B/X Spells and Spell Books

I am trying to clearly codify the way that magic spells and magical research work in my Kilgore’s B/X game. I’ve been tinkering with things for years but am now trying to more-or-less set things in stone. My recent post on the Read Magic spell was part of my effort to work through things.

In order to get it right, I’m trying to make sure that my understanding of the Rules As Written is correct. B/X handles some things differently than most other versions of the game, and many players don’t seem to grasp the implications of those differences or they ignore them entirely. Though I have a few tweaks of my own, I want my base to be the By The Book rules. Here is how I read the rules with page references for each point. I’ve got anything wrong or have missed anything, kindly let me know.

  1. Spells Known and Spell Books
    1. Magic-users and elves have spell books containing the spells that they know (B16)
      1. The number of spells in the book can not exceed the number of spells the caster can use per day (B16)
      2. The DM may choose which spells a character knows, or may allow the player to choose (B16)
      3. If a spell book is lost or destroyed, the character cannot memorize spells until it is replaced (X11)
    2. Clerics know all spells of spell levels that they can cast; they do not have spell books (B15)
  2. Spell Memorization and Spell Casting
    1. Only spells which have been memorized can be cast (B15)
    2. Characters choose which known spells to memorize at the start of the day (B15)
    3. The same spell may be memorized more than once (B15)
    4. A character must be able talk and use hand motions to cast spells (B15) and must have stable support (X25)
    5. Spell ranges are in feet indoors and in yards outdoors but areas affected by spells are always in feet (X19)
    6. A character casting a spell may perform no other action that round (B15) and must be able to see the target of the spell (X11)
    7. In an encounter, characters must identify the spell they are casting before initiative is rolled (X11)
    8. If a caster takes damage or fails a saving throw before completing a spell, the spell fails and is lost (X11)
    9. Magic-users and elves must memorize reversed versions of reversable spells to cast reversed spells (X11)
    10. Clerics may reverse a memorized reversable spell when casting it; they do not need to memorize a reversed version of the spell (X11)
    11. A cleric who has displeased his or her deity may have his or her spell casting abilities restricted (X7, X11)
    12. Re-memorizing Spells
      1. Spells may be regained once per day (B15)
      2. All casters must be well-rested to regain spells (B15)
      3. Magic-users and elves must study their spell books for 1 hour to regain spells; if they do not have access to their spell book, they cannot regain spells (X11)
      4. Clerics must pray for 1 hour to regain spells (B15)
  3. Learning New Spells
    1. Magic-users and elves must be taught new spells when they gain levels (X11)
      1. Learning new spells takes 1 week “out of play” (X11)
      2. The DM may choose which new spells a magic-user or elf learns, or may allow the player to choose (X11)
    2. Clerics learn all the spells of a new spell level when they become able to cast spells of that level (X11)
  4. Additional Notes
    1. Magic-users and elves must use a Read Magic spell to understand a magic scroll or another caster’s spell book (B17, B49)
      1. Once a scroll or spell book has been deciphered using Read Magic, that person may always read that magical writing (B17)
      2. Clerics can always read clerical scrolls; they do not use Read Magic (B49)
      3. It is unclear whether Read Magic can be cast on another person (B17)
    2. There is no provision in the rules for copying spells from scrolls or spell books
    3. New spells can be researched and learned by a character (X51)
      1. It is not stated whether the standard spells in the rule books can be learned through research
      2. It is unclear how successfully-researched spells are added to spell books since books cannot contain more spells than the character can cast per day
    4. It is not clear whether clerics know all the standard spells in the rule books of the appropriate level or all clerical spells from all sources of the appropriate level or how researched spells affect a cleric’s known spells
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2 Responses to B/X Spells and Spell Books

  1. JB says:

    Regarding MUs/elves acquisition of new spells:

    I infer from the text that UNLESS a PC has a teacher, guild, or “mage school” from which to learn new spells (upon level advancement), then new spells may ONLY be acquired through spell research as presented in the expert set. This explains why magic-users of any level may perform spell research: if DMs wish to remove wizard colleges and high level sorcerers from the campaign (or, at least, make such things uncommon), magic-users and elves will be forced to sink time and treasure into the acquisition of new magic through the research process…which may be used to learn a spell in the main rulebooks OR (if the DM is generous) an original spell of the player’s own imagination.

    • Kilgore says:

      JB: I don’t think that’s an unreasonable inference, but I also don’t think it’s clearly the intent. The rules seem (to me, anyway) sort of “hand wave” the learning-from-a-master part by making the assumption of mage guild membership or apprenticeship to higher-level NPC despite no other mention of this concept. It’s very vague either way, so I wrote it as “must be taught new spells.

      I’ve been in a number of online debates about whether or not characters can research spells that are on the rule books. I think that of course they can, but there seems to be no shortage of other players who think characters can only research newly-invented spells.

      In my game, I handwave the learning part, with the new spells being rolled for unless I have a reason for a specific spell. The character just takes one week and POOF new spells. However, if the character has a scroll, spell book, or has successfully researched a spell that they want, I allow them to choose that one instead of random/DM selection. I would probably also permit them to seek out a teacher for a specific spell to gain.

      I must say that I have not really ever had a ton of spell-casting PCs in my games over the years. Shockingly few. My son started a campaign that was designed to be caster-centric and I was pretty excited about it, but it didn’t get very far before other commitments derailed our game.

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