[resources] Oh god, it’s full of spells!

A while ago someone on G+ asked for some alternative spellbooks, as in “I need a bunch of new spells”.

Thing is, I love spell and the arcane in RPGs, and I bought a bunch of related books. I even wrote and published a few.

So, here’s the list, in no specific order:

  1. The Great Net Spellbook – the first “noncanon” supplement we brought into our game. Things went wild. It impressed my teenager self to no end. A bunch are boring, a number are utterly overpowered, all are somehow wonky and quirky and a labour of love.
  2. The Pangean List of Spells – a tagged list of rewritten spells, great interface, a bunch are new.
  3. Kellri’s Spell Reference – As far as I know, all spells from that famous advanced fantasy game.
  4. Arcane Abecedary – I can’t describe this with less than 7 words:”wampus wampus wampus wampus wampus wampus wampus”
  5. Weird Thaumaturgy – Someone on g+ made a public thread asking for non-canonical, non-boring spells. I put together the document with some rough cut and paste but I did not finish it because reasons.
  6. Theorems & Thaumaturgy – a boat of spells, classes, items… PWYW
  7. Space Age Sorcery – the tin says, the book does
  8. The Basic Illusionist - Fancy a few illusion spells? what about about 8-score? 159 illusion spells and paraphernalia.

More will come to mind. Suggest some in the comments.

Soon from Lost Pages: Wonder & Wickedness


Wonder and Wickedness is Brendan’s Sorcery supplement. It contains:

  • a new magic system with level-less magic and rules to adapt it to your favourite fantasy RPG
  • support for magic duels! like in fiction!
  • seven magic disciplines and a whole lot of new spells
  • scores of catastrophes, for when spellcasting goes horribly wrong
  • fifty magic items
  • and some fine art by Russ Nicholson

I’m going through the last part of the layout. Available in before the end of the year, print version in January. More news soon.

Need for Speech: words have power, Hodor, OG and a new word/rune-based magic system

I started watching Game of Thrones recently, and Hodor got me thinking about magic. In some oblique ways.

RPGs are mostly a discussion. Speech and writing, in their tabletop and PBM incarnations, are almost inherent to the form. This happens because there are not enough physical game tokens to allow expression of all the subtleties of what happens in the game world. For a NON RPG, like the DND 3E miniatures game, the need for speech is absent: it’s possible to move tokens and roll dice and point at tokens, and that’s enough to resolve the game.

Note that this has nothing to do with system completeness: it’s possible to have an incomplete system needing arbitration, where the referee resolves combats by moving, changing, adding and subtracting “bits” from the table, not a word spoken.

Speech at this level is about the world. Players make statements about the world and roll dice, which are about the world. The referee adjudicates and reports the results. So, we are playing, and this is the nature of the game: making statements about the world.

There is another level of need for speech, which is the speech that happens in game: characters talk to each other. The player of Hodor has problems with that. I played a speech-impaired character once and it was funny and challenging (the system was Fate though, which was the only negative note, because all players and the GM did a brilliant job).

At any rate, Hodor can’t speak. Hodor can act though. Which would be incredibly interesting if Hodor was in a game of Diplomacy.

Hodor is a bit extreme though. Let’s talk about Robin Law’s OG.


OG is a gem. In OG you character knows how to use 3-8 words. You can unleash the very full panoplia of your extensive vocabulary when interacting with the Referee, but with other players? Stick to your own 3-8 words! If you know only “small”, “stick” and “you” you can’t say many things that do not insult virility. And that’s kind of cool because it’s a game made fun by its special player interaction.

It would be interesting if RPG magic was the same. Incidentally the first fantasy novel I read was A Wizard of Earthsea by U.K. le Guin, which has a system that is basically UG-Magic-University. You learn words for things, so that you can command them. And humans get baptized, so if you don’t know their real secret name you have to use their “common name”, which is what they use in daily life, or just use “dude”.

