Spells without levels, dropping clerics, healing wizards, and design space

My games do not have clerics. They do have clergy, and the mystic warrior archetype is fulfilled by Mageblades: if you need healing or other things that clerics do (like removing curses or diseases) you go to a witch or wizard and hope that they can help you.

Why? Why not? D&D has been a trendsetter in wizards not being able to heal, and pretty much any other RPG not inspired by D&D (especially early ones) has healing wizards. From B/X onward I never understood why the jock wizard that is less good at magic gets to heal and the weakling nerd wizard that is better at magic do not. Or why healing is divine and fireballs are not: why do healing requires divine allegiance?

The answer: the biblical Jesus was a wandering preaching healer, and a whole lot of clerical spells derive from biblical miracles. The Bible has also a lot of bad stuff to say about wizards, of course, so that’s probably the reason of the split between Jesus magic and wizard magic. Similarly Christianity preaches that true healing comes only through the divine, so I guess that helps.

Unless you are writing a Christian game, tho, there is no reason to split magic this way. I’m not against splitting magic amongst classes or schools of course, and for example both the three Moon-influenced schools of Dragonlance and the easy/difficult magic of Arcana Unearthed are great: the first has the right wizard schools split across three magic guilds that really do not like each other, while in the latter all casters cast the easy spells, and the hard spells are reserved to various subclasses (fire witch gets fire magic, etc). What I’m saying is: restricting healing to armoured faith healers baffles me. Why is this the limit?

This is exactly the logic behind Marvels & Malisons. Of the 5 disciplines within, 2 are the basis of cleric replacement: Apotropaism and Healing.

Apotropaism is, literally, turning stuff away. Bad stuff. Amongst the spells there are replacements for warding spells, remove curse, spirit binding, exorcism against demons and undead, and of course a spell that turns the next malison aimed at you you onto your goat. Excluding the goat, this is all traditional cleric fare, but this magic work, also in the real world, has not been confined to clergy or the divine. Including similar stuff involving goats cast out of cities.

Healing has healing spells. A few of them cure some condition (for example poison). with the extra effect of curing HPs. These spells were interesting to write: some are clearly more effective at low levels and some at higher levels. This was done to provide players with a panoply of effects, curing HPs only one of many: naturally there is also value in having all of them, for those who really care about healing. As a side, in my games there is mana points but no memorization, with the downside that casting the same spell twice in a day is complicated: extra spells doing similar effects are much valuable.

Curiously, the most effective healing spells at level 1 is Seven Steeped Stones, from the Cunning Folk discipline. The spell enchants seven one-use sigils stones that can be used as magic sling stones or to heal 1 hp each. Alternatively it’s possible to keep on boiling the stones in milk (do not ask me! the spell, like most of the book, is inspired by real world magic) and then drink it to get an extra save against a curse or illness. So, yes, it cures 7 hp at level 1, but it takes 7 rounds, and the stones must be cooked in milk in advance. It’s work! It also fills a gap in the design space: a sigil healing spell that can be cast in advance and consumed later, also doubling as last ditch magic weapon. It’s also a healing spell in a non-healing school.

At any rate, casters seem pleased by the increased choice of magic, yet at the table do not feel pressured to actually pursue healing magic: a lot of our parties do not have healers, and get by with herbalism, potions and surgery. Some players tho really double down and play herbalist healers surgeons with port-a-stills. As for myself, I normally play exorcist healer girls trying to capture demons in brass lanterns, who occasionally might throw a fireball or lightning bolt. Those who want to play a jock caster have fun with Mageblades.

Regardless: how much should spells heal in a spell-without-levels paradigm?

Should spell damage be more or less than spell healing, per slot? Combat economy suggests damage should be higher to avoid healing dragging out combats, but healing also allows a longer exploration phase (as opposed to a downtime phase), and that is welcome. So for the purpose of this post I’ll strike a balance and call a healing spell baseline as 2d6, exactly as a maleficence. As maleficence can be cast on an area, healing could be the same: maleficence can blast an entire melee, friends and foes alike, and because of that i have it rately seen used in melee. Right before melee, tho, when the enemy group is at a good distance, I see it used all the time.

So healing 2d6 on a melee would also be interesting: while it would see a lot of use after combat, you could also cast it during combat, albeit healing some of your foes too. Maybe that would be the beginning act of parlay?

