Posts Tagged ‘magic


Not-so-Weird Tables: Starting Magic User Spells

Would you trust this guy to give your apprentice magic-user a proper education? (PS: I hear the movie is terrible)

This post on Planet Algol reminded me that my own game’s house rules for starting magic-user spells might be of interest to folks. (They’re derived from the Aquerra starting wizard spell tables, here.)

Note that one way of de-emphasizing the elf’s superiority to the magic-user at first level is to give the elf a single spell randomly rolled on a d12. (This also applies to homebrew hybrid casters like the thief-dabbler.) Watching the elf try to find a use for a spell such as floating disk or shield is an amusing exercise!

If these tables seem insufficiently dependent on the magic-user’s Intelligence score, feel free to allow additional rolls equal to the number of bonus languages the character receives for high Intelligence, or allow that many spells to be chosen by the player without resorting to a roll.

A starting magic-user begins play knowing three spells: an offensive spell, a defensive spell and a utility spell. Roll 1d6 on each of the following tables to determine which spells your magic-user has researched. (“Wizard’s Choice” indicates that you pick any one spell from the list you are currently rolling on.)

Offensive Spells
1: Charm Person
2: Light
3: Magic Missile
4: Sleep
5: Sleep
6: Wizard’s Choice

Defensive Spells
1: Hold Portal
2: Protection from Evil
3: Protection from Evil
4: Shield
5: Shield
6: Wizard’s Choice

Utility Spells
1: Detect Magic
2: Floating Disc
3: Read Languages
4: Read Magic
5: Ventriloquism
6: Wizard’s Choice


Memorizing Spells with Assistance

'Conjure Maitz', 30" x 30", Oil on Masonite, ©1987 Don Maitz

Untested house rule for the White Sandbox:

If you can cast spells, you can prepare extra spells when you have assistance throughout the process of memorization.

One assistant of your own level can help you memorize an extra spell of the highest level you can cast. It is common for adventuring parties to help each other in this way.

You need an additional assistant for each level of spell below that. These old magics aren’t as interesting to you, you need more people involved to get excited about these lesser levels of mastery. In the picture to right we see a third-level magic-user who has recruited a dancing twin and an old carpet-scriber to inspire her to focus on charm person when she’d really rather fool around with knock. When she reaches fifth level, she will require one assistant to memorize an extra fireball, two to memorize an extra knock, and three to memorize an extra charm person.

Assistants must be compensated beforehand. At least one of your assistants must be a spellcaster of a level equal to the level of the spell you are trying to memorize. Zero level assistants will help for nothing beyond the services listed below; higher level assistants may be hirelings paid as per the Adventurer Conqueror King System rules, but will also require these services.

Lawful types traditionally cast a spell that serves the assistant’s goals. This must be done within a day and a night before the memorization takes place.

Neutral types traditionally give the assistant a page from a book which they have written or annotated. If the assistant is not happy with the page offered, they have the right to take a page at random from any of the spellcaster’s books; it is thus standard to negotiate carefully beforehand.

Chaotic types traditionally provide the assistant with a helpless living creature of hit dice equal to the assistant’s, and allow the assistant to do with this creature as they wish.

Other forms of recompense are possible, but these are known to satisfy the requirements of the ways of spellcasting.

The goal of these house rules is to further encourage characters to travel with an entourage, like how Gene Wolfe’s wizard-knight Abel accumulates squires and servants, and provide a way for the entourage to be doing interesting things in the preparing-to-go-into-a-dungeon phase of play. Note that if, as in ACKS, memorizing a spell means having it available to cast spontaneously, allowing these extra spells increases the caster’s flexibility but not their overall power level.

Next up: assistance for fighting men to increase their hit dice on similar principles.


Weird Tables: Your Weird Wish is Granted

Your wish is my commAHAHA I DEVOUR YOUR SOUL

After eleven dedicated sessions and five months of game time, a group of PCs in my game successfully petitioned a goddess of Chaos for her favor. Everyone had something they wanted from the goddess, either for themselves or for others — though more the former than the latter. But how does one resolve such an open-ended opportunity to wish for anything you like?