So, if you want a flexible rulelight magic system, one that is a bit crazy but completely not playtested, enjoy this one:

You MU begins the game knowing INT/3 names for generic things and 1 mana. When a new level is gained,  one new name is learnt and 1 mana per level is gained. You might want to use a foreign language (French? Italian? Lithuanian? Japanese? Kurdish? Finnish? Tsolyáni?) for the special names to stop your character from using them in play. They become game tokens, so you to avoid messups you want to be specific when referring to them. Or you can trace runes mid-air or pronounce the rune names. Whatever. Words have power.

To cast a spell, tell to the Referee ALL the words you are using this round. For example for Fireball would maybe be “big powerful fire blast there”, while Create Fire would be “fire”. Then, using the 5MORE system or rolling under INT or under CHA or trying to SAVE, roll once for every word you pronounce in the round. Consider every word as a different TASK for 5MORE EXPERT purposes.

You need to succeed at every word check to cast the spell. If you fail a roll, spend 1 mana to convert it to a success. If you elect not to spend the mana, all the words you are speaking in the same round get messed up and are all counted as failures. So yes you can take time casting a spell.

When you are done with words, something happens. The Referee will let you know what happens depending on the words that failed. As a yardstick, consider that a comparable D&D spell should have (2 x level) – 1 words. The referee and players are encouraged to write down combination of words of power, and the referee is encouraged to have the same combination of words have the same effect every time. Players should record combination and effects only if their characters have writing implements.

Now, this seems eminently more powerful than D&D. Surely it’s more flexible, and if you’re lucky it gives you infinite free spells at level 1.




There are two consequences for failures.

The first one is that the caster gets burnt.

  • For each word failed, the caster can’t use that word for 1d6 turns.
  • For each three words failed, the caster takes 1d6 damage OR the caster can spend one mana OR the caster can get stunned. The caster can choose which as they know how to fend off magic power. Stun duration is 1d6 rounds if chosen once, 1d6 turns if chosen twice, 1d6 hours if chosen 3 times, then days, weeks, months, seasons.
  • For each six words failed, something awful happens. Maybe the caster gets whisked away by a gate for a while, or they develop a horrible mutation. I’ll let your Referee adjudicate.

So if a caster fails seven words, they can’t use any of them for 1d6 turns, takes three times a mixture of 1d6 damage or 1 mana damage or stunned for 1d6 rounds/turns/hours, and something horrible happens.

Plus, there is the second consequence. Magic happens regardless. Referee, consider that magic has a personality. And that words have personalities. And that some words don’t like being used close to each other. Let them play. You might even have the words make reaction rolls against each other and the MU to determine if the play nice. Mispronounced words will most probably misbehave at some level, and the caster might even pronounce other words instead of the failed one.

Note that if a spell targets someone, using a generic name (like “human”) grants an additional save, while using the Secret Name forces the victim to reroll 1 succeeded save.

You can learn new words from other people

Note that you can totally use this system as rune magic too.

Casters in “Wizards” – the game about the movie

Part of the “Casters In” Series (previously Empire of the Petal throne, Quest of the Ancients, DSA).

Spellcasting in wizards uses two scores: spirit (some kind of magic energy) and Magic (which is a willpower-based skill).

Wizards is the game about the movie with the same name. It has some interesting mechanics. And Nazis. It feels positively Carcosan.

sorry, no source :(

sorry, no source :(

At any rate: players are supposed to make their own spells, and there are a handful in the book.

To cast the spell the magic user must roll under magic with a d20 and:

  • if the result is under the difference between magic and the spell difficulty, the caster loses spirit equal to the die roll.
  • if the result is above that, but under magic, the caster loses spirit equal to the spell cost.
  • if the result is above that but under double the magic skill, the spell fails and the caster spends 1 spirit point.
  • if above twice the magic skill, the caster loses spirit equal to the cost of the spell.
  • on a critical failure, there’s an optional fumble. No table, but “fumbled fireball leads to pants on fire” is the example in the book. Which is appropriate and awesome.

It’s also possible to practice and get more experience in a given spell at a cost of a fifth of raising the magic skill.

Casting spell on other people requires, in addition, a contest of Spirit: the same roll for the magic check is used for the caster, and is compared to the amount of spirit the caster had before casting the spell, while the target rolls 1d20 against their spirit. Spirit is fully regained in 30 hours, but sleeping counts as double time, so 18 hours of wake and 6 hours of sleep are enough.

