"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

B/X Magic-User Spellbooks

One thing (among many) that I love about B/X D&D is the way magic-users (and elves) work. B/X is the only ruleset, out of the myriad of D&D rulesets out there, where magic-users - particularly their spellbooks - works in this specific fashion. A few things that makes magic-users different in B/X:
- Their spellbooks contain a number of spells equal to the number and level of spells the caster may cast in a single day. For example, a 4th level M-U can cast two 1st level spells and two 2nd level spells so their spellbook contains two 1st level and two 2nd level spells.
- There are two ways to acquire new spells: learn them from someone else or spell research.
- Spells may not be copied from scrolls or captured spellbooks into a caster's spellbook.
- Read magic must be used to understand magic writing on items or scrolls so that the scroll may be used later.

The impact of these particularities is that you have a de facto specialist system. Each M-U is different. There may be the famed mystic who lives in a ruined tower on Stormkiller Mountain that can communicate with otherworldly beings (has Contact Higher Plane in their spellbook) or the feared Dark Mage who can raise the dead to obey his command (Animate Dead in his spellbook). Assuming there is only two or three 9th level Magic-Users in a setting, each one can be very different.

Also, it places an importance in finding someone who can teach you the spell that your M-U wants to learn. Your party has on a quest featuring Fire Giants. You think that knowing Wall of Ice might be useful. Who can teach you Wall of Ice? Well maybe the feared Ice Wizard can be talked/bribed into teaching it to you? Instant adventure.

Another important aspect is Spell Research. I don't know about you but I have never seen a M-U research a spell in 1E or 2E. Being the only other way to add a new spell to an M-U spellbook increases the importance of spell research. This is where I do make a house rule that allows a captured spellbook to halve the cost and time of researching a spell that is in the spellbook. I also have no trouble with researching an existing spell that the player doesn't know. For example, say the Ice Wizard cannot be convinced to teach the player Wall of Ice. The player can then decide to research it instead, assuming they have 4,000 gp and 8 weeks of time.

I also allow magic-users to change the spells in their spellbook according to the "Replacing Lost Spellbooks" rules on X11. If the wizard looking for the Wall of Ice spell already had all of the 4th level spells they were allowed in their spellbook, they could opt to replace a 4th level spell that is already in their spellbook. They could then replace, say, Growth of Plants with Wall of Ice once they learned it either from the Ice Wizard or through spell research. This would cost 4,000 gp and 4 weeks in addition to how much/long it took to learn the spell in the first place. This allows some flexibility for magic-users but at a cost.


  1. Hmmm...I have a slightly different spin on it: you naturally get the spells to round out on achieving a level. To exceed it requires research. I use the research rules from GAZ3 with the definition of common (and thus cheaper) spells being ones you have a spell book or scroll for.

    So my LL MUs have a little more flexibility than their B/X counterparts but only if they're willing to spend the time and money on research.

  2. I know a lot of people house rule away from the strict B/X limitations on B/X spellbooks more to a Holmes or AD&D style. In fact I am not too sure I have ever heard of someone playing strictly by-the-book. But X11 clearly states, "Magic-users and elves are limited to the number of spells they may know, and their books will contain spells equal to the number and level of spells the caster can use in a single day (thus, the books of a 4th level elf will contain two first and two second level spells)."

    Of course there are also the following two quotes:
    - from page X7, "Magic-users may add more spells to their spellbooks through spell research..."
    - page X11 states, "Magic-users and elves must be taught their new spells..."
    So I interpreted this as spell research = self taught and therefore it is another way to add spells to their spellbook to get to the limit.
    I like this interpretation as it adds the flavour I like as I mentioned in the post.

    Labyrinth Lord does not include such limitations on magic-users.
    I don't use any of the Gaz's.

  3. I've never used the B/X rules exactly as written, as I'm too in love with the idea of the wizards with an enormous library of spells to choose from. But you're discussion of the possibilities inherent in a scarcer spell environment is intriguing.