If you encounter such a situation in play — such as when dealing with a demon, efreet or imp — feel free to use the


Roll 1d6.

1: Something bad happens that’s unrelated to the wish.
2: Something bad happens that’s related to the wish.
3: Something weird happens that’s unrelated to the wish.
4: Something weird happens that’s related to the wish.
5: Something good happens that’s unrelated to the wish.
6: Something good happens that’s related to the wish.

To demonstrate the table’s use in play, here are some examples from last session.

A) The Ridiculossus, a living statue, declares that he wishes to be STRONGER! He rolls a 6: something good that’s related to his wish. Presto, his wish is granted! The DM rules that he may roll a d4 and permanently add the bonus to his Strength score. (This presumes that such wishes are rare; if they are commonplace in the campaign, the bonus would only have been a single point.)
B) Richard Loubeau, a tricksy thief-dabbler, craves the boon of being able to see in the dark. He rolls a 5: something good happens that’s unrelated to the wish. Instead of seeing in the dark of a room, he can see into the dark of people’s minds by gaining the ability to cast ESP once per day.
C) Ja’Tubis, a straying priest of a god of medicine, asks for insight into the effects of Chaos on the human frame. He rolls a 2: something bad and related to the wish. Insight comes as a flood of horrible images that will not stop, bombarding his fragile mind at every moment, day and night. After recovering from momentary catatonia, he loses 1d4 points of Wisdom from the perpetual distraction generated by his visions of shifting, writhing flesh and bone.
D) The swashbuckler Martin, who has been reduced to the size of a halfling by a potion miscibility incident, wishes to be restored to his former stature. “Bless my sword, that I may regain my former size and strength!” he proclaims. The roll is a 1: something bad and unrelated. As Martin’s player recklessly brought his sword into it, the goddess blesses his blade with a powerful ego and will. In his next combat, the jealous blade forces Martin to throw his magic shield away, for it will not allow him to carry anything else into battle!

… and come to think of it, of the seven PCs who petitioned the goddess, not one of them rolled a 3 or 4. I’ll leave the possibilities that might stem from such a roll as an exercise for the reader.


spells for the after school class

Explanation: Tavis and I are running an after school Dungeons & Dragons program for some elementary school kids.  Most of our prep consists of wishing we’d done more prep while on the subway to class.  But I made up this list of spells for the Magic-User.

Every morning, Magic-Users can cast different spells! Roll the d12 a number of times equal to your level, and look on the chart for the spell matching that number. If you roll a spell once, you can only cast it one time a day. If you rolled a spell more than once, you can cast it that number of times per day. So, if you rolled Fire Ball twice, you could cast it twice in one day, but not three times.


Roll Spell What Does the Spell Do?
1 Animate Dead You create a number of zombies equal to your level, who obey your orders.
2 Anti-Magic Shell For 1 hour a shimmering aura around you blocks all magic, including yours.
3 Charm Person Unless the target resists with Will, he or she becomes your friend for 1 day.
4 Contact Weirdo Ask an angel, demon, or space alien several yes-or-no questions ( # = level ).
5 Disintegrate Point at a target. Unless it resists with Fortitude, it is destroyed completely.
6 Fire Ball Everyone within 20 feet of the target must roll Reflex or take 5d6 damage.
7 Haste For 1 fight, you and your friends move double-fast and attack twice a turn.
8 Hold Portal Magically seals a doorway, trapdoor, etc. For 10 minutes, no one can open it.
9 Locate Object Name an object: this spell will point you in the right direction to find it.
10 Phantasmal Force You create an illusion that lasts for 10 minutes. Enemies resist with Will.
11 Polymorph Self You can take the shape of any animal for up to 1 hour, but you cannot talk.
12 Wall of Ice Your breath becomes a huge icy surface – a wall, a bridge, a dome . . .


Magic-User Research

Each time you gain a level, you can spend one thousand gold coins to research a new spell! The spell can be anything you want. This new spell takes the place of another one on the list. You can choose what spell it replaces. (Example: I don’t like Hold Portal, so my new spell replaces it.) If you don’t have one thousand gold coins, you’ll have to find more treasure or persuade people to fund your work.

