Sunday, May 22, 2011

Holmes & Cook: Magic Missile

Inevitably, when dealing with Holmes, one must come to terms with his unique version of the spell Magic Missile. I have to admit, I have been avoiding this. I have never been much of a fan of the spell, especially the more familiar it-automatically-hits version. It seems like such a waste of a spell slot, especially when compared to the much more useful Sleep or Charm Person. Personally I've seen Detect Evil put to better use than a Magic Missile spell.

Thus, knowing that Holmes requires a to-hit roll with his version, I did not much look forward to having to deal with this reality. After spending some time with the actual verbiage of the spell, however, I think the Holmes version may very well be my favorite version of the spell:

A conjured missile equal to a magic arrow, and it does 1 die roll plus 1 point (2-7) to any creature it strikes. Roll the missile fire like a long bow arrow (Missile Fire Table). Higher level magic-users fire more than one missile.

Note that there are two different actions in this description. The missiles are conjured and they are fired. Note also that at higher levels, magic-users fire more than one missile but they don't conjure more than one missile.

The implication is that the conjuring and the firing can happen at different times — how else can a magic-user fire more than one missile if he only conjures one at a time?

Thus, a magic-user could spend his down time prepping a quiver-full of magic missiles (and I personally would limit the possible total amount to one quiver) that could then be fired off as necessary. Given that Holmes deals with levels 1-3, this implies that a magic-user will be able to fire an additional missile per round at 4th level and every 3 levels after that (three missiles at 7th, etc.). These missiles would be all be one-use items that could only be fired by the magic-user who conjured them.

Since it appears that magic-users start off with all the 1st level spells that they know based on their Intelligence, this allows a player to be more creative with their low-level spell choices. One need not go the offensive route. With twenty magic missiles ready to go off whenever they are needed, a player is free to choose a utility spell instead.

This vision of the spell becomes especially evocative when one thinks of the Elf. What else would a bunch of elves have in their quivers other than a score of magically conjured arrows?


  1. While I'm not sure that I agree with you that that's what Holmes *meant*, I do agree with you that your interpretation is my favorite version of Magic Missile. I really, really like this a lot.

    How many arrows would you allow in a MU's single quiver? Also, would you require the MU to have something to fire the missiles with, like a bow or crossbow… or an atlatl? (Wow, the atlatl would actually be pretty sweet, despite my instinct not to require MUs to have a mundane means of launching Magic Missiles.)

  2. @Staples

    While I'm not sure that I agree with you that that's what Holmes *meant*

    That is the wonder of of language...;)

    In my campaigns, quivers hold 20 arrows. As far as allowing magic-users to use bows, etc. I would tend to say no. Personally, I imagine that every magic-user has their own special effect for firing their magic missiles. Thus, if you wanted your magic-user to have a conjured-energy-like atlatl effect when firing a magic missile...more power to you.

  3. I have to agree with Staples that this may not be what Holmes meant, but as a grammarian, I have to concede your interpretation. More than that, yours provides for a much more useful spell.

    My only question: How long does a conjured missile last? You mention no more than a quiver at a time, though that's a limitation of volume, not duration. Assuming the duration is permanent, can a magic missile be fired only by the MU who conjured it?

    (OK, that was 2 questions. Again, I suck at math.)

  4. Oops-scratch that last question--I see you already answered it. Apparently, I also suck at retention (though in fairness, it is 1am on a school night...).

  5. Given the text of Holmes' cited above it also gives the low level party a magic weapon for those times when they encounter, for whatever reason, those dreaded creatures that "can only be hit by magic weapons".

    Perhaps restricting the spell to Elf magic-users would be something else I might consider.