Tag Archives: spells

The Runes Of Doom, Part VIII

More New Magic Spells!

Or: “How To Recognize Kill Trees People From Quite A Long Way Away”

With A Digression To The Earliest Days Of The MMORPG

And The Mystery Of The Aphpodesiac

We’re back, with another round of new spells… some brilliant, some strange, some seriously WTF.

Savoy’s Silent Slayer: Creates a magic missile of “specific being” slaying, which will wait in ambush “forever!” (Exclamation point in original, and rightly so!)

Skorn’s Immaculate Sky Symbol: Another entry in the growing list of “Cool idea, but not at that level”. Creates a symbol, name, etc., which appears in the sky “with appropriate music”. Not, as far as I can tell, a magic symbol. Just… skywriting. Yeah, impressive, but at sixth level, magic-users are casting stone to flesh or disintegration… this is the kind of thing you could do with phantasmal force. About the only thing it’s got going for it is range… 100 miles per caster level. So if you want to intimidate people living a long way away, it’s good for that. (See below for more thoughts on this concept.)

Fazalla’s Friend From Beyond: Summons a “close friend” back from the dead to fight for you. It’s a little vague on details like “for how long” or “is the ‘friend’ wearing the magic items they had when they got killed, or only what you buried them with after looting their body like they were just another orc?” and the like. I think it might play out like this:

PC: OK, I’m calling up Brothgar The Bold to fight for me.
(1d6 rounds later, Brothgar appears.)
Brothgar: Forsooth, my friend! I have thought of thee often since I passed from this mortal coil! How fare thee? Are thy spouse and child well?
PC: Yeah, whatever. Hey, you see that dragon there? Go kill it.
Brothgar: Why, surely I will defend thee, but I must ask, is this the only reason thou hast disturbed my eternal peace?
PC: Look, the dragon’s immune to half my spells ’cause the DM is a douchenozzle. So just whack it with your sword.
Brothgar: We two were bonded as soulmates while I lived, yet now you treat me as a mere hireling? Fie upon thee! I side with thine enemy! (Brothgar attacks the PC)

Maryindi’s Spell Of Super Telekinesis or The Tractor-Presser Beam: Pro tip: Words like “greater”, “perfected”, “lordly”, or “supreme” feel properly Vancian when describing upgraded spells; words like “super”, not so much. Cone shaped TK that moves up to 300 lbs+30/level. A million uses around the home and office.

Savoy’s Spell Of The Silver Serpent: A+ for alliteration. Summons a flying silver cobra to fight for you, which is cool, until you notice it has 1 hit die for each level the caster is over the minimum needed to cast (+1 base hit die). If you’re casting seventh level spells, a silver cobra which starts with 1 HD is pretty much useless against anything you’re going to be fighting, flying or not.

Hadaag’s Horror, The Red Sending of Sorrow, Sarchimus’s Sending, etc.: All of these spells, and a few others, have two things in common: First, they have totally awesome names. That counts for a lot. Second, they’re all variations on “spell that summons something nasty to go kill someone who is far, far, away”… most have ranges on the order of 10 miles per caster level. It’s interesting there’s so many variants on this concept, doubly so when you consider such spells are, at most, a trivial part of modern games. They tend to be the kind of things that show up in “The Even More Compleat Spelle Compendiume Vol VI”. But there’s three on one page in The Runes of Doom, and more besides, especially if you count other long-distance spells such as Skorn’s Immaculate Sky Symbol. I can only theorize, but I think there was a lot of PVP action in Dave’s games, with players concocting ever-more devious spells to use against enemies (while out of retribution range, of course). Alternatively, Dave created these spells to use to take down uppity PCs by reminding them they could be attacked from afar.

Caowyn’s Spell Catcher:

Spell Shortstop Was Much Less Popular

Caowyn’s Spell Shortstop Was Much Less Popular

A long time ago, in an age when Windows 98 was cutting-edge, there was a game called Ultima Online. There still is, in fact. I haven’t played it since the late 1990s. I’m sure no part of it would be familiar to me. No, I’m not that senile. I know I’m writing about tabletop games. Here’s the thing: See that powerful 10th level spell up there that takes you three months to learn? Well, there was a similar spell in early UO — it would deflect the first attack that struck it back at the source of the attack. A nice surprise for a would-be assassin, right? Well, except that it took about 0.0001 seconds before someone figured out how to write a macro that would first cast some really trivial, low-level, spell, which took out the defense, followed nanoseconds later by a much more powerful attack. Caowyn’s Spell Catcher has the same problem, except, you don’t even need to use a damaging spell. Hit ’em with something like “Mend“, and then, while they’re contemplating what to do with it, follow up with Jhem’s Spell Of The Far Terminus, which teleports the victim to a totally random “time, universe, and world”.

