Homerules: Magic in My AD&D Campaigns: Part 1: Magic-Users

There are four things AD&D does immediately to mages that drive me crazy.  They make them expensive, fragile, marginalized, and overall impractical.  Now, I know the rule is, “They’re flimsy to begin with, but they’re powerhouses towards the end.”  Given how hard it is to get “to the end,” I don’t know how much of a truism that can be.  I like wizards.  I think they should be rare and useful both, and some of the things that are done to de-fang them from the start need to go. 1





Let’s start with “expensive.” AD&D is a lot about resource management.  Encumbrance, material components, and time spent memorizing spells are three methods used to control magic-users from the beginning.  Now, I like encumbrance to a point – and that point is, “When it becomes a matter of bookkeeping.”  There’s no magic formula (ahem) that says I can always drag around ten pounds – there are days when that’s not a problem, and there are days where the idea of holding 10 pounds makes me want to scream, depending on what else is going on… and how I carry it (backpack, belt, arms, shoulders) is important, too.  That’s deliberately a light weight; armor itself could easily weigh forty pounds3

Material components I also enjoy. I love to have a physical connection between the spell as an energy form and its intention via those material processes. On the other hand, okay, I can maybe see what mercury has to do with a floating disc, but what does diamond dust to do with a wall of force? (So you…blow the dust forward and it becomes as hard as diamond.  Yeah.)  I also have to ask, specifically 10,000 gold pieces worth?  I see that rarity of ingredients might help distinguish the corporate mage (okay, one with a patron)  versus the independent (and likely amateur) but while there are alternatives (mana systems, etc.) I think the real value is not in trying to price the average wizard out of the game, but in quality of casting.  If you have a physical link, you get better results.  I have made this mostly a matter of story rather than a set rule, but I could always make one up.  (One connection between spell and subject lowers resistance/saving throw by one. That kind of thing.)  I am also willing to go the other direction 4 and say that there may be spells that are impossible without some kind of connection to the subject.

Time spent memorizing spells is more bookkeeping. It’s unwieldy. It’s also ridiculous to suggest it’s the same for every wizard everywhere.  “Sorry, I got to bed 14 minutes late this evening,” the wizard says, waving her hand distractedly as she stares at the sky. “I can’t actually have this spell done for another quarter hour.  You just, um, saddle the horses without me.”  I may have been influenced by Earthdawn and Amber DRPG in this regard; I expect that yes, there’s some time taken with linking spells to lynchpins or weaving threads or whatever analogy you prefer.  I don’t think it takes the same 8 hours every day.

Let’s put it this way: wizard is a demanding profession, in many cases requiring significant schooling and natural talent. 5 You may be able to substitute one for the other in part, but you can have all the book learning in the world and you still need to practice your embroidery skills.6 I have a demanding job that requires significant schooling and natural talent. I do not need to refresh my memory every night of what I’m doing. Sure, if I’m doing something I only do monthly I might browse back to my grimoire and do a little studying, but what I am is a wizard, and that’s not something I suddenly forget daily, or as soon as I do it.  I think the same thing can work in the setting: choose some usual spells, however many you get to have memorized for your level. Any other spell you cast will take some refresher time, probably about 15 minutes per level.  I’ll see how this works.

  1. This isn’t to say that the other classes are free of things to limit their effectiveness, deliberate for “game balance” or otherwise.
  2. Forty pounds doesn’t necessarily render anyone immobile…v, but that’s less than basic firefighter personal protective equipment.  My purse, today, weighs over 10 pounds.2I really need to learn that I don’t have to pack for everything.
  3. Some of us go…both ways.
  4. I do run some “natural talent”-only mages but they don’t cast spells.  Spells can be scientific – in general, you do the same things, you enter the same energy, you get the same result.
  5. I ask the surgeons who work on me how their embroidery is… No complaints yet!

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