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Author Topic: Submission Idea: Sense Magic and Decipher Magic for 2nd edition AD&D  (Read 1594 times)

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Offline johntfs

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This is an idea I have for a submission but I'm not sure how to do submission or whether this thing is in the right format. 

While running an adventure for extreme novice characters (0-level characters in AD&D parlance) one of them chanced to gain enough experience to become a wizard during the adventure.  He then asked if he could cast a spell from a scroll the party had found earlier.  I initially said no because he hadn't cast the Read Magic spell on the scroll in order to decipher it so that his character could read and cast it.  In a fit of annoyance he then noted that no wizard should be able to cast any spell, since they'd first have had to have cast Read Magic to decipher the writing, but they couldn't do that without first being able to learn the Read Magic spell, which they couldn't do without having first cast the Read Magic spell.  And the fellow was right.  It was an absurd catch-22 and I was forced to improvise a solution, the refinements to which follow below.

Before they can do anything more, wizardly spell caster need to be able to do two things.  First, they must be able to decipher the mystical scripts that allow them to shape magical energy into the desired spells they wish to cast.  Secondly, they must be to detect those mystical energies that comprise the spells that they use.  Thus, Decipher Magic and Sense Magic are two skills that a wizard must possess in order to cast wizard spells, with Decipher Magic being a prerequisite to learning Sense Magic.  Unfortunately, I am required to use terminology associated with 2nd edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons as I describe these skills below.  I will attempt to explain the terminology as I go so that those wishing to apply the information in this article more broadly may do so.

Decipher Magic (1 Wizard Non-weapon Proficiency Slot Intelligence 0) [Wizard indicates the class that favors this Proficiency.  Other classes may learn the proficiency, but it costs them an extra slot to do so.  Proficiency slots dictate the number of skills available to an AD&D character, which is determined by their profession/class, Intelligence and level (how advanced they are in their chosen class/profession); Intelligence is a core AD&D attribute, which governs memory, analytical reasoning and the ability the process new information.]

Characters making a successful Decipher Magic check can read and understand a given piece of magical writing equivalent to one spell.  Decipher attempts require one full hour for every level of the spell, so a sixth level spell requires six uninterrupted hours to decipher.  Note that reading and understanding does not necessarily give the ability to learn or cast the spell.  Wizards (for the purposes of this article, I will classify anyone able to cast wizard spells, such as bards, as wizards) may attempt to cast a spell from a scroll (but not a spell book) if they succeed in their checks.  Actually committing the spell to their spell book and learning it still requires a successful "Chance to learn spell" percentile check.   

The Decipher Magic checks are modified by the power/complexity level of the spell the character is attempting to decipher.  In AD&D terms, subtract the minimum level at which a wizard could learn and cast the spell from the level of the character attempting to read said spell.  Thus, a second level wizard attempting to decipher the Cone of Cold spell, which is learnable only when a wizard reaches ninth level, would suffer a -7 penalty to his attempt to decipher and read the spell. 

Additional modifiers come into play if the would-be decipherer is a Specialist wizard (one who focuses deeply on one type or school of magic at the expense of understanding other forms as well as a regular wizard would).  A Specialist attempting to decipher a spell within his specialty receives a +3 bonus modifier to his check.  If he attempts to decipher a spell outside his specialty, he takes a -3 penalty to the attempt.  Should he attempt to decipher a spell from a opposition school to his specialty, he takes a -6 penalty and even if he succeeds in his decipher attempt will be unable to learn or cast the spell.

One final consideration is that the wizard attempting the deciphering must be able to speak and read the base language of the spell.  Elves tend to write their spells in Elvish, Gnomes write in Gnomish, Humans write in Common or the language of their nation.  Consider, if you can't read Russian, how could you even hope to decipher a message not only written in Russian but placed in a coded cipher as well? 

Sense Magic (1 Wizard Non-weapon Proficiency Slot Wisdom -2)[As noted above, this is a Wizard Non-weapon proficiency governed by the wizard's base Wisdom with a penalty of -2; Wisdom is a core character attribute that governs a character's willpower, observation/perception and good judgment.] 

Characters making a successful Sense Magic check may search for magical radiations from active spells, mystical items and the like in up to a 10 foot by 10 foot by 10 foot area.  This search takes 10 full minutes to complete, regardless of the area searched.  Once a search is completed, the wizard must make another proficiency check to search another area. During these searches, the wizard's attention is completely consumed by his attempt to sense mystical energies and he is extremely vulnerable to molestation or attack.  Effectively, the wizard is treated as though he is deeply asleep.  So an enterprising pickpocket could easily rob a wizard blind while he attempts to sense magic.  If someone attempts to prematurely revive him or he is struck for physical harm, he must still make a proficiency check to bring himself out of his meditative state.  Most wizards bring trusted companions with them when attempting to sense magic or perform the action within the safety of their own secured homes.