Here are ideas for research. Ancient books mention these spells, but I don’t know what they do!

  • Turn to Slime
  • Perfume of Trickery
  • Zolobachai’s All-Powerful Laxative
  • Contagious Dancing
  • Maldoor’s Lesser Apocalypse
  • Hazart’s Infinite Sandwich
  • Speak with Ghost Sharks
  • Levitate Head
  • Turn Light to Amber
  • Summon Monkey Butler
  • Xindi’s Cupcake of Insanity

Commentary: random selection isn’t just done for its own sake, but rather to force the children (especially little boys fixated on killing things) to think laterally.  The best part of playing a Magic-User in a “real” game is the Eureka! moment when you figure a great use for a seemingly lame spell.  The kids, in particular, are in love with Wall of Ice.  At one point in Tavis’s game, they proposed using Wall of Ice to create an airtight bubble to survive an ICBM flight outside of the Earth’s atmosphere.


Zolobachai’s Omnipotent Laxative

Arnold Littleworth, known far and wide as “Zolobachai of the Nine Visions,” has spent his time in the Nameless City gathering up spells which might be useful to the party in its explorations. Naturally he names these spells after himself, as the original researchers are doubtless either long-dead, laughably impotent to preserve their intellectual property rights, or surely have no clue of Arnold’s pilfering.

(Spell names drawn from the invaluable Chris Pound Name Generators.)

Zolobachai’s Omnipotent Laxative
Level: Magic-User 2
Range: 60 feet
Duration: 1 day

This spell coats the target with a clingy layer of dust smelling faintly of bananas.  Any creature or item so targeted, if swallowed whole by some other creature, is immediately expelled (avoiding any damage or death resulting from being in the gullet).  This infliction of massive and unexpected intestinal distress forces the swallowing creature to make a Morale Check at a +2 penalty or flee.  This spell lasts for 1 day or until triggered by getting swallowed whole.

(Arnold developed this spell while being held captive by Sorn of Dobar Peak, a white dragon with decidedly little tolerance for mountebanks.  Though Arnold escaped captivity, much of the dragon’s hoard was befouled in the process.)


White Box Archaeology: More Lakofka Goodies!

Greyharp over at ODD74 has taken Len Lakofka’s Pyrologist and compiled it into a booklet along with additional Lakofka class material from Liaisons Dangereuses—the Hobbit Druid, the Hobbit/Dwarf Cleric-Fighter and the Dwarf Craftsman. The booklet is styled in the manner of the OD&D supplements.

Thanks to Greyharp for putting this together! View his discussion thread on the subject here; it includes links to various incarnations of the PDF.


Curse You!

Loke was angry as the dwarf had been, because he had perforce to part with the magic ring, and ere he went his way he spoke fiercely to Hreidmar, saying: “Thou hast received gold enough now, and my head is safe. But thou shalt never prosper, nor shall thy sons prosper after thee. Take thou with the gold the curse that follows it.”

— Donald A. Mackenzie, “Teutonic Myth and Legend, Chapter XXV: The Doom of the Volsungs”

Taking a page from Grognardia, let’s use Friday the 13th—that ill-starred day!—as an excuse to discuss curses in D&D.

The longest-term D&D character I ever played was Martin the Green, a “watch-mage” from an academy of magic patterned after the school on Roke Island in Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea stories. Taking it upon himself to destroy a powerful necromantic artifact—the spellbook of an undying centuries-old necromancer of his own order—he found his flesh slowly rotting away. He grew morose and withdrawn, stating more and more often of his own inevitable doom. It was a dark story made darker by the curse, but that just made his victory all the sweeter when I made that last saving throw for Martin to endure the chill of the Negative Material Plane just long enough to destroy the book and cripple the necromancer’s power, albeit at the cost of his own life.

