Monday, at The Dragon’s Flagon, I was reminded of the old school spell lists. I love the OSR community so much, every day there’s always something to get my gears turning. Whether or not it’s productive is another issue. I haven’t put anything down solid, but it’s going on my project list. Wizards aren’t born, they’re trained, and someone has to do it.
In my campaign, magic is relatively common, but so is the concept of magic guilds, and a couple prominent colleges across the lands. Something I had inferred a long time ago with my rework of Clerics/Deities and spell lists, was moving the arcane side over to schools of magic and unlocking potential each level, but I think that really only works best with deities. Wizards are a far more versatile sort, and I like have large differences between the core classes. Instead, taking a page from deities and their spell granting powers, turned sideways and leaving the power in the hands of these various methods of learning makes sense.
Each institution would have their own specific spell lists built out ahead of time. Not that all of these spells would be learned by a wizard studying there, but potentially available, with whatever story sub-plots you might throw in to unlock such access. Larger institutions would have more common spells, but larger lists to access as well. Smaller cults, or that one-off crazy ass wizard in the forest, might have something more rare, unique, or scary powerful, but followed up with a smaller list of available spells aside. One deity, Oghma, would likely have his own spell list. Deneir and Gond as well, but being lesser deities would probably have much more specific spells at their disposal.
As a DM this adds more work to your base campaign if you’re starting something fresh and new, but it also adds a lot of depth. For every organization you stick into the world that teaches magic, you’re forming relationships and rivalries with one another. A single hermit wizard that makes most of his earnings off teaching kids cantrips might go utterly berserk if a small school opened nearby for the arcane enlightenment of children. One well placed fireball… ah, the mental images. Organizations with opposing viewpoints would likely snipe at each other politically, which could very well snowball into an all out war if not contained.
The spell slinging NPC’s out in the world could also be tied back to these sources of knowledge, perhaps creating kinship or rivalry as they meet and learn about the players in your group. There’s also something to be said about stalking players with an enemy of their order, that enemy being a spellcaster, with a book full of fresh material? Downright enticing. One more point, regional magic. I have several countries in my campaign, each with their own political system and interest (been doing this a long time #humblebrag), magic uncommon in one area might be extremely rare in another, which has a whole cascading effect on trade, customs, and potential travel restrictions.
It’s a highly interesting concept, and one that I fully intend to flesh out and introduce to my players. Eventually. For now, I need to start creating these spell lists. Perhaps I’ll provide a few samples in the near future.