One of the most overlooked and ignored benefits of being a wizard or a priest, is that you can create your very own spells. Now, naturally, this can be a very intimidating process to both player and DM alike, my goal here is to try and make this practice a bit more easier to grasp.
There are lots of reasons to create a new spell, but the most important one is to get the player more involved in the world. This process starts with the player, with an idea. Maybe it is something simple, such as a spell already known but with different spell components. Or it can be a completely brand new spell, regardless, there are no hard rules about this, as every case will be different and we really don’t want to get bogged down with rules if we don’t need to.
Again, I don’t know your campaign world, or how you run things so I can only assume that you are keeping things as close to core rules as possible, but you are free to increase things or decrease them as you see fit.
BEGINNING THE PROCESS
This process should always start with the player. An idea which he brings to the DM. No matter what the spell is, it can either be shot down or given the go ahead at this stage. Try to keep an open mind, we don’t want to ever shoot the idea down, even if you think that it is too crazy. This stage isn’t about anything but getting the player more involved, we can always impose restrictions later.
After the idea has been allowed to fester in the players head for a while, schedule some private time with the character to discuss the new spell and brain-storm. Of course you do need to know a lot about spells, but keep the PHB handy and don’t be afraid to thumb through it. For creating new spells, this book is still your best friend. While the guidelines aren’t officially written down anywhere, as the DM you’ll just have to read between the lines, and use what spells are in there as a base.
You also have to understand what a spell does, this is what this meeting will be about. What does the player want this spell to do? Magic is a science, it only does what the spell description says that it does, and that is it. It uses paranormal laws, but in order for the game to work, these laws must never be broken. We can’t use a heat metal spell to start a fire. Once the spell has been committed to paper, this is what it does, and we need the player to be crystal clear as to what he expects from it.
There are other things to consider:
A): Does this spell do the same thing as one or more spells already in the book? We don’t want to waste our time, and as you’ll see later, it isn’t possible for a spell caster to research a spell which is too high of a level for him to cast, so if the spell is too powerful, it may be too powerful for his character at this time and again, it would just be a waste of your time at this point. I guess that it should also be noted that a weaker version of a stronger spell is always possible.
B): Is the player trying to cheat? I know players who don’t play anymore, whose goal wasn’t to have fun or role-play, but to defeat the game, and creating your own spells is probably the fastest road to getting this done then any other. We have to be careful not to be fooled, not that every player is going to try this, or intentionally set out to cheat, but it does happen. For this reason we must stick to specific rules. Clerics cast Cleric spells, and Mages cast Wizard spells, that is just the way it is. We don’t need any wizards casting heal, nor do we need any priests throwing fireballs. Under some special cases, a spell may copy the effects of a different class’s spell, but when we do allow this, they should always copy the effects of low level, and minor spells and be at least half the power of them. For instance, a wizard who has some how discovered a way to replicate the priest spell Cure Light Wounds will only be able to cure 1d4 points of damage per casting.
We need to ask the character what kind of limitations the spell has. Oddly enough, the player will be more restrictive then what you, the DM, ever would be. The more powerful the spell is, the more it takes to cast the spell. Some spells cost money in components, while other, really high level spells can shorten the lifespan of the caster. It is this point where we get as much input from the player as possible, we can always change this information once it is fully in our court, but we have to be honest with the player without, at the same time, being to restrictive. We’ll encourage the player to be the restrictive ones, and just describe to him the guidelines used to create the other spells.
Once you’ve discussed it, and hashed out all of the obvious problems, it is now time to study our notes and sit on it for a couple of days. Study how this spell would interact with the world around the caster, put it into use against specific scenarios to see if there is any way to misuse the spell, when you find one, write it down and remove this threat from the description. Once you’ve finished with it, email a copy of your new description to the Player, you’re done with it and it is now back into his court to decide if he still wants to research the spell or not. Notice that even if the spell was a wild idea, this is the stage of were we put restrictions on it, and then we give it back to the player so that HE can decide if he wants it or not, we never said no, you can’t do this, we just fixed it so that they could do something along those lines.
The spell can be totally different at this stage, then when it originally started. If the player still decides that he wants it, then we have finalized the description and it is time to assign the specifics.
Determining the Spell Level: This isn’t as hard as it sounds, but it is helpful to have a basic knowledge of spells. We want to keep things as close to the spells that are already known as possible, but there are some helpful guidelines that we can use.
- If the spell causes damage, it should be within 2 or 3 levels of the amount of dice used: i.e., a spell which inflicts 6d4 damage should be anywhere between 4th level and 6th.
- If the spell is an improvement upon an existing spell, it should be 2 levels higher then the original: i.e., a Detect Undead which only requires a verbal component would be a 3rd level spell.
- If the spell copies the effects of a different class, the spell should always be at least double the level.
