Magic-User Options

The featured image was created by Luigi Castellani. His patreon is here, go support him. He is anextremely talented artist and writer.

In four older  posts, I covered tweaks to the standard Magic-User. For convenience, they are listed below:

By popular request, a fifth link is provided that deals with the Turn Undead table.

Using the Turn Undead table

The premises for these posts were simple:

  • A class feels different when the mechanics are different.
  • The spell table is the primary limiting factor.
  • House rule: The standard Magic-User can create scrolls for 100gp per spell level. The process takes a number of days equal to the spell level.

Looking back on these posts, one theme stands out. A different mechanic creates an unreliable spellcaster. When the success is not automatic, like with the standard Magic-User, other things are needed to make the class worthwhile. Here are the pieces so far:

  • Creating a spell focus that can guarantee spell casting success without a roll.
  • Creating amulets that allow for the Best 2 out of 3 rolling for success.
  • Minor counterspell ability that costs highest available spell slot.
  • Creating Mnemonics that allow the spellcaster to keep the spell slot in case of failure.
  • Gaining lucky numbers that always grant success when rolled.
  • Creating magic items that guarantee a range of die rolls will result in a successfully cast spell.
  • Minor hex ability based on the Prayer spell.

What can we do with these pieces? Quite a bit.

Campaign Ideas

One way to use these four variant magic-users is to have a campaign world that doesn't have the standard Magic-User. All spellcasters are unreliable, but each type searches/fabricates items that help them make magic more reliable.

I could see this in a Swords & Sorcery type of setting where the four different types of magic-users would have evocative names. The Red Hand, Disciples of the Path, The Feeders, etc. I'm partial to the name I gave the Chainmail spellcasters, the magic-eaters. I could also see where each type is distrustful of the other three. It provides a built-in backstory for the magic-user in the party.

Another campaign idea would put the standard Magic-User as high mages with the other three considered hedge mages. The academics could laugh at a preoccupation with numbers or making charts while they study real magic.

Parts is Parts

Take a mechanic you like:

  • Saving Throw
  • Chainmail (2d6 + m-u level/2 greater than or equal to 7)
  • Percentages
  • Custom charts
  • Turn Undead table

Decide the consequences of failure:

  • Retain spell slot
  • Lose spell slot

Decide how the unreliable spellcaster can increase his chances:

  • Make something to guarantee success
  • Make something to increase the odds of success

Determine, if necessary, how making something increases your chances of success:

  • Add an extra dice
  • A magic item create a specific number that when rolled is always successful
  • A range of results as success

If they make something to increase the odds of success without guaranteeing success, choose a minor ability:

  • Counterspell
  • Hex
  • Mnemonics (Save spell slots at spell failure)

Viola! You have a tweaked class that uses the same tables for spell slots and advancement. There are many different combinations available just for these limited options. A minor ability is roughly based on 2nd level spells or weakened 3rd level spells. I would avoid spells that do damage, but instead choose spells like Locate Object, Mirror Image, a weakened Monster Summoning I, or Rope Trick.

That's it for now, the next post will be about my favorite OGL alternative to the Mind Flayer and then moving to more thoughts about the Words of Power Hack I've been working on.

Keith made these. Aren't they cool?

Six and Twenty Rune System by Keith Mathews

I mentioned a rune system in my last post, so I received permission from the author to talk about it in detail. Please read Keith's post here. I'll return to my thoughts on the Words of Power system in a later post.

In the Basic Fantasy facebook group, Keith Mathews posted about a rune system he developed to make magic require experimentation to gain new spells. The idea is that a wizard using this option is not a part of a formal school, but more of a hedge wizard or DIY dabbler.

Before going into the details, if you are unfamiliar with Basic Fantasy, the key thing to know for this system is that the game has six spell levels. There are supplements that add 0 level and 7th level spells, but the standard game has six.

