Thursday Thaumaturgy

Kilgore on July 22nd, 2010

magic the gathering colors

Something that I’ve thought about off and on for several years concerns re-working the spellcasting classes in D&D. I’ve never been 100% convinced that the cleric belongs in the game, at least not in the “adventuring religious fighting priest” concept, and though I think the illusionist is interesting, he doesn’t seem viable except in certain circumstances. I’ve re-envisioned clerics as mystic warriors, removed the religious themes to the class, and explained their spells as being more like powers. I’ve described how magic works in our game. I’ve tweaked spells slightly and dropped the pre-memorization requirements. But still I’m not overly thrilled with any of the spellcaster classes.

So I dusted off an idea I had for Swords & Wizardry White Box last year and redid the spell lists. I took all the spells and sorted them into five “colors” or “schools” loosely based on (and this is sure to ruffle some feathers) the Magic: The Gathering card game.

(Yes, I realize I just lost a lot of folks right there. That’s okay. If someone is likely to arbitrarily dismiss ideas just because they sound like something from WotC games, I’m not really interested in their opinion anyway.)

So I have red magic, white magic, green magic, blue magic, and black magic. With red wizards, white wizards, green wizards, blue wizards, and black wizards to use it. Roughly one-sixth of the spells at each level are “colorless,” meaning they’re available to wizards of any color. Spells like read magic, hold portal, light, dancing lights, and dispel magic can be used by any wizards.

Reversed versions of spells are separate in this system, meaning that detect evil and detect good are separate spells on separate lists. The same goes for cure light wounds and cause light wounds.

White wizards are not necessarily good, but they cast a lot of the healing and protection spells. However, even though many of their spells are from the standard cleric’s list, they aren’t exactly clerics. Magic missile, for instance, is a white spell.

Black wizards, of course, deal with darkness and death. They get the cause wounds spells, sleep, and lots of the other nasty magics. They end up being a sort of anti-cleric/necromancer mix that isn’t afraid to mix it up.

Blue wizards are the masters of illusion, trickery, and water and sky. Much (though not all) of the standard illusionist spell list is available to blue wizards, and they also get some spells that deal with unseen forces such as feather fall, invisibility, and teleport.

Red wizards are masters of fire, chaos, and warfare. Many of the fire-based spells (like fireball and pyrotechnics) are theirs, as well as a good selection of direct combat-related magic and monster summoning.

Finally, green wizards are not only in tune with nature and life with spells like sticks to snakes and entangle, they get some pure magic like fly, knock, and charm person. Though many standard druid spells were spread out among the other four colors, a lot of them stayed with the green wizard.

The spell lists still need a little tweaking, but I’m pretty happy with them after the first stage of sorting. I’ve done spell levels one through six, which is as high as our game is currently designed to go.

I’m toying with the idea of giving each type of wizard a special power, such as turning undead for white wizards and maybe even some weapon/armor allowances (or even thief skills?) for others, but I haven’t got that far yet. I’m also considering wizards of one color to have access to the spells of another complementary color once at higher levels.

I’m not at all sure where this is going to go. Maybe it won’t ever be used at all. One major downside is the fact that it would pretty much wreck compatibility, something that we’ve been trying hard to maintain. I’ll keep messing with it for a while and see how it turns out.

UPDATE: Check out the first draft of the list here.


Kilgore on May 6th, 2010

I’ve always found it odd that cleric’s cure wounds spells were on levels 1, 4, and 5, with heal at level 6 and resurrection at level 7. (Well, I also find the existence of the 5th level raise dead odd, but that’s something different altogether.)

Spell levels 2 and 3 are skipped when it comes to hit point healing spells, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me that clerics don’t advance in their healing power from first level until they reach seventh level. So for our homebrew game we’re doing this:

Cure Light Wounds

Level: Clc 1, Drd 2
Duration: Instant
Range: Touch

Restores 1d6+1 hit points of damage or can remove paralysis.

Cure Minor Wounds

Level: Clc 2, Drd 3
Duration: Instant
Range: Touch

Restores 1d8+2 hit points of damage or can remove paralysis.

Cure Major Wounds

Level: Clc 3, Drd 4
Duration: Instant
Range: Touch

Restores 2d6+2 hit points of damage or can remove paralysis.

Cure Serious Wounds

Level: Clc 4, Drd 5
Duration: Instant
Range: Touch

Restores 1d6+1d8+3 hit points of damage or can remove paralysis.

Cure Critical Wounds

Level: Clc 5, Drd 6
Duration: Instant
Range: Touch

Restores 3d6+3 hit points of damage, can remove paralysis, or can restore 1 point of STR or CON lost through energy drain if subject makes system shock check.


Level: Clc 6, Drd 7
Duration: Instant
Range: Touch

Restores all but 1d4 hit points of damage and cures diseases, blindness, paralyzation, poison, amnesia, and feeblemind or can be used to restore 2 points of STR or CON lost due to energy drain if subject makes system shock check.

