Red Box Workshop: The Spellbender PC


Spellbenders have an affinity for the shape and flow of magic. Instead of learning spells, they hone the knack of countering or controlling the spells of others.

RESTRICTIONS: Spellbenders use four-sided dice (d4) to determine their hit points. They may use any type of weapon, but they may not use shields, nor any armor more protective than leather.

SPECIAL ABILITIES: Spellbenders gain a +4 bonus to saving throws against magic due to their understanding of magical energies. They may also use any magical item that can be employed by magic-users or clerics. In addition, a spellbender may employ the warp spell ability when any character within 60′ casts a spell, uses a magical item or otherwise creates some magical effect, or when the spellbender encounters the manifestation of a magical effect, such as an area of magical light or a wall of fire. The spellbender may only make one attempt to affect any given magical effect. The spellbender rolls 2d6 and consults the following table:

Level of Spellbender 1st Level Effect 2nd Level Effect 3rd Level Effect 4th Level Effect 5th Level Effect 6th Level Effect
1 D7+
2 D6+/M11+
3 D5+/M10+ D7+
4 D4+/M9+ D6+/M11+
5 D4+/M8+ D5+/M10+ D7+
6 D4+/M7+/C11+ D4+/M9+ D6+/M11+
7 D4+/M6+/C10+ D4+/M8+ D5+/M10+ D7+
8 D4+/M5+/C9+ D4+/M7+/C11+ D4+/M9+ D6+/M11+
9 D4+/M5+/C8+ D4+/M6+/C10+ D4+/M8+ D5+/M10+ D7+
10 D4+/M5+/C7+ D4+/M5+/C9+ D4+/M7+/C11+ D4+/M9+ D6+/M11+
11+ D4+/M5+/C6+ D4+/M5+/C8+ D4+/M6+/C10+ D4+/M8+ D5+/M10+ D7+

A “D” result indicates that the spellbender has successfully dispelled the chosen spell or spell effect.

An “M” result indicates that the spellbender may modify the chosen spell or spell effect. The modification must be relatively limited in nature, but is otherwise limited only by the player’s imagination and the DM’s discretion. Examples include creating a small gap in a wall of fire or a fireball, adding or subtracting two pips from each die of damage inflicted by a lightning bolt or healed by cure light wounds, increasing the range of a magic missile spell from 150’ to 200’, enhancing a sleep spell so it affects targets of up to six hit dice, or transforming the targets of massmorph into rocks instead of trees.

A “C” result indicates that the spellbender may control the chosen spell. When a spellbender controls a spell as it is being cast, the spell originates from her rather than from the caster, and she makes all decisions called for by the spell—the target(s) of a hold person spell, the location of a wall of ice, the form she will assume for polymorph self, and so forth.

On a roll of “2” or “3”, the spellbender fails critically, suffering a number of points of damage equal to the spell’s level from magical backlash.

A spellbender who obtains a “C” or “M” result can choose to take a lower result. She may control or dispel a spell instead of modifying it, she may dispel a spell instead of controlling it, and she may always decline to affect the spell at all.

SAVING THROWS: As magic-users.


ADVANCEMENT: As per the cleric advancement table.

* * * * *


A rare few magic-users also possess the talent for spellbending. These spellbender-mages function exactly as normal magic-users, but they may also use the spellbender’s warp spell ability. A spellbender-mage may try to warp her own spells in hopes of obtaining a modify result, allowing her to alter a spell’s effects.

ADVANCEMENT: As per the elf advancement table.

24 Responses to “Red Box Workshop: The Spellbender PC”

  1. June 2, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    Very cool. I’m definitely going to make use of that chart somehow.

    Is this playtested? The warp spell ability is really cool, but I’m not sure this class has enough to “do” in many situations. It seems purely reactive rather than active. Thoughts?