The System

Six and Twenty is not Keith's name for it, it's mine. The system is based on six runes. Using three of the six generates a spell. This creates a possible 120 permutations, each permutation is a spell. To make tracking easier on the GM, the runes are numbered 1 to 6. There is no effect or keyword tied to a rune, it is only the sequence of the three runes used that determines the spell.

The first rune determines the spell level, the next two determine the spell. If I choose the runes 1,4,6 I have a 1st level spell with whatever spell I assign to it. The system provides for 20 spells for each spell level. Considering that BF has 68 Magic-User Spells (and 48 Cleric spells, if you want to include some or all of them), there's plenty of room to add in your own spells. Keith also suggested that you could also make some of the permutations 'bad spells' that create a magic mishap. For example, using 3,4,2 in sequence will always generate a poisonous smoke bomb centered on the caster.

I created a chart of the 120 permutations grouped by spell level and began to fill in the 1st level spell spaces with BF spells.

Starting with 1st level BF Spells

I decided that I didn't want to use Cleric spells or make the other slots magical mishaps. Instead, to add to the weirdness and the sense that magic is dangerous, I'm going to use Space Age Sorcery by Hereticwerks (it's free). It also has only six spells levels on its spell lists, so it should fit the system perfectly.

Here's my updated list:

Now with Added Space Age Sorcery Spells

If you're not familiar with Space Age Sorcery, here is the description for the Melt spell:

Caster gains the ability to liquify metals and alloys on touch, affecting up to one pound per level. This spell can be used to sculpt metal into new shapes, should the caster have some aptitude or talent for such things. It can also be used to inflict 1d4 damage per level on metal-based lifeforms, golems, robots and the like, or to make spontaneous modifications to the hull of a ship, etc.

Some spells cause cranial swelling, alien globs, and even weirder things. It's just the thing to convey that magic is dangerous and strange.

Once I fill out the other possibilities, I have a list of 120 spells that PCs can discover. Again, encourage the PCs to experiment with the runes to discover what each combination can do.

You may have noticed that I had a column for DM Name. Per Keith's suggestion in his post, I plan to let players name the spell based on the description that I provide to them. For my own sanity, I have the name listed in the books while still providing a chance for players to own their spells.

Final Thoughts

This is a fun system to play with. Feel free to use other BF supplements to add Druid or Illusionist spells. If you use other supplements that add 7th level spells, you could add them into the entries for 6th level spells or create a special 7th rune that activates only for high level wizards.

Let me know if you want my full list.

A Look at the Words of Power System

Words of Power System

While looking through various srd sites, I read about a spell building system called Words of Power. It was included in the Ultimate Magic book released in 2011. I immediately thought that this is a straightforward system, but like everything Pathfinder, it felt really big.

How big? Using the rules as written, there are 136 effects that can be combined to generate 19.681 different spell effects. Although there are ways to boost the effect and change targets and durations, the basic effect is the same. A boosted Fire Blast does more damage than an unboosted one, but the effect is the same: a blast of fire damages one or more targets.

Despite the size, I started to play with it and came up with some weird spells. My favorite ones combined contradictory effects like damage and healing. For example:

Brink of Death

School conjuration (healing), evocation (fire); Level druid1, sorcerer/wizard 1

Casting

Casting Time 1 standard action
Components V, S, M (flint and a drop of oil)

EFFECT

Range: Close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
Target: Selected
Duration: Instantaneous

Description

This spell deals 1d4 points of fire damage to a selected target. A melee or ranged touch attack to hit is required and does not allow a saving throw. If the target of this spell is dying, it is automatically stabilized.

This is like a final blow by a druid or wizard that will basically burn the last handful of hit points of its target, but prevent it from dying. This is how the bad guy gets away while still leaving a mark. Want to be more mean, use acid instead. Ouch!

Online Reaction

I had some fun with a few spells, but I noticed it took a bit of doing to finish a spell. I searched for online reactions to it and found that almost everyone liked the idea, but believed that the system was broken. I saw requests for a grimoire of wordspells, but I never found one.

