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

Friday, May 22, 2009

Why B/X Is My Favorite #7

7. The Spellbook System

I made a post about this some time ago and it continues to one of the top 5 posts I have made in terms of number of views.

To summarize...

The spellbook system in B/X in unique among all of the versions of D&D.

It is MY interpretation that:
- Magic-user 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.

I really like this system because:
- it results in a de facto specialist system. Each M-U is different.
- it places an importance in finding someone who can teach you the spell that your M-U wants to learn.
- it gives a very prominent role to spell research.

For a little more detail go back to the previous post.


  1. My interpretation of the spellbook rule was that magic-users could write down as many spells as they wanted. They only needed to be able to cast the spell and have read magic to copy it into their spellbook. The only limit was on how many they could memorize. I believe the original description of spellbooks set them as 2 feet square which I used and the result was that my players never brought their spellbooks into the dungeon. At higher levels they created smaller, travelling spellbooks that held key spells only.

  2. Page 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)."

  3. I had to go dig up my copy of the Expert Rules because I did not recall that rule. It does seem to be laid out clearly. I have to say I really do not like that rule. It will have the affect of reducing the actual number of spells used in a game to a hand-full. Who is going to bother with Water Breathing when they can have Fireball. Rather then making unique magic-users I would think it would make all PC magic-users identical in the spells they choose. I did not use this rule in my B/X Campaign but then I had house ruled in a lot of things (as was the style in the 80s).

  4. Ah, but can they find anyone who can teach them Fireball? Remember the other point I made that scrolls could not be copied. The only way to get Fireball is to learn it from someone.

    And if they do find Magic-user to teach it to them, what do they want in return? Is it worth the price? This is the good stuff!

  5. Oh your are cruel, so here is my powerful Warlock Umberto the Unsteady!

    Spells 2/2/2
    Detect Magic, Read Magic
    Detect Evil, Detect Invisible
    Infravision, Water Breathing

    He is going to be at a disadvantage when he runs into the apprentice Ernie who has Magic Missile.

    It does make for some interesting role-playing but I think I will stick to the system in Labyrinth Lord where magic-users are not limited in the number of spells they can put in their spellbooks.

    You would be able to have adventures built around finding a particular spell.

  6. "Oh your are cruel..."
    "You would be able to have adventures built around finding a particular spell."

    Giggle, giggle.... exactly!

  7. Also, Umberto the Warlock is the perfect guy to find the Staff of Power that is rumoured to be in the hold of the sunken ship Sea Wraith.

  8. This is the aspect of B/X I like the least. It's too limiting from the player's side. I don't find it too much fun casting the same spells over and over again. YMMV.

    I believe it was not that intentional.

  9. "I believe it was not that intentional."

    Page B16 says, "A first level character will only have one spell (a first level spell) in the spell book. A second level character will have two spells (both first level); a third level character will have three spells (two first level spells and one second level spell) in the spell book."

    And then X11 has the passage I quoted previously. That sounds pretty intentional to me. However, considering the lack of a description for Detect Invisibility anything is possible.

    "I don't find it too much fun casting the same spells over and over again."
    What does the Fighter get to do except swing the same sword over and over again until he finds a magical one? Answer - find creative ways to over come problems, just like a magic-user with Hold Portal as his only spell until he is able to learn a second one.

    Also remember that about 1/3 of all magical treasure is scrolls, wands, staves and/or rods. If you include miscellaneous magic items and rings, most of which are magic-user focused, that proportion jumps to nearly 1/2.

    And don't forget spell research. If you can't find a anyone to teach your magic-user Fireball, get into the lab and figure it out.

    It doesn't take long for a magic-user to have a plethora of options.

    "This is the aspect of B/X I like the least."
    Different strokes ;)
    I can definitely understand a person preferring the image of the old wizard pouring over his vast collection of musty arcane tomes trying to decide the best spell for the job. This has the tendency though to make every magic-user the same.

    My preference is to keep each magic-user 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.

    I also think that, given the power curve of B/X, the system as written does an incredible job of keeping magic rare and unique yet very powerful at high levels.

    I will admit that I have had players make intelligent fighters or thieves instead of a magic-user but that doesn't bother me at all. Being a magic-user at low level should be a sacrifice. They should be very rare - at least in my campaigns.

  10. It seems in Magical Research and Production on page X51 that "There is always a 15% chance (at least) that magical research or production will fail." Now, Magical Research refers to "new" spells, so a questions:

    Can this new spell being researched be a spell which already exists in the standard spell list, if so, this uniqueness you talk about in B/X goes right out the window cause 1,000gp's (per level) and 2 weeks of game time (per level) with only a 15% chance of failure seems like a magic-user will be able to make his spell list to exacting desires quite easily.

    Granted you got to raise the gold, but it seems you could easily enlist a patron by promising magical feats to satisfy some base need of the patron.