Phanch’s Spell Of The Fell Gates Of Hell

This Would Be A Better World If All Spells Rhymed

This Would Be A Better World If All Spells Rhymed

’nuff said.

Cleric Spells

And If You Ever Find Out What An 'Aphpodesiac' Is, This Is A Great Spell

And If You Ever Find Out What An ‘Aphpodesiac’ Is, This Is A Great Spell

You’ll note that a common aspect of early game design — not just Arduin, or D&D and its derivatives, but many systems — is a kind of “arms race”. For every measure, there is a counter-measure; for every counter-measure, there is a counter-counter-measure, and so on. Nowadays, perhaps as part of the synergy between tabletop games, card games, and MMORPGs, designers are more likely to simply “nerf” a particular ability if it becomes too dominant in play. This was less doable in the pre-Internet days, especially when it could be years between supplements. (The original AD&D hardcovers took three years to come out. Think about that for a moment. These days, we get a new edition every three years, or so it sometimes seems.)

As I Was Saying...

As I Was Saying…

Pheldoe’s  Radiant Ring Of Righteous Fire: Verbal component: A famous Johnny Cash song, which also serves as the Preparation H jingle. Surrounds the caster with a ring of golden flame that does 2-24 damage to undead if they pass through it. Skeletons ‘burn 1d6 per turn’, which is confusing… does it ignite them? If so, do they keep burning until they’re un-un-dead? Or does it mean they burn while standing in the ring, which would imply non-skeletons take the damage once? Non-undead take only 1d8 damage.

Heavenly Fog Of Hiding And Help: An opaque fog surrounds the caster and does… well, it’s a fog. That surrounds the caster. Not a healing fog. Not a fog that blocks any of the approximately 78 different things that can detect you when you’re hiding in fog. Not a fog that confuses, blinds, weakens, or otherwise hinders enemies. Just… a fog. Let me note this is a fifth level spell. So is Raise Dead (in most incarnations of D&D). I don’t think “resurrecting the slain” and “imitating someone dropping dry ice into the punch bowl” should belong in the same tier. Do you?

Solomon’s Sigel (sic) Of Absolute Imapsse (sic): Fiery 10′ star of David surrounds you, blocking all (take 2-20 points and save vs. petrification (my spell checker suggests “gentrification”. Brooklyn failed its save vs. gentrification, big time.) at -5 or turn to salt if you pass through). Undead take 10-100 points and must save vs. disruption or die! Again! More die!

Holy Word Of Command: All clerical spells reverse themselves and deactivate. I’m not sure what “reverse themselves” means when connected to “deactivate”… either one, alone, makes some sense… maybe it’s a visual effect, the deactivated spells “rewind” to dwindle to nothing? Please note that it stops all, even pillars of fire! It’s important this is called out; otherwise, you’d just assume it didn’t affect pillars of fire because… pillars? Fire?

Greylorne’s Hell Storm:

Forty Weeks, One Hundred Thousand Gold Pieces, And Totally Worth It

Forty Weeks, One Hundred Thousand Gold Pieces, And Totally Worth It

That’s a good place to break for this week. Next time — Druid spells, Techno Magic, and Hell Spirals!

The Runes Of Doom, Part VII

New Magic Spells!

Come For Aphrodisiac Aura! Stay For…

Hang On, There Might Be A Better Way To Phrase That

Nah. Not Really.

OK! It’s been five weeks or so, but I finally have things back on some kind of quasi-sane schedule. Not as sane as I would like, as my plan was to start writing this at 8 AM, but it’s now 2 PM, because apparently, to some people, “vacuuming” and “spending time with your family” is more important than allegedly humorous recapping of thirty year old gaming supplements for an audience measuring in the teens! The high teens! Harrumph!

Anyway, spells. The Runes Of Doom promises “over a hundred new spells”, but I never counted them. There’s quite a few, certainly. As usual, I’ll just be going through the pages, highlighting whatever strikes my highly random fancy. (Seriously, my fancy has, like, two pages of charts I have to roll on.)

Aphrodisiac Aura:

Hey, I Promised This One...