Determining Spell Components: This is limited only by your imagination. The guidelines for Spell Components is fairly straight forward: The more powerful spells require exotic and expensive components, while those of limited duration are more relaxed and require less. The original 1e DMG has a decent listing for hard spell components which you might find helpful if you own that book, but if you don’t there are actually quite a few books that you can find at Spiritual Shops, a writer named Cuttingham has written some really easy to use books that translate well into our purposes, recently all of his work has been compiled up into one volume which is a masterpiece as far as Occult books go. Of course, if that ain’t your bag either, then you can always just make it up. Quite a few of the spell components in the PHB is simply just a play on words. If you are still struggling, a great way to restrict a spell is by making spell components come from killing dangerous and hard to find animals.
Spell duration, and effects of level: Chances are, you developed this during the description faze, it is always best to just start the spell off at a set number, and then allow greater times and additional damage to depend on the exact level of the caster. The more basic the spell, the better for everybody involved. This is much simpler then it sounds, trust me; and again, use what has been written already as your base, and you won’t find this to hard at all.
TIME TO PLAY THE GAME!
The spell is written, both parties, the DM and the player have agreed on everything, and it is now time for the character himself to do his work. From here on out, this will be actual game play, we don’t really want the player to be studying the spell for weeks . . . well, unless they got nothing else going on, and that’s their thing, but I bet that they would find girls a lot more rewarding.
The wizard or priest must be 100% healthy at the start of this process. During this time, he is not allowed to adventure, all of his attention will be in constructing this new spell, writing notes and studying deep occult understandings, or engaged in deep meditation and prayer. The exact time it takes to complete this task is 2 weeks per spell level. At the end of this period, the magic-user checks to see if he has finished his research by rolling the dice. If he is a wizard, he will roll against his Chance to learn spell check. If he is a priest he must make a Wisdom Check.
If the roll was successful, he can move on, but if he wasn’t then it will take another week before he can check again. Each failure indicates that he’ll need another week until either he makes the roll or just gives up.
Cost of Spell Research
There are a lot of cheap DM’s out there. I’ve discovered this through comments on this blog. People are always telling me that I’m charging way to much and then tell me some little bitty number that they charge. It leads me to wonder what their characters are spending their money on! Prices are high because it encourages the players to take their characters adventuring. A Wizard doesn’t require as much in supplies as a warrior or a thief, but it is stuff like this that he WANTS to spend his funds on.
The cost of the spell research is 1,000 to 10,000 gp per spell level. This money is burned up, wizards will spend this amount on ingredients of all kinds, all of it will be used up, the exact total can be figured by the Dungeon Master, or determined randomly. Priests will also need to spend the same amount, purchasing incense and gifts or whatever. It is preferred to have the cost be just over the players means, requiring an adventure before getting set for this task.
A wizard will also need to use a good laboratory, if he doesn't have one, he can either rent one, or construct one. The cost of constructing first requires a building to house it, the lab alone should cost somewhere between 1,000 to 10,000 gp, but this lab will always be owned by the mage, and is reusable. Constructing a lab should be a big deal, this is the equivalent of a thieves guild or a stronghold to the magic-user.
Clerics have an easier time doing this, as they can use any church (the cost above reflects the donation required to use the space), if they have constructed their own temple, it is even better, but if they haven’t then the DM can have them construct a shrine for the normal 1,000 to 10,000gp cost, and again, this will become permanent property owned by the character.
Adding the New Spell to your Spell-book
Once the research has been successfully completed, the spell is a success and can be added to the wizards Spell-Books. He can either share the spell with others, or keep it to himself.
It should be noted that wizards are suppose to have a limited amount of spells that they can learn per level. This rule is kept to keep all of the wizards unique, but as an optional rule, you can judge that created spells do not count against this number. The rule was made to keep players guessing, not all wizards instantly start flinging fireballs at you, but since this is a unique spell, we don’t have to worry about this happening.
It is completely up to you, the DM, as to what spells a wizard has access too. If the wizard gets a spell which is unbalancing the game, or disrupting it entirely, this isn’t his fault, it is yours, because you gave it to him. Keep that in mind before you finish this process, and always keep it in the back of your mind.
There is a need to create new spells, as the ones listed in the book are far from complete. Always ask why there are holes where you find them. For instance, the spells from the Necromantic School is extremely bare-bones (no pun intended). This was done to discourage players from specializing in necromancy, villains are specialized in this school, not PCs. A lot more work can definitely be done to expand the school, but be careful not to de-power the cleric to get it done. It’s okay to borrow a few spells, but if the necromancer can cast all of the cleric spells, then the clerics roll has been compromised.
Also worthy of mention, this system does not replace the original method of learning spells. This system only applies if the wizard or priest is creating the spell, if he is learning an existing spell, then the original system is still used.
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