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Category: Swords & Wizardry (Page 1 of 23)

2020 Hopes

Around the holidays, I was able to post quite a bit about magic systems and a few other things. I've been quieter within the past 2 weeks, though, because I have been writing offline quite a bit. As a result, here are the things I hope for in 2020:

Words of Power Series

I plan to finish these up pretty soon. Mostly because this set of posts leads into the next project.

Regional Magic Book

I have been trying to generate D&D-ish magic systems for years. Once, I even created a system based on the Paydirt footbal game. I have finally managed to create a series of systems that different from each other, yet can inform each other. These systems include systems that feature gematria, alien scripts, spontaneous casting, spell building, artifact hacking, found magic, and more.

I've mentioned some of the systems before like salt magic, spontaneous casting, and gematria. I found that making any individual system work came from making them interrelated. I have a campaign world that explains why they are different and common threads that make them all related. It's been a long, ground-up world building that I hope is useful to others, at least for mining ideas, if nothing else.

The document should be ready for testing in Feburary and out in PDF in the Spring for Swords & Wizardry. (I would love to have it for OSE, but there are conventions is S&W that appeal to me.) If I am lucky, a month later will have a 5e version. I have one more magic system to tweak before working on editing this month.

Eye of the Needle

Using M20 Spacecraft as a starting point, I want to finish this setting in the Summer of 2020. A lot is already written, but I need to finish the trading system. This will be less of a priority than the regional magic book, but one it is a passion project for me as I love the central location in this setting, a hole in the ground that takes you to another planet.

EPiC Engines

I have written this Black Hack & SAGA-inspired game that uses only a deck of cards. I stopped work due to 52 Fates, a system that just works differently in many wonderful ways. That said, I still want to give this to the world. I had so much fun making and testing this.

No time limit on this, but if I can get other projects completed, this is a document that just needs some editing and tweaking of the magic system.


I plan to make some non-traditional games with all kinds of wild ideas on my nascent itch site. (No link because, well, no content.) I have a bunch of half-finished games that use odd dice combinations, tokens, and custom cards.

Tyrian Purple is an example of the types of things I want to post there. It doesn't have any custom components, pro se, but it is a competitive card game that playtested well. I still want to simplify bartering, though.

2020 Plans

Those are the plans. As I mentioned earlier, I will finish the Words of Power series of posts. The podcast will fire back up with little bits of goodness here and there. I also plan to post more on 5e as my kids want to play it. So far, I have all manner of sidekicks and creatures inspired by their adventures.

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.

Rune Magic for Older RPGs


Using this example rune above, here is a walkthrough of using this rune magic system. I start with the core mechanic first, and then provide  optional rules to increase character success, enhance player choice, create meanginful spell preparation, and simulate the ebb and flow of magical energy.

Rune Basics

Runes are found magic objects with a magical inscription that provides spells to a wizard. Those that can unlock the secrets of the rune can use it to cast spells specific to the rune.

When a character finds a rune, they make a check or cast Read Magic to unlock the first spell. Checks could be roll under, but not equal to the Intelligence stat or a Learn Spell check from the Intelligence table. In Swords & Wizardry, this would be a Chance to Learn New Spell roll. If the character unlocks the first spell, the referee will provide the details of the first spell including name, spell level, and effect. The referee will also provide the true name of the rune.

The name of the rune provides a theme of the spells the rune contains. In the example above, the true name is Akeeli which I've translated in English as oxidation. The referee decides that this implies that the rune has spells that center around fire or rust. The first spell is Light, but this version has to be cast on an object to provide light.

Casting a Spell

To cast a spell, name the spell and roll 2d6. Check the result against the column with the spell level of the named spell. If the result is empty, the spell is successful. If it is filled, it fails. The wizard doesn't lose a spell level upon a failed rolled.

That's it?

Yes, that's the basic system. I have a spreadsheet in LibreOffice that allows me to make all kinds of runes from any word I want. I generate a rune, add a number of spells to that rune and make a printout. The referee's version has the entire list of spells possible for the rune, the player gets a blank one with the rune, the name of the first spell, and a description of that spell on the back.

Optional Rule 0 - Spell Selection

At first glance, it may appear that the chances of successfully casting a spell are too low. The most difficult spell to cast with this rune would be a 2nd level spell. The chance of success is 75%.

