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magic in AD&D

I'm going to cheat a bit and post something that I wrote last night for a game forum discussion—that way I can get my post done and go make some ice cream with the cream I still have before it spoils. I've been thinking about doing some game-related writing anyhow, so this is a good place to start. 

Tony has been working on a new game, adapting old-school dungeon-crawl gaming, specifically the first-edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, for Vincent Baker's about-to-be-released game Apocalypse World. I have some serious issues with the magic system in AD&D; in short, it's frequently a pain in the ass and not fun at all. I've often summed its problems up as, "Magic is hard, so we're going to limit you here, but we don't want it to be easy, so we're also going to limit you there." Anyhow, Tony posted a set of rules for how his "Apocalypse D&D" would handle spellcasting and asked for comments. That prompted me to look again at the AD&D rules for spellcasting and try to sum up what those rules say about what magic is like in the game setting, for reasons as stated below.

So here's where I'm coming from. Tony's stated that his intent "is to fully preserve the essential elements and feel of AD&D," while adapting them to the Apocalypse World system. Therefore, I think in the interest of assessing any proposed moves for spellcasting, it's useful, perhaps necessary, to consider what are the "essential elements and feel" of the AD&D magic system. For now, I want to avoid getting into the specific spells and what those tell us about magic in AD&D, and just consider the systemic elements as a whole. So, here's what AD&D tells me about magic:
  • Magic is a rare talent. Not just anyone can do magic. Only a few races can become wizards, a few more can become clerics, and you have to be smart to be able to do any magic.
  • Magic is difficult to learn. In AD&D, your intelligence limits what level of spells you can use and how many spells you can learn. Only the most intelligent characters, with an 18 intelligence, can cast the highest level magic user spells, and NO player character can learn all the spells available at each level without some kind of later magical augmentation, because Intelligence maxes out at 18 for everyone (except half-orcs, at 17) and a 19 Int is required to learn all the spells.
  • Magic is difficult to do. You can only cast a few spells per day, depending on what level you've reached. Even if you have an 18 intelligence and therefore know a minimum of 9 spells at each level, you can never cast more than 7 spells of a given level per day, and that's only for the lower-level spells at the unheard-of caster level of 29, i.e. the mightiest wizard in the world.
  • Magic on the whole is reliable. You never have to roll to cast a spell, spells never fail or are never miscast, they just work. Some spells do need to be targeted, and you can fail in that respect, but the spell itself still does happen.
  • Magic however is sometimes avoidable or resistible, as the saving throw indicates.

I could actually add a lot more to this if I wanted to spend time on it right now, since the general nature of the spells and magic items also say a lot about magic in the setting. However, this will do to start.


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