View Full Version : researching spells

2011-12-02, 01:45 AM
Has anyone allowed PCs to research / create new spells in their campaigns?

I don't mean researching epic spells. I mean like a low (ish) level wizard wanting to research a spell that doesn't exist in any book (or at least nothing that exists in any books that your game allows).

If so, how did it go (and what did they create?). I have a lv 5 wiz in one of my games asking if I'd let him research a spell and this is the first time someone's asked to do something like this.

Gabe the Bard
2011-12-02, 01:54 AM
My DM let me research a 3rd-level cleric spell in a 2nd edition game. Rather than spending money on research materials, my character built a shrine which cost about as much and "prayed" for the new spell. She's a skeleton cleric/mage who can turn undead, but every time she does so there's a chance that she might turn herself as well (save vs. breath weapon!). So, the new spell is a reverse version of Negative Plane Protection, making it Positive Plane Protection, in order to protect her from her own turning.

2011-12-02, 02:31 AM
Well, I can't speak from a DM perspective, but I have had characters who researched spells, and it has always been one of my favourite parts of the game.
It's both an in character and out of character joy, both being a joy of creating something new.
And if I want to do something as a player, it would be very hypocritical of me to disallow it as a DM.
One was a zero level spell that took away darkvision and light sensitivity, replacing it with low light vision.
This was created by a Kobold Wizard in a campaign where wizards researched ALL their spells.
I was only in one session before it folded, which is too bad because,as mentioned, I love creating spells.
I also had a cleric create a "Create Beer" spell.
Not a dwarf believe it or not.
The very first was by Half Orc cleric "Detect Disease", basically told if someone was infected or if an object was contaminated by contagious disease.

2011-12-02, 02:32 AM
First: 3.5 DMG page 35 has a section on creating spells, you should check it out, but I wouldn't use any of the information there as a hard and fast rule, simply a guideline. Also, if you have access to it in any form, check out the 2nd Edition DMG, page 64. Some of the advice given there is not replicated in the 3.5 materials and is still worth consideration.

Ask him to write a full spell description and assign what he thinks is a fair level to the spell, then read over it. See if it does anything vaguely similar to any existing spell. If so, compare it to that spell and see if it's more, less, or equally powerful. Essentially, figure out, in one way or another, whether you feel that spell is appropriate for the level he is proposing to put it at. Also, try to figure out if he's trying to create something totally broken. There's plenty of broken spells in the game already, though, so this shouldn't be that major a concern - just make sure he understands that if you miss a loophole, you're not going to let him get away with it, just like you (presumably) wouldn't let him get away with infinite wish loops and other shenanigans of great magnitude. Basically, if he just wants to break the game, tell him to break it with existing spells cause it's less trouble for everyone that way.

Once you've determined the spell level, you can determine how long it takes and how much it costs. Page 198 of the DMG has guidelines on it, which boil down to: It costs 1 week per spell level, and 1,000 GP per week, to research a new spell. Success is determined by a DC 10 + spell level spellcraft roll. Researching spells is going to be an expensive proposition.

Note that these are just guidelines - personally, I would seriously increase that spellcraft roll, because DC 10 + spell level means that there is never going to be a time when that check fails (A 1st level wizard will have at minimum, +6 or so to spellcraft from 4 ranks and +2 int mod, probably a +7 or +8 if they have a high int - then they add a masterwork tool for another +2...and then you consider that they can always take 10 and they cannot fail a spellcraft check of less than 18). So I would probably base the spellcraft checks off my 'expected' spellcraft of a wizard high enough level to cast that spell level, and increase them enough so that taking 10 won't auto-succeed for whatever I deem to be the average wizard. For example, I think a 3rd level spell (5th level wizard with 8 ranks in spellcraft, 18 int, and at least 5 in Knowledge: Arcana, and a masterwork tool, so they auto-succeed on 26) would require a DC 28 spellcraft check to research. That way they have to roll at least a 12, or get an additional +2 boost to the skill from some nonstandard source. Creating spells, after all, should not be easy, but it shouldn't be ridiculously hard (hence only a 12 required rather than trying to make it require a roll of 15+).

Of course, if you determine that the spell is a pretty powerful one (but still not powerful enough to warrant going up a level) you might increase that DC some more. At this point, you can have the research to require some exotic components (spell research can be a great hook to send the players off on an adventure!) so after X weeks of research, he learns he would be much more likely to be successful at creating his spell if he obtains some particular component for the research and the group gets to go obtain that component or research tool or whatever. Or perhaps he needs a particular treatise on the theories of <insert spell school here> and there are no known copies, he'll have to mount an expedition to the ruins of <place> to try to find the last remaining copy. Regardless, the point is, he learns that this component/tool will give him a significant boost to his spellcraft check for the purposes of researching the spell.

