For most wizards, their primary goal is to obtain more spells. This is done through capturing/finding spell books and through research. I thought it was time to flesh out the process for researching spells.
It is widely accepted that each time a wizard gains a level, she automatically receives two new spells of her choice. These spells are chosen from the list of existing spells that she does not yet know and may be any spell up to the level that she is able to cast. These new spells represent on-going spell research that the character is assumed to have been performing in her free time, as well as accumulated knowledge gained through the use of her current spells cast while adventuring.
For the most part this works pretty well. However, I have a few minor issues with this system. First off, it tends to give each wizard the same spells. There may be a lot of other wonderful spells of that level that never get used. I think a little more diversity would make the game more interesting. Beyond that, I think the characters may become better wizards if they are more familiar with a wider range of spells. On the other hand, players like to have control over the development of their characters. If a purely random selection were used, for example, players would probably become upset about not having any choice.
Secondly, there are certain spells (particularly at higher levels) that I want to remain “rare” spells that only a handful of wizards will know.
I have developed a system that handles both of these issues very nicely while preserving player choice in the selection of spells. Before I present it, let me go over the relevant house rules I use that interact with this system.
House Rules That Affect My Spell Research System
Characters start out with a standard array of abilities (10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16) that may be arranged as desired. Most wizards will probably start out with 16 Intelligence. Elves and Gnomes each receive +1 to Int and Humans receive two additional ability points to assign as desired. Therefore starting Int for wizards is typically 16-18. Every even level, each character receives an additional ability point to be assigned as desired (with the restriction that the assigned point may not raise an ability more than 10 points above the lowest score). Many wizards will optimize Int so by level 20 it is possible to have an Int of 24 without even looking at bonuses from other sources (it should be noted that items that affect abilities have been greatly curtailed).
Spell levels have been rearranged so that spell levels correspond to character levels (a 5th level wizard may cast up to 5th level spells), extending the range of spell levels to 1-18.
The maximum level of spell a wizard may cast is additionally limited to their Intelligence minus ten (i.e. — A wizard with 17 Intelligence may only cast spells up to 7th level).
My Spell Research System
Each time a wizard gains a level, she may learn two new spells. These spells may be of any level up to her newly attained level so long as her Intelligence is at least ten points higher than the level of the spell. This is essentially the same as the existing system.
What’s new is that the character must then roll to see if the research into these new spells was successful. To do this the player rolls 1d20 and adds the character’s level and Int bonus. This is compared to a DC of twice the level of the spell. A natural roll of 20 always indicates success and a natural roll of 1 always indicates failure. In the event of failure, the character selects a different spell and tries again until two spells have successfully been learned. Once failure is indicated for a particular spell, that spell may not be attempted again until the character gains a level (With the exception of Dedicated Research as described below) .
For most characters, this means that up to about 6th level they will have a 19 in 20 chance (anything but a natural 1) of successfully researching and learning any spell they want. From there it becomes slightly more difficult at each successive level. Even at 10th-12th level this won’t present a substantial barrier to learning the desired spells but it will occasionally force alternative choices. However, the highest level spells may have less than a 50% chance of success depending on ability point assignment and other sources of Int bonuses. Of course there is nothing to prevent the character from attempting to research the same spell again, after gaining another level.
This system may not work in someone else’s game due to differences in house rules. Other’s may simply find my system too complicated. A quick and easy alternative which would accomplish almost the same thing would be to roll 1d20 (or any other dice for that matter) with a natural 1 indicating failure and anything else being a success.
If characters gain new spells at each level, due to research they are assumed to be doing in their spare time, naturally a player will eventually ask if they can take a break from adventuring and do some dedicated research for a while in order to gain more spells. Personally, I think this is a bad idea but I hate to say no for arbitrary reasons. It seems perfectly natural for wizards to research spells in this fashion so I allow it. However, it isn’t easy.
Researching additional spells is extremely time-consuming and costly. Such research requires one month per level of the spell with a cost of 1,000 gp per level of the spell per month. When the research period is over, a check is made to determine success or failure just as before but the DC is three times the spell level.
A 10th level wizard with 21 int wishing to research a 10th level spell would need to spend 10 months and 100,000 gp. Then she would roll 1d20+15 (+10 for level, + 5 for int bonus) against a DC of 30. She would need to roll 15 or better to succeed. However, if she fails she can make additional attempts simply by expending the necessary time and gold.
Players may question why it is more difficult to perform dedicated research than to do research in their spare time. I would point out that it is the research done in the spare time that is unrealistic. I think the free spells each levels help the game tremendously though and therefore don’t mind this discrepancy. However, I wouldn’t make dedicated research any easier.
A player may want to create an entirely new spell. This type of research would be done in exactly the same way as Dedicated Research. First, have the player print out a complete write up for the spell (including range, area of effect, etc) and go over it with her. It’s then up to you to assign a level to the spell. This is potentially game-breaking so be careful what you allow!