Reading Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Part 43

Buckle in, folks, because this is a fairly long section that's quite intensive. You know, I've seen a lot of people talk about how difficult it was in older editions to research spells, create magic items, and the like, but the truth is, the rules and guidelines in this section are quite comprehensive and cover just about every aspect of magical research you could want to explore. The rules herein are also very hard to abuse, as they put a great deal of onus onto the heads of the DM and player to collaborate, but as with most things in AD&D, leaves the power firmly in the hands of the DM.

The rules, as they sit, are as uneven as any in AD&D--that is to say, some are quite well thought out, while others are clearly in place for game balance reasons, but in the overall context of the AD&D game universe and cosmology, are problematic.

These systems, such as they are, are divided into what is essentially three sections: creation of holy/unholy water by clerics, new spell research by wizards, and creation of magic items. Let's break down each section in turn.

Creation of Holy/Unholy Water
When I earlier talked about the unevenness of this section, these rules were my primary concern. It seems to me that one of the most basic functions of any empowered cleric (as opposed to lay, non-classed priests in the AD&D milieu) should be to create holy water. However, the process to do so is extremely time consuming, labor intensive, and expensive to accomplish.

It requires a special, finely crafted basin that has been specially blessed (or cursed, in the case of an evil cleric). The font must be created from precious metals ranging from copper to platinum, as well as other materials like wood or marble, recalling the fonts seen in many Catholic Churches which are made from either wood or stone, and contain a golden bowl.

Following this, the cleric must then cast a series of five spells, ranging up to third level in power (meaning the cleric in question must be, at minimum, 5th level to create holy water). After casting these spells, a certain amount of water can be created based on the materials used to create the receptacle, which can range from a copper vessel costing a minimum of 330 gold pieces, which will create 6 vials of holy water, to a platinum basin capable of producing 50 vials, costing a minimum of 112,000 gp.

There's a table with specific cost ranges by precious metal.

Further, if you don't have special vials in which to store the holy water, it will lose its effectiveness after 1 turn (10 minutes) away from the font. Empty vials are assumed to be worth from 2 to 5 gp (that's 1d4+1).

It's also important to note that these basins are not portable. You can't carry your basin around once you create it so you can use it on a regular basis. It's too bulky and heavy (though arguably, you could put it on a wagon with a team of mules to carry it). Still, you can only create holy water from it once per week, and a full day of prayers and meditation are expressly required before the ritual is cast, after which the cleric must complete a full 8 hours of rest and recuperation during which they can do nothing.

In short, forget creating holy water while adventuring.

The section expressly states that "Capacities are designed for game purposes so as to limit supplies of holy/unholy water" (DMG, p. 115), and further states that it can be justified by precious metals being more pleasing to deities.

It seems clear that the idea is that holy water is a very powerful weapon for clerics (especially against undead; it is earlier stated to deal significant damage by hurling a vial at an undead, evil cleric or anti-paladin). Still, when one looks at the damage it deals, it doesn't seem truly onerous compared to other weapons wielded by player characters (1d6+1 direct damage with a direct hit, or 2 points of splash damage on a near miss). I'm sure everyone has their interpretations as to why these limits were seen as so important, but I'd be interested in hearing from someone who knew Gygax and his reasoning on this account.

Personally, I've always liked the idea that a cleric can just cast bless on a vial of pure water and turn it holy, at least temporarily. There's a scene in the film From Dusk Till Dawn that always stuck with me, wherein Seth says to Jacob, "A servant of God can bless the tap water and turn it into a weapon!" We also see it in the film Dogma, where Bethany blesses a tub full of water that the heroes then use to dispose of two demons. I like that idea that blessing water is a fringe benefit of having that touch of the divine.

Certainly I can see this process working for those who wish to create holy water in mass quantities, but in the course of regular adventuring, in my games, I'd be inclined to simply allow a cleric to cast bless on a vial of water and then use it as holy water, so long as it's used within the 6 rounds of the spell's duration.

One of the more interesting (and amusing, in a distasteful kind of way) parts of this section is the part that discusses defilement of fonts. There is literally a section that says if you defecate into a holy or unholy water font, it's ruined. I got both an "ewwww," and a chuckle out of that.