Hey, I Promised This One…

Just in case anyone thought I was making that up…

You may notice a new field in the spell description: “Weeks To Learn”. While it’s easy to interpret what this means, it kind of comes up as a surprise; it’s not in the earlier books. Likewise, cost — presumably, that’s the cost to learn it, whether it’s by buying a scroll (in the case of this spell, one sold out of the back room of the magic store) or investing in rare and exotic inks, possibly made from succubus blood or something. (Did you ever see the AD&D 1e rules for making even the simplest magic items? The amount of effort required to make a low level potion or scroll was phenomenal, and totally disconnected from the de facto commonality of such items, which could generally be found in any kobold’s outhouse or bedding, as if you could tell the difference. But I digress.)

Dunklemeyer’s Spell Of The Tarantella: Not tarantula. Like Otto’s Irresistible Dance, except only second level. It still affects every creature in a 30′ radius, making it ridiculously powerful for such a low level spell.

Patch Spell: When cast, will replace buggy old code with new code which has new bugs. No, sorry, it patches cloth or leather. So, let me make this perfectly clear: For the cost of 2 mana, I can either a)Make all enemies within 30′ of me dance the tarantella for 1 minute/level, effectively wiping out an entire encounter with a single spell, or, I can patch 1 square foot of cloth. Hmmm. Which should I learn?

Thurldon’s Reversal: Another second level spell, the target must save vs. magic or… turn around, which means they’ll need to turn back on their next action… which means nothing because changing facing is generally a trivial action. Sure, there’s that one in a thousand times when you can make someone turn and look at their pet gorgon, or something, but the other 999 times? Tarantella, please!

Torozon’s Slippery Spell, or, The Banana Peel Sneak: Causes an area to become “zero coefficient”, which is a fancy pants way of saying “frictionless”. Cast it on the sheets after you use Aphrodisiac Aura. (By the way, the “or” convention in some spell names is really kind of cool, as it reminds me of Rocky and Bullwinkle episode titles, which were themselves parodies of the 18th and 19th century style of book titles.

Hildegarde’s Heavy Helper: Conjures a 10′ cube of wet sand. No, really. That’s what it does. Yeah, I got nothin’.

Tirinyo’s Spell Of The Wall Of Ice And Fire: Each time you cast it, you have to wait longer and longer until you can cast it again. In addition, you feel compelled to describe every meal you eat in explicit detail, and describe some other things in explicit detail. OK, it actually creates a wall of fire. Which hides a wall of ice. So when you dash through the wall of fire and take fire damage, you also hit the wall of ice and take cold damage. (The spell can also be cast where the ice wall contains the fire wall, so the flickering flames cause the ice to shimmer and glow strangely. I consider that roughly 10.59 times more awesome than the default version.)

Azorn’s Fearfull (sic) Fiery Fist Spell:

Better Than Krystallars Kalamitous Kick...

Better Than Krystallars Kalamitous Kick…

Judging from context, “size” in this case means “hit dice”, not, you know, size. That’s as intuitive as anything else around here, I guess.

Khoreb’s Curse Of The Screaming Skull


Based On One Of The Worst Movies Of All Time

Wakes you up at night to scream, gibber, moan, and mouth obscenities at you? Why not just call it “Khoreb’s Curse Of The 2AM Drunk Dial From Your Ex”?

Noad’s Bane, or, The Blue Banshee Of Shaamt: Conjures a blue ghost to fly through a town, wailing. For a few minutes. That’s it. It doesn’t kill people who hear its wail, or drain life levels, or anything else. It just flies around wailing. This takes ten weeks and 9,500 gold to learn. Wow. That’s almost as a big a ripoff as Trump University.

Jahk’s Spell Of The Singing Star: Summons a six pointed star that sings. Hey, it does what it says on the tin! Save vs. Charm or sit, enraptured. Also of note: Until now, the spells seemed to be at least vaguely arranged by level, but this is a third level spell, where the prior spells had reached sixth level. I think we’re seeing, once again, that Dave Hargrave was transcribing individual pages of his notes, instead of reorganizing the individual data elements on each.

Otherwise Known As "Wall Of DM Screwing The Players"

Otherwise Known As “Wall Of DM Screwing The Players”

Now, this is way better than friggin’ blue mist that screams! Toss this baby in front of your enemies, and see if the DM is properly grateful for the Chinese food you got for him/her! (Often, DMs had charts and tables for just such random occurrences. These were handy, as you could pretend to roll on them before making up what you wanted to happen.)

That’ll do for now. Still recovering from many weeks of working weekends. But I needed to get something done, and so, this is it.

