Dragon Magazine: Player Advice Collection (Part 4 of 6)

These are my reading notes of various Dragon Magazine articles. Learn more about the collection here.

This time the topic is Magic.

“Oops! Sorry!” Spell interruptions can spell disaster

Author: Donald Hoverson Issue: Dragon Magazine #163 Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Donald offers a simple procedure for adding a little bit “oh no!” to spell interruptions. Whenever a spell caster gets interrupted they roll a d20 to determine what happened. There is 80% chance of nothing but spell loss, 10% chance of ill effect, 5% of neutral effect, and 5% for helpful effect.

In those 20% cases of something happening, there is 75% effect will be minor, 15% it will be medium, and 5% it will be major. Minor effects are approximately at the level of 1st and 2nd spells, medium at 3rd to 6th level spells, and major mirror spells of 7th to 9th level.

The progression is basically annoyance » oh, no! » oh shit!

There is another table to determine what the effect actually is. It has 20 generic entries that the Judge must adjudicate based on the situation. For example “spell affect caster” or “spell effect oscillates in duration or effect (over a period of 1–100 rounds for one day).”

Here is my problem with this article: I'm not sure that the proposed procedure has been sufficiently play-tested. I mean, there is 10% chance that interrupting the big bad casting a spell results in them casting a better spell! That's a lot.

My final verdict will be as follows. It's a short article (just page and a third) worth skimming. I won't include it in the final collection.

Spells between the covers: Details for delving into magical research

Author: Bruce Heard Issue: Dragon Magazine #82 Rating: ★★★★☆

Bruce explains and expand on AD&D 1e procedures for magical research. The article is verbose and sometimes a bit dense, but worth working through. It has many examples to help with understanding the procedures.

Allow me a brief aside. Sometimes OSR judges talk about their dislike of XP for gold, and how the players get loaded with wealth they have nothing to spend on, and what not. Well, I'm quite certain their players are not using all their available investment options. Magical research is one of those. And it has fantastic returns.

After explaining the basics of magical research, Bruce offers procedures for creating an arcane library, purchasing books (including a table for random determination of book value, and table with 71 spell book), and appraising a book's value. He also gives very brief advice on the appearance of library.

Final section covers “special books” which are in essence, you guessed it, special and powerful arcane books. My favourite might be the devious “vampire” book which slowly devours the magic-user's arcane library without them noticing.

Ultimately, I've found this article worth my time investment. I might try to write a simplified version one day. Yes, I'll include it in the final collection.

The Laws of Spell Design

Author: Ted Zuvich Issue: Dragon Magazine #242 Rating: ★★★★★

A titanic effort by the author to reverse-engineer spell design rules from the AD&D 2e Player's Handbook. Ted argues there are four types of new spells:

The “laws of spell design” are most applicable to the first three cases, and can be used as a guideline for completely new spells.

There are 21 laws:

Each law is well explained and supported by examples. All laws are summarised in the Generalized Law of Parameters and Implicit Spell Parameters tables. Once you read the article it is easy to reference them.

This is a great article with good ideas to think about spell design. Still, I must address elephant in the room: AD&D spell balance was shit. It was an afterthought, a consequence of numerous play sessions. D&D was a revolutionary game, no doubts about it; and I personally don't care so much for balance. Still, AD&D 2e wasn't that much better in the balance department. The author struggled with that, and delivered the best he could given the conditions.

Procedures offered in this article are best used collaboratively with the player wishing to design a new spell. Yes, I'll include this article in the final collection.

Paths of Power: A variant magic system for the AD&D game

Author: Wolfgang Buar and Steve Kurtz Issue: Dragon Magazine #216 Rating: ★★★★☆

I thought I would hate the system offered in this article, but I ended up liking it very much.

The basic idea is as follows:

The paths are divided into greater (starts with level 1 spells), and lesser (high level magic, can only be reached through greater paths). The article offers 89 paths (!), of which 61 are greater and 28 are lesser.

Here is what I like about the system: it gives players an option to develop their Magic-User in a very flavourful way. “I'm dedicated to Storm Road, Road of True Sight and Path of Terror” sounds quite epic to me. At the same time, the limitations of paths themselves ensure that “path” Magic-Users don't outshine the base class.