I really, really enjoy this particular section. In less than 2 columns of text it gives a very comprehensive look at what it takes to research a spell. In AD&D, the limiting factors on these things were time and monetary expense, not feats and XP expenditures. Any magic user character that wanted to actually adventure wasn't going to be researching spells and making magical swords, because quite frankly, these procedures take a great deal of time and cost and could only be done if you had thousands of gold and weeks of downtime to spare.

It also puts a lot of focus on cooperation (such as it is) betwen player and GM, but it's not an equal collaboration. The player is required, when they want a new spell, to provide a typed ("typed" is actually specified, which when one considers this was 1978, and not everyone had a typewriter, is an interesting demand unto itself. What about handwritten? Was that acceptable?) copy of the spell, which must be in the exact same format as those in the Player's Handbook.

It then falls upon the DM to review the spell against existing spells to ensure that game balance is met, and modify it as necessary, either raising or lowering level, or changing the effects. The player, however, is not to be informed of these changes, as their character has only an idea of what they are looking for and won't know how it works until they complete research--magic, after all, is a mysterious and unpredictable force.

Research for new spells costs "only" 200 gp per spell level per week of research. But that assumes the spell caster has their own laboratory and library. If they have to use someone else's resources, or gather the resources themselves, this cost increases to 2,000 gp per week. Of course, after this expenditure, they are considered to have a library (wherever it might be--one has to remember that it won't be a portable lab and library).

The length of time required for researching a spell, then, requires a number of weeks equal to the spell level being researched. This means that for a third level spell, you're going to spend 600 gp and 3 weeks of research if you have your own lab and library, or 6,000 gp and 3 weeks of research if you need also to build a library.

Here's the kicker: the player doesn't know what the final spell will look like, so they need to inform the DM of how much they are spending and how long they are researching without knowledge of the DM's final ruling. This means that if the spell they turned over ends up actually being a 4th level spell, their research is going to fail (though the book suggests that the DM still cast dice, just for show, so the player isn't aware that's why the research failed).

The DMG then goes on to discuss the conditions required for research (sound mind and body, uninterrupted, 8 hours per day of research, plenty of rest, etc.).

The base chance for success is 10%, plus the Int score of the magic user (or Wis for clerics, who it is presumed are spending the time in prayer, sacrifice, ritual, and meditation, and in seclusion, as opposed to in library research). The base success is then modified downward by twice the level of the spell. So a magic user with an 18 Int researching a 3rd level spell would have a base success of 25% (10+18-3). It is then modified upwards by 10% per 2,000 additional gold spent* So if you spend an extra 4,000 gold pieces on research, you'll raise your chances by 20% (the above 25% would increase to 45%).

The DM is supposed to secretly roll percentile dice against the success chance, informing the player only of their success or failure. On a success, the player gets the final copy of the spell as modified by the DM. If the spell is currently beyond a player's capabilities (a 5th level character can under no circumstances work out a 4th level spell), the research is automatically fruitless, but they won't necessarily know why. The character can, if they choose, undertake the process again (at full cost) to continue their efforts.

It's a simple and elegant system that doesn't require heavy rules systems to accomplish.

Fabrication of Magic Items: Potions and Scrolls
Next up we have the rules for creating magic items. This section shows very clearly why you don't generally find "magic item shops" in AD&D--there's not much profit in it (if any). Magic items are generally purpose-built and are very time consuming and costly to create. In some cases I'm okay with this; in others I find it problematic. Potions and scrolls, specifically, tend to be incredibly common items to find in an AD&D game, and yet they are somewhat cost-prohibitive to produce.

I will say that their creation is wildly evocative in first edition--far moreso than in later editions, which boil the system down to rules and skill checks. In first edition the DM and player come up with recipies for these things--even scrolls require recipes for special ink, which varies by spell. Again, however, the costs of these items and the ability to get what you need to make them, creates a cost and time prohibitive process for things like healing potions, which most of us can attest tend to be a "must have" item in AD&D.