Note that the duration is instant (meaning that the damage is immediately restored and then the spell is complete and gone) rather than permanent, which we are defining as meaning a spell that functions indefinitely.

Also note the final two spells being able to restore points of STR or CON lost due to energy drain attacks. In our game, energy drain can reduce STR, CON, or character level depending on the creature. Levels lost via energy drain can still be regained using the restoration spell as usual.

Finally, I realize that the names might not really be in the most intuitive order. For instance, I think that major wounds sounds worse than serious wounds, which is higher level than major. We kept the original levels of the original names in order to facilitate compatibility with standard systems.

Regarding the number of points restored by each spell, the progression looks like this:

cure progression

The red shows the possible range and the blue line shows the average result.


Kilgore on April 15th, 2010

“There!” Locklar shouted, pointing at the robed mage they had pursued the day before but lost in the maze of alleyways in the Old Quarter.

Mortigan looked and was dismayed to see the bearded man gesturing at his comrade. He recognized the pattern and was not surprised to see Locklar suddenly frozen in place, completely motionless. The bearded magician whirled and disappeared into a dark alleyway between two buildings.

Quickly, Mortigan called the holding spell to mind and began casting it, making a few minor changes at the appropriate points. He finished and gestured at Locklar. The fighter shook his head.

“I really, really, hate that son of a goblin,” he muttered.


Countering a spell which is already in effect can be attempted by casting a “counterspell” of the same spell at the same target or target point. Base chance for success is 6-in-12, with +1 or -1 for every level of difference between the caster and the counterer. Successful counterspells end the target spell immediately, though indirect effects already applied are not undone.

Instant and permanent spells cannot be countered. Counterspells can only be cast to counter the exact same spell, not different spells with similar effects, though different classes can counter spells of the same name. A counterspell cannot be used as a reversed version of the spell and a failed counterspell has no other effect.

This is basically a narrow version of dispel magic which affects only spells with limited durations. Rather than being a separate spell, it consists of casting a counter version of the spell in question. Thus, a first level magic-user could attempt to counter a charm person spell if he knows it by casting charm person’s counterspell.

Regarding the indirect effects, a control weather spell that flattens a building with a tornado or dumps six inches of snow onto a meadow could be countered and the skies would return to normal, but the building would still be demolished and the snow would still be there.

Spells like polymorph other would still require the spell dispel magic because polymorph other is permanent. Continual light could not be countered, because it too is permanent; continual darkness would still cancel it as normal, though, as that is a specific function of that spell.

Kilgore on April 1st, 2010

The tingling became an itch.

The old woman said: “You’ve heard of animals chewing off a leg to escape a trap? There’s an animal kind of trick. A human would remain in the trap, endure the pain, feigning death that he might kill the trapper and remove a threat to his kind.”

The itch became the faintest burning. “Why are you doing this?” he demanded.

“To determine if you’re human. Be silent.”

Paul clenched his left hand into a fist as the burning sensation increased in the other hand. It mounted slowly: heat upon heat upon heat…upon heat. He felt the fingernails of his free hand biting the palm. He tried to flex the fingers of the burning hand, but couldn’t move them.

“It burns,” he whispered.


Pain throbbed up his arm. Sweat stood out on his forehead. Every fiber cried out to withdraw the hand from that burning pit…but…the gom jabbar. Without turning his head, he tried to move his eyes to see that terrible needle poised beside his neck. He sensed that he was breathing in gasps, tried to slow his breaths and couldn’t.


His world emptied of everything except that hand immersed in agony, the ancient face inches away staring at him.

His lips were so dry he had difficulty separating them.

The burning! The burning!

He thought he could feel skin curling black on that agonized hand, the flesh crisping and dropping away until only charred bones remained.

It stopped!

As though a switch had been turned off, the pain stopped.

Paul felt his right arm trembling, felt sweat bathing his body.

–from DUNE by Frank Herbert

Feign Fire

Spell Level: I2
Range: 30′
Duration: 1 round per caster level

The caster causes illusionary heat and fire to affect one target (item or individual), causing 1d6 of illusionary damage per round. A save vs. spells can negate the illusionary damage each round, but the pain continues to feel real and attacks by those affected are at -4 to-hit for the duration of the spell. Illusionary damage is restored the round after the spell expires.

Kilgore on March 18th, 2010

The three weird, misshapen figures approach slowly but pitilessly.

“Wights!” Arthena warned.

Mortigan, rummaging through his pouch for some spell components, glanced over at Locklar. “Um, why aren’t you getting ready?” he asked the warrior.

Locklar glared at him. “Because with my sword still in the hands of the brigand king, I’ve only got this stinking orc blade!” he answered. “You said we’d go get mine back after we rescued the duke’s daughter. I argued. You insisted. And now here we are, magician, facing wights. You know that enchanted weapons are needed to harm these undead.”

Locklar wanted to retort, but he knew now wasn’t the time. When there was a solid wall between the two of them would be the time, he decided. Preferably two solid walls. And a deep moat.

