Read Magic Throughout the Ages Pt. 2 (AD&D 1st Edition)

As I don’t have copies of the AD&D corebooks immediately available at my disposal, I’m pulling the text from OSRIC; if the actual text is substantially different and OSRIC wrong on this, by all means, let me know, cuz that seems like a big deal! I know I said I would look at Holmes in part 2, but I think I will make it 1.5, since it bridges the gap between OD&D and AD&D, with B/X kinda off in its own direction.

Magic in AD&D is radically different from OD&D and B/X. A lot of the spells are the same or similar, but there is a huge difference in how mages build their spell repertoire.

In OD&D, and presumably B/X*, wizards can go down to SpellCo and just buy a level’s worth of spells in a single volume. The magic user isn’t going to be able to learn all of those, of course, but they physically HAVE those spells. There’s no need to scrounge towers for lost arcana, because you already have access to all of the vanilla spells for your caster levels.

In AD&D, however, we start to see thematically Vancian magic emerge.

“A beginning magic user character will know four spells. One of these will automatically be Read Magic. The second spell should be chosen by the player from the list of first level spells, and the last two should be determined randomly from the list of first level spells.” – OSRIC, p 16

So, now we have the assumption that a Magic User at 1st level is someone who has completed his apprenticeship and has access to a small assortment of spells that his master has presumably given him; his student’s spellbook will contain Read Magic and 3 other spells.

Here’s what OSRIC says about scrolls:

“Spells are also sometimes found written on scrolls. It is not
possible to memorise a spell from a scroll, although magic
users and illusionists may copy the spell from the scroll into
their spell books, if they understand the spell. This process
always erases the scroll. This is the primary means by which
magic users and illusionists will acquire new spells for their
spell books.
Alternatively, the spell may be cast directly from the scroll, in
which case the scroll is erased as the spell is cast. In this case,
it is not necessary for the caster to know the spell beforehand,
and indeed it is possible to cast a spell from a scroll even if
the caster does not know the spell or is of insufficient level
to use the magic.” – OSRIC, p 35

So, the Dungeon Book from Holmes is gone, but using scrolls to learn new spells is in.  As they’re written in magic, presumably Read Magic is necessary for a chance to enter them into your spell book.

“Read magic is normally the fi rst spell in every magic user’s spell
book, and its mastery is the fi rst task of every apprentice. The
spell allows the caster to read magical writings (other than
his or her own, of course, which are always intelligible to the
original author).
Unless the writings are cursed, reading magical script does
not normally activate the magic formulae described therein—
reviewing a scroll prior to casting from it does not, for instance,
actually cast whatever spell is written upon the scroll. Once the
magic user has read a particular set of magical inscriptions by
use of this spell, the spell is no longer needed to re-read the
writing at a later time.
The reverse of the spell allows the magic user to make magical
writings indecipherable for the spell’s duration, and is cast
upon the writing rather than upon the caster him- or herself.” – OSRIC, p 97

While it is still necessary for using scrolls, the Read Magic’s greater purpose now becomes to translate scrolls and stolen spellbooks and enter those new spells in your spellbook. Magic Users can no longer simply buy a book for 2000 GP x spell level to unlock a new level’s worth of spells as in OD&D or Holmes, and unlike B/X, where Magic Users ONLY know their spells selected when leveling up, Magic Users can theoretically learn multiple spells based on the MU spell Acquisition Table. Since all Magic Users have Read Magic, and since they do not have B/X’s restrictions, it is no longer a question of forever sacrificing a spell slot for the ability to use scrolls.

To learn new spells in AD&D, Magic Users must cast Read Magic, attempt to understand the spell (MU Spell Acquisition Table), and, if successful, scribe the spell in to his spellbook. Finally, magic in D&D is starting look truly like something out of Dying Earth!


*Holmes, anyway; in B/X, I believe you can replace your spellbooks, but you do not have access to more spells than those matching your current level’s Spell Per Day table, i.e. you can’t know 4 1st level spells unless you can cast at least 4 1st level spells.