A single healing potion, for example, costs 200 gp to create, and 2 days to produce. That's per potion. It also requires, according to the DMG, blood from an ogre magi, or a thread from a saint's garment (granted, these are only suggestions; but the rarity is implicit).

It should also be noted that at 7th level (the minimum for creating a scroll) you also have to secure the services of an alchemist (and pay them for their services). When you reach 11th level, this is no longer requisite.

Scrolls, likewise, require rare and expensive components, including a special quill formed from a "creature of strange or magical nature, i.e. a griffon, harpy, hippogriff, pegasus, roc, sphiinx of any sort, and similar monsters you elect to include." The recipe for the ink is left to the DM, but sample ingredients for a scroll of protection from petrification are given and include such things as giant squid ink for the base, basilisk eye, cockatrice feathers, venom from a medusa, powdered gems, holy water, and...wait for it...pumpkin seeds. The recipe generates enough ink for a single spell inscription.

In addition, each additional spell you decide to inscribe (with multiple instances of the same spell) require a new quill and a new creation of ink. The process of inscribing the scroll requires one full day per spell level inscribed. You can put up to 7 spells on a single scroll. There's also a percentage chance for failure, and though it's low, it's there.

Scrolls and potions are some of the most common items found in AD&D, and while I understand that the intent is to keep players from running away with the game by creating arsenals of scrolls and potions, it becomes problematic in the overall context of the game milieu. I am inclined to believe that I would lighten the requirements slightly--you might not need a new quill per each spell scrolled. A recipe might allow for multiple creations (both of potions and scrolls).

It's also worth noting that a character has to be, at minimum, 7th to 11th level before they can attempt any of these procedures. Between the level restriction (which in AD&D terms is quite high) and the fact that a laboratory or workshop is not portable, I think lessening the restrictions can be done without impacting the game overly much.

Other Magic Items
Fabrication of other magic items is fairly standardized, and not as difficult as one might think, but again, is very time consuming and cost prohibitive. For magic users it requires, according to the book, both the enchant an item and permanency spells. It suggests that creating an item requires first conscripting an item to be made that is of the highest quality (costing in the thousands of gold pieces for materials and labor). After this, scrolls must be prepared (using the standard scroll scribing rules, adding more time and money to the process). After the scroll is prepared, enchant an item must be cast, then a spell of the DM's choosing (it recommends wish, which unto itself is a serious limiter) must be used to merge the scroll and item. Finally, permanency must be cast.

You can see why everyone in the world isn't walking around with magical staves, rings, cloaks, and swords.

The process for clerics, druids and illusionists isn't much different, but requires different spells and rituals. Illusionists, for example, replace enchant an item and permanency with major creation and alter reality. Clerics and druids do a lot of praying and supplication over an expensive altar, and get a percentage chance of their god imbuing the item with the requested powers.

After the item is created, the creator is then completely drained and has to spend a number of full days in rest and recuperation equal to one day per 100 gp of the item's XP value, that is, the XP of the item divided by 100 (a 2,000 XP value item requires 20 days of complete rest).

Charged magic items are a bit simpler to create, but only in that they don't require all the extra spells like wish and the creation of spell scrolls. A magic user of appropriate level can create a charged item by casting enchant an item then casting the spells required into the item, without the need for permanency.

As with potions and scrolls, only higher level characters (11th level and above) can even attempt to create magic items.

As I consider this, I like this system of item creation. It's not so onerous as to be impossible, but it keeps magic items "special" and rare. A magic user isn't going to make magic items as a job for profit, because the market won't bear the value vs. effort. They might, however, craft a magical suit of armor for their best friend who is a warrior, or a cleric might create a Holy Avenger to gift to an exceptional paladin in the service of their church. A higher level wizard could craft a small arsenal of wands to back up their casting, or a ring of spell storing for the same purpose.

It's a system that encourages special and purpose-built items.

