Electrum Pieces and Swords & Wizardry

Something like Chainmail Casting

As a player and a referee, my experience has been that for a class to feel different, the mechanics have to be different. Running one (maybe two) games, I appreciate smal changes or tweaks to existing classes to provide a new experience without having to master a new subsystem. In this post, I look at something similar to the venerable Chainmail magic rules. It may be more accurate to say that it is based more on reaction rolls/morale rules. For reference, the first spellcaster in the series (Saving Throw as Magic skill) is available here.

The best summary of the Chainmail rules I have found is here on Jeff Rients' Site. (I don't own DCC, so I can't speak to the DCC part of the post.) Essentially, roll 2d6 modified by spellcaster's level and spell level. If the result is 8 or more, the spell is successfully cast.

Starting with this mechanic, I want to make a small change. Chainmail did not have nine levels of spells and it seems that spell level and spellcaster level were more closely related than D&D. In other words, a 2nd level magic-user could cast 2nd level spells. Even if I am mistaken about it, the mechanic breaks down if I add the spellcaster's level to the dice roll for Swords & Wizardry. Not only that, there are nine spell levels instead of six. So here is my version of Chainmail-ish spell casting for Swords & Wizardry:

  • Roll 2d6 greater than or equal to 7+ Spell Level for success.
  • Half of the Spellcaster's level, rounded down, is added to the roll.

For those that care about numbers, this gives a first level magic-user about a 42% chance to successfully cast a spell. (Roll 2d6 greater than 8 with no adjustment to the roll.)This is close to the odds for the skill-based spellcaster I wrote about. Just like the previous spellcaster, the spell table is used to prevent spellcasters from launching high level spells before the standard magic-user.

Again, should the spell slot be lost for missing the roll? Not for this class. That leaves our 1st level spellcaster more chances to use the only spell slot.

Since the spell table is being used, we're still left with a class that is an unreliable spellcaster and somewhat less than the standard Magic-User class. We could adjust the XP table, but I want to add class features instead.

The skill-based spellcaster is able to make magic items that guaranteed spellcasting success. If I grant that ability here, I've only re-created the same class with a slightly different mechanic. That's too much the same, so let's try something else.

I do want to provide some kind of boost to the chances for casting spells, so let's do it by adding an extra d6 to roll and taking the best two. We'll say that this spellcaster can make astrological charts, leyline maps, or amulets to improve the chances of success. For the sake of convience, I'm going to call them amulets.

This leaves our poor 1st level spellcaster to improve only to a 68% chance, but as he/she advances, it will become much easier to cast lower level spells. A 2nd level spellcaster has an almost 89% chance of success to cast a 1st level spell. A 3rd level spellcaster has about an 81% chance of casting a 2nd level spell.

What this does is allow better chances without providing a static bonus. Even without gaining an extra die, as the spellcaster progresses casting lower level spells becomes much easier. At higher levels, the spellcaster will not need to pay for the ability to cast lower level spell. He or she will instead spend money to cast higher level spells. Specifically, we'll make it similar to last time: the cost of the improvement will cost 100gp per spell level and take the spell level number of days to create.

If a spellcaster spends 400 gp, he or she gets to add an extra die when attempting to cast a 4th level or lower spell. The amulet(or chart or whatever you call it) will only work for one spell regardless of success. In other words, if the spell still fails using an amulet, the amulet is lost.

At this point, we have a standard spellcaster with three tweaks:

  • Roll 2d6 greater than or equal to 7+ Spell Level for success.
  • Half of the Spellcaster's level, rounded down, is added to the roll.
  • Through making amulets, the spellcaster can add an extra die to improve chances of success taking the best two of the three dice as the result.

We're still left with a class with less spellcasting ability than the standard Magic-User class, so what else can be done?

Let's look at the standard Dispel Magic spell in Swords & Wizardry:

Dispel Magic
Spell Level: Druid, 4th Level; Magic-User, 3rd Level
Range: 120 feet
Duration: 10 minutes against an item

Dispel Magic, although not powerful enough to permanently disenchant a magic item (nullifies for 10 minutes), can be used to completely dispel most other spells and enchantments.

The chance of successfully dispelling magic is a percentage based on the ratio of the level of the dispelling caster over the level of original caster (or HD of the monster). Thus, a 6th-level Magic-User attempting to dispel a charm cast by a 12th-level Magic-User has a 50% chance of success (6/12 = .50, or 50%). If the 12th-level Magic-User was dispelling the 6th-level Magic-User's charm, success would be certain (12/6 = 2.00, or 200%).

Let's use this to provide a counterspell ability, but use a different  mechanic to determine success.

Instead of division, I will use subtraction to modify theroll, adjusting the target number by the result. For the examples listed, a 6th level spellcaster attempting to counter a spell cast by a 12th level Magic-User has no chance of success as he or she would have to roll a 13 to succeed. (12 - 6 is 6, add the adjustment to the target number to get 13.) Turned the other way around, the spell caster has an automatic success (the same as the Dispel Magic spell description). To prevent abuse of the power, The cost will be the highest level spell slot available. At higher levels, the spellcaster will likely cast the actual Dispel Magic spell, but unlike the standard Magic-User, he or she can attempt to dispel more than one spell by sacrificing the highest available spell slot available. For lower level spellcasters, this is a bargain, but the chances of success are much lower. Still, this ability is limited by the number of slots available on the spell table.

Looking at the four changes, we have:

  • Roll 2d6 greater than or equal to 7+ Spell Level for success.
  • Half of the Spellcaster's level, rounded down, is added to the roll.
  • Through making amulets, the spellcaster can add an extra die to improve chances of successof spellcasting
  • A counterspell ability that costs the highest level spell slot available.

I imagine this type of spellcaster being a Magic-Eater (similar to a sin-eater). Through a short ritual, these mages have a natural ability to negate magic at a cost of limiting their own ability to wield spells.

Next time, I'll look at a percentage based spellcaster.

Electrum Pieces and Swords & Wizardry

Saving Throws as Skills

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.

Electrum Pieces and Swords & Wizardry

The Next Big Project

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. 🙂