Maybe there is another way tho: make healing a class power, like maleficence and magic shield (also from Wonder & Wickedness). This would make all sorcerers heal 2d6 as much as they can blast 2d6 or raise a magic shield. This is probably not a bad use of mana, and allows more casters to share the burden of healing, while leaving healing spells still very useful as they also treat other illnesses.

The bad side of giving healing to all sorcerers is that by giving more powers to all sorcerers all sorcerers become more similar. As each sorcerer now shares the power (and responsibility) of healing, sorcerers become less diverse. I’m not super keen on this.

There is an easy way out tho. We could make powers tied to magic disciplines, requiring familiarity with its spells in order to master it (2 or 3 spells would be adequate, while in Mageblade it would be tied to a perk). Studying Cure could eventually unlock the power of Healing. Maleficence blast (the melee-wide attack) could be unlocked by studying elementalism, maleficence ray (single target) for necromancy, magic shield for apotropaism, wizard eyes for spiritualism, turn/control undead for necromancy, tame beasts for vivimancy, esp for psychomancy, and never be freaked out by spiders for arachnomorphosys. I’m not sure about the other disciplines but something could be worked out.

Blog post round up: arcane creations and more

Spells as Ingredients to Craft Beings – Evlyn describes how to create constructs and other beings in possibly the best magic procedure content I read in ages. Does what it says on the tin. Recommended.

Applied Fantastically: unknown tables – I’m not sure if this was spurred by an April writing prompt, but it’s an hilarious collection of wonky making items, encounters, rejections, and more, including two lookalikes having a fistfight, actually two drunk doppelgangers deciding who gets to steal the identity of their victim. Who might not be dead yet. A must read.

Productive Scab-picking: On Oppressive Themes in Gaming – from Humza’s Legacy of the Bieth. Why and how do we include or not oppressive themes in our games? Also, the Hugboxing-Scabpicking Spectrum and what happened to the (excellent) Attack Helicopter novelette and its author.

Gygax 75 – Also on Legacy of the Bieth I found a link to this inspiring workbook on how to put together your campaign, based on a 46 years old Gygax article. It will hold your hand on a five weeks trip, guiding you out of the Perilous Badlands of Campaign Creation, the horrible place where so many young enterprising campaign ideas go on adventure and get lost forever. Gygax was a bit of a self aggrandizing graphomaniac with uneven results, but amongst that unevenness there is some seriously good stuff: the original article, attached at the end of the workbook, shows how the sausage is made, and also reveals some details about Castle Greyhawk (feat. a level with 30-50 wild hogs).

New Releases and Re-Releases: Genial Jack issue 2, Macchiato Monsters Edition Noisette, Wampus County: Lumberlands, Chthonic Codex Omnibus

We had a bevy of new issues recently, and I had not blogged about them yet, so here we go!

Genial Jack issue 2


68 pages, A4 black and white, written and illustrated by Jonathan Newell of bearded-devil.com, with cover art by Bronwyn McIvor. Available on DrivethruRPG in print and PDF.

Genial Jack is a campaign setting about the eponymous God-Whale, the city built on and in him, and its inhabitants. The second issue is dedicated to Jack’s Entrails, “a living maze of darkness and fear, but also of ancient wonders”.

Yes, it’s very gross. And, yes, of course you too can drink the blood of the Whale God. Here’s the Questing Beast review.

Built for the fifth edition but filled with OSR sensibilities, volume 2 covers adventure hooks, special equipment for entrails delving, its special unique magic items, the druidic Gutgardeners (the micro-biota of the Whale God are not micro- at all), and three adventuring sections: the Small and Large Intestine (rendered as dungeons) and the city of Hernaheim, at the same time a forlorn place populated by offcasts, wanderers, and criminals running from the law and possibly the safest place in the Entrails. The volume is completed by a a chapter devoted to the creatures inhabiting the Entrails, from thrushspawn zombies to the Teratomental.

Macchiato Monsters: Édition Noisette


65 pages, A5 black and white, written by Eric Nieudan with cover art by Didier Balicevic and interior illustrations by Eric Nieudan, Russ Nicholson, Guillaume Jentey, Jonathan Newell, Luigi Castellani, John Grümph, Luka Rejec, Clare Foley, Bronwin McIvor, Didier Balicevic, Chrissy Stanley, and Jops. This translation is by Cédric Ferrand, editing by Michaël Croitoriu. Available on DrivethruRPG in print and PDF.