Readers knowledgeable about AD&D may note that Sense Magic and Decipher Magic are learnable non-weapon proficiencies and not simply wizardly special abilities.  This does mean that characters unable to cast wizard spells may potentially learn these proficiencies at the increased cost of one extra proficiency slot each.  While the usefulness of Sense Magic to a non-wizard may be obvious (it's much easier to find mystically imbued items with it), Decipher Magic can be useful as something other than a prerequisite to gaining Sense Magic.  Consider the case of a warrior deciphering a wizard scroll.  While the warrior cannot use the spells himself, once he knows their capabilities, he may receive bonuses to Spellcraft, an Intelligence-based proficiency that allows successful checks to identify a spell being cast.  Also, a warrior who knows the contents of a spell scroll is in a much better bargaining position should he desire to sell or trade the scroll to a wizard as he knows the value of the goods he's exchanging.  At the DM's discretion, a person who has already Decipher a spell may aid another character in deciphering the same spell.  Such aid allows the helping character to add his unmodified experience level to the new decipherer's for the purposes of deciphering the scroll Also, having help reduces the time needed for a new person to ten minutes per level of the spell instead of an hour per level as mentioned above.

(Example: Fifth-level Warrior Martin has Deciphered a scroll with Ice Storm, a fourth level spell requiring a wizard of seventh level to be able to learn it.  The party's previous wizard is dead and a new fourth-level wizard, Rufus, who has not Deciphered that spell scroll has just joined the group in defending a small village against a marauding band of orcs who will arrive within the hour.  Martin helps Rufus Decipher the spell.  Even though Martin must apply a -2 penalty to his level for not being a wizard, he's still able to give Rufus a +3 bonus to Decipher the spell which negates the -3 penalty Rufus would've had allowing him to make a Decipher check at base value.  Rufus succeeds and does so in only forty minutes, which will allow him to use the spell to give the arriving orcs one heck of a cold shoulder.)

Should the checks for either Decipher Magic or Sense Magic fail, the character may not make second attempts until he has either gained a level of experience or raised the attribute governing the proficiency in question (Intelligence for Deciphering, Wisdom for sensing).

As a final note, neither of these proficiencies needs to replace the spells Read Magic and Detect Magic which should remain available and common.  These spells duplicate and expand on the abilities conferred by the above proficiencies and do so without incurring the drawbacks of time consumption, limited translation, and the chance for failure or the potential for helplessness.  Of course their main drawback is that they are spells which last only a limited amount of time before they need to be prepared again by the caster.  Given that drawback, the above proficiencies are better than nothing.

Offline Chaosmark

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Re: Submission Idea: Sense Magic and Decipher Magic for 2nd edition AD&D
« Reply #1 on: January 13, 2009, 08:22:23 PM »
There is no catch-22 there. Check the Wizard entry carefully. It states that Read Magic can be prepared by all wizards without a spellbook, purely from memory.
P(A|B) = P(B|A)*P(A)/P(B)

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Offline johntfs

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Re: Submission Idea: Sense Magic and Decipher Magic for 2nd edition AD&D
« Reply #2 on: January 14, 2009, 12:46:46 AM »
There is no catch-22 there. Check the Wizard entry carefully. It states that Read Magic can be prepared by all wizards without a spellbook, purely from memory.

I just read back through my Player's Handbook, DM's Guide and the Complete Wizard's Handbook.  I saw no mention of what you've said, though it's possible I overlooked it.  I'm using the rulebooks copywrite 1995 for Second Edition AD&D and focused on that edition.  I'm not using generic D20, Third Editiion or Fourth Edition rules.

Even if you are correct and there is no "Catch-22" as such, it's inelegant and raises other questions.  If all wizards can prepare and cast Read Magic from memory, why can't they do this with other spells?  Why do they even need spell books?  Read Magic becomes a quasi-spell that exists as it does to function as a workaround for something that was poorly considered.  It works after a fashion but it doesn't seem to fit the internal logic of the game.  In fact, the entire school of Lesser Divination was created to allow Specialist Conjurers the ability to use Read Magic, Detect Magic and the various other lower level Divination spells even though "Greater" Divination is the opposition school to Conjuration.

Decipher Magic, on the other hand, fits the system a little better.  Mystical writing is a kind of cipher system the details of which are unique to each wizard (which is why it takes so long to decipher other wizards' spells).  The language of magic is known to every wizard, but each one has a different "dialect" that must be carefully translated to be understood by another wizard.

Sense Magic is another concept that fits the game well.  For a wizard to function they need to have two basic things.  First is the ability to understand the mystical cipher of magical writing and the second is the ability to sense the power of magic itself.  After all, you can't very well use something if you can't even sense it.

Both of these abilities go into a concept of wizard magic I call shaping.  I always disliked the idea of a wizard "memorizing" his spells.  Try something for me.  Memorize the words "try something for me."  Now, memorize them a second time.  The concept falls apart at that point.  How exactly do you memorize a set of information twice?