In my current Red Box game, a PC cleric perused a stack of scrolls acquired from a magician’s abandoned workroom, only to discover one was cursed. He found himself with a constant, terrible sense of being watched; I kept telling him that “there is something on your back,” though neither he nor anyone else could see anything there. Aside from healing more slowly as the curse sapped his life force, he had trouble sleeping and suffered terrible nightmares. Alas, the loot from the workroom sufficed to procure a remove curse spell from a temple elder.

The PCs have also looted the altars of two Chaos cults, only to discover that the jeweled altar pieces were cursed. In both cases, the character carrying the loot was able to hold off the curse long enough to reach a temple and have the curse removed. Had he failed his saving throw, the fact that he’s the highest-level fighter in the group with the best magical weapon would have resulted in his single-handedly slaughtering the rest of the party and offering up their souls to the Chaos gods!

And in Tavis’s White Box game, we’ve had a few items that might be regarded as cursed, such as the Chaotic intelligent sword that turned our elven ranger to the service of Chaos, and a sentient fish-shaped amulet with an unfortunate habit of talking far too loudly while we’re adventuring.

“If you are so cursed wise you should know already,” growled the Argive, unmollified. Then his gaze clouded as he cast back over his tangled trail. “Some magician has cursed me.” he muttered. “As I rode back from my triumph over Erech, my scar-horse screamed and shied at Something none saw but he. Then my dreams grew strange and monstrous. In the darkness of my chamber, wings rustled and feet padded stealthily. Yesterday a woman at a feast went mad and tried to knife me. Later an adder sprang out of empty air and struck at me. Then, this night, she men call Lilitu came to my chamber and mocked me with awful laughter-”

— Robert E. Howard, “The House of Arabu”

Here’s some forum threads and other online resources that deal with D&D curses. (Some are for later editions but should still be useful for old-school play.)

Best Curses
Bestow Curse
Lesser Curses (D&D)
D&D 4th ed: One Hundred Curses
20 Curses (3.5e Other)

“Greeting, O Maranapion,” replied a grave and terrible voice that issued from the maggot-eaten lips. “Indeed, I will grant thee a sign. Even as I, in death, have rotted upon my seat from the foul sorcery which was wrought in the vaults of King Gadeiron, so thou and thy fellows and Gadeiron, living, shall decay and putrefy wholly in an hour, by virtue of the curse that I put upon ye now.”

— Clark Ashton Smith, “The Death of Malygris”

So, how have you used curses in D&D? As a DM, have you handed out cursed items and scrolls, used curse spells, or levied a slain foe’s dying curse upon the PCs? As a player, have your PCs been cursed? What sorts of curses have you encountered in play?


In AD&D You’re Always Stepping on 1d100 Woefully Encysted Creatures

cr0m’s recent comment to James’ post about Grand Motholam reminded me of a Gygaxism that I find utterly mind-blowing. He notes, justly, that:

In Vance’s stories, the spells available are much more wondrous, powerful or ridiculous than Sleep, Charm and Magic Missile. You’ve got incantations like the Spell of the Macroid Toe (victim gets a giant toe!), The Spell of Woeful Encystment (victim is in stasis deep beneath the earth), the Spell of the Sequestrous Digit (caster’s hand appears elsewhere, usually poised for groping someone attractive and/or picking their pockets). Is it really memorization/resource management that makes magic boring?

I quibble that The Spell of Woeful Encystment is, in AD&D, a ninth-level spell named Imprisonment. But yes, simply lifting a spell from Vance is boring in its own way. Gygax’s unique genius comes in this added detail:

The reverse (freedom) spell will cause the appearance of the victim at the spot he, she, or it was entombed and sunk in the earth. There is a 10% chance that 1 to 100 other creatures will be freed from imprisonment at the same time if the magic-user does not perfectly get the name and background of the creature to be freed.

Perhaps Maldoor will contribute a calculation of exactly how many creatures have already been encysted, on average, at each and every spot in the Prime Material Plane where you might choose to cast an incompletely-specified freedom spell. I will merely note that what these rules say about the world –  that wizards of the 18th level or higher have been sealing people in small spheres far beneath the earth for so many aeons that now the main problem is losing track of which particular one you’re looking for – that the globe is an over-stuffed filing system for people who rubbed Gleep Wurp the Eyebiter and his buddies the wrong way –  is why session reports of a peyote/crack/LSD binge are indistinguishable from just playing D&D.

