casts PC out, will never be found by PC again.

12 I must despise you now. Mentor casts bestow curse on PC (no saving throw) and drives the character out, never to be found by PC again.

(These tables are based in part on Jeff Rients' "Suffer Fools Gladly" table in Fight On! #3.)


  1. Neato, though I wonder if the price is a bit steep especially when you factor in having to find the Red Eyed Demon of the Swamp to teach you Sleep.

    Still, nice work.

  2. Evan: Originally the costs were 1000gp/spell level for "first contact" and 500gp/spell level for subsequent visits. This is the part of these rules I'm least confident about, and I'm looking for people who have more basic D&D/Labyrinth Lord experience than I do to tell me if I'm way off.

    Just in case it wasn't clear from the writeup, you don't have the find the Red-Eyed Demon of the Swamp to teach you Sleep. You can learn spells in the normal fashion detailed in the rulebooks. But if you want to master Sleep (i.e. be able to cast it spontaneously), then yeah, you'll have to find the Red-Eyed Demon of the Swamp, and that's where these tables come into play.

  3. Looks cool, you should totally let clerics do this too, that would be AWESOME.

    The price point seems generally ok to me, and will take on more meaning once you lock in your economy. A few key thoughts:

    - Can "carousing" expenditure be applied against the research/outreach?
    - Do you need all the cash at once, or can you make installments (caroused or spent freely)
    - I assume you'll balance this vs your normal spell research/scribing rules.

    I wonder if you'll see an emergent behavior where different subclasses of magic users develop based on their spell accumulation/spending processes; A player who dedicates her coin to scribing scrolls, rather than gaining mastery will play very differently from a player who focuses deeply into mastery.

    I really like the idea that at higher levels of mastery/dedication you see additional manifestations re: physical changes, more focused casting, custom spells, etc. Top stuff.

    Another implication that isn't addressed here (but we discussed) is the idea that mastered and researched spells will look and feel different. A fire demon's mastered magic missile might be a flaming ball that has some additional nuance to its mechanics.

  4. LoBo: You raise a ton of good points. This really is just a first draft. I'm hoping to see how they shake out in actual play, and intend to rework them after I get an idea of how things turn out.

    That having been said, I see no reason why carousing expenditure couldn't be applied against contacting a mentor. Same goes for paying on layaway. As far as spell research and spell scribing, my intent was not to change those rules at all.

    And yes, I should have mentioned that a mastered spell should have some kind of flavor (and possibly minor mechanical) differences from a generic one. Furthermore, the Labyrinth Lord should be willing to work with a player in terms of what spells a particular mentor knows. In other words, if a player can figure out a creative reason why Culkah of the Healing Winds would be able to teach mastery in Fireball, then go for it.

    Looks like even more posts on magic and mastery are needed...

  5. Okay, I'm officially getting excited about your blasphemous system now.

    Are you doing anything to plus up fighters? It seems like Specialists and Wizards are getting all the extra love, don't forget about our beloved meat shields!

  6. Yeah, I have thought about that. I am fond of the Weapon Mastery rules from the Rules Cyclopedia, and might let fighters use those (with some streamlining and tweaking, of course). Or I might just import good old Weapon Specialization, AD&D style. Not sure yet.

  7. Yay, I'm enthusiastically following another of us!

    I really like the sub-system detailed here, and would gladly use it as one option for my spellcasters. I think, additionally, it could be easily modified as far as how much gold and (especially) how much time it takes, depending on the power level of a specific campaign. As written, I would say it would fit quite well in a relatively low-magic milieu.

    As far as fighters go, I would have to say that I see rules like these as bringing spellcasters up to par with them. A fighter gets his attacks every round and never runs out, at an attack value well beyond what other classes can achieve. As written, OD&D very definitely gives magic-users of lower levels far fewer adventuring tools than any other class.

  8. Thanks for enthusiastically following, migellito. You raise a good point about low-level fighters vs. low-level magic-users.

  9. I see a lot of Lieber in this sub-system and I like it.