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part X

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part X

Fields Of Famine, Stones To Spiders, and Heavenly Umbrellas

Also: Cleric Reaction Rules, Or, “Out Of Network Cures Are Not Covered”

Here we are, part X. About halfway through Skull Tower, which means, halfway through the original trilogy. (Don’t worry, I’ve got lots more related stuff, including Arduins 4-8 (I think I missed 9…), some Dragon Tree press things, and more.

We (probably — remember, I never know at the start of these things how they’re really going to turn out) finish the spells today, and the clerical “reaction rules” — does the cleric of Benevolar The Just And Good heal the follower of Thrugorth The Bloodfanged? Roll a D20!

Druid Spells

Balkwyr’s Basic Ritual Of The Calling Of The Lesser Winds: Other than the obvious jokes that 14 year olds will inevitably make about this spell, it’s pretty useful: It will blow gasses away (stop giggling!) at 10′ per turn. As you might recall from earlier articles, dungeons in Arduin are filled with all kinds of vapors, mist, and fogs, especially when the orcs have their chili cookoffs. (Fine, my inner fourteen year old comes out a lot.)

Khermal’s Puissant Color Of Mystikal(sic) Magic: Remember, folks, a ‘k’ makes it more mystikal! Anyway, this is basically a prismatic wall… at third level. It’s not clear if the spell creates all the different colors noted (blue causes paralysis, red does 2d20 heat, black causes blindness, etc.) or if the druid picks one. In the first case, it’s insanely powerful for third level. In the second case, it’s more reasonable, but still ridiculously flexible. I wouldn’t memorize anything else for that level!

Tadraen’s Spell Of The Field Of Famine: Destroys all plant life in a 30′ (+5′ per level) radius centered on the druid. No word on if this affects mobile, hostile, plant of the sort that infests every D&D-type forest, making walks in the woods high-risk affairs. It does say “all plant life”, but as a DM, I’d be loathe to let a druid exterminate my ent army in an instant with a fifth level spell. Also, the resulting cloud of choking, blighted dust has a 10% chance of killing anyone who breathes it… including the druid’s allies if they’re in the area, and, erm, I’d guess, the druid themselves… oops…

Cleric Spells

Tyr’s Spell Of The Heavenly Umbrella: Vital if your character wants to break into an impromptu rendition of “Singing In The Rain” (they may need the Boots Of Astaire for that, though), this spells does “what it says on the tin” — it creates a broad dome above the character that is immune to liquids falling from above. It also repels slimes and oozes. After Knobby Foot has already revealed the trap that pours acid from the ceiling, this spell can get you though it (be nice and mop up what’s left of him on the way… you can take the Raise Dead costs out of his pay). Since it only covers the area above the caster, the spell notes “some might splash onto him if he’s not careful”, which instantly leads to “how do you tell if the cleric is being careful or not?”

Stanson’s Stones To Spiders Spell: Yeah, I’ll see your “sticks to snakes” and raise you “stones to spiders”. Coming soon: “Sand To Centipedes”, “Sod To Skunks”, and “Surf To Stegosaurs”.

(There’s also four different ‘Mending’ spells, for cloth, wood, metal, and intelligent metal.)

Healing, Regenerating, Etc.

Sorry, That Sword Through Your Gut Is A Pre-Existing Condition

Ah, one of my favorite parts of the Arduin experience… numbered notes and RULES with IMPORTANT words in CAPITAL letters. These are an assortment of Dave’s rules, guidelines, and declarations regarding clerics, healing, and anything else he happened to think of while typing these up.

A few selections:

All SPELLS that HEAL take one minute per point of damage to fully heal.: Wow. That’s a pretty major shift from ‘bippity-boppity-boo, you’re at full hit points’. It makes in-combat healing via cleric spell nigh-impossible. (Dave used 6 second rounds, you will recall.) So every ten rounds, you get back one hit point from a spell. I repeat: Wow. How anyone in Dave’s games lived to second level, I don’t know.

Actually, never mind combat healing at all: It then says that spell/device healing requires the target be motionless through the entire process.

Also, you can only heal up to your Constitution times your level per day. So keep track of the total wounds you’ve taken, not just your current HP score.

Clerics wear/wield armor/weapons appropriate to their deity. Those who say “Well, duh” clearly don’t know Old School Gaming, where all clerics, no matter their god, were forbidden from using edged weapons. It rapidly became a running joke. It was done, I think, to prevent clerics from pretty much totally eclipsing fighters, because they already got full armor proficiency, and if they had access to all the good magic weapons (which were all blades), plus spells, there would be even less reason to play a single-class fighter than there already was.

