Monday, June 13, 2011

Holmes & Cook: Book of First Level Spells

In the Magic Spells section of Holmes, there is a very curious sentence. He is giving an example of how to use the table which governs whether or not a magic-user knows a spell (where Intelligence is the determinate). He gives us Malchor, a first level magic-user about to go on a dangerous quest:

His intelligence is only 10 (equal to maybe an IQ of 100!) and he can not have studied and copied into his books all the spells listed under Book of First Level Spells (this list is given later).

Besides the cool factor of such a mediocre prime requisite in an example character (are the other stats just that bad, or does the player really want to play a magic-user?), there is this curious title given the first level spell list — Book of First Level Spells — a curiosity that extends to both second and third level spell lists, which are also labelled as Books.

The example seems to allow Malchor to go through all fourteen spells in this list in order to see if he understands them. According to his Intelligence, he will have a minimum of 4 of these in his spell books and a maximum of 6. Theoretically, therefore, if a magic-user had a 17 or 18 Intelligence, he could have every single first-level spell in his spell book.

In calling his spell lists Books, and by allowing first level magic-users the potential of having any spell from the Book of First Level Spells, there is an implication that there is some kind of standardization in magic-user training. Regardless of who you are, what alignment you have or where you are from, as a magic-user, you studied the Book of First Level Spells. Depending upon your natural aptitude (Intelligence) you learned some, if not all, of those fourteen standard spells.

There are a number of potential ways to explain this:
  • In a society that has moved away from the arcane magics of the past towards divine magic because of the potential corrupting nature of the arcane, it may very well be illegal to know or cast spells outside the Books.
  • There is a highly organized Guild that tightly monitors its members and is the primary source for all higher-level spells. They could also be active in commissioning adventurers in order to find (and therefore control) classical and ancient magic.
  • The Books represents the sum total of everything that arcane spell casters know. All the other knowledge is lost (or kept secret by those individuals who possess them). Given that there is only a flat 20% chance for success when creating new spells and a price tag of 2000 gp per spell level regardless of success, this actually seems rather plausible. What joe-normal magic-user has an average of 10,000 gp/spell level of disposable income to create new spells? It is probably far more economical to hire adventurers to go find stuff than to do the research.

The long and short of Holmes using the phrase Book of First Level Spells is that magic-users are all going to have some kind of shared experience — whether that experience is a Guild, a legal reality, a dearth of knowledge or all of the above.

Update: Another thought just came to mind. Given that Holmes has an entire section of his edition dedicated to explaining the various (and potentially confusing) ways that the word level is used, it would seem to me that the title of the Book of First Level Spells could be tweaked in order to eliminate "level" from spell lists.

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