  4. While I now believe I was wrong I had always read X7 to allow additional spells.

    When I started the LL campaign I consciously made a choice to read B/X that and adopt the B/X rules (mostly...I use a random amount). I like the idea of players being able to exceed the limits but only by creating their own spells.

  5. Herb: Whereas my reading of X7 still allows additional spells beyond the level-determined spellbook (which is how I run it in my B/X campaign). As you said, I love the idea of characters being able to exceed those limits through spell research.

    BECMI and LL actually have more "standard" spellbook system as most players would expect from other editions of D&D, which is how it works in the B/X game I am playing in.

  6. I feel that spell research is more important in B/X than in any other edition. The fact that B/X spellbooks are limited, if you want a certain spell there are only a few ways to acquire it:
    1. find someone to teach it to you, or
    2. do some research
    Both are great for adventure hooks :)

    I just love the "feel" my stringent reading of the B/X rules imparts on magic-users - I feel that it really adds to the mysteriousness of magic-users (What spells does the vile magic-user villain have in his spellbook?) and to the roleplaying.

    Is my reading the "right" way? Maybe, maybe not. I will readily admit it is the most narrow way of reading the rules but it is the way I like.

  7. Hi folks, I'm sorry to comment on such an old thread but I've always considered this a bit of a rare Moldvay 'typo'.

    In the Mentzer redux all magic-users start with 2 spells (read magic and one other) which would immediately break the odd Moldvay ruling...

    Also, I can't find the reference to magic-users not being able to copy scrolls or spells from captured spells books; that's the standard why my players acquire new spells for the magic-user characters. Help please?

  8. Hey Hogscape,
    B/X is pretty silent on what can be done with captured spellbooks.

    The Read Magic spell says that enemy spellbooks can only be "read" using Read Magic but I believe that is the only time the subject is mentioned in B/X. I do not think there is anything mentioned about copying spells from spellbooks.

    There are definitely only two way to add spells to spellbooks mentioned in B/X. They are:
    1. learn them from your master, and
    2. spell research.

    I lump captured spellbooks into #2.

  9. I also allow magic-users to change the spells in their spellbook according to the "Replacing Lost Spellbooks" rules on X11.

    Interesting. Would you allow a magic-user to have multiple spellbooks, each with different sets of spells? Could he have different books for different types of adventures? For example, one book for dungeon delving, another for wilderness or seafaring treks, and still another for, say, urban stays?

  10. Would you allow a magic-user to have multiple spellbooks, each with different sets of spells?

    No. I view the "spellbook(s)" as the entire repertoire of spells that are knowable and limited in number as described above. A spellbook may take any form - from a single large tome to a large sack of papyrus scrolls or anything else the player wants.

    Whether or not it takes up multiple volumes doesn’t matter with respect to the limit of spells allowed in a spellbook. It is not a matter of capacity of the form chosen for the spellbook but rather the mysterious nature of magic and how the magic-user interacts with this mysterious force.

    Just to clarify my example, when the magic-user in my example replaced Growth of Plants with Wall of Ice, the former is no longer available to the magic-user. After paying the time and money to put Wall of Ice in his spellbook, Growth of Plants just doesn’t work for him anymore. When he is able to add another 4th level spell to his spellbook then he could pay to add Growth of Plants to his spellbook again at which time it would again be available to him.

  11. Coming back to this thread three years later, have you read ACKS.

    I'm very interested in trying its take on the B/X system. It's pretty much the one you detail in your last post in terms of having a spell in your repertoire versus in your library. Sure, "Plant Growth" is still in your library after you replaced it with "Wall of Ice" but you don't have access to it. That seems to be a fair compromise between the large library and specialized wizard. It also maps well to literature in a lot of ways. A wizard going on a specific quest has to take the time to prepare for it.

    The other big twists ACKS puts on it are:

    1. The number in your repertoire is the number you can cast at that level PLUS your intelligence modifier.

    2. The casting is more D&D3 sorcerer than B/X in that you can cast any spell in your repertoire for each slot.

    I suspect these help more at low level than higher when magic items and the sheer number of slots help cover holes but I haven't had a chance to try them in practice.