Reading through posts, I wondered why consensus is that it's broken. I chalked up my time to generate a spell was more due to a lack of familiarity. It turns out that there are many effect combinations that are not allowed. For example, I can provide the target of a spell with +1 resistance bonus to an energy type and give them an extra action the next round, but I can't give them the resistance and increase their movement rate. In another example, I can Cure Light Wounds and provide a +4 bonus to AC against incoporeal creatures, but I can't Cure and provide a +1 AC Bonus to incoporeal creatures. Yet, this feels like a minor quibble. The same idea is possible, just a few fine-tuned touches are not allowed.

So, I went into the math of the thing to look for answers.

The Math

A word on methodology: certain words could be level 0 or 1 depending on the class. I chose the lowest level available for the purposes of determining the spell level of each effect word and the combined effects.

As mentioned earlier, there are 19,681 possible spell effects with this system. That said, many of them feel very similar. This is due to the fact that there are many variations of the same concept. Acid Burn, Fire Jet, and Spark, just in different ways. 1d4 damage. There are more of these that expand to 1d6 per level and more. That 3 times to many words of power. One word of power for damage, choose a type later. Boost a damage word to increase the die rolled.

A deeper look showed a dearth of Level 0 to Level 2 spells that are possible with this system. There are more 9th level spells possible (799) than Levels 0 to 2 combined (131). Even if you combine levels 0 to 3, it's still only 895 spells. A bit over half of the spells (53.75%) are level 5 and 6. Almost 75% of the spells are levels 5 through 7 combined.

This tells me that a 9th level wizard/sorcerer is really beginning to take advantage of the system, but a 12th level wizard truly has a imperial buttload (126 gallons) of options. The combinations are great, but lower level characters have few options for really interesting effects.

Now What?

Attempts to fix the system haven't made it to fruition. Before talking about changes to the system, I want to mention a simpler system that I read on facebook. In essence, provide a number of tokens and require three in combination to generate a specific spell. The names of the runes weren't important. There are no effects assigned to the runes at all. A wizard in this system learns by experimentation and experience. As the characters advance, they will know (thanks to the DM) what the first rune should be for a specific spell. Later on, they can get the first two runes. Scrolls are just three runes, but the wizard won't know what it does until they do any experimentation.

If you start with 10 runes, that will generate 120 different spells. That is enough for many players.

Between those two examples (Words of Power and the Rune System) there is a happier medium. Consolidate similar effects in the Words of Power system to create fewer words. Remove descriptors and tags like Fire, Acid, Mind-affecting, etc for spell building until the very end when they are added as descriptors only. Add numbers and shapes as descriptors. Create unusual descriptors like coin-shaped, head (like a head of cattle or a skull, it's up to the player and the GM), or ebbing. Since the descriptors aren't part of the process until the end, the effect can be created quickly, but the manifestation of that effect can become really evocative and possibly add an unforseen benefit.

More on that in a separate post.

Curious, though. Have any of you used the Words of Power system? How did it work for you?

Last but not least, here is Section 15 information for Ultimate Magic.

Section 15: Copyright Notice
Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Ultimate Magic. © 2011, Paizo Publishing, LLC; Authors: Jason Bulmahn, Tim Hitchcock, Colin McComb, Rob McCreary, Jason Nelson, Stephen Radney-MacFarland, Sean K Reynolds, Owen K.C. Stephens, and Russ Taylor.

And section 15 for the Brink of Death spell

Section 15: Copyright Notice
Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook. © 2009, Paizo Publishing, LLC; Author: Jason Bulmahn, based on material by Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, and Skip Williams.

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Ultimate Magic. © 2011, Paizo Publishing, LLC; Authors: Jason Bulmahn, Tim Hitchcock, Colin McComb, Rob McCreary, Jason Nelson, Stephen Radney-MacFarland, Sean K Reynolds, Owen K.C. Stephens, and Russ Taylor.

Brink of Death, © 2019, John Payne