Creating Interesting Spells

I love systems that generate interesting spells, but I really like spells that are very different. After a couple thoughts, I'll share my very rough draft system. The first part is similar to ACKS, but using addition instead of multiplication. The second part is where I try to make something different. The goal is not to re-create the standard OSR spell book, the goal is to encourage players and referees to create unique (or at least uniquely named) spells.

On an OSR blog years ago, I read about a spell that uses campfires to teleport as an emergency exit. You didn't know where you would appear; you may walk out of a campfire of your sworn enemy. I want to make spells like that, but feel the need for some kind of random table or generator to make something that feels different.

Yet, there is a part of me that takes comfort in something more methodical and/or procedural. I want to know that summoning a blue dragon is a higher level spell than summoning two orcs. Transforming into titan should be the stuff of arch-mages, not 8th level wizards.

Still, where's the fun in finding out how to summon flumph or two? I want to summon black tentacled trees that hurl themselves at a foe only to explode into a million splinters that surround the victim and trap them inside the trunk when it reforms. Where are the spells that hurl screaming skulls or cause a black ziggurat to erupt from the ground to have a huge skeletal figure on a six-legged horse emerge to uttering a centuries old curse?

For the math/procedural side of me, I worked out a way to create some straightforward create an object spells. I also worked out a simple summon creature set of spells. I have notes somewhere for damage spells, protection spells, and transformation spells. For the next few posts, though, I plan on providing an OSR Boring Spell as a template to do some crazy things with.

To make the spells interesting, I want to apply a series of tags inspired by my study of classifiers. As I looked at various languages, the classifiers covered a weird range of objects. There is a classifier for objects shaped like coins. Another one for things that come in small rectangular boxes. In Thai, I found over 100 classifiers and those were the most common ones. Using these classifiers as weird descriptors, I began to think of more evocative spells. By evocative, I mean they feel like magic and not like plug and play spells from D&D.

Here is an example slightly modified from something I posted on G+:

I start with a spell that does 6d6 damage to an area at a range of 240 feet. Under my system, this is a 4th level spell. If I can add four tags to the spell, I can get it down to 3rd level.

Colors and energy types can be used to describe the spell, but can't be a part of the four to lower the spell level. Example tags that can be part of the four include:

Stedu: objects with heads or shaped like heads.
Xanto: having to do with elephants
Orne: things in pairs
Xance: having to do with the number five or hands
Ciska: Sentences or inscriptions.
Julne: having to do with nets
Siclu: having to do with whistles our whistling

Some other tags just to add flavor:

Fargi: pertaining to fire
Blaxun: pertaining to the color green

With these tags, you could create a spell that launches ten flaming green whistling heads at a spot determined by the spellcater doing 6d6 fire damage to all within the impact area.

The tags used are: stedu (heads), xance (five), orne (pairs), siclu (whistling). These lower the initial spell to third level.

For flavor, fargi (fire) and blaxun (green) were added.

Still with me? Well here's where I open up for feedback. Below is a link to all the tags/magic words I have so far. The plan is to take a boring spell and apply at least four of these tags to create interesting spells. The Google doc is editable, so feel free to add. Just make sure to write your name so I can give you credit.

editable magic words google doc

More as this develops. Man it feels good to post again. 🙂

Belching Snakes

We were driving in the car recently and my son asks, "what would happen if snake came out of your mouth every time you burped?"

I think a normal parent would have reacted much differently than I did.

"What kind of snake?" I ask.

"Well, if you burp once, a spitting cobra comes out. If you burp twice, a king cobra comes out."

"What happens with the cobras when they are out?"

"The cobras will do whatever you say or just follow you around for a while."

"If you burp a lot, do you get a lot of cobras?

"No, you can only get three cobras no matter how many times you burp."

"What if I burp three times?"

"Nothing. One burp is a spitting cobra, two burps are a king cobra."

Thus we have the belching snakes spell for Swords & Wizardry or your favorite retro-clone.

Belching Snakes

Spell Level: Cleric, 2rd Level, Druid, 3rd Level
Range: 30 feet (after the snakes appear)
Duration: 1 hour

The caster begins belching loudly in bursts of one or two belches. If the caster belches once, a spitting cobra appears. If the caster makes a two belch burst, a king cobra appears. The snakes follow commands, but wander off at the end of the spell. If killed, they disappear into nothingness.

Spitting Cobra: HD 1; AC 5[14]; Atk 1 bite (1hp); Move 16; Save 17; AL N; CL/XP 3/60; Special: Spit poison, 30' range (Save with +2 bonus to roll or go blind for 2d8 turns).
King Cobra: HD 2; AC 5[14]; Atk 1 bite (2hp + poison); Move 16; Save 16; AL N; CL/XP 4/120; Special: Lethal poison.

Section 1 to 14 of the OGL are here

Section 15 of the OGL for this article:

15. COPYRIGHT NOTICE
Open Game License v 1.0a Copyright 2000, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.
System Reference Document
© 2000-2003, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.; Authors Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, Skip Williams, Rich Baker, Andy Collins, David Noonan, Rich Redman, Bruce R. Cordell, John D. Rateliff, Thomas Reid, James Wyatt, based on original material by E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson
Swords & Wizardry Core Rules
, © 2008, Matthew J. Finch
Monster Compendium: 0e, © 2008, Matthew J. Finch
Pathfinder RPG Bestiary, © 2009, Paizo Publishing, LLC; Author:
Jason Bulmahn, based on material by Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, and
Skip Williams.
Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Bestiary 2, © 2010, Paizo Publishing,
LLC; Authors Wolfgang Baur, Jason Bulmahn, Adam Daigle, Graeme
Davis, Crystal Frasier, Joshua J. Frost, Tim Hitchcock, Brandon Hodge,
James Jacobs, Steve Kenson, Hal MacLean, Martin Mason, Rob
McCreary, Erik Mona, Jason Nelson, Patrick Renie, Sean K Reynolds,
F. Wesley Schneider, Owen K.C. Stephens, James L. Sutter, Russ Taylor,
and Greg A. Vaughan, based on material by Jonathan Tweet, Monte
Cook, and Skip Williams.
Monstrosities, © 2012, Matthew J. Finch
Swords & Wizardry Complete Rules, © 2008-2012, Matthew J. Finch
Belching Snakes,  ©2015, Sycarion Diversions, Authors John Payne and Jasper Payne