Eric Nieudan’s Macchiato Monsters is famous for brewing shared worldbuilding into an OSR cup. The game finally finally sees a French edition: now you can delve into the Donjonverse of your own making in French! We particularly want to thank Cédric Ferrand and Michaël Croitoriu for translating and editing.

Lumberlands: Wampus Country Travel Guide I (dtrpg, itch.io)


47 pages, A5 black and white, written by Erik Jensen (and family!) and interior illustrations by Alex Damaceno. Available on DrivethruRPG in print and PDF, and on itch.io in PDF.

Lumberlands is the first installment in a series of travel guides for Wampus Country, detailing huge magic forests and inhabitants. Inside you’ll find details on how to play a Lumberjill or Lumberjack, the various factions in the woods, its strange inhabitants from Sasquatch to Squirrels, and a more than forty events, from encounters with the flora or fauna to those special sightseeing places you all wanted to visit, with the occasional portal-land disturbance phenomena.

The books is concluded by a section of special familiars and some henchpeople, including the perfectly adequate Medium Berta, and Flippy, the Handsome Marmot, depicted above in all his majestic beauty.

Chthonic Codex Omnibus


192 pages, A5 black and white, written by Paolo Greco with Chrissy Stanley, cover by Claire Maclean, and interior art by Chrissy Stanley. Available on DrivethruRPG in print and PDF.

Want to play a wizards-only campaign? Want to play a student at a magic academy, surviving uncaring professors, drunken student life, mysteric cults, and the devouring idols? Want a campaign setting inspired by Mediterranean religion and magic? Want to tap the unlimited power of mana tar, the black gold oozing from the ground? Want to steal the good stuff from the school pharmacy?

Chthonic Codex is a book describing the Schools of Magic of the Hypogea, their relics and rituals, students and shenanigans. The setting is presented in a diegetic way, narrating the world from the inside, written by its characters. The Codex itself exists both in our world and in the game world, to be found by students PCs as they try to survive magic college and, despite an utterly contemptuous lack of support from the teaching staff, graduate. Each creature is described in the book as a diegetic fragment, as part of a lecture, discussion, text. There is also a short poem about carnivorous reality bending axolotls, and a cautionary tale about not messing up with wizard kids:

The book itself is built around ten schools of magic and a spell selection of more than a hundred spells, designed to be used as a replacement to the usual spell assortment, but can also be used with your other games. Most spells come with either an Alteration or a Dispensation: Alterations are different ways to cast the same spell, and Dispensations are conditions and tricks to cast the spell without spending mana. Oh, yes, there is a new spellcasting system using mana points. Here are simple examples of Alteration and Dispensation, from the Sufi-inspired Circle of Fire Dervishes:

Other sources of inspiration are classic Greek magic, western occultism, Orthodox Christianity, those Greek myths too bizarre to have broad appeal, and my terrible year of postgraduate school at Glasgow University. The rest of the book is devoted to adventure hooks, two types of magic research, herbalism, dozens of new monsters, a couple of magic systems, a mythic underworld generator, an 11-step mysteric initiation quest generator, a bevy of magic items. Also, to make character generation faster, students get a standard endowment of equipment from their school, plus some absolutely useless magic items from a d666 table, as you can see below:

Here’s a review of the boxed set edition by Questing Beast. The Omnibus edition is a single book version of the 2016 edition: it has some extra material compared with the boxed set, but otherwise the text is the same.

Chthonic Codex stat blocks are presented for both B/X and for Adventure Fantasy Game, which is now available as Pay What You Want. AFG has a bunch of extra spells that you can use in Chthonic Codex or other other campaigns and games, a simple skill system, and also accomplishment mechanics to do away with experience points.

This is all for now. This post should have been at least two posts. The past two months have seen a lot of changes, including finding a new Lost Pages headquarters, moving twice, realizing that twitter is pretty much hopeless as discussion platform and return to blogging, starting to design and write Lost Ubar, new long-term debilitating injuries, re-evaluating attitude to life, playing Factorio Space Exploration, cats, and so on.