Finally, a word of caution: If you decide to toughen up the spellcraft check as I suggest, rather than giving them the essentially free check of 10+spell level, make sure you rule that the spellcraft check represents entire weeks of work. This prevents cheesy methods of getting the spellcraft boost such as Guidance of the Avatar, which gives a +20 bonus but lasts only 1 minute. If they manage to actually keep a skill-boosting spell up the entire time, then great, but a single level 2 spell shouldn't completely nullify the difficulty of the spellcraft check in this situation.

2011-12-02, 09:59 AM
It really depends on the setting - if the world the PCs live in doesn't remember how magic works, only that it does, then no-one would be easily researching new spells. If however there are school and universities teaching magic, and it's something like a science, then sure, it'd be relatively routine to invent new spells.

The group I played BECM D&D with made up new spells all the time, using the guidelines in the rules. We ended up with an alternate grimoire of thirty or so pages. Examples of spells we made up were Rapturous Trance (target is overcome with pleasurable sensations), Transcendant Grip (your touch attack power can be delivered via a weapon you wield), and Protection From Sleep (cause Sleep was a no save spell back then).

We just compared the power and utility of the proposed spell with other spells from the core rules, and set the level by eyeballing it. Research times and cost were by the book.

D&D has always had rules for doing this - more or less vague with each different edition.
In 3.5, I've found there's less need to invent new spells cause some splatbook somewhere probably did whatever I'm thinking of already.

In other game systems, it still depends on the setting. CoC would need you to go trawling through unspeakable tomes in exotic libraries, probably going mad in the process.

2011-12-02, 12:18 PM
I'm a big advocate of inventing spells. I think it makes the game more colorful and especially when the spell is in character it can add a lot of flavor. I use a homebrew system of magic to replace the standard, magic systems where all spells must be "researched" or invented by the player. That's a little over the top for your situation, but I'd go ahead and let him do it.

As has been said, make sure it's reasonable, I have a player who is a metagame-magic-abusaholic and I can't so much as give him a bag of holding without having to define how the physics of the bag works to keep him from putting a ballista inside. Just watch him closely. :smallwink:

2011-12-02, 01:05 PM
Yes, I've always done this. Everyone researches spells all the time. We like lots of flavor in our game, and lots of by-the-book spells lack flavor. We we have to create them.

Part 1 The player writes down a complete spell description. They add in all the details such as level, range, and such as they think it should be for the spell. They are told to use existing spells as vague benchmarks. This spell is then sent to the DM, how looks it over and makes notes of any needed changes and additions. The DM and player will then discuss the spell, and come up with a final version, with the DM making any big decisions.

Part 2 To make the spell in the game, the player needs to go on an adventure, as per the 2E spell creation rules. To make the spell the character will need some rare and hard to get and find thing. Some times it's easy, as they just need sap from a tree and sometimes it's hard as they need something like 'the first roar of a baby dragon'. They also need other materials and such that generally just cost money.

Part 3 At some point when there is Downtime, the character creates the spell using the spell creation rules, tweaked a bit. The character can add 'extras' to increase the chance of success. The end result is that the character creates a new and unique spell.

2011-12-02, 01:44 PM
D&D has always had rules for doing this - more or less vague with each different edition.
In 3.5, I've found there's less need to invent new spells cause some splatbook somewhere probably did whatever I'm thinking of already.

Not sure I agree there is less need. For one, not everyone has every splatbook and supplement, even Spell Compendium doesn't include them all. Besides, there is always room for invention.

In other game systems, it still depends on the setting. CoC would need you to go trawling through unspeakable tomes in exotic libraries, probably going mad in the process.

"Probably"? If you're doing magic in Call of C'thulhu, there is no "probably" about it. It is not a matter of "if" but "when".

2011-12-02, 02:47 PM

First, I'll ask them if they're sure that there's not already a spell of the level they're looking for or within a level above or below that does something similar to what they want to do.

Second, I'll do a quick search myself and see if I can find something published that gets them close or can get them what they need if I change the a damage type rather than invent something new... (i.e. if you want an iceball rather than a fireball, just use the fireball description and make it "ice" instead of fire... and if you want to do an addtional effect, like slow, then take away a damage die; if you can't save against the additional effect, then you're taking a bigger damage penalty)

Third, if I can't do that I have a set of benchmarks I use based off of common spells like fireball, lightning bolt, chain lightning, magic missile, etc, adjusted appropriately for level, save chances, etc. Design with those specs and I'll review.

Fourth, if it's a really cool spell, I'll ask you if it's ok to make it part of the campaign and you won't have to pay a research tax beyond what you pay for any other published spell. Just be aware that now your enemies may have this cool spell.

Fifth, if you're going to be proprietary or if I see no reason this spell goes beyond you because it probably isn't as cool as you think it is, then you're paying some additional "I'm wasting GungHo's valuable time" taxes.

Then, you can enjoy your new Butterball spell and enjoy coating your enemy in delicious, European style butter.

