At the beginning of the year, I underwent that age-old ritual of letting go of all my houserules and returned to the game As It Was Written, in this case 1981’s B/X Dungeons & Dragons. While I do have a very few small tweaks still in place (such as redefining the way that clerics turn the undead or 4d6 Drop Lowest) and am left to interpret some things that are a little ambiguous (the “room trap” and “treasure trap” debate, among others), I have made a serious effort to remain very close to By The Book and want to make sure that most of the changes I do make give results that are not incompatible with the rules as the Great Ones laid down Back In The Day.
One thing I’m doing that I realize is not quite BTB is the way I interpret the Read Magic spell’s range. Now, this might seem like a trivial thing, but it turns out that if I want to stick to the rather unique take on magic-user spellbooks that B/X takes (and I do) while also making magic-users a little more magical (and I definitely do) then I really, really need read magic to work this way.
Here’s the thing: Page B17 of Moldvay’s Basic Rulebook tells us that read magic has Range: 0. Now, this seems all well and good and no one is going to be shocked. However, there are other spells (such as levitate or mirror image, both also on B16) that have Range: 0 (caster only). It’s that “(caster only)” that I’m interested, and not because I’m worried that an editing mistake left that notation off of the read magic spell…In fact, it’s the LACK of a “(caster only)” notation on read magic that made my day whenever it was that I discovered it. You see, I WANT read magic to be able to be cast upon others. Some of the ways I envision B/X magic working really needs read magic to be shareable.
Now, before you go diving for your books I will be big enough to admit that right there in the description it says things like “the magic-user”, most likely in reference to the caster. Since the Great Ones did NOT use the words “the caster” and there is no “(caster only)” in the range, I’ve managed to convince myself that a magic-user or elf can cast read magic upon another individual, granting THAT reader the ability to decipher scrolls, spellbooks, and other magical writing. I’m interpreting Range: 0 to mean “touch,” in great part because that’s how I want it to work.
I don’t think I’m totally off the farm here. Other spells with Range: 0, such fly on X14, explicitly allow the spell to be cast upon someone else. I will just pretend that I didn’t notice that no spells in the Expert Rulebook have a “(caster only)” notation (and include a mark for feet on spells with Range: 0) even when the description is clear so that I can remain By The Book.
I will also conveniently ignore the fact that Gavin Norman’s B/X Essentials ruled differently than I do. While I consider B/X Essentials (now Old School Essentials) to be the very best of the B/X clones/references/recreations out there, no one gets it right every single time. So what if I think I agree with every single other ruling B/X Essentials makes? No one is perfect, after all.
Anyway, I am fully aware of the fact that not only am I permitted to change the rules as I see fit, it’s actually in the rules. B60 notes that the DM is the Boss and that the final decision is “not this booklet’s!” Of course, I can change the way read magic works. I can change anything I want. But I really want to pretend that I’m not actually changing anything this time, if that’s aright. Or even if it’s not.