One of the most overlooked assets of the wizard or priest is the ability to research new spells. In the hands of a clever player, this ability results in powerful and unique player characters. Since the player has to get involved to make the research rules work, it is also an excellent method for getting player ideas into the campaign. However, since there are so many different possibilities in spell research, there are few set rules. Use the following as guidelines when faced with magical research in the campaign.
Suggesting a New Spell
Spell research is not something the DM does without player input—or vice versa. The first step is for the player to decide what he wants his character to accomplish. Only after the player has presented his suggested spell does the DM become involved.
Analyzing a Spell
When the player presents his suggested spell, talk it over with him. What does the player really want to accomplish? Is this the same as what he claims the spell will do? Sometimes what is written for a spell description and what was intended are two different things. This should become clear in talking to the player.
Are there already spells or combinations of spells that can do the same thing? If a spell exists in the character's group that does the same thing, no research should be allowed. If the new spell is a combination of several spells or a more powerful version of a weaker spell, it can be allowed, although it will be difficult to research. Weaker versions of a more powerful spell are certainly possible.
Is the player trying to gain a special advantage over the normal rules? Sometimes players propose new spells with the unspoken purpose of "breaking the system," and, while spell research does let a player character get an edge, it is not a way to cheat. New spells should fall within the realm and style of existing spells. Clerics casting fireball spells or mages healing injured characters is contrary to the styles of the two classes.
Spells allowing changes in the game rules, god-like abilities, or guaranteed success are not good and shouldn't be allowed in a campaign. Fortunately, this problem doesn't come up too often. What limits does the player think the spell has?
In their desire to have their spells approved, players often create more limitations and conditions on a spell than the DM would normally require. Be sure to ask the player what limits he thinks the spell has.
Solving the Problem of a New Spell
If the spell seems unacceptable, tell the player what the concerns are. Usually, an agreement can be reached on any problems.
However, if there don't seem to be any problems with the spell, the next step can begin.
Never immediately approve a spell when it is first presented. Take the spell description and consider all the ways it could be abused. If some glaring misuse becomes apparent, fix the spell so this cannot happen. Keep doing this until all the obvious problems and abuses have been fixed. The player should then have a chance to look at all the changes in his spell. After all, once the DM has finished with it, the player may no longer want to research it.
After the player and DM have agreed on the description of the spell, the DM must decide the level of the spell, its components, research time, and research cost.
Setting a Spell's Level
The level can be determined by comparing the spell to already existing ones.
If the spell inflicts damage, its level should be within one or two of the number of dice of damage it causes—thus a spell which inflicts 5d6 points of damage should be about 3rd to 5th level.
If the spell is an improvement of an existing spell, it should be at least two levels greater than that spell. If the spell is one of the other group (a priest researching a wizard's spell), it always should be at a higher level than it is in its natural group. Quite often it will also be less effective than the spell that inspired it.
Determining Spell Components (Optional Rule)
Spell components are limited only by your imagination, but should be tempered by the spell's power and usefulness. Spells with great power require significant or hard-to-find components. Spells of limited use need only fairly simple components. Indeed, one important type of spell research is to create a powerful spell with little in the way of components.
Determining Research Time
Research time requires the character be in good health. Further, he must refrain from adventuring while undertaking the study. During research, wizards study over old manuscripts and priests work at their devotions.
The minimum amount of time needed to research a spell is two weeks per spell level. At the end of this time, a check is made. For wizards, this is the same as their chance to learn a spell (be sure to account for any specialization). For priests a Wisdom check is made.
If this check succeeds, the character has researched the spell. If the check fails, the character must spend another week in study before making another check. This continues until the character either succeeds or gives up.
The Cost of Spell Research
Research also costs money. If the character has access to a wizard's laboratory or an appropriate place of worship, the cost of research is 100-1,000 gp per spell level. The DM can choose the actual cost or determine it randomly.
It is best to base the cost on whatever the character can just barely afford (or slightly more). As such, the cost of research may vary greatly from campaign to campaign.
Research costs are a very important incentive for player characters to go on adventures, gathering funds to support their studies. And, of course, a wizard who lacks a laboratory must come up with the cost of assembling one. Again, the cost of this should be just beyond what the player character can currently afford, perhaps 1,000 to 10,000 gp. Once the laboratory is assembled, it remains as part of the character's possessions.
Priests who lack a proper place of worship can pay a similar cost (in donations or whatever) to prepare a small household shrine. Neither the laboratory nor the shrine is particularly portable.
Adding a New Spell to the Spell Book
Once a character has successfully researched a spell, it is added to his spell lists or spell books. Once researched, the spell is treated like a normal spell. The player character can choose to share the spell with others (although other wizards must roll to learn the spell) or keep it to himself.
Researching Extra Wizard Spells (Optional Rule)
Some DMs and players feel it is unfair that a wizard can't research a spell simply because he has as many spells of a particular level as he is allowed to have. The DM can allow a wizard to have spells in his spell book beyond the maximum allowed by the character's Intelligence—provided that character goes to the trouble of researching new spells.
All the standard rules for spell research apply. In addition, the DM should allow only those new spells that the player himself has created. Players cannot use this as an excuse to add a spell they would otherwise not be able to learn.
For example, say a player character has failed to learn the fireball spell before his book is filled. Although the player can still research and add new spells, he cannot do so for a fireball-type spell that inflicts 1d4 points of damage per level.
The spells researched must be new and original—this forces players to be creative and involved. Beyond these restrictions, there is no limit to the number of spells a character can research at a given level.