Thursday, October 7, 2010

Paths To Mastery

(For those who don't feel like reading this entire post: Yes, I'm still brainstorming my house rules on magic and spell mastery. No, I haven't got anything concrete yet.)

In my previous post, I introduced a concept I call "spell mastery", which allows magic-users to spontaneously cast certain spells. The rule, lifted from 3rd edition D&D and modified, seems workable enough, though it hasn't yet been playtested. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what process characters will have to undertake in order to gain spell masteries, but I do have some ideas.

I thought about awarding a set number of masteries based on the character's experience level, but that feels a bit dull, not to mention that it would mean that literally all magic-users would have mastered at least a few spells. I want spell mastery to feel more impressive than that. (Still, I'll probably give starting characters a mastered spell or two, most likely based on their Intelligence score.)

I also dislike the idea of creating schools or domains of related spells from which a character would have to choose. I thought long and hard about it, and in the end I feel that imposing a classification system on D&D's already reliable and mechanistic way of handling magic is just making the whole thing feel even more like a science (or worse, a technology). I've got no problem with players choosing to master spells that are related thematically, but I'm not going to force them to - if somebody wants their character to master ventriloquism, anti-plant shell, and teleport, I'm not going to object.

So, I'm thinking about making characters seek out a mentor in order to master spells. These mentors wouldn't just be old wizards that charge for magic lessons, though. I'm picturing something more like Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser's mentors, Sheelba of the Eyeless Face and Ningauble of the Seven Eyes: mysterious and inhuman figures whose goals are often inscrutable. Or they could be like the "Spirits, Partly Evil and Partly Good" described in the old demonology tract, The Goetia, who impart specific knowlege and abilities to those who call upon them, but are inherently unruly and untrustworthy (and will often seek to harm an unprepared or arrogant student).

Seeking a mentor would not be a quick or easy task. I could handle such a thing as a full-blown adventure - "Quest for the Cave of the Hidden Master" or what have you - but then I risk making the magic-user and his acquisition of spell masteries the subject of the entire campaign, relegating the poor fighters, thieves, and the rest to the role of bodyguards and henchmen. (There's already an RPG for that: Ars Magica.) My current thinking is that the best way to handle it might be something like the carousing table, to be used in the downtime between adventures, in order to keep one character's spell-questing from distracting from the meat of the campaign. Some kind of formula that lets characters convert earned gold and invested time into a chance at spell mastery, with a nice random mishap chart, I think...


  1. You could maybe adapt the "Suffer Fools Gladly" table from Fight On! #3 (p. 7) - I used it for a while in my houserules, definitely a great way to handle mentors!

  2. Sounds like a good idea, but alas, I don't have that issue of Fight On! I want to get the collected editions, but am still unemployed, and thus can't really spend on gaming materials right now.

  3. Aww, crap. I just noticed they don't have the collected editions anymore! Boo! Hiss!

  4. This is actually way better than my schools idea.

    Good on ya.

  5. As far as spell mastery, I think considering various ways for PCs to find mentors within the campaign is a solid idea. Not only can this add to character development but it will bolster the whole of the story. You make a good point about this running the risk of becoming the central aspect of a story, but if mentors are available for skill sets in other classes, it would balance things out.

    In regard to what you were saying for the cleric class (earlier post), it always puzzled me why healers gained the monopoly on curing wounds; it never made much sense. And, beyond the cleric/wizard divide, I also wonder why healing had to be strictly a magical domain. In any combat setting, if one of your comrades falls, it seems to me that anyone who was closest would grab a rag and put pressure on the wound; likewise if you had a gaping wound on your arm, you would tear your shirt and tie it up. I always envisioned healing as something that could and should be handled in a number of different ways from class to class. Fighters could "field dress light wounds," for example, while priest-types could "faith heal," and MUs could do the whole "energy cure" thing. Some skills or spells may be more effective than others, while mastery could be achieved from mentors in each character class.

    I suppose this is similar to creating schools of different types of healing (spells or skills), but instead of it being something the PC had to choose from, it would be class specific. If you're a MU/fighter/dwarf and you want to heal, this is how you do it, and if you find a mentor you can achieve a level of mastery at it.