Adventure Fantasy Game Spellcasting: how I (re)learnt to love undeads, but not that way, and considerations

Spellcasting in Adventure Fantasy Game differs quite a bit from your run-of-the-mill OSR game, and from other systems too. The closest is Roger’s, and that’s because we had a long chat about them back in the day. How is it different from traditional D&D spellcasting?

First, there’s no split between divine and arcane magic. I’m not sure of the reasons that led Gygax to split spell lists, but i suspect none of them are good. Moreover, the concept of clerics getting more spells with levels instead of by increasing the standing in front of their gods is a bit fishy. It seems as if there were no gods but instead the spells came from the cleric inner powers… exactly like magic-users. This change did not break the game.

Second, it’s mana based, but each spell can be cast only once a day. This allows each spell to costs one mana point, simplifying the system a lot, while making actually harder to play casters. Difficulty is moved from “what should I memorize today?” and “is this the right moment to cast Sleep?” to a broader “I have no idea if I should cast now and what”, simply because every spell is a unique life-saving snowflake. It’s possible to cast a given spell a second time using items called fetishes: grab a fetish, spend one mana, a specific spell goes off. A fetish can be used once a day. There are also Mana Vessels which store a mana point; full vessels can power spells up to a given level and need to be recharged by a caster. Also, very importantly, each caster has access to all his spells all the time, so even very narrow-use spells see play instead of laying forgotten and unmemorized in musty tomes. This means that even bad spells are used a lot: Giving the Gift of Life, a level 0 spell that heals 1d6 hits at the cost the same amount of temporal hits to the caster, is seen by casters’s players as a warm, fuzzy, nostalgic kick in the groin.

Third, everybody can cast level 0 spells, provided they can somehow get one measly mana.Rolling a high Spirit is an option, grabbing a full mana vessel is another. The concept is that your level-zero auntie did really cast spells and sung those zombies back to the grave and could read any language. Your non-caster PC might not know spells yet, but fetishes are moderately common and teaching rules are kindly provided. Now, finding an equally kind teacher is a completely different topic. 🙂

Fourth, every single caster seems to be a little necromancer that could. Possibly because players love pets in RPGs. Possibly because necromancer want to be fiddling with corpses. Possibly because the equivalents of “charm undead”, “animate but not control a skeleton” and “animate a skeleton” can be respectively cast by a caster of level 0, 1 and 2. The first two can be of course combined (but the control spell costs 1 mana a day to upkeep), while the last one costs 50 coins in components. This does not stop low level casters from keeping a few skeletons around “just in case”. This, of course, might bother the peasants and burgers. Which is one of the reasons why casters live out in the sticks. It’s also a useful way of recycling discarded armour. This early undead proliferation is interesting because it directly impacts on the setting: low level mages will exhume corpses from graveyards and will have a small group of fanatical undead goons protecting them, if they can find the money. Some of you will cringe at the thought of game balance suffering from this: don’t. The Original Tilean Murderhoboes are masters at breaking everything, but this did not break the game. Instead, ponder the implication of low-level necromancy on your campaign world.

Fifth, it’s not just the system, it’s a whole different spell ecology. All the 80+ spells are new, the first purely offensive spell is cast at level 2, and there are a grand total of 8 damaging spells in the whole manual. There’s no Sleep spell. Hell Gate, the closest thing to Fireball, opens a gate to hell spouting raging flames, possibly gating in uncontrollable demons. Casters in AFG are not there to dish tons of damage but to do what mere mortals cannot: bend reality with words.

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