Interesting discussion last night during and after our Rad Hack game. Jeremy had wanted to run a standard fantasy type campaign using The Black Hack 2E. Dean had created his character, and was complaining that there were only a few spells on the spell list to choose from. Jeremy and I have also been looking and talking about Ba5ic by Fr. Dave of the Blood of Prokopius blog. It looks pretty fun, we'd like to play it sometime, but we both want to experience it as a player and we need someone to run it for us! But again, in Ba5ic, there are only 6 spells per level. Dean was unimpressed.
We also had a bit of discussion about how spells have generally become less powerful as editions progress. It used to be, magic-users and clerics had few spells they could cast, but the right spell at the right time (and a bit of luck with saving throws) could win an encounter. And without "my precious encounter' syndrome, you'd just rack up the win and move on to more encounters. These days, [again, I know I've said this before] a lot of game design seems to be afraid of that, thinking the only "fair" way to win is by a hit point slog.
And we also had discussion of spell lists in 1E/2E which were expansive, and later editions which are also fairly expansive. So why are most OSR games limiting themselves to small spell lists?
I can only answer for myself, but my thought processes in only having small spell lists in Flying Swordsmen and Chanbara and Treasures, Serpents and Ruins goes as follows:
Partly it's nostalgia. I grew up playing BECMI. It had 8 spells per level for Clerics. 12 spells per level for Magic-Users. Druids in the Companion set added 4 spells per level to the Cleric list (but had a handful of spells that were alignment based taken away). It was enough spells back then. It is enough now. Or so I thought.
Partly it's an artificial conceit among some in the OSR that the only worthy rule-sets fit in 48, 64, or 96 or however many pages. Based on the page counts of the old TSR books. And while I found it a useful constraint for me to keep Chanbara to 68 pages, it's not really a requirement that I need to stick to for everything I do.
Partly it's that a lot of those AD&D spells, especially some Unearthed Arcana additions, just never seemed worth taking, to be honest. Some of them are so specialized that they'd only be used in very limited circumstances, and it's usually better to fill a spell slot with something more generally useful. Granted, if you are packing one of those specialized spells, and the situation comes up, you look like a genius for having it ready. But how often do you really need to cast precipitation or fire water compared to the number of situations where it's useful to cast sleep or cure light wounds?
So, as I look over my spell lists for TSR-East this morning, I'm thinking maybe I should expand the spell lists.
But I want to be careful doing it. I don't want to be like 5E, where there are lots of spells, but a good 1/3 or so are only useful in combat (and most are just variations on how to do damage). I want a variety of interesting spells that can be creatively applied to a variety of solutions.
Time to expand!
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