Creating Interesting Spells

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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

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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

Day Two: More Magic

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Note: I switch names often enough that I confused myself. The real name of the SRD is Warrior, Rogue & Mage System Reference Document. I will stop using WYRM now to avoid confusion. From here forward, I will take great care to use WR&M SRD when referencing the core rules.

In thinking about adding spells to the SRD, I wanted the extra spells to different than ported over spells from Swords & Wizardry (or any other flavor of D&D). I also realized that spells in WR&M feel a bit like Savage Worlds spells. I did my best to avoid reading either rulebook to present these spells. Feedback welcome on these spells and feel free to share your own.

New Spells for WR&M SRD

Bend Light and Shadows (1st)

This spell makes the spell caster appear to be 2 yards from his or her real location. As a result of this, the spell caster gains +2 Armor. Mana burn will increase the bonus to +4.

Breathe Underwater (1st)

Breathe underwater for 1 hour. Mana burn will increase the duration to 4 hours.

Cold Never Bothered Me Anyway (1st)

The target of this spell will not suffer any ill effects from being in cold weather, even in extremely cold temperatures. Also, when attacked by Cold or Ice attacks, the target of this spell reduces the damage by 2 points. Damage cannot be reduced below zero. Each level of mana burn increases the damage reduction by 1 point.

Perceive Another’s Thoughts (1st)

If this spell is successfully cast, the spell caster can ask one yes/no question about any creature within a 10 yard radius. Each level of mana burn can increase the radius by 10 yards or add an additional yes/no question. If there is mana burn that adds questions, the questions can be asked about multiple targets within range.

Called Shot (2nd)

Choose a target for the bullet fired from a pistol or rifle. Add 4 to the attack roll. Mana burn will allow for a second called shot.

Clairaudience (2nd)

If successful, this spell allows the spell caster to hear what the target hears for 10 minutes. The target of this spell must be within a 20 yard radius. Mana burn can extend the duration for an additional 10 minutes or allow the spell caster to substitute a different sense from the following list (smell, touch, taste, directional sense)

Echolocation (2nd)

The target of this spell will be able to locate a specific object within a 3 yard radius. The object must be solid and no smaller than a man’s fist. Objects behind thick stone walls or metal walls cannot be located with this spell. Mana burn will either add 3 yards to the radius or allow the ability to search for smaller objects.

Fear (2nd)

The target of this spell will be afraid for 5 minutes or until it can make a Mage check vs DL 7. If possible the target will run away from the spell caster, otherwise it will be paralyzed and unable to move or defend itself. Mana burn will increase the DL for the Mage check to 11.

Ghost Step (2nd)

When this spell is cast, the spell caster will move at normal speeds, but leave no footprints and walk above the ground. This spell does not allow the spell caster to levitate. If he or she walks over a hole, they will stumble, if they walk over a pit, they will fall into the pit.

Imbue Divine Knowledge (2nd)

The target will temporarily gain a specific skill named by the spell caster that they do not already possess. for an hour. All checks to use the granted skill gain a +4 bonus instead of the normal +2. This spell will not enhance a skill that someone already possesses.

Smokewall/Inkcloud (2nd)

This spell creates a wall of dark smoke (or cloud of ink if underwater) to allow escape. The spell will obscure the target for 1 minute per success. If the target is using the spell to escape, add

Clairvoyance (3rd)

If successful, this spell allows the spell caster to see what the target sees for 10 minutes. The target of this spell must be within a 30 yard radius. Mana burn can only extend the duration for an additional 10 minutes.

Imbue Thaumaturgic Talent (3rd)

The target will temporarily gain a specific talent named by the spell case that they do not already possess. for an hour. This spell will not enhance a talent that the target already has.

Quick Iron (3rd)

When this spell is cast, the touch of the spell caster will instantly load a pistol or rifle. Mana burn will reload the pistol or rifle twice.

