Friday, April 10, 2009

OD&D Magic: Verbs & Nouns Analysis

Here's a list of the OD&D magical "verbs" based on the S&W Companion "Spell" supplement (an excellent resource).
Abjuration (Abjur.): Abjurations are protective spells.
They create physical or magical barriers, negate magical
or physical abilities, harm trespassers, or even banish the
subject of the spell to another plane of existence.
Conjuration (Conj.): Conjurations bring manifestations of
objects, creatures, or some form of energy to you.
Conjurations can also transport creatures from another
plane of existence, heal, transport creatures or objects
over great distances or create objects or effects on the
Divination (Div.): Divination spells enable you to learn
secrets, to predict the future, and to find hidden things.
Enchantment (Ench.):Enchantment spells affect the
minds of others, influencing or controlling their
Evocation (Evoc.):Evocation spells manipulate energy or
tap an unseen source of power to produce a desired end.
In effect, they create something out of nothing.
Illusion (Illus.): Illusion spells deceive the senses or
minds of others. They cause people to see things that are
not there, not see things that are there, hear phantom
noises, or remember things that never happened.
Necromancy (Necro.): Necromancy spells manipulate
the power of death, unlife, and the life force.
Transmutation (Trans.): Transmutation spells change the
properties of some creature, thing, or condition.
Universal: The misc grabbag.
And here are the Mentzer edition spheres, or as I would envision them, nouns:
Death, Energy, Nature, Spirit, Time, Universal

On the face of it, this is decent. 9 verbs and 6 nouns meets the rule of 7+/-2. However, I think there is considerably redundancy here.
  • Death is effectively a noun and a verb.
  • Evocation and Energy have a lot of overlap. Looking at the spells that are classed as evocations, a lot of them are direct damage oriented and all are tied to classical elements.
  • I'm not sure about the overlap between Conjuration and Evocation. Evocation seems to be a code word for "direct damage." Conjuration has always been troublesome, almost a grab bag for spells ranging from mobility enhancing (Mount and Teleport) to AoE (Stinking Cloud) to summoning. I sometimes feel like evocation was seperated just because they had to find SOMETHING that wouldn't be lumped into the Conjuration container.
  • There's some overlap with Abjuration and Transmutation. Specifically, Abjurations often seem like a subset of transmutations.
  • Illusion treated as a verb is a bit troublesome. I'm not sure why Illusions and Enchantments couldn't be combined.
  • I don't care for the noun list at all. Spirit and Time seem to be nearly random (How is Quest related to Time?). I like my seven noun list much better, although there is some overlap in the categories.

Ideally for verbs, I'd like 3 core verbs that relate to one another in a Rock-Paper-Scissors style. For example: Abjuration beats --> Conjuration beats --> Divination, which beats --> Abjuration. Then 1-3 extra verbs can "float" around the circle, either inferior to everything or separate but equal.

I think Illusion & Enchantment (shall we call it "Beguiling?") is a good candidate for the former, that is, a "school" that is inferior to the Big 3. A castle built of shadows is revealed by divination, easily dissipated with conjured fire, and easily sealed off by a real arcane ward. But, to the non-magical, Beguiling is pretty darn effective. Its also quite effective at influencing behavior if the victim doesn't realize its a fake. Making it inferior at a straight up contest keeps it in a low-profile, tricksy sort of usage, which is exactly where I want it. Or, Beguiling could be an option if you don't want it to be a specialization; i.e., anyone can cast an illusion instead of a real spell.

I'm not sure what to do about Transmutation. It could get lumped into one of the other schools, or it could be its own thing. For example, transmutaiton could be folded in with Abjuration in some regards; "Infuse with Element" might bestow certain traits of the element in question. I think it might be a good candidate for "seperate but equal" treatment, being its own side school that does not play in the Big 3 RPS triangle. This also makes it easy for classes focused on transmutations (like shapeshiftey druids, perhaps) to excel at it without being awesome at everything else too.

So, that gives us 5 schools (verbs): Conjuration, Divination, and Abjuration; Transmutation, and Beguiling

And 7 elements (nouns): Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Entropy (Chaos), Quintessence (Law), and Nature (Neutral)

For a total of 35 possible combination. Now, we can stop right here if we want to. I can think of several quite playable ways to handle this within the existing Vancian framework.

You could tweak existing spell descriptions. So instead of "Protection from Evil" you get "Protection from Element." Instead of Light, you get "Conjure Element I," with the ability to call up a minor manifestation of any of the seven elements for a period of time. Instead of Detect Evil, you get Detect Element. In fact, my first level spell list could look much like this:

Detect Element (Divination): Detect the presence or absence and strength of the chosen element within range.

Protection from Element (Abjuration): Monsters of a nature similar to the chosen element are -1 to hit and the caster gains a +1 bonus on saves vs. attacks of the same.

Manifest Element (Conjuration): Call up a minor reflection of the element. This could be direct damage (no more than 1d6 in a small area or 2d6 against a single target) or utility oriented (such as conjuring a divine light).

Infuse Item with Element (Transmutation): Infuses a small item with the chosen element. For example, infusing food with Entropy would make it spoil, but infusing rotten food with Quintessence could restore it to its original state. Infusing food with Nature could cause fruits and vegetables to sprout into saplings.

That covers just about all the bases except for Sleep and Charm Person, which are both clearly beguiling, and Cure Light Wounds, which I think can be done without so long as some other healing system is in place. Limit Clerics to the Quintessence or Entropy keywords (maybe Fire if you want them to bring purifying goodness on the heathen). Pretty easy.

You could also do things less revolutionary, like the 3.5 Reserve Feats. However, this would require expanding the spell list to ensure that there's, say, a Fire spell at every spell level. Which certainly is doable, but would be a project.

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