Saving Throws as Skills

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The best post I have found about this is on the Akratic Wizardry site here.

There is a Whitebox thief somewhere that uses a Saving Throw with modifiers for Thieves' Skills. (My google-fu fails me.) So I thought about using this mechanic for magic, psychics, or some other weilder of mystic forces.

What follows is thinking aloud, so feel free to skip to the end to get to the conclusion.

The trick is to prevent a first level charcter from being overpowered. 1st level Clerics do not have a spell, 1st level M-U gets one spell. With a skill roll, you can say that the 1st level spell caster using a skil roll gets spell slots like everyone else. With that, what happens if the roll fails? Do you lose the slot?

It seems really limiting to say that the spell caster loses the slot on a failure. Assuming no modifications to the roll, a 1st level character has a ST of 15, so that is a 30% chance of success. Adding a +3 to the roll increases the chance of success to 45%. That seems more fair, a 1st level character character has close to a 50-50 chance to lose a spell slot.

As the character progresses, the chance of success caps at 11th level with 95% odds. Not too bad. What about the chances for more difficult spells?

I could say 3 - Spell Level as a standard adjustment for the spellcaster. This would limit the spell caster to having a 50% chance to cast a 9th level spell. If they are capped at 7th level spells like Clerics, it gets better (60%)

So with two tweaks, I can use the standard M-U or Cleric table for spell casting classes that roll for success. The tweaks are:

  1. Roll d20 against ST + 3 - Spell Level for success.
  2. The spell slot is lost only on a successful roll.

That leaves us with a somewhat unreliable spell caster with the same limits on number of successful spells cast. He or she may get more attempts to cast spells, but absolutely no extra spells.

Doesn't seem fair to have the same advancement tables, yet be a diminished spell caster. While I could change advancement, it makes more sense to me to add a minor ability.

If I learned a form of spell casting that is somewhat unreliable, I would want to find a way to up my chances of successfully casting a spell.

Let's say that this spell caster can create a type of temporary spell focus. This spell focus would allow them to cast one spell successfully without a skill roll. Using a tried and true OSR rule, the cost of the focus would be 100gp per spell level. It will take the spell level number of days to create the focus.

For regular spell casters, this usually applies to creating scrolls to allow for extra spells. For these spell casters that use a skill roll, it would only provide guaranteed spells using up the slots they have available. In other words, a 1st level spell caster could create a focus to guarantee they could successfully cast a 1st level spell. This would count against their spell slots as it is not a scroll.


With three tweaks, you can have a skill based spell caster, with the same tables as Clerics or Magic-Users.

  1. Roll d20 against ST + 3 - Spell Level for success.
  2. The spell slot is lost only on a successful roll.
  3. The spell caster can create items that guarantee spell success, but use the spell slots. The cost of this item is 100gp per level of the spell.

Next post, I hope to look at other alternatives for spell casting.

The Next Big Project

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I don't know how far I will get on this, but I'm posting about it as a prod to get into the habit of writing instead of thinking.

For that reason alone, there will be no kickstarter. In fact, it will be free.

Seriously, though, the big project is a big book of magic for Swords & Wizardry. The book will include alternate options for magic, classes, spells, rules for spell research as well as magic item creation. Much of the alternate options for magic are already written, so that is not the difficult part. The rules for magic item creation are really straight-forward, but I haven't tested them, ergo, they may not be as straight-forward as I believe they are. The big challenge is finishing the spell building system.

Backing up a bit, here are some things to know about the material in the book:

Brace Yourself: There Will be Houserules

I have changes that range from modifying the odds for learning spells for characters that spend money to allowing scroll creation at 1st level. One example of a house rule is that everyone can use slings. The main reason is to provide a magic-user an alternative to throwing knives. One of the implications of that small house rule is that since many magic-users may use a sling, magic stones for slings become a type of magic item that appears from time to time. Since everyone uses a sling, these stones are quite useful.

Priests of Different Mythoi

This was bound to happen for me. In my head, the priests of Mitra have to be different from the priests of Asura. What would a priest for the God of Magic look like? How does a God of the Harvest send an "adventuring Cleric" into the world?

In 2e, Cleric spells were grouped into spheres which later became domains. Since the document will be OGL, I feel like I need to use the word domains even if I think "Spheres" in my head. Maybe I'm just getting old.

These domains are part of what makes one priest different from another. Another distinction involves alternatives to turn undead. Some variations are as simple as Turn Demons or Turn Orcs. Other variations are based on spell effects like Remove Fear or Protection from Evil 10' Radius. My favorite one at the moment involves the ability to provide healing that does not change the target's hit points. This includes spells like Cure Insanity or Ability Score drain, but not any of the Cure Wounds spells.

New Mechanics

I generally do not like to introduce new mechanics. I prefer to reuse ones that already exist. One favorite is a take on the Turn Undead table - variations of that appear in an alchemist type of class and in the psionicist class.

Yet, with the emphasis system aimed at creating more unusual spells, new mechanics open themselves up to all kinds of options. One of these options is a new type of magic item that allows you to permanently or temporary alter your magic-user's choice of emphases. My favorite is a spell that allows the caster to "borrow" an emphasis from its target.

I also have my own take on a spell point system. There is no subtraction involved. The saying goes that necessity is the mother of invention and I needed a system that was faster for my kids.