Now, we get to the fun part… what happens when a chaotic evil dwarf thief asks for a healing spell from the lawful good cleric? You roll some dice, of course!

If You Like Your Deity, You Can Keep It...

If You Like Your Deity, You Can Keep It…But You Get a +6 If You Don’t

This is followed by a few more modifiers, including fairly important ones for alignment — the more different the alignment, naturally, the more extreme the penalty. Evil clerics charge double for the same bonus. +6 bonus if the wounded person promises to convert, but a -10 penalty if they then fail to follow through.

The chart itself:

I'm Sorry, That Procedure Is Not Covered.

I’m Sorry, That Procedure Is Not Covered

I’d modify a bit: If the result is negative, the cleric actually casts an “Inflict” spell of the same type as the requested “Cure”. I’d eliminate the “every time” part, too, because that ignores how situations (and alignments) might change. Also, does “Will do it free” means that if the target paid in advance to get positive bonuses, they get their money back?

Some people reading this might wonder as to the necessity of this chart. “Why not just roleplay it?” Well, at the time, a lot of players were not exactly amateur thespians, though they did often fantasize about them. (Badu-BUM!) Trivial things like “alignment” and “background” were often ignored in favor of treating characters more like modern video-game avatars, simply a stand in for the player. Thus the question of “Will the Cleric of Good heal the Anti-Paladin?” was usually answered by “Did the guy playing the anti-paladin chip in his fair share for the Chinese food?” (Usually not, ’cause the kind of people who played anti-paladins were usually the kind of people who were generally asshats.) Likewise, random charts like this helped avoid at least a few arguments with the DM over why he was being “such a jerk” by not having the High Priest of Benevolar heal the party from the damage they received while looting the Temple of Benevolar’s orphanage fund. (And, really, it’s sooooo stupid they’d still be pissed off. After all, we burned down the orphanage last game, so, it’s not like they need the money!)

35 Years And A Half-Dozen Editions Later, It's Still Burning...

35 Years And A Half-Dozen Editions Later, It’s Still Burning…

Next time… new treasure!

Welcome to Skull Tower, Part IX

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part IX

New And Unusual Spells!


Maybe Some Other Stuff. Not Sure. Probably Won’t Get Through The Spells.

It’s been about two months since the last post in this series, though, surprisingly, there’s been a bunch of actual content added anyway… four posts, including the bloodmouth carnist, a cursed blade, and some spell variants, all for Pathfinder. I wasn’t deliberately taking a break from this walkthrough; I have moved, and I finally found my copy of Skull Tower earlier this week. So, here you go. Back on track.


With no introduction, we jump right into “Mages Spells”. As usual when I do these sections, I’m picking out (or picking on) a few highlights, not exhaustively reporting on the whole thing.

Trenkole’s Basic Web Spell: Creates webs, with rules for how many creatures of various hit dice can be held. Unusual in that it more-or-less duplicates an existing spell, already part of other roleplaying games. This may mark the first steps of Arduin moving from being a highly-unofficial supplement for Dunother gamesons and becoming its own system, or it might be an odd oversight. Or, and I like this explanation the best, since the Web spell was not in OD&D, but did not appear until Greyhawk, that this represents Hargrave’s own creation, designed pre-Greyhawk to fill an obvious gap, and then published later… I continue to see evidence that the Trilogy books were basically filled almost randomly from Dave’s copious collection of house rules.

Fafin-ghar’s Spell Of The Fiery Flash: An AOE blinding light that, presumably, affects friend and foe alike (no save, but a 5% chance each target was blinking when the spell went off, which means they’re not blind, but the Weeping Angels can move towards them.)

Angborn’s Spell Of The Abysmal Itch: First, let me note I love the naming pattern of the Arduin spells, which takes the occasional ‘flowery’ name from OD&D, like ‘Bigby’s Insulting Gesture’, and turns it up to 11, in full Vancian fashion. Rhialto would be proud. Second, let me present the text of this spell…

Requires Potion Of Hydrocortisone

Requires Potion Of Hydrocortisone

Assuming you manage to aim the spell so your allies are not included, this is a ridiculously powerful spell for third level. It will basically clear out a room full of enemies, as “totally incapacitated” usually means “No AC and can’t counter-attack”, and you’ll note something else: No saving throw. Anything up to 20HD is at -4 for 10 minutes… 60 rounds, as Hargrave used the 6-second round. This is far more powerful than simple direct damage spells. In case anyone wants to argue that a save vs. spell is assumed, other spells, like Rorghull’s Rot Spell explicitly say “unless a save vs. magic is made”, so I’m going to interpret this as meaning that the lack of text indicating a save is possible means it isn’t.