Still, if other spellcasters prepare spells that just work, there has to be some sort of tradeoff to be a rune wizard. One option is to select spells that a Magic-User would not be able to access, like Cleric or Druid spells. You could add a Cure Light Wounds spell that feels like burning at the site of an injury, but heals 1d6+1 hit points. A typical Magic-User wouldn't have this spell. Maybe the party might be able to use the Cleric for something other than a hospital.

Another option is to make a spell one spell level lower. A Fireball spell at lower levels would be prized by any wizard. Detect Magic as a second level spell would make sense for a rune wizard as they attune to the very language of magic itself. Any third level spell could also fit the theme if the wizard has to use a material component like a candle flame or the tongue of a rust monster. You may even add Clairvoyance but require that the wizard stare at a rusted shield or campfire. These are all 3rd level spells in S&W that might be worth the risk of failure in order to gain access to these spells sooner.

Notice that there is no rule that a rune must have nine spells, one for each level. Runes can be made to have any number of spells. Runes do not require spells for any given spell level.

Optional Rule 1 - Mnemonics

Another option is to have magic items that allow automatically successful rolls. A Mnemonic could be specific to a spell or to a roll. For example, the character may discover or create a Mnemoic that allows automatic success for casting the Light spell. The fiction could be that a tiny diamond on the sleeve of the wizards robe helps them to focus clearly on casting the light spell.

Another form of Mnemonic would be specific to a roll. In ancient languages, numbers tended to be letters (as in Hebrew and Greek), so it would make sense for a rune wizard to attune to a specific letter. In game terms, this means that a Mneomic would make all rolls of a specific result automatically successful. For our example rune, the wizard develops a Mnemonic that makes all rolls of 6 successful. These mnemonics would work for all spells and would not be rune specific.

A third form of Mnemonic would be specific to a spell level. This could be as simple as ruling that once rune wizards reach 8th level that 1st level spells are automatically successful. It could also be a magic item like a wand or staff that allow any given spells at a certain level to be successful.

Optional Rule 2 - Attunement and Frustration

In the example rune, you may have noticed that the rune itself exists between the results of 2 and 6. That was on purpose as I use this option when running the system.

This option classifes runes into three categories, Low, High, and Major. High Runes have an insciprtion at the top of the chart (values 1 to 6). Low Runes have an inscription at the bottom of the chart (8 to 13). Major Runes have an inscription on both parts.

At the beginning of the day, a wizard can choose to atune to one or more runes. This will allow the wizard to roll 3d6 and take the best two to successfuly cast a spell. Using our example rune, this increases the chance of casting a 2nd level spell increases from 75% to 87.5%. A wizard cannot atune to the same rune two days in a row.

The cost for this is that for every rune attuned, there is one that must be frustrated. Using a frustrated rune will require to wizard to roll 3d6 and take the lowest 2. If the wizard foolishly chose to frustrate our example rune, a 2nd level spell would only be successfuly 61.1% of the time.

However, if the wizard chooses to frustrate a low rune, one where the black marks appear in the results 8 to 13, it would actually provide a bonus to use that low rune. As the wizard collects more runes, they will be able to provide bonuses on many, if not all of their runes. The same rule applies to frustration: a wizard cannot frustrate the same rune two days in a row.

Major runes provide a slight improvement whether they are attuned or frustrated. I orginally created these to have rare and/or very powerful spells. A wish would be on a major rune because I don't want wish to be cast successfully very often.

Optional Rule 3 - Tides of Magic

This optional rule explains why there is a 1 and 13 result on the chart. To simulate the ebb and flow of magic power in an area, have the player roll 2d6. If the result is 9 to 13, add 1 to all spell casting rolls. If the result is 2 to 5, subtract 1 to all spell casting rolls. To make magic more wibbly-wobbly, you can say that even results add 1 to the spell casting rolls while odd rolls subtract 1 from those rolls.

Putting It All Together

I plan to use all the options for more experienced players, but only the basic rules + mnemonics for newer players. I like this system because despite the potential for several moving parts, it all comes down to a 2d6 roll + adjustments. I also like this system because the way translated English names appear on the runes, a player could potentially decipher new runes or devise runes of their own.

I recommend that you use Ozymandias' Spell Compendium or similar resources to build runes. Ozymandias' list doesn't include Cleric spells, but you may decide that keep runes arcane. Other resources can provide other types of spells. You can also use domain lists to quickly make runes.

Lastly, I want to thank the Dotsies font for inspiring the way I created the runes. I don't use the font in rune creation, but I wouldn't have had the idea for this system without it.

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