So, while I had only an NPC mage (ok, plus my son playing another mage, but he’s easy to talk into stuff) I could ignore or handwave at a certain amount of the game mechanics involved with mages and spellbooks. Now for elves I had long ago noted that they didn’t use “spellbooks” but instead had spinning crystals that they would gaze into that acted in all other ways as a spell book, just with somewhat increased capacity. Now I have a second player with a normal old human mage and it becomes a bit more problematic to handwave things away.
…All about the reasonable use of the absolute power of the DM… Players like consistency, and so do I…
So, in canon AD&D (1E) a mage starts out with four (4) spells. Read Magic, and one each of offensive, defensive, and utilitarian spells. By 2E this had changed to 3d4 beginning spells, and in both editions a mage gained a new spell with each new level. Anything else needed to begged, bought, stolen, recovered, or researched. This always seemed to be crazy-low to me, so I had instituted a rule, long ago, that stated that mages started with a certain number of spells of each level (about ten 1st level, a decreasing from there) – considering them “basic knowledge” along the lines of the “Universal Spells” that independent of any school restrictions from 2E. When a mage made it to the new level, they just automatically learned those spells as “part of the territory.” But I also then removed the idea of them learning new spells with each level because they had a large dump with each new spell level gained.
I wanted my mages to be mages, and that is hard enough in AD&D at low levels. I’ve fixed that with my Power stat, plus my Cantrip rules. But I’m unhappy with either the canon 1E or 2E rules for starting spells, I’m also a bit uneasy with my old homebrew rules because the more I think about it now, the more I like the idea that mages are constantly researching magic in such a way that with each level gained they learn a new spell. This meant that there were lots of redundant spells in many mage’s spellbooks, and it meant that they those spellbooks would fill up fast – and that carrying a travelling spellbook made sense as soon as you could afford one (plus figure out where to keep you regular one). I have no problems with mages having to carry lots of tomes around, or having to spend lots of money, so how do I want to handle this?
I looked around at some of my favorite games and realized that I really like Call of Cthulhu, the way they handle Mythos tomes has always worked well. But I still like the idea of spellbooks and mages having to write and research spells – something that you just cant really do in Call of Cthulhu. There is an old Dragon magazine article that was filled with lists of books for use with spell research that I loved making players accumulate if they wanted to do spell research with any chance of success, what if I did something like that?
So I realized that I can split the difference. What if those “Universal Spells” (whatever I decide that they are) come from the standard “textbooks” of magic – while most other spells are found in the personal grimoires of the mage – that’s the real juice that mages are hoping to steal or liberate from each other, or find in an old tome someplace. Sure, cribbing from Call of Cthulhu there are undoubtedly various editions of the “standard textbooks” with extra stuff in them, or with marginalia that add a spell or two, but for the most part these standard books simply help with basic spell research, have some basic spells, and then the mages has a copy of their spellbook, plus a book of cantrips – perhaps starting off the game with three weighty tomes that they have to lug around and keep safe. Plus, I can break out those “Universal Spells” into successive volumes of magic for each new spell level so that if a mage wants the “freebies” he actually has to go out and get ahold of the “textbook” in some way. Now, most adventuring mages are going to liberate a copy from some other mage in the process of “adventuring” – but the chance always exists to simply purchase a copy of some rare, obscure edition that has something slightly different in it.
That kind of feels like a mage doesn’t it?