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Errata questions and proposed solutions about Merchant-Prince Spellcasting

by Andrew Theisen

A) The Merchant-Prince class, by design, seems to be something of an "add-on" or secondary class (as will be the case for some of these others that I will be mentioning), yet it has some confusing language in regards to how it applies to certain classes. Notably, the MP brings with it spellcasting, of up to 7th-level spells. As a secondary class, it would seem that the spellcasting provided by the table would be additional spell ability to whatever the primary class is. So if I'm playing a fighter or a dwarf, I'd have the combat and class abilities of those classes, plus the spellcasting ability of whatever level I'd achieved as a MP. That's pretty straightforward.

If I'm already a spellcaster, that's when it gets complicated. The "XP Progression" section (p. 17) states "The spell progression on this table supersedes that of elves, magic-users, and clerics, though members of those classes have a wider range of spells to choose from."

Supersedes. That's the problem word.

If I'm a cleric, then, presumably I use this spell progression table instead of that of the cleric class. Which is sort of fine, as both clerics and MPs only get seventh level spells. It does break down a little bit when you consider clerics don't get spells until 2nd level, and a cleric might not even become a MP until much later in their career, at which point they might already have higher level spells than their MP level would allow. And the bit about "wider range of spells" implies that they would pick from both the cleric and MP spell lists, but it isn't completely clear if that's the case.

(Then there is also the issue of whether cleric MPS would be receiving their spells from the Immortals and/or Ethos or memorizing them like elves/magic-users, or if there is some kind of double duty going on.)

Elves have kind of the same issue. They max their spell progression at 5th level (out of the box, without later supplements), so this would actually be a boon to them, allowing them to gain higher level spells potentially. The description even notes this in a kind of roundabout way- "Elves who are taught higher spells by Minrothad water elves can progress beyond the 10th level of experience in terms of their merchant-prince spell-casting abilities." They have a similar problem with clerics, though, in that they begin as natural spellcasters at level 1, so if the MP table supersedes their normal table, how to apply it if their MP level is lower than their regular elf level? And do they also cherry-pick spells from the magic-user/elf list and the MP list? Unclear.

Magic-users are a real problem if this table supersedes their own, as the MP spellcasting does not go beyond 7th level, and magic-users normally can attain 9th level spells.

The MP only reaches 20th level of spellcasting as well, so if it supersedes the cleric and magic-user spellcasting tables, then they will ultimately receive fewer spells when they attain 36th level in their regular classes even if they cap out their MP spellcasting.

Proposed Solution: Easiest to ignore the bit about "spell progression on this table supersed[ing]" that of the regular spellcasting classes.

B) Secondarily, I have questions about the "The Spells" section. One paragraph notes: "Many water elves can cast some of these spells, but only merchant-princes have the full range available to them. Spells marked with (K) are granted to keepers of the Water Elf clan relic."

I'm not sure what "water elves can cast some of these spells" is supposed to mean, precisely. Does that mean a water elf could select spells from the MP list in addition to selecting from the regular magic-user/elf list? Should this list supersede the m-u/elf list as specifically regards water elves (as opposed to other elves). Are they leaving it up to me as DM to figure it out for myself, or is this actually supposed to be a guideline that I'm unclear on?

Also (and this will come up when I get around to G5 as well), I'm not really sure what it means that certain spells are granted to keepers of the Water Elf clan relic. Are they only available to Keepers and not to all MPs? Are these bonus spells granted to those keepers? Or are they just essentially "added" to the standard m-u/elf spell list as regards Frond Keepers? (Or are the Frond Keepers using the MP spell list for their spells and not the standard list?)

Proposed Solution(s): I would assume the Keeper spells are probably meant to be additional selections to whatever spell list the Frond Keeper is choosing from, and not bonus spells. Just meant to expand their selection. They are probably not exclusive to Frond Keepers (at least as regards the MP spell list; G5 is probably different), and any standard Merchant-Prince could also select them. I'm not really sure what to make of "many water elves can cast these spells," though. It's tempting to make this the standard spell list for water elves as opposed to the m-u/elf list, but I'm not sure. Maybe offer water elf players a choice of one list or the other, but that is a choice they'd be stuck with from character creation onwards.

Additionally to all of that, I am tempted to think that the M-P might be better served in one of two other ways as opposed to its current incarnation. Either as:
1) A separate class, with its own attack progression and saving throws in addition to spellcasting, or
2) A separate spell list that would supersede that of the spellcasting class taking it.

Both options would change the nature of the class as a "secondary" one, but I'm personally not a huge fan of that (as it seems to add an unneeded layer of complexity to the class/race options of BECMI). The second one expands the access to the class somewhat, by making it available to any spellcasting class (they would just substitute spell lists), but the spell list of the MPs would need to be expanded to 9th level to account for magic-users (and high level spellcasting elves).

by Giampaolo Agosta

A couple considerations on the Merchant Prince class:

As a result, if one wants to keep the Merchant Prince as a standalone class option, then it should be treated as a Forester, except with the higher spell progression and expanded spell selection.

by Craig Antoun

Regarding the Merchant Prince class, I would say that of all the character classes introduced within the gazetteer line and other BECMI source books, this was the one class that was not fully detailed enough to provide the player and DM with a clear understanding of how the class works when combined with other classes.

What I ended up doing for my campaign was to use the Merchant Prince class as a duel class for human classes (cleric, druid, fighter, magic-user, mystic, and thief) and elves as described in GAZ9. However, their spell table does not supersede a spellcaster's normal spell table, but is instead it's own separate spell table. So for example, an 8th level cleric/5th level merchant prince would cast spells as an 8th level cleric and also as a 5th level merchant prince, having two separate spell charts. This seemed only fair considering the amount of XP it costs to pick up the merchant prince class.

Since the spells of the Merchant Prince class are magical spells, no armor may be worn by a merchant prince character or it will interfere with the casting of the magical spells. For the example above of the 8th level cleric/5th level merchant prince, that character could not wear armor or it would interfere with the casting of his magical (merchant prince) spells. Of course, elf/merchant princes may wear armor and cast spells.

I also always just assumed that Water Elves use the Merchant Prince spell list as their own, unless they choose to learn the standard magical spells of the mainland elves.