For my next research topic it's time to delve into the deep and research the many tentacled Mythos of Cthulhu: ancient tomes of magic and dark deeds. Lovecraft's writing make reference to several books that have become staples of the genre. I'd like to use this element to add some flavor to Icosa.
As a departure from the typical 'spellbook' and to help add to the chaotic nature of spellcasting, magic-user spells will only be found scattered about in various texts rather than collected in a wizard's spellbook. Each player could have their own traveling spellbook from which to memorize, but I see these as notes and shorthand, it would not be sufficient for a magic-user to learn the spell from one of these traveling tomes. This would be the equivalent to the researchers notebook. I'm feel that this, along with few starting spells, will give the magic-users reason to delving into dungeons dark and dangerous. It also gives them a reason to have a home base where they can store their library.
These books can take many forms. They can be studies on a partiular subject, writings of many authors, perhaps an enclave or coven. They could be the mad ramblings of a magic-user whose mind has been lost or warped by the chaos he casts. So in addition to spells, the book should impart some knowledge. This knowledge is a way of slowly unraveling the mystery that is the history of Icosa. Spells in these books would be limited to one or two which are related to the nature of the work.
These tomes also help build the feel of an ancient lost world, one where magic was perhaps more prevalent than today in Icosa. This will help me introduce figures of note from history. Most notably I'd like to introduce famous magic-users through their works, ala Melf and Mordenkainen.
I believe the text of spells would be in an ancient tongue; except for possibly one ancient magic-using race, the language would be considered dead. This language is passed down from master to apprentice and would be considered secret. Magic-users could identify one another through the use of key words and phrases.
This approach will allow me to do away with Read Magic. Blasphemy you say? Isn't it required for reading magic scrolls? Well, no, because I'm not going to have magic scrolls, at least, not the one-shot magic spell variety. The reason for this is that I don't see a basis for this in any of the text I'm using as source material; magic scrolls feels more like a game element than a literary one. Magic is a language, you have to know the language to learn and cast the spells, so every magic-user will start out knowing this language.
What about clerics? Good question. My approach is that clerical spells (or prayers) would be written in a language specific to alignment. I envision Lawful clerical writing to be in something similar to Latin and Chaotic writing to be in an offshoot or distant dialect of the text used by magic-users. While magic-users could recognize the writing as coming from the same source as their spell-casting language, they could not read it and vice versa.
As mentioned above, these works would contain knowledge on various topics. This dovetails nicely with the various 'magical' tomes that increase statistics like Intelligence or Widsom (remember, in Swords & Wizardry, higher stats means faster advancement). These books could be written in other ancient languages that need to be researched and deciphered while the spell portions are written in the language related to the type of spells. this makes Read Languages a useful first level spell.
But I'm not sold on keeping Read Languages either. Without it characters will need to do research and that may lead to more explorations and lead to more adventures or be on the lookout to hire a knowledgeable sage. In an effort to keep the characters hungry and motivated to keep exploring, this idea is appealing to me.
Now this doesn't rule out a spell that would specifically encrypt text to be undecipherable. This could be used for special messages, secret tomes and such. Taken a step further, what if each version of the spell have a specific counter version in order to decipher it? This could lead to interesting adventure.
Or, instead of a counter-spell, what if it had a trigger word to display the text normally. I like this idea better because it gives players a reason not to kill everyone the come into contact with so that they can discover word they need to read the text. But, then again, if they do slay someone, that might be a good reason to locate someone who can speak with the dead.
Obviously clerics and magic-users would want to learn more languages. To keep it simple, they could learn an additional language for every point of Intelligence over 10. They could start with a default set and add others as they find the need. I see these two classes being the only ones assumed to be literate. Fighters would be assumed illiterate unless their background deems otherwise, such as a noble.
Well my sanity is holding out so far, let's see where this research takes me next. Perhaps to the land of Dreams?
Follow Your Bliss,