I’ll also point out this is a typical example of each spell needing micro-rules, so that the ‘simple’ rules of the main game lead to increasing complexity as everything becomes a special case. There’s always a need for some edge-case rules, lest the game become dull due to too many different effects all having the same mechanical representation (cough advantage/disadvantage cough), but something like “all affected gain the ‘distracted’ condition” can really simplify the interaction between different parts of the game.

And this one is just too cool…

Voor-Hing’s Spell Of The Eater From Within

Otherwise Known As The Spell Of Internal Nom Nom Nom

Otherwise Known As The Spell Of Internal Nom Nom Nom

A good example here of where ‘player skill’ meant ‘memorizing the rules’, so that you’d know you need to cast two spells concurrently to stop the thing. No ‘Knowledge (Arcana)’ checks in the good ol’ days, bucko.. you, the player, had to know all this. Why do you think D&D, et al, was so popular among computer programmers and comic book fans and the like, who prided themselves on their ability to internalize complex systems filled with exceptions and edge cases?

Taslo’s Spell Of The Black Binding: The mage must purposefully slay some other being within his “pentacle of power”. Thereafter, anything that drains life levels from the caster instead drains them from the victim of this spell, whose soul is trapped in the pentacle. Once they’re all gone, of course, the mage is once again vulnerable. No rules on how you create a pentacle of power, of course, or how long the ritual takes, or any other such meaningless trivia. You and your DM, both being perfectly reasonable people, can surely work out an equitable set of rules in a short time with no arguments.

Time Lining: This is a 15th(!) level spell that costs 45 mana + 15 per minute in time forward or 45 per minute backward. Unfortunately, you can’t actually do anything, as attempts to change the past cause you to evicted from the time stream. So if you travel into the future and see everyone dead because they opened the door that unleashed the no-save poison gas, and you return to say “Hey, let’s get way, way, back and send a hireling to open that door”, does that change the past, even though it’s now the present? Short of some very odd edge cases, like jumping back a minute or two to see where someone you were chasing got off to, I don’t see a lot of utility here, compared to other 15th level spells. (OK, there’s not that many other 15th level spells..)

By the way, did I mention that other than being all Mage spells, there’s no order here? They’re not sorted alphabetically, or by level. They’re just there. Spirit of the times, man.

The Crimson Bands Of Cyttorak: Ah, the days when lawyers (damn their oily hides!) didn’t scour every book before publication, looking for actionable items. By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth, those were good times! (If you’ve read the comics, you know what this spell does. If you haven’t read the comics, what’s wrong with you? Go read some classic Lee/Ditko Dr. Strange, now!)

Another sign of the times — hand lettered addenda, like this:

Not A Bad Idea, Actually...

Shouldn’t That Be ‘Entries’?

Actually, Mind Focus is a cool concept, though I’d implement it in the modern age a bit differently…

Focused Spell (Metamagic)
Combat Casting
Benefit:Any spell prepared with focused spell never requires a concentration check to cast, no matter the circumstances. Spell failure from armor still applies.
Level Increase: +1 (A focused spell uses up a spell slot one higher than the spells actual level).


As promised, an octorilla:

An Octopus/Gorilla. Just What It Says On The Tin

An Octopus/Gorilla. Just What It Says On The Tin

No stats now… that’s coming, I assume, in the monsters section. But it’s one of the tiny handful of Erol Otus bits not published in AG1 and which survived the “revision”. Why his art was purged, Stalin-style, from Arduin Grimoire but not Skull Tower is a mystery for the ages.

So, there we go… the first post-move entry into the Great Arduin Walkthrough. Hopefully, we will be back on a weekly schedule now.


Making Magic Magical

A common complaint I see on RPG boards is that “magic should be more magical”. The lack of “magicalness” is often cited as a reason to dislike some new version of a game, or otherwise waved around as a generic failure that explains why nothing is fun anymore and everything sucks and it’s just not like it was in the old days.

Virtually identical tones, if different in actual details, can be found on every MMORPG board, and it all basically boils down to “You can’t lose your virginity twice”, a metaphor which is, admittedly, a bit problematical when dealing with some MMO players. But I digress. (Yeah, I’ve made that joke before. Hey, you go with what works, you know?)

