Zhontaarian alchemy and the “First Fantasy Campaign”

Page 50 of Dave Arneson’s First Fantasy Campaign describes “the Original Blackmoor Magic System” as being more alchemical in nature than the “Vancian” one used in the OD&D rules:

In Blackmoor, magic followed the “Formula” pattern for most magic.  The reason behind limiting the number of spells that a Magic User could take down into the Dungeon was simply that many of the ingredients had to be prepared ahead of time, and of course, once used were then powerless.  Special adventures could then be organized by the parties to gain some special ingredients that could only be found in some dangerous place.

Progression reflected the increasing ability of the Magic user to mix spells of greater and greater complexity. Study and practice were the most important factors involved.  A Magic user did not progress unless he used Spells, either in the Dungeon or in practice (there was no difference) session. Since there was always the chance of failure in spells (unless they were practiced and materials for some spells were limited (determined simply by a die roll) the Magic User did not just go around practicing all the time. The Magic User could practice low level spells all the time, cheaply and safely, but his Constitution determined how often he could practice without rest. Thus, the adventurers might want a Magic User to come with them only to find him lying exhausted.

So to progress to a new level, one first learned the spells, and then got to use that spell. There was no automatic progression. rather it was a slow step by step, spell by spell progression.

Gathering reagents and mixing concoctions rouses a bit of Ultima IV nostalgia (was it Garlic and Ginseng that cured poison?), but with regard to a science-fantasy setting like Zhontaar it helps to add a bit of the science to the magic.  Even though two of the principal inspirations for Gygaxian D&D magic (Vance’s science-fantasy The Dying Earth and de Camp & Pratt’s Harold Shea stories) described the spell-preparation process in a scientific way, the “fire-and-forget” magic system has, well, lost its magic over the years.  My mind is pretty much made up that Zhontaari magic will consist of alchemy and psionics;  I’ll delve further into the subject in a future installment titled along the lines of “Slaughtering the Sacred Cows.”


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