Xenesthesia (4th)

When successful, the spell caster can substitute one sense for another. The duration for this spell is one hour. For example, if the spell caster is temporarily struck blind, this spell would allow them to see by sacrificing another sense, like taste. If the spell caster has all five traditional senses, he or she can add an additional sense from the following list:

  • Directional: The ability to accurately sense North at all times
  • Ectoprioception: The ability to sense the exact distance between the spell caster and all objects within line of sight.
  • Electroreception: The ability to sense magnetic fields and electricity. Practically, they can accurately predict the weather or the presence of a lightning bolt spell.
  • Linguaception: The ability to discern what the speaker of a foreign language is saying despite a lack of understanding of that language. In other words, the person with this sense knows what the speaker is saying, but does not know what individual foreign words mean.

More On Ritual spells

I am putting out this idea for folks to build on. I have some issues with it that I’ll address later. By the time I put all of these posts into a pdf, it will be more thought out with appropriate credit given to those that offer insight.

Some spells, especially spell that create an object or affect areas (instead of individual targets). Some examples of Ritual-Only spells include curses that blight an entire village or valley, ward spells that protect a home, or spells that create automation/golems. Ritual-Only spells can also be used to summon truly horrible creatures that can rout entire armies.

The rules for ritual casting provided the minimum casting times and DL for success. At the GM’s discretion, these spells may require higher minimum times and allow more participants than listed for the normal four circles of spells. Below are suggested examples:

Circle Time Max Participants DL Mana Cost
5th circle 5 hours 15 15 12
6th circle 12 hours 18 19 16
7th circle 24 hours 21 23 20
8th circle 48 hours 27 27 24

Though circles are listed above 4, these spells can never be cast spontaneously, regardless of a characters Mage attribute.

Create Crab Golem (3rd)

This spell requires the empty molt of a crab man and can only be cast as a ritual. When completed, the Carb Golem will be under the command of the spell caster. If there are multiple participants, it will be under the command of the spell caster with the highest Mage attribute. Crab Golem - W:6, R:2, M:0, HP:16, Mana:0, Def:8, Attacks: 2 claws (W) 1d6 each.

Create Work Golem (4th)

Using this ritual, the cabal of spell casters can create a Work Golem. W:10, R:0, M:2, HP:20, Mana:0, Def:9, Attacks: Steel Fist (W) 2d6

Create War Golem (5th)

Using this ritual, the cabal of spell casters can create a War Golem. W:10, R:0, M:3, HP:20, Mana:0, Def:9, Attacks: Steel Fist (W) 2d6 or Weapon

Dachaigh Warden (5th)

Protect an area the size of a house from being discovered or protect anyone inside the house from any curse.

Remove Family Curse (5th)

This will remove a Family Curse.

Glen Warden (6th)

Protect an area the size of a small village or valley from being discovered by outsiders.

Family Curse (6th)

This spell will curse generations of a specific bloodline until a counter spell is cast. The curse can be anything from weakened health (Warrior attribute cannot be more than 4) to the firstborn will bear a disfiguring mark.

Release the Kraken (7th)

This huge beast will leave nothing but destruction in its wake. There are no stats for the apocalypse. This huge beast will wreak havoc for 2 hours before returning to whatever nightmarish dimension it calls home.

Summon the Banished God (8th)

This spell is for all the times some evil group of ne’er-do-wells want to bring an Old One into their world with mind melting insanity as the result. This is less of a spell than a story hook. If the insane mages that begin this spell finish it, they will need to find a way to banish the god again.

Final Thoughts

Again, these are some thoughts. I do not like having spells above the 4th circle, but I also didn't want a requirement to list Time to Cast, Max Participants, DL, and Mana Cost with each spell. The higher circles concept made the spell description less cluttered.

I hope in a future post to have a spell building system that encourages characters to add specific tags that increase their chance of success. These tags are very specific and quite unusual. Instead of broad tags like fire, cold, acid, or force, examples tags would be; small round objects no bigger than a fingertip, oval objects (any size), bundles, words, smooth and thin (one tag), coin, and book. This allows for individual spell casters to be unique. Instead of lightning bolt, the spell may appear as a shower of hail stones, words appearing above the target in stone letters that drop on them, or a large book that appears and envelopes the target. Some of these may seem quite gonzo, but with enough tags, I’m sure you could come up with less gonzo spells that still add flavor.

Until that post, the next one will be about creatures and races.