Range:0 for Read Magic

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.

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7 Responses to Range:0 for Read Magic

  1. Eric Boyd says:

    Make it _Open Third Eye._

  2. JB says:

    I don’t think you’re being unreasonable at all. Other spells with range 0, such as cure light wounds, are explicit that they may be cast on others (or on the casters them selves). The text of read magic, discussing the magic-user’s spell book, strongly implies that a magic-user might use this spell to allow another to read his spell book!

    Remember that in B/X, a magic-user or elf may never know more spells than the number of spells they can cast and (unlike AD&D) no magic-user or elf begins the game with knowledge of the read magic spell. It would not be strange for a wizard to go her whole career without learning the spell, and then what use would all those magic spell scrolls be to her? Allowing read magic to stand “as written” (without a “caster only” designation) allows mages to gift each other with the necessary sorcerer sight to read such magic offerings.

    Now having said that, I do think it’s explicit in the text that only magic-users and elves can make use of magic-user and elf spell scrolls…you can’t cast read magic on the party fighter so that she can ready that fireball spell scroll you’ve been hoarding. But otherwise I think that you are using the spell exactly as intended.

    Here’s a fun read, by the way:
    https://www.vonallan.com/2019/04/the-two-magic-users.html

    • Kilgore says:

      Yeah, I definitely use the B/X spellbook rules so reading scrolls is not a given for magic-users. Though a lot of players seem to think that they’re “wonky” and just ignore them as a mistake, I happen to like them immensely. I apply the same logic of “known spells” to clerics, so if a cleric were to research a new spell, he or she would have to “unlearn” one of the standard spells on the list.

      And I do only permit spell casters to cast spells from scrolls. So even if the fighter is given read magic and deciphers a Fire Ball scroll, he can’t cast it.

      • JB says:

        Yeah, in that case I think you’re using the rules as intended.

        • Kilgore says:

          Honestly, I think it’s at least a bit of a stretch to interpret the spell as being usable on others. The Read Languages spell directly above Read Magic has a “(caster only)” notation and specifies “the caster” in the description; even though the Read Magic description doesn’t say “the caster,” it DOES say “the magic-user.” It is the only magic-user/elf spell in Basic with Range:0 that does not have the “(caster only)” notation. Other spells with Range:0 in both Basic and Expert that don’t say “(caster only)” seem pretty clear in the description whether or not the spell can be cast on others.

          But I am okay with allowing Read Magic to be cast on others because 1) it’s not an indefensible position from the rules and 2) it’s what I want in my game.

  3. Pingback: B/X Spells and Spell Books | Lord Kilgore

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