  2. 2 Allandaros
    June 2, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Brock – I would tend to agree. The Spellbender seems like it would be a very frustrating class to play at low levels, where most of the threats are mundane rather than magical. And at low levels, the spellbender can’t even try to modify their allies’ spells, since they only start getting that ability later.

    I would be very leery of running a direct spellbender, but love the idea of the spellbender-mage.

  3. 3 I Am NAKED
    June 2, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    I might actually play one of these someday, although I agree with the above that the stand-alone spellbender is basically an ordinary human when no spells are cast around them. I can see the collection of low-level effects, perhaps pushing into cantrip territory (cf AD&D) in attempts to bind them for other uses. It does take a really long time to be very useful, but the later levels have some epic imaginary uses.

    The OD&D magic-user spell list is very disappointing. I can’t see myself playing a magic-user willingly in this system, but even the spellbender-mage is fairly intriguing. Maybe he never makes 2nd level but there could be some fun in the meantime.

  4. 4 I Am NAKED
    June 2, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Add to the above comments: A bonus to warping friendly magics would add tremendously to the class, without being overpowering. I suggest the above table be used for hostile/neutral magic and then have another, or a straight bonus, when affecting one’s own or a companion’s spells. Again, I think this improves fun and playability tremendously.

    DM bonuses to lower level effects can naturally be applied as well. Moving the locus of a Light spell could be easy, while making it flash in intensity to blind or – who knows – turn it briefly into flames at very high level, could be much harder.

    I’d total play-test this character right now.

  5. June 2, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    The spellbender is completely and thoroughly unplaytested. It needs more work!

    In general, it’s meant as a parallel to the cleric, except focusing on dealing with spellcasters rather than the undead. As such, its utility is strongly affected by the number of magic-using foes it faces. Unlike the cleric, it’s not very effective in combat, but at least it’s more useful at low levels than a magic-user who’s cast all her spells!

    The spellbender’s most broadly useful power is the ability to use all magic-user and cleric magic items, such as wands and scrolls. Unfortunately, this isn’t very helpful at low levels. Fortunately, the class should level up pretty quickly.

    I think the simplest patch for the class would be to swap around the “Dispel” and “Modify” results. On the whole, I think I like this; at low levels or on low rolls, you’d be able to weaken an enemy spell even if you can’t dispel it outright. And it gives the ability to alter the spells of your fellow PCs, which is a popular idea; increasing the chances of doing so should make the class more fun.

  6. 6 I Am NAKED
    June 2, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    Cleric progression is 2,000xp, right? M-U is 2,500xp?

    It’s very intriguing and with a clever DM/player tandem it could lead to a lot of imaginative effects.

    Screw my recent fighter — this is my new secondary character.

  7. June 2, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    Cleric progression is actually 1,500xp. It’s the fighter that’s 2,000xp. (Fighters get no love.)

    Speaking of fighters, I’m thinking there could be a Fighter-Spellbender class as well. This would also using the elf’s experience chart.

  8. June 2, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    My First read of this guy is that he’s pretty freakin powerful. While there may be 1 or 2 levels of bumpiness, at least you can wield a polearm or longbow.

    Beyond that, the ability to use ANY item and affect a HUGE range of magical effects. In theory, he can bypass a magical trap/obstacle, Being able to dispell/repel an enemies magic attack (not to mention the +4 save in case he misses), help your MU’s attacks do more damage and then increase healing across the whole party when your done is SIGNIFICANT. Oh, also this has zero impact on his ability to continue doing this all day long.

    Clearly, the amount of magic happening in the campaign is a big determinate of the use. But in a mid-high magic campaign this dude is a prince.

    Very cool! I look forward to rigorous abuse and playtesting!

  9. 9 I Am NAKED
    June 2, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    LB’s right. At high level this guy whips Tomb of Horrors into shape. Playtesting is in order, and I’m just the guy to do it!

    That +4 vs. Magic Saves is also pretty appealing.

