Scrolls vs Research

I’ve recently run into a conundrum with spell acquisition. My party’s wizard just hit 7th level, and as he has no master or guild at this time, is having to research, beg, buy, or steal all of his 4th level spells. Researching a 4th level spell will take him 8 weeks and cost him 4000 gp, of which he recoups 400 gp as library value, and has a probability of success of 60% given his Int bonus of +1. He will gain no campaign XP, since 2000 gp / month is below his threshold of 2500 gp / month. Or, since there’s a class II market down the river, he could take a week-long trip down thataways and pick up scrolls of 4th-level spells at 4000 gp each, of which the table shows one available. By the rules as written, there should be one scroll of each 4th-level spell available for purchase. I’m inclined to limit this at the very most to spells available in the Core (ie, not those in the Player’s Companion), but even that seems a bit lenient. Should I roll a random language for each of these scrolls each month? Even that is fairly-easily circumvented by picking up a scroll of Read Languages first (1000 gp) and loading that to repertoire (another 1000 gp), of which there are two per month, and so one will probably be in a language which is legible… Since the expected value of a geometric random variable with p=0.6 is 5/3, the expected costs of researching a 4th-level spell are really 6666 gp and 14 weeks, so this route generates a savings in expectation, even if just learning one 4th-level spell, and it scales far better than researching each spell individually. Perhaps fortunately, Mr. Wizard hasn’t figured this out yet, but I’d like to be ready when he does.

The question, then, is “What sort of restrictions do y’all put in place to prevent casters from learning spells purely via purchased scrolls? Are there any compelling reasons to perform spell research for spells which already exist, or is spell research purely useful for creating new spells?”

well, there’s a couple different considerations here. First, a class II market is a fairly big deal to be just down the river from. A class II market would be a national capitol or major port. According the Judge’s chapter, a class II market could have 200 mages in it. It stands to reason he should be able to join the mages guild there that is cranking out all of these scrolls. If there’s some reason he can’t join the guild, there should be some reason they won’t sell him scrolls too.

They’re not really all that close. Water travel is quite fast; they’re actually 22 hexes from the class II major port, but that’s only fourish days’ travel in a 36 miles/day riverboat (where it would probably take them closer to two weeks by foot, given the terrain and lack of roads). The demographics chapter did make clear that such a city should exist in a region of this size, with a smattering of outlying towns and villages, and it made the most sense to put it at the mouth of the region’s main river, whose tributaries fork in the hill country and provide the best means of transportation throughout.

As for the city itself, there’s not so much a guild as a roiling morass of cults to various cthonic powers who employ dedicated cult sorcerers in certain capacities, with the other primary power center being a pirate-king who, again, has mages in his direct employ, but probably without a ‘union’. It’s a fun place, but I’m not sure I can justify the existence of a unified guild there to deny services.

well, if you’ve created this flavor that the mages aren’t unified then that would justify modifying the normal rules for a class II market to reflect the special situation you’ve created. Were it a “vanilla” class II market, there would likely be a master capable of teaching the mage 4th level spells without him having to research them himself.

One other thing I thought of: if you’ve purchased the player’s companion, spell research may become more appealing when the opportunity for experimentation arises. Additionally, if your mage is ever going to consider designing constructs, that also requires a library (though constructing one requires a workshop).

Hi Jedavis, A few thoughts in response.

  1. Spell research is intended to be much harder and more expensive than copying a spell from a scroll. The availability of such items is a major reason why mages would go to cities and/or collaborate. Spell research becomes much more valuable when you can’t get a scroll, want to create a new spell, or want to experiment.

  2. If, as Judge, you think some spells ought not be available for sale, then they simply aren’t available for sale. Keep in mind that everything in ACKS is based on the “average” city, “average” ruler, and so on. But in the real world, no one is actually average. There are no US families that actually have 1.5 kids. So you can and should individualize your cities, markets, nobles, and so on. The data in ACKS is baselines, not straightjackets. So, you can always play with the relative market sizes, as Jard maintains.

  3. The way the “number of items available” charts were created was by estimating the size of the economies, estimating the number of products, the number of items at each price level, and then coming up with some averages. This can be expressed mathematically:
    Aggregate Money Supply / Average Price of Goods = Average Quantity of Goods
    Average Quantity of Goods / Number of Different Types of Goods = Average Quantity of Each Type of Good

But that means that if, for example, you were to double the number of theoretical spells in existence, you actually should HALVE the number of spell scrolls available of each individual spell. To the extent you reduce the number of one scroll, increase the number of another so it averages out. So for example, if you want all the spells in PC to be available (doubling the number of scrolls) then there should only be a 50% chance of each scroll being available. If Necromancer mages make up 85% of the mages in our city, then maybe there are 3-4 scrolls of each necromancy spell but less than 1 of other types. And so on. Does that make sense?

  1. The rules lay quiet on whether or not your spell signature changes when you copy a spell from someone else. If when you purchase and copy a scroll, you get that caster’s spell signature, or something like it, that might cause fun/interesting ramifications that would change the cold, hard math.

Thanks, Alex; point 3 is basically the sort of thing I was looking for. I’m a little curious about the details of the numbers used for constructing the availability chart, but “increased scroll variety leads to decreased quantities” is a starting point I can work with. I may still roll random languages for available scrolls, just to throw one extra barrier in, but might also mark a few PC spells as “potentially available in this city” and use that to add a probability of nonavailability to all scrolls of that level while also providing a way to pick up those new spells.