Playing AD&D – Spells: Research

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One reader pointed out that spell research could also provide a way around a failed attempt to learn a spell – the Magic-user or Illusionist could simply invent a parallel spell perhaps with a minor variation. I think this is a great approach to getting that spell your PC really wants.

N.B. I asked a few folks to look this over. One of them, Larry Hamilton, ended up writing his own, simpler, system – take a look at that one too, especially if you think my version is too fiddly.

OSRIC gives this Spell Research little coverage, saying only “It is possible for high level magic users and illusionists to research new spells. Such spells should be assigned a level by the GM which should be commensurate with the approximate power of the spell. The GM should always ensure that such spell research is difficult, demanding, dangerous and very, very expensive!

The Dungeon Masters Guide provides nearly a page of details and mechanics which hew to the “very expensive” bit above. I think this system is a bit too harsh and use the following instead. (The following is written with Magic-users and Illusionists in mind. For Druids and Clerics, the costs would be the same, but the time would be spent in religious study and costs would represent offerings made to local churches/temples.)

  1. The player needs to provide a written description of the spell, based on the existing description format from OSRIC or similar sources.
  2. The DM should review this and make adjustments as needed – is the spell level correct, the casting time, etc.
    Generally, a spell should be in-line in terms of range, duration, and effect with other spells of the same level. If it’s better in one or more ways, it should be of a higher level. For example, Skandar’s Hornet Bolts are an improved form of magic-missile and are a 2nd level spell instead of 1st.
  3. Is this spell possible for the spell caster to develop?  If the DM’s review indicates that the spell is of a higher level than the player can cast, they will not be successful no matter how much time and money they spend.  Likewise, if the spell caster can not learn any more spells of the appropriate level, they will not be successful. (Cleric or Druid spells must be in line with the tenants of the researcher’s faith, or the research will not be successful.)
  4. The research itself. The spell caster will need access to a research library and lab. They can outfit their own at a cost of 1,000 gp per spell level of the highest level spell to be researched there.  If a spell caster wishes to later improve a facility to research a higher-level spell, the cost would be 1,500 gp per additional spell level. Attempting to research a new spell without their own library will require doubling any costs below.
    Spell research will take at least 1 week per spell level and will cost at least 100 gp/week per spell level.  The researching character should determine how long they will spend in research and how much they will spend per week without knowing the DM’s adjusted spell level or whether or not the spell is impossible to learn (per step 3 above.)
    Time spent in research must be free from significant distractions. Interrupting research for any adventuring or similar activities will result in the current week’s research being lost. If the interruption lasts longer than a day, all of the research to that point will be lost. Lost research will need to be repeated, including paying the research cost for the lost time.
    The base chance of success is 10% plus the spell caster’s intelligence (or wisdom for Clerics or Druids) plus their level minus twice the level of the spell. For example:
    A 4th level Illusionist with a 16 Int is researching a 2nd level spell. They would have 10+16-(2*2) or a 22% base chance.
  5. A character has four ways  to improve their chances:
    a) previous experience: If the character can already cast a similar spell, I give them +5% per similar spell (up to a 25% maximum)
    b) time: For additional each week that the character spends in research, I give them a +5% (up to a 25% maximum)
    c) money: For every additional 100 gp/week  the character spends on research, I give them an additional 5% (up to a 25% maximum)
    d) outside help: A spellcaster can coordinate work with another spell caster of the same class or a sage with a specialization in a related field. This will give them an additional +15%
    The chance can never be raised above 60%.

If the research is unsuccessful, the research can try again, starting from scratch.


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