Anyway, to focus on the topic on hand… no system of rules will make magic magical. The reason why is in that very sentence. It’s a system of rules. No matter how the game is dressed up in folderol like “arranging motes of quintessence in order to transform will into power”, it boils down to “Roll 4d10 and add your Majik1 Enlightenment to blast the zombie into dust.”

A common response to this is, “Well, sure, there are rules, but the game and the world can make magic mysterious, and magical!” Partially true… but not nearly so much as some people think or want, and here’s why. When discussing D&D, or dungeon crawly/medieval fantasy in general,  magic is usually quite common in actual play, even if the rules say it isn’t. Face it, if you’ve got a book of spells, and a book of items, and a book of monsters, you want to use most of them. You don’t want your heroes spending all their time fighting normal humans with normal weapons… unless your name is “George R. R. Martin”, who can literally describe characters eating breakfast and make it compelling reading.

(Yes, I know what “literally” means. I do not mean ‘figuratively’ or ‘as an exaggerated example’. I mean, when George R. R. Martin writes about what his characters eat, just the normal mundane foods they consume, he does it in a way that is interesting enough that it serves to draw you into the world, not make you yawn and wonder when he’s going to get on with the plot. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say few, if any, of the people reading this are that skilled at DMing.) You want your characters fighting vampiric half-dragon wolves with flaming vorpal swords! (You can read this as “the characters are using the swords” or “the wolves are using the swords” — either works.) So the world is going to be steeped in magic and monsters, and that’s that.

This is a “best case” scenario, where only the PCs, and their key antagonists, have access to magic, akin to older high fantasy like Lord Of The Rings.

The NPCs may oooh and ahhh and swoon over the magic, but there’s still no getting around the fact that the players know exactly how many plusses Gorthandiril, The Lost Sword Of The True Kings Of The Far Lands, has, and how much better it is than a mundane sword, and that they’ll toss it down a well if a sword with more plusses shows up. Even in this case, if the campaign is long, the amount of magic in it will invariably creep up, if only to keep the enemies and the players on an equal footing. Further, it’s quite impossible to pull many of the tricks that authors pull when you’re dealing with players. They’ll loot every item they can find, and “mumble mumble doesn’t work for you mumble mumble” grows thin. Even more, no matter what wondrous, enthralling, truly mystical marvel you create, as an item or as a feature of the world, some player is going to find a way to exploit the living crap out of it by treating it as a fact of the world and then reasoning forward from that fact… and that leads us to the more common scenario.

That scenario is, “the world is overloaded with magic”. This is the default scenario for any D&D world, whether you want to admit it or not; you can’t go into any random dungeon and come out with a pile of wands, scrolls, potions, and so on, without realizing “someone made all this stuff, and it was sufficiently replaceable that it was left to molder in some goblin-infested pit until a bunch of sociopathic murderers decided to commit genocide and then loot the corpses”.  If there exist NPCs capable of massacring goblins by sneezing on them (and there usually are), and none of them considered finding, say, a +1 sword in a goblin lair to be sufficient inducement to take an hour or two to clean out said lair, this instantly tells you that a +1 sword is considered to be a pretty darn common thing, even if the fluff text in the rules goes on and on about how rare magic is. If the fluff text says “Magic is rare and precious!”, and then the “sample adventure” has a goblin lair with magic items in it, a bare hop, skip, and jump from a town with NPCs of sufficiently high level that the PCs can’t just skip the goblins and, instead, loot the town… the fluff text is lying.

“Well, what if no one knew there was a magic sword there?”

Do they let the PCs keep the magic sword? Yes? Then the magic sword is virtually worthless.

Let’s put it this way. If a modern day soldier, returning from a battle, has grabbed an enemy utility knife, or even pistol, as a souvenir, he might be breaking some regulation or two, but in reality, no one will care. If he comes back with, oh, an atomic bomb, he will not be allowed to keep it “as a souvenir”. Period. Given how even high-level NPCs in most D&D type worlds react to PCs with magic items (that is, they don’t), barring artifacts and similar world-wreckers, there’s no way to get around it — magic items are common.

Likewise, so are spellcasters. Again, no matter how much the fluff text insists magic is rare and amazing and people stare with wonder at it, if a typical party of a wizard, a cleric, and this year’s variant of gish (fighter/magic-user) can walk through town and go about their business easily enough… magic isn’t rare. (Consider how much fuss was caused in Israel, about 2000 years ago, when one person tossed off a few trivial spells like Cure Blindness, Walk On Water, and Create Food and Drink. The highest level spell he cast was Raise Dead, which is only fifth level.)