Arthena stepped over toward Locklar, a look of calm concentration on her face. The cleric reached out and touched the stained blade of the curved orcish weapon. It was clear that she was calling on the forces that gave her power. A soft glow surrounded the weapon for a moment, then faded.

“Go,” she said. “It will be effective for a short while.”

Locklar grinned and turned to face the approaching undead. “Who wants to play now, boys?”

Ensorcel Weapon

Spell Level: C2
Range: Touch
Duration: 1 turn

The mystical enchantment this spell places upon any non-magical weapon allows it affect undead which can only be struck by magical weapons. Missiles (arrows, darts, etc.) are affected singularly. It provides no bonuses or other effects.

UPDATE: I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve always had the wrong impression of the Enchanted Weapon spell in the advanced game. I thought it provided a +1. I am adjusting this spell to affect only undead, which fits for a cleric and the lower level.

Kilgore on March 12th, 2010

One day late:

Sorcerous Sling

Level: M1
Range: 100′
Duration: 1 round per caster level

The caster is able to fling one magical stone each round at a target. A normal to-hit roll (DEX missile adjustment applies) must be rolled. Each magical stone does 1d6 damage.

If the caster suffers damage after the spell has been cast but before it expires, he or she must roll a saving throw vs. spells to avoid losing the remaining duration.

Shorter range than a magic missile and requires a to-hit roll, but the multiple shots make up for that. A simple alternative.

Kilgore on February 18th, 2010

Fisherman in Diner
Hell, maybe we’re all getting a little carried away with this. Admittedly a few birds did act strange, but that’s no reason to…

Melanie Daniels
I keep telling you, this isn’t ‘a few birds’! These are gulls, crows, swifts…!

Mrs. Bundy, Elderly Ornithologist
I have never known birds of different species to flock together. The very concept is unimaginable. Why, if that happened, we wouldn’t stand a chance! How could we possibly hope to fight them?

–From Alfred Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS (1963)

Muster the Birds

Level: D5, M6
Range: 1 mile per caster level
Duration: 25 hours (but see below)

The caster gathers a huge flock of The Birds and can control them mentally until the spell expires. The Birds can be mustered anywhere within the spell’s range and can be commanded while within that range. They can be sent beyond the spell’s range but cannot be given additional commands if the caster is not within that range.

The flock takes 1d6 hours to form. This time counts against the spell’s duration. If within command range, the caster may dispel the flock at any time after it has gathered, though this is subject to the spell aftermath (see below). Casting another muster the birds spell while a previous casting is still in effect can extend the initial casting another 25 hours even if the flock is beyond command range, though no new instructions may be issued. A save vs. spells is required to maintain control in this manner, with each subsequent attempt getting a cumulative -1 modifier.

Roll 1d20 to determine the size of the flock mustered. Druids add +1 per level over 9 and magic-users add +1 per level over 11. 1-10: Small, 11-15: Medium, 16-19: Large, 20-23: Huge, 24-29: Gargantuan, 30+: Hitchcockian.

Aftermath: When the spell ends, roll d100 to determine the flock’s actions: 1-50: Flock disperses, 51-75: Flock continues following last instruction, 76-99: Flock wanders in random direction and attacks anything that moves, 00: Flock seeks out caster and attacks. Roll once every six hours until either ‘flock disperses’ or ‘flock seeks out caster’ results.

Usurp Flock: A caster may attempt to take control of a previously-mustered flock of The Birds using this spell. If uncontrolled or outside the range of the original caster, the new casting has a 50% chance of success, with one extra percentage point per point of intelligence and wisdom. If controlled and within range of the original caster, the chance of success is 50% minus one percentage per point of the original caster’s intelligence and wisdom. Flocks successfully taken serve the new master as if mustered normally.

Kilgore on February 11th, 2010

“How did they get up that?” Locklar asked, pointing at the wall. It was at least fifty feet high and smooth as cut marble.

“I don’t know,” Arthena said. “Maybe they used that rope?”

Emma laughed. “You think?”

Locklar looked at the rope coiled on the ground. It was cut at one end. “I know they used the rope,” he said. “And they cut it after they reached the top. But how did they get it fastened at the top in the first place?”

Arthena and Emma looked at each other and shrugged.

“Okay,” Emma said, “you’ve got us there.”

Rope Shot

Level: M1, C2, D1
Range: 20′ plus 10′ per caster level
Duration: 1 turn per caster level

The caster causes a length of rope to shoot from his or her outstretched hand. It will tie its leading end securely to anything within range and sight of the caster. GMs may allow a chance for successful “blind shots” into darkness or at invisible objects. It cannot be used to tie up an individual, though it can tie itself to people or creatures.

Regardless of length, the rope can support the weight of three normal-sized human beings. It burns and can be cut as normal rope. When the spell’s duration expires, the rope evaporates. It begins to shimmer one minute before it disappears, giving a warning to those who might be hanging from it.