However, if we decide that magic is a little like Play-doh or blown glass that can be shaped into temporary constructs, the "memorizing" process makes a little more sense.  Instead of memorizing a spell, a wizard uses the notes in his spell book like a mold.  Into that mold he pours the magical energies that he senses in the universe around him, ultimately drawing them from the Positive or Negative material planes.  Consider a wizard shaping a "Lightning Bolt" spells.  He doesn't need to memorize it as such, at worst he'd need to refer to his notes.  Shaping is a different matter, though.  After cleansing, restful sleep, the wizard opens his spell book to the spell.  He studies on it, letting the words sink into his subconscious.  Slowly, he draws in mystical energies and keys them to specfic words in the spells.  He shapes his body into certain positions and slowly rubs a silken cloth along a rod of amber.  After the requisite (and assuming no one interrupts him) the wizard has shaped the energy into a Lightning Bolt.  Now, all he needs to do is speak the right words, make the right gestures and pull for the material components to release a bolt of electric power at his enemies.  And once he's done that, the shape is shattered and gone from his mind until he takes the time to shape it anew.   


Offline Chaosmark

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Re: Submission Idea: Sense Magic and Decipher Magic for 2nd edition AD&D
« Reply #3 on: January 14, 2009, 03:25:30 AM »
Fair enough. I misread the title, and thought it said 3rd edition AD&D. That PHB states that all wizards can prepare Read Magic from memory. I'm willing to bet that the entire point of including it was to get around your problem in 2nd edition.

With the exception of the first part, I must disagree with the rest of your post. Read Magic would indeed be better served as a skill instead of a spell. Whoops, perfect example of a house-rule making more sense than the manuals. To be fair, though, 3rd edition does incorporate your dialects line of thought to spellbooks. Each wizard has his own way of writing the equations: it's trivial to copy a spell from his book to yours if he's helping you, but it can be a challenge to decypher a spell if not.

As for the rest, you're operating on a flawed premise. D&D uses a Vancian magic system. To go back to the source material, when you're 'memorizing' your spells for the day, you're actually wrestling with the forces of magic, bending them to your will and imprinting their magical energy patterns into your brain for later use. Once you understand what the source material was doing, the D&D system makes total sense. You can 'memorize' multiple copies of a spell per day because you're shaping the magical forces into the proper pattern and storing that pattern for later. The pattern unravels when you cast the spell, so you need to have multiple patterns prepared to be able to unleash them more than once. You're hitting on this already with your conception of it.

As something of a sidenote that I didn't mention in my last post, your final consideration on decyphering spells assumes that there is no standardized language of magic within a game world, and that every wizard just uses his own personal notation style to represent a spell. Nothing wrong with this, really, but it's an assumption that needs to be recognized at least.

Lastly, while what I've been posting might sound combative or have that sort of vibe, I honestly don't intend for it to be so. Reading over my post convinced me that I probably needed to make note of this before something bad gets said over a misunderstanding.
P(A|B) = P(B|A)*P(A)/P(B)

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Offline Ancient Gamer

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Re: Submission Idea: Sense Magic and Decipher Magic for 2nd edition AD&D
« Reply #4 on: January 14, 2009, 07:16:36 AM »
Sorry, I just have to rant!

The first rule of a GM (Dungeon Master) is to change the rules as he sees fit. If he doesn't like, he changes it.

The concept of Read Magic in D&D has always annoyed me.

Sure, the idea that there is a magical language that only wizards can read is cool, but the idea that they have to use spells to read it is preposterous.

I'd change that to this:
"Read Magic" is an ability gained by wizards after years of study and the achievement of enlightenment. It is a class specific ability gaine at first level, which requires no memorization slots, no spell casting and nothing but the total focus of the wizard. Perhaps the wizard even has to enter a trance to read said text.
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Offline valadaar

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Re: Submission Idea: Sense Magic and Decipher Magic for 2nd edition AD&D
« Reply #5 on: January 14, 2009, 08:11:18 AM »
I'm with AG on this.  Even in the scope of 2nd edition it would be trivial to add Read Magic as a class ability of the Wizard.  Personally, since I started gaming in the 80's, I've never GM'd or played a character who actually used read magic.  Always just glossed over it.

   
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Offline johntfs

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Re: Submission Idea: Sense Magic and Decipher Magic for 2nd edition AD&D
« Reply #6 on: January 18, 2009, 12:55:43 AM »
Okay, sounds good to me.  I'll call Read Magic a class ability of Wizards and define it as working very much like Ancient or Modern Languages with the caveat that only wizards and those who can cast wizard spells (such as bards) may gain this ability.

With Read Magic settled, what did you guys think of the Sense Magic ability?  Is it too potent, too limiting?  What does everyone think?

Offline Dragonlordmax

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Re: Submission Idea: Sense Magic and Decipher Magic for 2nd edition AD&D
« Reply #7 on: January 25, 2009, 09:13:40 PM »
In response to the original situation, I don't believe that spellbooks are scribed in 'magic language,' only scrolls. So a novice wizard would get the spell from his mentor, and could then potentially memorize it.

I could be wrong on that.

On the proficiencies, I don't think it would be too problematic to give either one for free, rather than requiring a slot spent on it. Actually, Sense Magic might be a bit much, as wizards needing to spend spell slots on Detect Magic can be a bit of a dampener, but otherwise I'm with valadaar - I don't know that I ever required a Read Magic spell.
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