2011-12-02, 03:25 PM
It was popular in 2E because the only spells that existed were in the PHB. Over time the Wizards' Handbook came out, then Tome of Magic, and eventually Players' Options all providing new spells. Still, spell research was common because new spells were not being published every other month, and players wanted to do new things.

With 3E, once the original game took hold, splat books came out every other month or so. The 3.5 revamp saw a change in some spells plus more and more splat books. The Spell Compendium was made so that all the new spells could be found in one book. Of course, PHB II came out afterwards and has spells not in the Spell Compendium. With lots and lots and lots of spells out there, the "need" to create a new spell isn't there. Chances are the idea was already done or something similar. I also surmise because some people are enraged at 3E magic, they don't want to give spellcasters even more PWER.

As for 4E, forget it. If it's not a published power don't bother. If anything you could research a new Ritual, but that would be as rare as chicken teeth, and even then it'd just be adopting a 3E non-combat spell not yet made into a Ritual.

Still, I fondly remember my researched spells during my 2E days. My cleric was notorious for it. By coincidence I had researched for my 2E cleric what in 3E would be Mass Cure Critical Wounds and Divine Power, but I impressed myself the most with my druid's Vinemail - creating an armor made of vines.

2011-12-02, 04:43 PM
Spell research has been a significant component in several games I've played in and run, and has had varying levels of difficulty dependent on the GM. I sort of like the cachet of having high-end mages and clerics, possibly the most potent the world has seen in generations, end up with sets of unique spells of their own devising, possibly set to their own name.

These things have varied from spells to make illusions physical (so you can walk up an illusionary staircase, etc), spells to hide from Mazoku in a Slayers game, analysis spells to determine the ingredients in potions and the like, high-end spells to do weird stuff like let you know whenever someone breaks a promise to you, etc.

That said, the main thing I find one needs to watch for is theme dilution. D&D already has this pretty bad, which makes creating new spells even murkier due to bad precedent. What I mean by this is, there should be particular types of things that clerics can do that wizards and druids can't, things that druids can do that the others can't, and things wizards can do that the others can't. However, with things like Wish, splatbook spells, etc, its hard to see where these lines are anymore (healing as not-a-wizard-thing is pretty well established, but even then you've got stuff like Synostodweomer).

2011-12-03, 11:33 AM
I haven't GMed it, but I would allow spell research.

However, in addition to the advice above about having the player follow the rules of spell creation, I would also make sure the the character has to actually do something to create the spell, and that there is always a chance of failure.

I would base spell research/creation on the Spellcraft skill, and require a series of rolls based on an amount of time spent in the library and/or laboratory. Whether each roll represents a day, a week, or a month is up to the DM.

I would make the number of successful rolls required a multiplier of the proposed level of the spell -- for example, to create a new first level spell you might need ten successes, but for a new fifth level spell you need fifty.

Failures mean that the character isn't making any progress. Critical failures might actually erase successes, or incur costs to replace destroyed laboratory gear, or even force the character to start the whole process over (the path of their research led to a dead end). This allows for the possibility that a spell can't be created in the time that the character has between adventures, but still allow the character to come back to it later. Success is really just a matter of time, but the player has to decide whether it is worth the time.


Regarding character dilution, I think that class-restricted spells should be allowed to cross classes, but I also think that they should either be assigned a higher spell level OR the effects should be changed/restricted.

For example, Create Food & Water is a cleric spell. But I can find several fictional/literary instances of arcane magic-users conjuring food. So I would allow a magic-user to research a similar spell.

But I would caveat that in one (or more) of the following ways:

1. The third level spell for a cleric is a sixth level spell for a wizard.

2. It only feeds one person per caster level for 24 hours, instead of three.

3. It only feeds three people per caster level for eight hours, instead of 24.

4. It requires material foci (such as dishes for the food to appear on) that influence the type and quality of food and drink that appear.

I would probably give the magic-user more options in the type and quality of food and drink, just because arcane magic tends to be flashier than divine magic, and because it distinguishes between the two spells.

Belril Duskwalk
2011-12-03, 12:03 PM
I quite like that D&D readily allows for the idea of creating new spells. Naturally you the DM and he the PC need to work together to make a spell that is 1) worth the PCs efforts and 2) not excessively powerful, but that's not terribly difficult if both of you enter the process not directly intending to violate one of those points.

As for me, in second ed I played an Elven Fighter/Mage for a few levels, near the end of the campaign I was attempting to create a spell that would allow me to (briefly) create a longsword made of flames to wield in battle. It never got too far beyond the planning stages really, though there was a plan of using a dagger coated in oil as the material component, then using a verbal command to cast the spell and create my flame blade. Unfortunately that character's campaign fell apart, so I never finalized the spell.

Now I'm DMing for a highly inventive illusionist and I am frankly a little disturbed at what kind of spells he'll try to create soon enough, but I fully intend to see what he tries through.