“So? Just because magic is common doesn’t mean it can’t be…. magical, whatever that means!”, says my peanut gallery of straw men, a truly strange mental image.

Except that it does. If it’s common… people know how it works and what it does. Oh, most people might not know everything and there will be a lot of false information. The “why” and “how” might be very mysterious… but so what? I don’t need to know exactly how gunpowder combusts to know, roughly, what a gun can do, how fast it can fire, how many shots it holds. I may not be able to perform the equations that explain how rifling works, but I know what it does and the effect it has on a bullet. A wand of fireballs is no more mysterious, to a typical D&D inhabitant, than a fully-automatic rifle. He may never own one. He may never see one personally, at least, he probably hopes not. He may not be able to describe how it works, or determine, at a glance, how many charges it has left… but he’s heard of them, he knows enough about them that while he may be terrified of seeing one in action, he’s not astounded by it. The reality of its existence is part of his world. We all live surrounded by machines whose exact workings we can barely fathom, and we know of the existence of all sorts of machines we have never personally seen or interacted with.

Attempts to hammer a “sensawunda” into the rules are usually futile. You can make magic much more random and less reliable, but this still doesn’t make magic “magical” — it just makes it more of a case for detailed cost-benefit analysis.

So what’s the solution?

Well, first, players need to realize that what they’re asking for is to have their minds reset to the time when they first discovered RPGs, when they didn’t know how the rules worked or what spells were available or anything, and so of course magic was “magical”. While you could guess what a sword could do fairly easily, you had no idea what a wizard could do, so you actually experienced that sense of wonder, because it was new to you, the player, and that cannot be recaptured by any rules.

Second, the DM and the players have to take up some of the heavy lifting themselves.

Effects need to be described, not just in terms of their game effects, but in their sight, sound, smell, and the way they impact the world. When a character “detects magic”, what are they doing? Hearing odd noises? Seeing colors? Having images flicker into their brain, like forgotten dreams? This responsibility falls on both sides of the screen. If a DM tells you, “You’re detecting strong conjuration magic”, you may tell the rest of the party this, in character, as “There are vibrations here of the sort one usually sees with spells of conjuration… fairly potent ones, too… let me wait a moment more, and see if I can perceive the sub-harmonies that could indicate the type”. Now, of course, this kind of flavor text might strike other people as utterly wrong, exactly the kind of clinical pseudo-scientific “magic” they want to avoid… and that’s fine. The exact way in which the mechanics of the rules are perceived by the people in the game world is something that tends to arise from consensus between the players and the DM.

The game mechanics of 3.x/PF, and to a lesser extent 4e, virtually mandate a golf bag of magic items and a constant swapping of weaker items for better ones. (I’ve found that, in 4e, once someone likes a sword/armor/shield, it’s often best to simply increment the bonus instead of giving them a “new” item. If a flaming sword is iconic to their character, then, instead of replacing the +1 flaming sword with a +2 frost sword, or a different +2 flaming sword, just say, “After the battle, you realize that the ambient magic has been partially drawn into your blade, increasing the potency of the enchantments upon it.” Most players, in my experience, are happy to keep the sword that has become identified with their character, so long as they remain in the right place on the power curve.)

Even if you do have many potions/wands/scrolls, though, it’s possible and desirable to describe them uniquely. A wand of fireballs may be made of charred wood and always smell slightly sulfurous, for example. Potions have varying tastes and textures. Even more, each item may have odd side effects or unusual traits, reflecting the idea that magic is as much art as science. Given two wands of magic missile, for instance, one might emit bolts that fly towards their target with a keening whine, while another bucks and quivers as it discharges.

In conclusion… if you think that the reason things aren’t “magical” enough is that the rules are too well-defined, and that going back to a “simpler” rules set will “bring back the magic”… you’re probably wrong, and you’re going to spend a lot of time being very disappointed. If you want to recapture the feeling of freshness and wonder, bring in some new players — in any edition of the rules — and enjoy seeing the game through their eyes. If you want to make the world more evocative and involving — don’t expect the game to provide you with all the description and imagery that makes it so; do it yourself. As a player, describe what happens when you cast a spell, or the look and feel of your magic items, and ask your fellow players to do the same. As a DM, think about every +1 sword and potion of cure light wounds you hand out, and give them something interesting, even if it’s just a decoration on the hilt or the fact that when you drink the potion, you hear a feminine voice singing “Soft Kitty”.

If You Didn’t Get That Last Joke, Order This


1: The more you misspell “magic”, the more magical… I mean, majyckyl… it is.