Standard Book of Spells


One thing that’s been bugging me a bit about Swords & Wizardry White Box is the question of how to determine the number of spells in a beginning magic-user’s (or elf’s) spell book and which spells they are. Read Magic is a given, but I’ve been struggling to come up with an elegant way to get the rest.

I posed the question on the S&W forums and got a number of good answers, but I must admit that I was surprised by the fact that two suggested allowing beginning magic-users have all the first level spells.

That’s something I’m having a bit of trouble wrapping my mind around.

On the one hand, I’ve always felt that the Vancian magic system was a bit too limiting, and have played with various options to increase the options available to mages. On the other, I fear that granting all first-level spells (granted, there are only 8 of them in WB) would open things up a bit too much.

I always liked 1e’s version of randomly determining spells which had players roll for one offensive, one defensive, and one miscellaneou spell. With the small number of first-level spells in S&W White Box, though, this isn’t really an option.

So I’m going to take the plunge and borrow a page from Harry Potter. All first-level magic-users and elves will get all eight first-level spells listed in the WB rules in a Standard Book of Spells:

  • Charm Person
  • Detect Magic
  • Hold Portal
  • Light I
  • Protection from Chaos I
  • Read Languages
  • Read Magic
  • Sleep

Part of my reasoning is that I’d like to see more variety from low-level magic-users. I’d also like to make them a bit more fun to play. Finally, the low number of spells at first level is not replicated at higher levels. You’d think that basic magic would be the most diverse out there, but, in fact, no other spell level in White Box has fewer than ten spells.

I’m taking this to mean that while the eight spells listed above have become the standard that all educated magic-users learn, there is a very wide range of other first-level magic out there that has been developed “in the wild” and can be discovered on scrolls, in enemy’s spellbooks, or by research. While there are a lot of them, none of them have become well-known enough to enter the mainstream. This will be a good way to get the wide range of first-level spells from other editions into my WB campaigns. One at a time. With much effort required.

Who knows? Maybe the exact formula for a magic missile spell may become a sort of holy grail sought by wizards across the lands.

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