For my money, imprisonment is as brilliant a riff on Vance’s themes as any of Gene Wolfe’s, that other acolyte for whom The Dying Earth was the Book of Gold. In The Book of the New Sun, Wolfe tells us that no delver can turn a spadeful of earth that does not contain some artifact of the past, and his viewpoint character Severian so takes it for granted that every mountain there is has been given the Mount Rushmore treatment in some past age that this fact is never directly stated. Which is awesome and all, but is it mundane of me to be even more amazed by the suggestion that, armed with my trusty polyhedrons, I could determine just how many artifacts there are in each spadeful?

EDIT: To avoid the promulgation of error among those who might not read the comments, Eric writes there:

Oh, Tavis! That isn’t Gygax’s genius at all! It’s pure Vance. When we see Cugel the Clever get the spell of forlorn encystment backwards in The Eyes of the Overworld, the ancient earth coughs up dozens of time-lost encystees.

Oops! While I’m doing my penance and re-reading Tales of the Dying Earth (with the fitting Brom cover instead of the out-of-place Berkey one, natch!), y’all can discuss whether this means that the idea of a reversible spell is also a lifted Vancism.


as it was in Grand Motholam

A partial list of game design consequences which arise from Vancian casting:

  1. Refers to Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth, never a bad thing.
  2. Introduces a pacing mechanic: oops, time to retreat I’m out of juice.
  3. Introduces suspense: did I pick the right spells?
  4. Allows new ways to measure skillful play based on how well you manage the gamble of spell selection.
  5. Rewards gathering information to make wise spell choices.
  6. Encourages repeated delves to improve casters’ efficiency.
  7. Creates a market for more reliable classes, and thus an adventuring party, to hedge against bad spell selection.
  8. Implies a very mundane (board-gamey?) aesthetic: magic is a commodity like torches, food, and arrows.

Naturally other magic systems might be better at these same goals, or achieve different goals entirely.  But the existing system is pretty far-reaching in its effect on the game.


why’d it have to be snakes?

Best. Cleric. Evar.

What’s up with the Cleric spell list in the Marsh/Cook (and Mentzer) Expert rules?  Were there a whole bunch of snake-themed dudes in the early games way back when?   Two or three years ago it was just another snake cult…

* Neutralize Poison
* Snake Charm

* Sticks to Snakes

* Growth of Animals SNAKES
* Speak with Animal SNAKES


Make Snakes Awesome

  • Cleric Level 3
  • Range 60
  • Duration Permanent
  • By means of this spell a cleric can transform one snake within range into awesomeness – like shooting lasers from its eyes, or having two heads, or regenerating while eating their own tails, or shedding skin to create extra boss magical leather armor, or dripping hallucinogenic addictive venom or whatever dude.  The awesomeness may gain a reaction roll bonus from NPC’s who appreciate greatness and 1970’s Proto-Metal.

Snakes to Ladders

  • Cleric Spell Level 2
  • Range 30′
  • Duration 2 turns
  • This spell turns any snake, serpent, eel, worm, or other scaly tubular poisoned critter, like a purple worm, into a ladder with fanged hooks to grab on to walls, 10′ long per hit die.  If the snake has more hit dice than the caster, whoever climbs the ladder must save vs. poison or be pricked by the poisonous fangs.

Turn Into Crazy Snake-Man

  • Cleric Spell Level 4
  • Range 0
  • Duration 6 turns
  • This spell turns the cleric into a crazy snake-man.  The cleric cannot speak in crazy snake-man form, cannot wear clothes and has no hands, but can slither around and pass through holes too small for a Halfling to crawl through.  The cleric’s bite becomes deadly poison and he or she has Armor Class 6.  If the crazy snake-man successfully bites a victim, he or she may coil around that victim to automatically do 2d4 points of damage the next round–but this is only possible if the cleric was wearing an extra nifty little hat thingy at the time when the spell was cast (see picture, above).

Past Adventures of the Mule

May 2023

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