Esoterica | On Reading Requirements & the Magic-User

The purpose of this post is to nail down some of my ideas about the Meta behind the Vancian magic system and offer some guidelines to make it more interesting for the players. There are several "story" assumptions being made here to establish a certain fictional magic paradigm. Some of these may not line up with your understanding of the Rules, but they're my jumping off points for what follows:

  • In order to understand the magical arts, an apprentice magic-user begins with "general theory" texts that outline the basic workings of the school he/she is being indoctrinated into. 
  • Many schools of magic have overlap with other schools in terms of ideology and practices.
  • By "school" I mean something more specific than the "Schools of Magic" familiar to most D&D buffs. My usage here implies a branch of a magical tradition, eg. the specific demon-summonings and demonological background of the witch-coven found in the southern woodlands of the Kingdom of Theogax. Their methods and litanies, their collective repertoire of spells, curses and malignities.

Esoteric Protocols
A 0-level magic-user has access to or owns a Foundation Text (FT) for a particular magical school. This contains general purpose, universal spells like Read Magic, Detect Magic. Also included in the FT are 1d3+1 spells that improve in efficacy as the magic-user gains experience levels -- in exactly the same manner found in Wonder & Wickedness (Lost Pages, 2014).

Traditionally, magic-users "get" new spells upon advancement to the next level. Maybe the player and referee collaborate to pick the appropriate number of spells out of the rulebook -- maybe the magic-user hires a tutor or exchanges wealth for access to a magical college's book collection and the referee and player roll up what he/she learns in these scenarios -- maybe both of these things happen -- or neither. IN ANY CASE, I propose the reverse:
As a condition for level advancement, the magic-user must both obtain and learn a given # of spells through whatever means possible IN GAME. At least one of these new spells should be of higher level than the highest level spell in his/her repertoire. The magic-user will continue to accrue XP as normal, but his/her experience level will not improve until he has met these conditions. 
Grimoires can and should contain more than spells. As products of a specific magical tradition, they could possibly deal with technical, non-spell areas of study like occult sigils, extraplanar entities, astrological data, diagrams, etc.

Reading Requirements
  • Sometimes it's not enough to simply find a new spell to learn. Sometimes you must be familiar with another spell or branch of knowledge before you can add that spell to your repertoire. It's an idea that's run rampant in video games (see skill tree), but I think it has good application for D&D-like games. Access to spells becomes more tricksy and requires in-game research that reinforces the setting -- Where do I go to find more about this kind of magic?
  • Spell descriptions should include a Source (the specific school/tradition that invented or adapted it) and Requirements like minimum experience level, prerequisite spells, a specific branch of magical knowledge (eg. wandcraft, elementalism, ley lines, etc.), and/or a specific item, action or quality (What do you mean I need to chop of my right index finger and have demonic ancestors to learn this spell??) that is not a component of the spell itself.

Example Spell Description
Naacalese Warding Chant (2nd Level/Incantation)
  • Rarity: Scarce and largely forgotten 
  • Source: Nigromantics of Mu-Lem, 5Ae (Fifth Aeon), author unknown 
  • Requirements: (1) Must be able to read/write Old Naacalese or hire translator; (2) Invocation of the Demon Kwatto (1st/Inc.); (S*) Knowledge of demonic contracts  
  • Casting Time: 1 round 
  • Duration: Effect lasts until magic-user (a) stops chanting or (b) exceeds his/her experience level in turns
This incantation is a staccato burst of repeating Nacaalese stanzas that calls forth a trio of ancient sorcerer-ghosts bound to the service of the demon Kwatto. Per the incantation's instructions, these ghosts must scour the area (100 ft radius) in the magic-user's vicinity and report in their hollow, sighing voices if there are any other invisible spirits or persons about (note that only the caster can hear the ghosts' voices). The ghosts will move along with the caster for the duration of the spell but cannot or will not venture away for more than one hundred feet. The caster cannot see them but can feel their breath on his/her neck. The ghosts will also indicate the presence of beings hidden from the caster's view but not magically invisible. There is a 10% chance they they will tell the location of any treasure nearby as well. This can be increased to 20% if the caster allows the ghosts to lick his hands with their dry, dusty ghost-tongues.

*S = Suggested: Not required knowledge but useful in this instance. 

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