As additional weird thing, it’s possible to try an Evocation just pumping magic: a spirit roll is made, and if successful the caster spends spirit points equal to the d20 and SOMETHING GOOD HAPPENS. If the caster fails, they spend points equal to the failure margin and SOMETHING AWFUL HAPPENS.

Why I like Wizards’s magic:

  • if you’re good at a spell, you can cast it cheap
  • mana points used as both “raw power” and “energy left”. The more you cast the least effective your spells become.
  • that whole Evocation “just dump mana” mechanic is simple yet amazing.

Casters in Das Schwarze Auge

Third episode of my “Casters In…” serie. Previous episodes about Empire of the Petal Throne and Quest of the Ancients.

The king of the hill of the German RPG scene is Das Schwarze Auge. Translated to English as “The Dark Eye”. This commentary on the magic system is based on my memories of the Italian translation of the first edition, both basic and advanced rules.

The review of DSA starts with the effectiveness of mages in combat, and a small commentary on the game mechanics is needed.

Each PC starts from 35 to 20 HP. The mage starts with 20, plus 30 mana (Astral Points in the Italian translation), while the Elf (race as class? yes) has 25 and 25. At each level a character raises a stat by one and either HP or mana by 1d6. Simplifying combat, every character might deal something like 1d6+3 on each hit (once every two or three round accounting for parries), but armour reduces damage. Mages can only wear padded armour (damage reduction 1) while RD 3 is common for adventurers.

Now, every magic user and elf knows a spell that deals 3d6+level, ignoring armour, and costs the same amount of mana. Consequences are left as an exercise for the reader. Back to the rest of the magic system now.

Elves and Mages are the spellcasters of the basic rules. They share a spell list of about half a dozen spells, with mages being able to cast about as many more. All spells in the handbook are known and usable from level one, except the ones found later. The caster pays the mana cost (2/round for a spell that grants protection 2, 15 or so for polymorph other, 1/HP for healing) and the spell goes off. This means that a caster can cast quite a lot, but not incredibly much less than higher-level casters. Some spells have a save, but the mechanics are mostly spell-specific. Sleep is a bit OP against weak opponents, as tradition. ;)

This is a pretty vanilla mana magic system. But the cool thing about DSA is the mage’s staff.

The staff is a normal quarterstaff. Except it’s indestructible. This is a big deal as it’s possible to break weapons on a successful parry.

At any rate, before every adventure, the mage can try to cast an Enchantment on the staff. It costs some mana, so the magic user starts the adventure with less than the maximum amount of mana, but the effects are brilliant. If failed, the MU can try again before the next adventure. Enchantments can be cast from level 2 onwards:

First enchantment: all spell costs are reduced by -2 mana per spell. This means that it’s possible to heal 2 hit points per round for free. In the next editions this was changed so that the spell cost must be at least one, which still allows to cast a number of healing spells that head 3HP for 1 mana. 3HP is not a small amount.

Second enchantment: the mage can set his staff on fire, as a neverending torch.

Third enchantment: the staff can be transformed in a 10 metres rope, controllable by the mage.

Fourth enchantment: the staff can be transformed in a flaming sword that deals 1d6 + mage level damage. The problem is that the mage can lose control of the sword: at that point the staff will try to destroy the group and then selfdestruct.

Fifth enchantment: the staff can become a nearly undetectable salamander controlled by the mage, and the mage can transfer his spirit in the salamander and perceive the world through its senses.

Staff enchantments and being able to cast a lot of different spells are what’s cool about DSA magic. In three words: “TOYS, TOYS, TOYS”.

There are also more caster classes: the game mechanics are the same (sans enchantments), but the spell list vary:

  • the wood elves (not sure about their original name, in Italian they were translated as “halflings”, but they are wood elves) cast some D&D druid spells.
  • the druids cast incredibly creepy voodoo spells (dolls? dolls!) and curses and soul-stealing shenanigans. They need an athame made of volcanic glass. Humans can change class and become druids.
  • initiates (cleric) have a common short list, plus three spells for each god. They need to pass an “invocation check” to cast spells. DSA gods are pretty awesome and shenanigan-prone.