Non-Standard Magic Items
This section, strangely, ends with a section on Non-Standard Magic Items, which isn't about creation, but is perhaps better poised in the following section. It simply encourages DMs to modify existing items or create new ones to add to the flavor of their campaign worlds, but carefully cautions that a unique item you create won't be allowable in someone else's game, unless it's a basic modification of an existing item (a cap of invisibility, it says, is roughly the same as a ring of invisibility and should always be allowable).

In the end, I find the requirements for potions and scrolls to be a bit overly restrictive, but those for other magic items to be pretty spot on.

That's it for magic items, folks! Next up: USE OF MAGIC ITEMS 

*The book's wording is a bit unclear on this. It reads, "10% increments by doubling of maximum base cost per level of the spell (2,000 gold pieces). The key word here is "maximum base cost." The example then goes on to clairfy further that it is, indeed, 10% per extra 2,000 gp spent.


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  1. One of my preferred house rules for AD&D is to adopt the Holmes D&D rules for scribing scrolls, where any Magic-User can scribe a spell they know for 100gp per spell level. To me, scrolls are an intrinsic part of the magic rules in D&D, so I see no need to unnecessarily restrict them. Yes, that gets rid of some of the flavor of making special inks by reducing them to a simple cost, but that could be retained by an enterprising DM by setting the prices for the ink components and special paper to around 100gp per spell level. That would also let indigent Magic-Users look for the components in the wild. Potions should probably be easier, too, but that might require more work to figure out. Still, potions and scrolls, and perhaps the materials to make them, might be the main thing outside of material components that one might find at a magic shop.

    I am very much persuaded by your ideas on holy water. I think that Gygax perhaps overstated the value of that.

    As an aside and tangent, unless someone can make a convincing argument, I think I might drop XP for magic items in the future.

    1. Yeah, I'm a bad DM in that I have traditionally not given XP for treasure, feeling that the treasure is in and of itself enough of a reward, and just obtaining a pile of gold doesn't learn you anything or make you better at what you do. I replace it with blanket role playing awards.

    2. Eh, I'm not so worried about how other people run their things. That argument about XP has been around forever, and rests on what people think that "XP" represent. For me, it's a measure of an intangible factor, we can perhaps call it "glory", as Pendragon does, that is possessed by some. "Mana", in the original Polynesian sense of the term. I've considered adding in rewards drawn from or modeled on Pendragon's Glory awards, too.

      Anyway, even if you don't buy into that explanation, the point of XP for treasure is not the value of the treasure itself, but an approximate reward for what the characters had to do to get the treasure. Since it relies on something tangible in the game, it is also relatively "objective" in the sense that it is, at least nominally, an exact thing that the players get victory points for achieving, rather than something that needs to be interpreted by the DM. My reasoning for not giving magic item XP is that the items can be sold for money, which would give XP. For me, roleplaying awards means that I have to make a judgement on the people at the table, and I don't see that as my job. Just let me scatter some points around the setting and let the players pick them up as they can and will. Or at least set some defined actions in advance that they can then struggle to achieve—I'd surely be willing to give awards for arriving at specific locations, as "pilgrimage awards", "exploration points", or whatever.

      One solid reason to give XP for treasure is in the "endgame", where a character gets money for keeping and expanding their domain due to having and protecting laborers who can be taxed. Some people have said that they don't give XP for those tax monies, but I would—albeit as usual in the spending of it rather than the receiving of it—because it represents the ongoing effort to keep those people safe and secure. And the extra XP due to heavily taxing is a quicker, easier path, perhaps, but much more risky due to the possibility of revolt.

      Which is a lot of verbiage for a comment that was intended as a digressive aside. Sorry for initiating this tangent.

    3. Hahaha no worries. It's always an interesting discussion and I get the rationale regarding XP for treasure. It's just never really sat right with me. For exapmle, a reward for what they had to go through to get the treasure is the XP for the monster, trap, or other challenge they had to overcome. Like I said, I use additional XP awards for challenges, role playing and the like--I have actually always enjoyed the Palladium XP system and I graft it onto the D&D one.

  2. Two comments:
    Holy water becomes a lot more valuable if the PCs can use it "to slow the effects of poison" as suggested in the DMG glossary.

    You might be interested in this post calculating how much potion ingredients cost:


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