Doing It Wrong When It Was Right There In the Book Pt 3: Still doing Magic Wrong!

Where do I keep getting these assumptions about how magic works in D&D?

Wrong Again

I was brushing up, looking at the Magic Users class section in Blueholme, a Holmes clone, when I realized I had it wrong again.  I cannot be possibly be trusted to know what I’m talking about in matters of mechanics in B/X apparently.

“A magic-user is not necessarily able to learn and transcribe all spells of that level into his book. This is determined by the magic-user’s Intelligence score, as detailed in the table below. A magic-user only gets one chance to figure out each spell; if he cannot learn it then, he never will.

“Minimum denotes the fewest spells a magic-user will know for that level. Before the player makes any of the d% rolls for “chance to learn”, the referee will randomly choose this many spells from the spell list for that level and inform the player that his character already knows those spells.


“Every time a new level of spells is acquired, and after the referee has picked the minimum spells, the player should roll a d% for each remaining spell of that level; if he rolls equal to or less than the chance listed, then his character has that spell in his magic book.” – Blueholme Prentice, pg 11

Yeah, I totally remember the whole “start with a minimum # of spells in your spellbook at level 1 and then roll for the rest of them” part.  What I did not remember was repeating the process every time you unlocked a new tier of spells.  You hit level 3, you suddenly know as many as a dozen level 2 spells without ever having to find them. W… T… F!?


Where do your new spells come from?  Certainly not from finding scrolls and stealing spellbooks!  God, now I need to start digging through OSRIC to figure out where I came up with this idea.

“Magic users do not gain bonus spells for high intelligence scores; intelligence does determine which spells they can understand and how many spells they may learn for each spell level.

Magic users are dependent upon their spell books, and normally may only cast spell they have learned from these books (exception: magic users may cast spells from arcane magical scrolls). Mages may not cast spells from divine, druidic or phantasmal magic scrolls. The acquisition of a new spell is difficult and demanding and must normally be accomplished through adventuring, although the mage will automatically receive one new spell of the highest spell level that he or she may cast upon acquiring a new level of experience.


Magic users may memorise and cast arcane spells in accordance with the tables provided below. A beginning magic user character will know four spells. One of these will automatically be Read Magic. The second spell should be chosen by the player from the list of first level spells, and the last two should be determined randomly from the list of first level spells.” – OSRIC Page 16

Huh!  Okay, so I’m not totally crazy and that IS a thing in a version of Dungeons & Dragons somewhere!  So, all this time, I’d been conflating multiple rule sets in my mind based on a combination of half-remembered 1e games from highschool, video games and context of ‘how it ought to be’ via on my understanding of Vance.  Yet even here in OSRIC, it does not explicitly state that MUs can acquire spells by copying scrolls into their spellbooks.  The only place I am 100% certain that this was the case was in that crappy Neverwinter Nights compy game from over a decade ago.


Apparently, I’ve been using Holmes’ spell book (the physical item, that is) and scroll rules, smeared with some Moldvay (I typically gave 1st level MUs 2 spells, including Read Magic), but used a half-assed version (no need to roll % chance) of AD&D’s rules for learning new spells from scrolls & other spell books with some minute differences.

At some point, I may need to do an in-depth look at Read Magic and its implications across all editions!

A Post about the Future

Every so often one still comes across some post bemoaning the death of the OSR. They’ve slowed to a trickle by the end of this year, but every once in awhile some guy gets all weepy about the Grognardia archives or something.  Consider the Dyvers list, which shows that there are still hundreds of blogs out there. Sure, several of them may be “going dark”, but for every gaming blog that has died, there are dozens of others still going strong.

I think that people confusingly correlated the publication of clones to the community as a whole when they proclaimed the OSR is dead.

