Friday, October 5, 2012

4e Spell Research!!!


Howdy everyone. As you might have guessed, I am busy at work on the mag, but I wanted to share some ideas that were bouncing around the old noggin over the past couple of days.

Something I like about classic editions is the idea of spell research, not only for existing spells, but also for completely new ones. It lets player have a real effect on the world and their character. I also like the thought of PCs being hard at work even when they are not actively adventuring. A Magic-User reading some flimsy parchment by the firelight, or pining for his study back home, where he has half a dozen magic items partially formulated. This stuff is just fun and flavorful to me.

So, how would this work in 4e? I do not want to make the same mistakes as they did with the rules for item creation. They focused only on mechanics; there is no flavor. There are no thoughts on how to incorporate it into the story. The end result is that the sense of the PC actually working on something is lost. There is no "feel" that the PC made any effort to accomplish anything.

There needs to be a balance. The method needs to cost an appropriate amount of time and money, not produce an overpowered spell, and of course, encourage role play. 

So, today I want to look at some ideas for 4e spell research that I think will be fun to use. Like older editions, I think PCs should be of relatively high level before being allowed to attempt creating a new spell. The DM and the PC will work together through the process; it is not just up to the PC to satisfy a few straight-forward conditions and "Voila! Spell!". Furthermore, the act of creation ideally becomes a part of the PCs story, indeed, part of the campaign's story. So, here are my ideas:

1. A PC must be of 11th level or higher to attempt to research and create a new spell.

2. The player must notify a DM of this intention upon leveling up.

3. The player and DM discuss the spell idea, and whether it should be allowed in the game. It can be a Encounter, Utility, or Daily (no At-Wills or Rituals). Now here is where some advice is in order. A player naturally will want a spell that helps their PC, and the DM should be willing for this to happen. Otherwise there is no point. However, both individuals need to be honest about the power of the spell, and the spell's flavor should ALWAYS reinforce something about the PCs personality, skills, backstory, or what have you. This will hopefully quell a player's urge to simply break the game, and will instead help the spell research become more of an exercise in role play. To further help with this, the new spell will be permanent, and will not be able to be replaced or traded out at higher levels or through retraining. This will ensure that great care and thought goes into the design of the spell.

4. The player must give up a spell in order to gain a new one. Note again that Rituals and At-Wills cannot be "traded" in this way; a player must choose a Daily, Utility, or Encounter power. A player must designate his or her highest level spell of a certain type to be replaced. For example, if a player just hitting 13th level wants to research a new Encounter power, he or she must designate their 13th level Encounter power as the spell to be replaced. They will get to use the power normally until it is replaced.

5. Researching a spell takes an entire level of play. It also costs the same amount as a magic item of the same level. So in our example the player will be paying the equivalent of a level 13 magic item. This can be paid up front, during, or even at the end of the level. A player can also "bank" gold as he or she goes.

6. The player and DM work together to emphasize the flavor and action of the research during the game. This should not feel like a restriction. A DM can just make it a point to ask the player frequently what their character is doing to research the spell. When the PCs take an extended rest, the player might talk about what their PC is reading, or what have you. When they enter a new town, the player might have their PC go check out the library. Maybe a quest derives from it; maybe some NPCs aid in some way. Who knows, let the story decide. It is just flavor, of course, but it is pleasing to me, and I think it will give the "feel" that the PC is at work on something special.When the spell is finally done, it will seem much more bad-ass.

7. When the player hits their next level (14th in our example), the old spell fades away and the new spell is put in its place. Remember that this spell is permanent and cannot be trained away or replaced by another spell.

I suggest that spell research be restricted to Arcane classes. This is really for flavor's sake. That is just my opinion though, if you wanted to re-fluff this or tweak it to be something like a Thief practicing a new move, or a Cleric being slowly "prepared" for some great power by their deity, or whatever, go for it.

I hope you like these ideas! Sometime soon I will post some ideas on item creation! I also am working on some stronghold rules, but that is kind of down the road, as the mag is taking up most of my time!

Do you have any thoughts on spell research? Any memorable experiences with it? Leave a post!


  1. Why not rituals? Every thought I ever had about researching spells, rituals are always the first thing that comes to mind.

    1. Good question; I didn't really elaborate on that. Basically, I excluded it for balance reasons. The power level of rituals varies widely, even when you are talking about rituals of the same level. So it is not so much that the idea of creating your own ritual is a bad thing, its more that it can be tricky to pin down how powerful a ritual should be, based on a given level. That's just my opinion. If you wanted to try it with rituals on a case by case basis, and the player and DM agreed on everything, that is another option. I think that it is also possible that the Utility power option could cover some of the same ground as rituals, and perhaps be a little cleaner (no extra casting time or cost each time you cast it, etc).

      Thanks for checking it out!