  10. June 2, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    Giving the spellbender a thief’s armor and weapons, along with full magic item use, was an effort to compensate for the weakness of the core power at low to medium levels. Once the “modify” power is swapped down to become the most easily achieved result (making it more feasible to modify other PCs’ spells and abilities), equipment and magic item use may need to be toned down a bit to balance things out.

    Note that the spellbender currently has a maximum range that strongly limits her ability to interfere with enemy spells. I’m now thinking of giving her “range categories” like for archery; no short-range bonus, but a longer overall range with increasing penalties as the range increases. The critical failure for rolling a “2” or “3” would apply only to unmodified rolls.

  11. 11 I Am NAKED
    June 2, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    To me, it doesn’t make sense for her to have thief weapons/armor. This is a magic-user, plain and simple. I also agree that Dispell and Modify should be swapped. You can think of Dispelling as a powerful subcategory of spell Modification — one has literally modified it out of existence. Seems very strong to dispell something, while modifying is more like tweaking.

  12. 12 I Am NAKED
    June 2, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    Adding: full magic item use does feel natural. It’s like the old Marvel Superheroes game, where you had a character with Manipulate Fire, or whatever it was, but not Generate Fire. It meant you’d need on hand some torch or flamethrower to constantly supply the energy needed. Having a spellbender picking through flea markets and bazaars looking for low level and charged magic items adds a lot to the character. This is a far more interesting character than a regular magic-user, IMO.

  13. June 2, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    You make a compelling argument! Drop weapons and armor, keep magic item use.

    (It’s tempting to require some sort of roll for using clerical magic items, though. Presumably a 10% failure chance as per thiefly magic item use.)

  14. 14 Charlatan
    June 2, 2010 at 10:32 pm

    So they can warp clerical spells? What about turning undead?

    I tend to think in terms of fictional tropes, and while Naked’s Pyro allusion works in a world replete with petty magicks, I can imagine some iconic pairings if your game had the right attendance:

    1. The chaotic noble whose magical nature is so slightly out-of-phase that he/she must hire or enslave “spark” npc’s to fuel their efforts

    2. Variations on the hero twins: The twin “mage” siblings, or the hearty cleric and mysteriously frail sibling

    In any case, intriguing!

  15. 15 I Am NAKED
    June 3, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    Charla, I like the advanced NPC ideas. (Demonic magic-using twins were the main villains of Icewind Dale 2, btw.)

    I wonder if these two abilities might eventually be assumed by the kit:

    1. The ability to detect dweomer.

    2. The ability to detect level of dweomer.

    The Spellbender would need to be able to detect magic around him and even sense the power of any given effect — is a light source emanating a simple Light spell, or is it a protected, more powerful spell…?

    P.S. I just found out ‘dweomer’ is practically a Gygax-invented word, but not quite. We certainly wouldn’t be using it today without him.

  16. June 3, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    So they can warp clerical spells? What about turning undead?

    Technically, turning undead is not a spell, though it is a supernatural effect. Hm.

    This leads to the broader question: what’s the difference between arcane and divine magic? Should spellbenders be able to manipulate divine magic at all, should it be as easy to manipulate as the arcane, or do we find a middle ground?

    I wonder if these two abilities might eventually be assumed by the kit:

    1. The ability to detect dweomer.

    2. The ability to detect level of dweomer.

    The ability to detect magic at will would certainly bump up their utility at low levels. More likely, they’d get a random roll akin to a “Hear Noise” check to see whether they sense magic.

    For balance purposes, adding magic detection encourages me to limit bending of clerical magic.

  17. 17 I Am NAKED
    June 3, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    Well, I’m chatty on this thread, if only because this class appeals to me.

    I’ve always thought of Cleric spells as a different sort of magic than M-U spells in where they come from and how they are used. Cleric spells more social and hierarchical in their ritual and achievement, while M-U spells are more anarchic and private. Cleric spells are conveyed through dogmatic order and conferred by their gods; M-U magic can ostensibly be done by anyone given enough training, which can be undertaken in private.

