B/X: High Level Spells


A commonly known quirk of the B/X system is that the game only goes up to 14th level. This means that clerics top out at 5th level spells, and magic-users at 6th level spells.

I love the experience level cap in B/X, but I'm kind of ambivalent about the cap on spell levels. I love me some spells (especially magic-user ones), and there are indubitably some very cool spells at 7th, 8th, and 9th level. We probably all have books full of them.

So I've been thinking for a while about a way to (potentially) bring the higher level spells into B/X, without increasing the maximum level attainable by magic-users. Here's one idea. (Not tested in play.)

High Level Spells (Optional Rule)

A magic-user of 11th level or higher is able to cast spells of 7th, 8th, and 9th level.

Acquiring High Level Spells

Spells of 7th, 8th, and 9th level may be added to a magic-user's spell book by the following means:
  • The normal spell research procedure (see B/X Essentials: Core Rules, p31).
  • By studying the description of the spell in another magic-user's spell book (using read magic). This takes half as much time and money as spell research (i.e. 500gp and one week per level of the spell).

Maximum High Level Spells

Each magic-user may have at most two 7th level, two 8th level, and one 9th level spell in his or her spell book.

Casting High Level Spells

Spells of 7th, 8th, or 9th level cannot be memorized. This means that, while a character may have such spells in his or her spell book, they cannot be cast in the same way as spells of lower levels. High level spells may only be cast as follows:
  • A special ritual chamber is required. This must be constructed as part of the magic-user's stronghold (upon reaching 11th level or higher). It is not possible to cast spells in the ritual chamber of another magic-user.
  • Each time the spell is cast, 500gp worth of rare ingredients per level of the spell are consumed. The magic-user must acquire these ingredients before casting the spell. (The referee may wish to specify the nature of these ingredients, possibly tailored to the nature of the spell to be cast.)
  • Casting the spell also requires time: 1 hour for a 7th level spell, 4 hours for an 8th level spell, and 8 hours for a 9th level spell. If the magic-user is disturbed during this time, the casting of the spell fails.
  • At the culmination of the ritual, the magic-user may choose how the spell manifests, selecting one of the following options:
    1. The spell takes effect immediately.
    2. The spell's effect is woven into a staff. At any time in the future, the magic-user (and the magic-user alone!) may break the staff, releasing the stored spell effect. The magic-user may only have a single staff enchanted with a high level spell at any one time.

20 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. I am curious about the level cap at 14. In Moldvay's Basic rulebook page B3 he talks about the D&D companion set for levels from 15th to 30th levels, so the level cap was not intentional. My solution has been to borrow from Frank Mentzer's Companion set, at least the bits that suit my gaming style (new levels for characters, new spells and monsters), but leaving out aspects that don't appeal (his take on druids, strongholds and mass combat).

      Nonetheless, I can see advantages in your suggestions. Magic users become increasingly powerful, both with the number of spells, range of spells and maximum level. These rules decelerate their power growth at a point where they are quite powerful enough compared to other characters.

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    2. Yeah, I tend to ignore the hints in B/X about there being levels beyond 14th. One of my favourite things about B/X is the relatively low (compared to other editions) experience level limit.

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  2. That's cool. My solution is to turn higher level spells into artifact powers, ones with recharge times of a week to a month. That allows the players access but doesn't make them reliant on such magic.

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    1. Great minds think alike ;) That was the other possibility I was considering. I think it's already implicit in the rules for magic item creation, though, so doesn't require a blog post.

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    2. I am not talking about a magic item, but rather an artifact ala The Book of Artifacts or the small section in the 1e DMG on relics and artifacts.

      Another advantage of using an artifact is most of them impose some sort of negative condition. Some are curses but most are simply the result of poorly understanding of how the item works. If the 8th level magic-user can cast Polymorph Any Object with it but then suffers a -8 to their Intelligence for 48 hours, then the spell won't be used very often.

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    3. Oh I see what you mean. I've never used artifacts in a game, so have always just viewed them as "really powerful magic items", rather than as a separate class of thing.

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    4. That depends on the edition. In some they are just powerful magic items that the PCs may be able to create (esp in some d20 supplements). In others they are objects created by gods and legendary people far beyond any player character. If you have access to old Dragon issues, check out 207, the article on artifacts is quite enlightening.

      Anyways, back to your rules. I like them except for the limitation of imbuing the magic in staves only. It is too Merlin/Gandalf for my tastes. Skulls work better for necromancers and vivimancers. Orbs for diviners and others who enjoy pretty baubles. Bracers or a shield for abjurers. And so on, but even then those examples shouldn't be limitations, simply suggestions.

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    5. (Re: more than staves) that's what I get for not reading all of the comments.

      Another source that could be useful for this is Dungeon Master's Option: High Level Campaigns. The rules for True Dweomers should be handy for those who want to move beyond the existing spell lists, though the example spells are mostly crud.

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    6. Yeah, I think you're right about that. All it needs to be is "a one-use item", rather than specifically a staff.

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  3. do you ever read Venderant Nalaberong & Godpower on james gameblog
    i liked his solution.

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    1. http://jrients.blogspot.com/2018/08/venderant-nalaberong-godpower.html

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  4. I believe ACKS has a similar system, where the higher level spells are actually lengthy/expensive rituals. The only thing I'd change about the rules as proposed would be to allow the spell to be stored as a scroll, or perhaps open it up to different sorts of items, "a rune graven skull that crumbles to dust when the spell is cast" or "a golden dagger that melts away after a it traces a sigil in the air".

    I'm guessing the theoretical rules for high-level divine spells would work the same way, just replacing "stronghold" with "church"?

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    1. Interesting about ACKS! I just checked it out -- it's almost identical to what I wrote above. Well, that's a validation of the idea!

      You're right that it could be widened to result in any type of magic item, as long as it's one-use.

      True, I tend to forget about clerical magic, but the same system could work for 6th and 7th level cleric spells.

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  5. Divine spells of great power might require holding a religious ceremony at a holy site with a certain minimum number of believers present depending on the spell level.
    A number of holy relics could be required, as well as undertaking a quest for the deity granting such power.
    Of course, such powerful miracles might only be granted as part of a quest which needs that miracle to be successful; it won't be available at any other time (or it might cost more).

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    1. Right, it'd be nice to come up with some flavourful rules along the same lines for clerics.

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  6. This is exactly the way I've been handling spells of 7th+ level in B/X. One option for high level spells (other than ritual casting) is to make a scroll of it.

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    1. Yes, I didn't note that in the blog post, but I was also assuming that 7th+ level spells could be imbued into magic items (including scrolls).

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