Wizards' Forms of Magic

The most powerful form of magic for wizards is Eldritch Magic. This is magic as presented in the S&W Complete rules. This means so-called unbalanced spells and spellbooks, spells as semi-living things in the wizard's brain, and all other kinds of Vancian goodness.

The second most-powerful form is Academic Magic. This is what "standardizing" magic looks like. Practitioners can create new spells with a greater degree of certainty, but lose the ability to re-create all the spells used by Eldritch Wizards. For example, an Academic Wizard can create a spell that sends a magic bolt at a target for 1d6 damage. The Academic Wizard, however, will not be able to match the range (240') of the Eldritch Wizard nor the ability to generate multiple bolts per level. For an Academic Wizard to generate a Magic Missile like spell, complete with a level-based effect on the number of missiles created, he or she would generate it as a second or third level spell instead of a first level spell.

The third most-powerful form is Everyday or Common Magic. This includes minor cantrips and illusions. These spells also include simple things like Mending objects, adding a foot to a length of rope, adding a spice to a dish and more. Don't let spells with minor effects fool you, shortening a length a rope can have deadly consequences.

Did You Have to Do Psionics?

Yes I do.

Eldritch and Academic Magics are available only to those that have the gift. Either a person can cast these types of spells or they cannot. For a person that wants to learn magic, but doesn't have the gift, the options are to either become a Cleric or make a deal with a supernatural power (i.e. become a Witch). Psionicists, called Disciples of The Path have found a different way. Clerics denounce disciples as atheists and heretics. Wizards consider them unsophisticated and crude. Witches consider them a hated enemy. Those that choose the Path, however, know that their powers equip them to deal with extraplanar forces malevolent and benign.

Other Things

There will be more spells and a handful of new creatures. As mentioned earlier, there is a spell building system. In addition to various player options, I hope to include many NPCs, including some that do not conform to any set of rules. (Bwa ha ha). There should be a whole slew of new magic items as well as artifacts. My hope is to provide something that may add a bit of spice to everyone's game.

Wish me luck, I'll need it. 🙂


More Thoughts On House Rules

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The 30 Day Challenge was a lot of fun. It also acheived the main goal which was to get most of the creative ideas out of my head and into type. It's true that the posts did not require anything new, but looking through the old notes, I realized that there were still lots of things I wanted to create.

A good example comes from the post about shemping. I wanted to create a Dragon Disciple class that basically makes a cleric/priest type of class evolve into the power equivalent of an ancient dragon at higher levels. I also enjoyed shemping other creatures as humans - it makes for truly interesting NPCs.

The big project, though, that I want to create is my book of house rules for S&W. If the execution matches the concept, it will look like a cool combination of Blackmarsh and Stonehell set in Pars Fortuna. In reality, well, it may look like yet another retro-clone fantasy heartbreaker. After that, I'll need to work up the gumption to run a G+ game with it.

To get a good idea of the outline, I turned to Stars Without Number. Kevin Crawford to doing something awesome with taking what is essentially Basic D&D and creating worlds around that system. The outline he is using is easy to understand for players and GMs. So here is my SWN inspired outline:

Creating a Character

Roll Attributes

Choose Homeland

Choose Class

Choose Race

Buy Equipment


Movement and Encumbrance

Character Advancement

Spending Wealth


Saving Throw Mechanic and Its Uses

Turn Undead Table and Its Uses

Combat (Mundane and Supernatural)


Eldritch Wizardry

Wyrd Sorcery

Studious Alchemy

Divine Miracles

Powers of the Hermetic Mind

Magical Research and Specializations

The Four Regions

Life in the Four Regions

The Eternal Struggle

The Role of Supernatural Beings

Deities and Other Beings with Godlike Power

The Universe

The Starting Planet

The Other Planets

Spheres and Other Universes

The Multiverse

The Astral Sea

Other Dimensions

The Outer Planes

All Creatures Great and Small

GM Resources

Starting Adventurers in A Different Region

The rules begin with the individual and work their way into larger and larger scope until you reach the GM, the one about it all. The idea is for the rules to expand from personal perspective to how the world works (systems) to how magic works, to the continents, planets and spheres of the universe before expanding out to the multiverse.

Creating a Character is pretty much by the book. Choosing a homeland asks the character to be from somewhere within the psuedo-European region of the world. It provides some grounding for everyone starting out. Class choices actually differ by region, but more on that is covered at the end of the book for GMs where all the player and nonplayer classes are listed.

Adventuring provides some information that characters face in their exploration of the world. I give XP for exploration, so a section of how that works in adventuring seems necessary. Outside of that, mechanics for encumbrance and other mundane aspects of adventuring are covered.

The Magic section deals with the five types of magic. Within each type are multiple ways of using that magic. Mages can be traditional vancian mages, five-color mages, talisman makers. Wyrd Sorcerers fill in a miscellaneous spot. This would include shamans, theurgists and other types that are difficult to classify. Priests operate like Priests of Different Mythoi from 2e, so some examples are provided. Alchemy is the traditional name for my Hewcaster. This class steals the essence of things and make wondrous items. Hermetic Magic is my term for psionics, this owes more the western tradition of the Hermetica that speaks of enlightenment, the mind, the cosmos and nature.

Common to all magic, is specialization, a focus for a spellcaster that determines his/her success in understanding magic.

Beyond that, everything is GM stuff that may or may not be used. Wish me luck.