I was thinking about Spell Research and a thought occurred to me. Let’s say I’m researching a Mending spell. It costs 500 gold to research a 0 level spell, but all you really need to know if you’re getting the hang of it is a torn shirt. So what the hell did you just spend 500 gp on? Maybe some lab equipment, but I’m thinking primarily it’d be books. Now all wizardy types are supposed to have gobs of dusty old grimoires about the place on all kinds of subjects, but as treasure items go, unless they’re full of spells, they’re fairly yawnful.
But what happens to your 500 gp worth of books you bought when you decided to create that Mending spell? Chuck ’em out the window? I have a better idea.
I’d like to suggest that instead of buying books to research just Mending, we define those costs a little bit. First off, we need to establish some basics for spell research. You need a lab worth at least 750 gp — 500 gp if you already have some other type of magical lab like for construct building or the like. (There’s bound to be some overlap.) The lab is for mixing new combinations of material components, measuring magical properties of certain hand gestures and phrases, and all types of arcane experimentation unknowable to mundane men. The lab can be used as many times as you like, providing it is properly supplied. (See below.)
Second, you need a reference library. This library contains generic information on magical theory, planar, mystic, and physical laws, as well as all manner of creatures, materials, philosophies, and alchemic knowledge. The size and scope of the reference library you need is dependent on what you intend to do with it. The general rule is however, that the references you need will cost roughly 1000 gp per level of spell researched. (500 gp if all you’re doing is creating 0 level spells.) The costs of the library are additive, so if for instance you already have a 1000 gp collection for researching 1st level spells, upgrading to a 2nd level library simply costs a further 1000 gp. Like the lab, this library is a one-time expenditure, and can be reused at will. Also like the lab, the reference library is generally available at the local Mages’ guild. There is often competition for lab time in a guild though, and smaller guilds frequently do not possess high-level reference libraries.
So what do we get for our 500 gp in our research of Mending? The first 20% (100 gp) goes to stocking the lab. This buys the special materials which will be consumed in the experimentation necessary in creating your new spell. These materials are highly perishable and fully utilized during research.
The next 20% goes for books specific to creating the Mending spell. Though they may certainly be added to the library, they are not truly useful beyond the creation of that particular spell.
The following 40% goes for books required to research any 0 level spell. Once they are in your library you may utilize them as often as you like to create further 0 level spells, and you will no longer need to pay that 40% of the research costs.
The last 20% goes for books on the creation of 0 level Transmutation spells. These books can be used over and over to research 0 level Transmutation spells, and you will no longer need to pay that 20% of the research costs.
The system functions like this across the board. Thus if a wizard wished to research the 6th level spell Analyze Dweomer, he would first need access to a research lab and a reference library worth at least 6000 gp, 1200 gp worth of lab materials, 1200 gp worth of books specific to creating the Analyze Dweomer spell, 2400 gp in books on researching 6th level spells, and 1200 gp in books on creating 6th level Divination spells. However, if the same wizard were then to want to create a True Seeing spell, also a 6th level Divination spell, he would need only 2400 gp total for lab materials and books specific to creating that kind of spell.
This type of spell research opens up all kinds of possibilities for ambitious wizards. It gives players a real reason to become interested in guild life, in order to ensure that those resources will be available to them when needed. It also gives the DM something extra to put into dungeons and crumbling manor homes as valuable treasure that players will want to take and use. Not just to bash the next bad guy over the head with but as an incentive to creative play. Defining all those books in the ubiquitous wizard’s library adds color to the fluff, and a reason for wizards to actually want and need all those books.
Players will provide their own adventure hooks when searching for the rare fourth level Necromancy research volumes, and every major city is likely to support a rare book store run by an aging bard who knows the whereabouts of the one-of-a-kind books used to create some unique spell. Additionally, some measure of control is provided to the DM wishing to curb overreaching researchers by limiting the availability of certain books.
Now of course if you do add this to your game you will be complicating what is a very simple and straightforward mechanic. I feel that it is vastly over-simplified and a bit bland, but opinions vary. You could bastardize a bit and just say that once you spend 1000 gp on a first level spell, all other first level spells are only 500 gp, and so on. You’d be giving the players a break and a reason to stretch their creative wings at the same time. Think about it next time your PCs respond to the evil wizard’s thousand year old arcane library by rooting out the spell books and walking past the rest.