Home of the Odd Duk

Tag: Swords and Wixardry (Page 1 of 20)

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.

D&D Magic as Hard Magic

I was skipping around YouTube through various constructed language videos when I found a video about hard magic systems. For those that may not know (like I didn't until I saw the video), classification of magic systems as hard and soft comes from Brandon Sanderson. Hard magic systems tend to have well-defined rules and logical consequences. The video uses alchemy from Full Metal Alchemist to make this point.

The main points of the video state that a hard magic system has four properties in varying degrees:

  1. Predictability
  2. Limitations
  3. Weaknesses
  4. Cost

In some ways, these properties can make a magic system look more like a science in that if I follow the rules, I will get the magic effect I want every time. However, if a magician follows the rules without understanding limitations or cost, the door opens for an unpredictable effect.

I bring this up because I think it is an interesting way to describe the various magic systems in my Samoora Sea setting. Magic is not universal as it is in D&D. Every region has a form of magic, each with its own rules. Part of the idea behind the setting is that characters, through exploration and promotion of inter-region trade, blaze their own path to practicing magic, taking pieces that they learn along the way. A magic-using character will begin in one tradition but learn one or more different tidbits along the way.

In this series, I will talk about the four properties of the following magic systems in Samoora with the primary region in parentheses:

  • Rune Magic (Porta Nile)
  • Blood Thieves (Vinakrah)
  • The Dragon Path (Nagelor)
  • Gate Magic (Helica)
  • Five Salts (Gaerleon)
  • Cult of Hot Iron (Camalanth)
  • Powers of the Emissary (entire region)
  • Divine Magic of the Hedenciad (mainland areas)
  • Paths of the Wolf Clan (everywhere)

The last three are easier to describe as they are more akin to traditional divine magic in D&D. The others vary widely in their connections to traditional D&D style magic.

Before starting with Rune Magic, Let me define magic in Swords & Wizardry (rules as written) using the four properties of a hard magic system. The Samoora Sea setting will be written for S&W making the standard system a good place to start.

Limitations of Arcane Magic

As written in Swords & Wizardry, arcane spells are memorized formulae, gestures, and incantations meticulously recorded in books of magic. This means the first limitation is that spells must be written. All spells come from some wizard writing it down. The second is that spells must be memorized.  It's not that new spells can't be crafted, but that crafting one requires research, experimentation, and a meticulously written recipe.

Furthermore, it is written that a Magic-User can only hold a certain quantity of magical power in mental, memorized reserve to be released later in the form of a spell. In the game, the finite number of spells that can be memorized are measured in spell slots.

Beyond spells are other ways of using magic, such as creating a golem. Like a spell, though, creating a specific type of golem is still a documented process. Although creating a golem requires no memorization, it still requires some rare book or be the product of a magic-user's research.

For the sake of space, I won't go too much into creating various magic items like potions, magic swords, and rings except to say that those items traditionally require research, though rules-as-written say that the creation of such items is up to the referee. One thing that is stated, however, is that there are marvelous magic devices that have no written instructions. Those marvelous devices though are described as lost arts that a magic-user may never be able to reproduce.

Scrolls also have a small set of limitations described like this: with the exception of Protection scrolls, which can be used by any character class, scrolls can only be used by a character class that can cast the appropriate type of spell. Rangers and Thieves are exceptions to this rule at higher levels.

In short, arcane spells are meticulously written recipes. They must be memorized to be used and a wizard is limited in the number of spells he/she/they can memorize. The use of magic beyond spells is still limited to a written recipe. Magic swords, golems, potions, etc, require a set of instructions to be created. Scrolls have further limitations in their use; a scroll can only be used by spellcasters that could normally use the spell without the scroll. There are more limitations that could be listed, like armor usage and lack of healing magic, but these cover the major limitations of arcane magic in S&W.

Limitations of Divine Magic

Although Divine Magic is described differently, it basically works the same way. It is not as limited to a written recipe as a Cleric may be provided spells by visions and revelations from their primary force. The two smaller differences are that Cleric can wear armor while casting spells and the focus of divine spells are more centered around healing wounds, diseases, or mental conditions.


This one is short. Basically, any spell, arcane or divine, always works within the limitations listed above. A magic-user memorizes a spell, it will work as described when cast. A cleric meditates for spells, it will work when cast. There is no doubt that the formulae (arcane magic) or gift of a god (divine magic) will work.

The only unpredictability for a spell comes when a creature is immune or resistant to magic. The spell worked, but the only reason it did not work as expected is that the target shrugged it off. Characters resist through the use of a saving throw, creatures may have an immunity to certain types of magic or a limited chance of immunity to all magic.


It's difficult to find any real weaknesses in magic. If a character has access to it, it works. Using magic doesn't necessarily put the spellcaster at some kind of disadvantage. It's true that there is a limit to the number and power of spells used daily, but there is no problem with hitting that limit. It doesn't cost sanity, health, or even physical scars. Magic is like a battery: once it is out of power, it needs to be recharged. It stinks not to have magic around, but it's simply a matter of time until it can be used again.


Speaking of time, it is the biggest cost for using magic in S&W. There is a daily cost of time to 'reload' the spells for use. For a new magic recipe, there is a cost in time to research it, though the specifics are left up to the referee. It takes time to gain access to more powerful spells. Humans have more potential to use magic, but the lifespan of a human is limited. Interestingly enough, this cost has worked into the lore of D&D through the idea of liches. A lich finds a way to prolong their life to be able to continue to research magic. Still, the price for transforming into a lich is quite high, it exchanges the cost in time with the cost of isolation.

Next Steps

I'm over 1200 words, so I'll wrap up. I hope to give a similar treatment to all magic systems in my Samoora setting starting with Rune Magic.

« Older posts

© 2024 Sycarion Diversions

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