Comments below or on Google Plus here.

Beyond Vancian: Alterations, Dispensations and Essence Corruption

Vancian magic has its place. But it’s not always appropriate, nor it needs to be the only magic system in your setting. Sometimes you want something more flexible, less mundane and more based on fairytale logic. More meaningful choices and deeper consequences.

Chthonic Codex takes the AFG magic system (available in the free AFG preview downloadable here, explained in section 1.2.1, pp 10,11 and already usable with other retroclones) and adds some, urm, bells and whistles of the arcane variety. The results are usable with all of them old school games you love.

Let’s start with the first spell learnt by most casters in AFG, and see what happens to it:

Unveil Arcana

Level: 0. Range: 1’. Casting time: 1 turn. Duration: instantaneous.

The caster uncannily receives insights and visions enabling them to identify and understand one arcanum, an unknown function of the chosen arcane item or phenomenon within rangeIf cast on a grimoire, the caster will be able to identify a chosen spell from the source. The caster can then learn and transcribe it if their levels are compatible. If cast on other items or phenomena, the weakest unknown function or detail of the object or phenomenon will be understood by the Caster first, with more details conveyed on subsequent castings.

Unveil Arcana is, for obvious reasons, cast very often in my campaigns. The characters meditates and has visions and insights about the unveiled arcanum. It would be interesting, far more interesting if the spell was also working with dreams… the concept of Dispensations enters:

Dispensation – the caster has to sleep at least 1d6 hours with their head close to the arcanum to be unveiled. Comfy pillows can be used, but not overly thick.

A dispensation is a condition that, if satisfied, lets the caster cast the spell without spending mana. In retroclones, the dispensed spell can’t be cast more than once a day, even if memorized. So, there you go, casters have a way of casting spells that they haven’t memorized, but it usually involves dealing with spirits, whispering to fishes, gilting doors and other awkward actions like choreographed singing and dancing montages.

The next concept is Alteration. The spell can be cast in more than a single mode. I’d also love to expose you to Metaphorurgy, the discipline of magic dealing with thresholds (both mundane doors and magic portals) which the Gatekeepers hold dear.

Past Passage

Level: 1. Range: touch. Casting time: 1 phase. Duration: 1 turn.

This simple spell folds a door frame over the caster’s time continuum. The door will open on the first threshold the caster went through since last sunset.

Alteration – by smearing 1 hit point wort of blood on the door, the door will open instead on the first threshold the blood went through since last sunset.

Alterations are not only a matter of flexibility, nor they are a new concept. Reversed spells are alterations. What I’ve done is framing the alternate version in a more explicit form. It’s also interesting to note that since in AFG casters can’t cast a given spell more than once per day, a spell with an altered form can’t be used once per form, but only once. In this way they resemble the alternate spells in the AFG handbook.

Why alterations and not having different spells? First, it’s a matter of meaningful choice: if a character could cast 10 different varieties of the same fireball in a day to avoid the limitation, it would run in the face of the core design of the mana system. Second, you’re giving more flexibility to players, which means more choice. And I like choice. Third, because buying a book to read the same spell over and over again with tiny changes really ticks me off and it’s something i do not do.

Now, the darling Essence Corruption. Everybody loves their metamorphoses, and changing is usually fine, but sometimes it doesn’t work. It’s not a problem of magic lingering, but rather a question of wounding and recovery. Some spells do not merely bend reality, sometimes things go wrong and they change the nature of things. This is a spell of the Chthonic Craft, practiced by hermits and stylites of the Hypogea:

Caprine Climb

Level: 1. Range: self. Casting time: 1 phase. Duration: until dawn.

The lower limbs of the caster change into the hind legs of a goat, making the caster look similar to a bocklin from the waist down. The legs bestow on the caster caprine surefootedness, meaning that the now irsute caster will never fail to climb on any natural surface. Apprentices are encouraged not to try this spell on the giant pile of elven skeletons: while the climb is certainly not a problem under the effect of this spell, some of these long-dead elves are extremely cantankerous.