Another thing I like, especially as judge, is that it basically creates hooks automatically.

The downside, as I see it, is that it requires a very, very proactive player. I'd never go through the trouble of creating bespoke paths for my campaign without heavy player buy-in.

There is also a bit of video-gamey feel to the whole concept, but if that's a plus or minus largely depends on you and your players.

Final verdict? Worth reading for inspiration; don't try it unless you have a player who is willing to do the work; yes, I'll include it in the final collection.

The Color of Magic: Specialized spells for D&D game spellcasters

Author: Dan Joyce Issue: Dragon Magazine #200 Rating: ★★★★★

Brief, but influential article that can be perfectly summed up with the following quote:

...the key to creating hundreds of new spells to suit any kind of spell-caster: make cosmetic changes to existing spells. Describe spells differently.

Worth reading. Will go into final collection.

Even Wilder Mages: If your wild-mage PC isn't strange

Author: Joel E. Roosa & Andrew Crossett Issue: Dragon Magazine #202 Rating: ★★☆☆☆

In this case we actually have two articles rolled into one.

First section is about creating random effects for wild surges (two random tables, one for variation type, and one for variation intensity).

Wild mages are very rare (does anyone even play them today?), so I'm not too keen on tacking on a lot of cosmetic procedures (which these ones are). At the same time, I could see using tables here when one needs inspiration for creating spell variations.

Second section offers alternative approach to make wild surges less predictable and more disruptive. A 2d10 table of wild surges is offered.

Although not badly written, I see this as primarily cosmetic article not worth including into the final collection.

Good stuff for a spell: Magic focusing: a new dimension for possessions

Author: John M. Maxstadt Issue: Dragon Magazine #111 Rating: ★★☆☆☆

I don't remember what I expected from this article, but it sure wasn't what's written inside.

The whole gist are magic-focusing items which allow the wielder to expend their spell in order to cast the spell embedded into the focusing item.

For example a Magic-Focusing Wand of Magic Missile would allow the Magic-User to “cast” Detect Magic, or rather, focus it through the wand in order to end up casting Magic Missile instead.

It's not a horrible idea, but the whole article is grossly overwritten (four pages!) and includes questionable Judging advice (a lot of hand-holding for the players).

Ultimately, this article is worth skimming, but will not make it into the final collection.

Charging isn't cheap: How to make and fix rods, staves, and wands

Author: Peter Johnson Issue: Dragon Magazine #101 Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Great article if you have 10th+ level Cleric and 14th+ level Magic-User player characters in your campaign. Alternatively, can be used to torture your players with fetch quests.

First page and a half are most interesting because they summarise magic item creation rules from the Dungeon Master's Guide. Rest of the word count is spent on “recipes” for creating and charging of the following items:

I won't be including it in the final collection.

The Mystic College: Magical academies for AD&D game sorcerers

Author: James A. Yates Issue: Dragon Magazine #123 Rating: ★★★★☆

You have a player haranguing you to play Dumbledore? Are they insisting on building their own Unseen University, with blackjacks and brazen strumpets? Maybe they want their very own Island of Rorke on which they could become impotent?

Oh boy, then this article will save you, beleaguered Judge!

Ten pages of painstakingly detailed explanations on how to establish a magical academy, covering everything from finding land and securing permits, to determining residents of the school, their benefits and obligations, student advancement (the joy and adrenaline of getting 0-level scrubs from -2000 XP to 0 XP by lecturing them for 25 years is indescribable!), faculty advancement (watch-out for that ambitious Snape-wannabe, who knows what might they be plotting), territorial development (how to hire your own King Arthur or Mordred), and policies and domain growth (will you terrorize the locals lawfully or chaotically?).

I fell asleep six times whilst reading this magnificent treatise. I cannot imagine greater punishment for any player that pesters me for opening their own arcane college. On the other hand, I'll sleep well, for procedures presented within are quite fine.

This article will make it into the final collection.

#Resource #DragonMagazine

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