There IS a decline in the publication of new clones & “OSR Heartbreakers”. A big part of this is that there are already LOTS of good OSR Clones and OSR Retro systems out there already to choose from. I would not go so far as to say that the market is saturated, but between Basic Fantasy RPG, Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Swords & Wizardry, Lamentations of the Flame Princes, Blueholme, ACKS, BBRPG, DCC and several other acronyms I’m forgetting, chances are most gamers are going to find what they like without having to go out of their way to write a new system. Add to that that Wizards finally reprinted darn near every edition that the OSR draws from, and you’ve got choices gallore! And I’m pretty sure that Pathfinder and the plethora of d20 stuff has the 3e crowd sufficiently covered until the end of days.

There has been some backlash caused by a number of kickstarter debacles, including games that funded but were never delivered and established gaming companies using it essentially as a pre-order system (which was NOT its original intent), but that doesn’t mean that there are suddenly less people out there gaming. Just less people taking a chance on developing new systems for which there is shrinking demand, simply because people don’t have time to run all the games they have, much less try out new ones.

So, where does the community go from here? Obviously, modules for existing systems will be where the bulk of creative energy will be directed. Most of these will not be so ambitious as to need kickstarter, but you’ll find some good ones out there hosted on blogs or at DriveThruRPG. Interestingly enough, 4e will be the final frontier for the OSR, as long as we’re talking about retro-clones. As Wizards drops support for the red-headed step-child of D&D, I predict that in 2014 we’re likely going to see some reimaginings of the 4e system.

Plus, all of the above assumes that gaming is limited to the D&D sphere, which it most certainly is not.

The Dungeons & Dragons Movie (and Why the “Rights” Dispute is Stupid)

Why is it significant that there are now talks about Warner Brothers making a Dungeons & Dragons movie? And now Hasbro is claiming that they have a deal with Universal.

First, I’d like to put forward the incredibly heathen idea that the first Dungeons & Dragons movie is not as terrible as most people say it was. When I saw it in theaters ages ago, it was just me, my mom (I was 16), and some fatbeard. While it was not remarkable or amazing, it was fairly entertaining, I enjoyed it well enough. After the movie, the fatbeard went on about how horrible it was and how they got everything from D&D wrong and such. Now, given further retrospect, I know one thing to be true and another highly likely to be true: Dungeons & Dragons was one of the better movies Marlon Wayans has been in and if the Dungeons & Dragons movie had be called “Final Fantasy” and Final Fantasy: Spirits Within had been called anything else, there would be a lot less butthurt nerds in the world.

Okay, that’s out of the way.

D&D is the Kleenex of the RPG world, at least as far as non-gamers or casual gamers are concerned. To the non-gaming world, playing any sort of tabletop roleplaying game that isn’t LARP fodder is “Playing D&D”. However, the OSR movement has made this true among gamers as well. “Playing D&D” can mean playing Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Basic Fantasy Roleplaying, Castles & Crusades, Swords & Wizardry, Blueholme, or Lamentations of the Flame Princess, or, god forbid, actual, literal, published by the company that also gave us Littlest Pet Shop, Dungeons & Dragons! And really, those Retro-Clones pretty much are Dungeons & Dragons, with the name replaced and a handful of writers’ favorite homebrew mechanics and pet rules codified. For awhile, I was really confused about what Pathfinder was, but oh, hey, turns out it’s Dungeons & Dragons.

So, why bother with fighting over the Dungeons & Dragons name & licence for a movie? Clearly the gaming community has moved beyond caring whether the trademark name is slapped across something. They already know what’s up. Anyone could make a Dungeons & Dragons movie pretty much the same way anyone can make a Dungeons & Dragons retro-clone: strip out the names and product identity. Everything else can be done with a wink and a nod. Don’t call your movie Dungeons & Dragons and don’t base it on published books and settings. Fill it with dangers, monsters, magic, and, of course, dragons. Give your wizards Vancian magic and familiar spells (“Magic missile!”). It’s cool. We’ll know it’s Dungeons & Dragons.  But you can stick a copy of the OGL in the credits if you must.