Dispensation – roll for Essence Corruption (weeks).

So, the spell can be cast for free, but if the Essence Corruption save fails the spell wears off but the effects last 1d6 more weeks. Essence Corruption lasts 1d6 time units as specified, the time units being: rounds, turns, hours, days, weeks, months, years, forever. The next time essence corruption is failed for the same spell the time unit will be bumped by one on this scale, the second time by two, and so on, until the magic is gone but the effects are permanent. There are rumours that essence corruption might be liftable, as a curse, but they are only rumours.

Sure, you can change shape into an eagle or a dolphin or a giant bird-demon or a greater asphaltomorph, and you’re good enough to do it without spending mana. But doing so you’re trading a bit of your soul for something else. And it’s not only for metamorphoses: other kinds of magic corrupt your inner spark as well.

Chthonic Codex: Progress, Spelunking Ferrets and Scapegoats

My three-weeks-long trip through Europe (Glasgow-London-Paris-Lausanne-Milan-Hamburg-Berlin-Glasgow) is now finished and I’m back at work.

There’s been progress with Academia Apocripha and Mystery & Mystagogues and Secret Santicore Mobile but since I spent two of the three weeks with an on and off sinusitis progress is less then expected. Sadly the Mystagogue of the Bridge of Bones was not available, so i spent a few days being completely useless but eating like a pro.

Anyway, school design and writeups are at a good point, more schools and more spells have been added. The count at the moment is 8 or 9 schools: the Great Schools of Necromancers, Chimerists, Fire Dervishes, Gatekeepers, Stargazers, plus the Great Workshop, the so-called School of the Unseen (which might be a yet-unobserved school of illusion, a school posing to be a lie pretending to be a school in hiding or might not even exist at all), the Chthonic Craft practised by Hypogean Ascetics, and possibly the lost School of Pharmacy (why lost? good question). Each school comes with 13 new spells, except Necromancy and Pharmacy which have the full panoply of AFG necromancy and physiurgy (that’s healing for you) because these spells are kind of needed anyway.

If I have time I might even “schoolify” all the AFG magic disciplines, bringing the number of schools to, erm, between 11 and 14 depending on how I feel about having these Moon Hunter weirdos and the arcanaluddite Troll Spellsmiths. And human sacrifices for demon-god-worshippers and their Goetia spells. Even if I don’t schoolify them all, we are talking of about 150 spells, half of them new, the other half from AFG, plus special a few game mechanics specific for every school, like the Elixirs from the School of Necromancy.

And there’s gonna be also other stuff. I expect the PDF for CC:AA to be ready in January, and CC:M&M in February. Bookbinding and box-making to happen in March, shipping as they come ready.

Joesky Tax: Spelunking Ferrets and Scapegoats

There are some weird treasures in the boxed set. I’m not sure if they will end up in CC:AA or CC:M&M but they can probably be more at home in the latter. Anyway, here’s a couple:

Spelunking Ferrets are specially trained LVL 1 ferrets. They are unnaturally quiet and letargic and usually do not move much at all. This changes when they are thrown at an opponent: they will attack and, after hitting, they’ll latch in and bury in the victim dealing damage every turn. They can also be inserted in a willing subject, usually through the mouth, but they are also happy with other body cavities, or even with creating new body cavities. There they will dig, extract and devour any external body like internal moulds and oozes, uncontrolled growths, eggs, half-digested godlings, resident squids and extra souls. In the process the ferret will deal 2d6 damage to the suffering patient, and then probably die of indigestion.

Scapegoats are goats kept in sacks. When someone is to be blamed or about to suffer a curse or a mortal wound, the goat will instead suffer the consequences. The scapegoat can also be given away to someone to temporarily avert their wrath. Bagging goats is a very dangerous fine art practiced only by the most adept Savants, but it’s said that it’s common knowledge between Hypogean Hermits. What’s certain is that the mysteric ritual involves naked chanting the Stodgy Selenic Song under the open sky and must be completed before dawn, and that a captured goat is required. The goat will not survive more than a week in the bag, a month if properly watered.