    Thus, Cleric spells, to be bent, must be interfered with at a level M-U spells do not. I’d suggest a batch of things:

    1. Cleric spells similar to M-U spells are easier to bend (Hold Person).
    2. Higher level cleric spells bent have a chance to anger the conferring diety.


    3. To make it easier, an inherent penalty to bending clerical effects.

    We may set up two different kinds of benders? Make a cleric-bender a specialist? I realize this is getting complicated, but it’s good to work it out.

    For me, I’d rather a Spellbender have an inate sense of arcane magics (M-U), using perhaps the Hear Noise metric you suggest, and then reduce the ability to use and bend Clerical abilities. Maybe even forestall bending Cleric spells and effects until 2nd or 3rd level.

  18. June 3, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    The exact nature of clerical magic vis-a-vis arcane magic is not specified in the OD&D literature, and there is no one true way to handle it. Each DM will make their own determination as to how it functions in their game. As to how that impacts on a homebrew class like this… well, it’s likely to require rebalancing depending on how well it fits into a given campaign’s metaphysics. Using the class as is before determining how the two types of magic relate in one’s game may restrict one’s freedom to make that determination; whether this is good or bad is up to the DM’s temperament.

    For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to say that since clerical spells are spells, spellbenders can affect them, but they’re sufficiently different that they’re harder to affect than arcane magic. So when they bend divine spells, they drop down two rows on the chart. (Thus, they can’t affect divine spells until level 3, at which point they roll as if level 1, and spellbenders of level 11+ roll against divine spells as though they were level 9.) Detection rolls will be unchanged. Undead turning can’t be bent.

    And no “cleric-benders.” That’s just silly.

    I think it also makes sense to rule that “natural” supernatural abilities, such as a dragon’s breath or a medusa’s gaze, are beyond the power of a spellbender to affect. Of course there’ll be lots of edge cases where it’s hard to say what’s a supernatural-but-not-magical ability and what’s actually a native magical power that the spellbender can affect, but making that sort of decision is what the DM is for.

  19. 19 I Am NAKED
    June 3, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    Clerics on a bender maybe?

  20. June 3, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    The key thing about making this class work is to set forth guidelines for spell modification. It’ll be no fun if the player and the DM deadlock over the type and extent of legitimate changes.

  21. 21 N.
    June 4, 2010 at 12:37 am

    I look forward to seeing what I can do with the rust-free, anti-tarnish low level magics on some of the weapons and items we find.

  22. June 4, 2010 at 4:12 am

    Hm. Perhaps we could extend the “Control” result to also encompass extant spell effects, so you can, say, move a preservation spell from a weapon to some other item, or shift a hold person spell to a different target. You’d only get one try, though, so no attempting to spellbend an effect every round until you succeed.

    As to affecting permanent items, it does seem reasonable to allow that, but I’d expect it to take the same number of weeks to modify an item’s dweomer that it would take to create such an item in the first place. Dunno if we’d use the spellbender table or the spellcaster’s item enchantment table, but either way you’d have to make a roll, and there would be a chance of critical failure.

  23. June 13, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Very interesting idea and I’d like to play this class. However a particularly unfortunate choice of name in the UK, especially with the puerile sense of humour of my regular gaming group!

  24. 24 Irda Ranger
    June 13, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    The more I think about this spellbending mechanic, the more I like it. It’s really a great complement to the Thief’s ability to deal with the mundane traps and locks found in D&D, and combined with the magic-user class makes for a much more interesting class than the M-U as written.

    My instinct though isn’t to increase the M-U’s (already considerable) XP progression, but to reign in the spellcasting power of the class (which is also what makes it too powerful at high levels). I would add the spellbending mechanic to M-U’s and cap the number of spells they can memorize at each spell level at 2 or 3 to “pay” for it. XP would remain the same.

    Yeah, I really like this idea. Thanks Eric!

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