These are the pages about the magic users and elves and their spells I’m collecting for my Halberds and Helmets game:

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The spellcasters and their spells are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0). The images are dedicated to the public domain (made using my Face Generator).

2020-01-08 Boneless magic

I finished another spellcaster for my Spellcasters project: Lem. It started with thoughts on squids and having no bones, on maybe having multiple arms, but then I started thinking about madness and mindflayers, as I am wont to do. When I started writing about Lem’s lair (that’s the introduction at the beginning which I can use to make sure every spellcaster gets a two page spread) it went to dark places… Maybe I should change that. People have joked that old school D&D is starting out thinking it’s a D&D campaign and then realising that actually it’s a Call of Cthulhu campaign and that you are totally unprepared. I prefer thinking of this as a joke. I remember once when I was a teenager the game had body horror and gore and my players told me afterwards that I should tone it down. Little did I know about X-Cards or Lines and Veils.


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2020-01-05 Spellcasters and Spell Lists

Every now and then, people wonder whether there’s some magic system out there that could supplant the so-called Vancian system: have some spells you know, have some spell slots, cast spells until you’re “out of spells” and then wait for the next day, in game.

The variations I like work within these confines: I liked D&D 3.5 sorcerers, for example: they knew a limited number of spells but didn’t have to choose any before using them. The “repertoire” of spells used in ACKS works the same way, and I’m using the same for Halberds & Helmets.

Repertoire: The list of spells in your spell book make up your repertoire. It’s size is determined by your level. The table below shows the maximum number of spells in your repertoire and the number of spells you can cast per day. You regain your spell casting powers after a good night’s sleep at the dawn of day.


So, as a second level elf you have two spells (”of the first circle”) in your repertoire, and you can cast two spells (”of the first circle”) per day, without having to pick anything ahead of time. The drawback is that you can neither cast more spells per day nor can you learn more than given by the limits in the table above. If you want to learn a spell without gaining a level, you need to lose one of your existing spells in your repertoire. And you always need a mentor to teach you new spells.

I find this works well at the table.

  • There’s no paralysis as the players of magic users can’t decide which spells to pick.
  • There’s specialisation as magic users only have a limited selection at their disposal. Every magic user feels different.
  • Having to find teachers for new spells encourages them to take note of who is who in the world. It automatically makes all magic users and elves potential quest givers as they ask for favours before teaching new spells.

In contrast, when I tried to use a magic words system in the past, it didn’t quite work: I was trying to go back to the old Schwertmeister system where player characters discover magic rune stones and can combine them in a triangle, one for medium, one for the means, and one for the target, except simpler. I thought: have some runes; tell me what spells you improvise on the spot and it will be great! Sadly, it also put a lot of pressure on players in a fast paced, immersive game where I don’t too much meta discussion about the game and the mechanics. Incidentally, that’s also what I don’t like about very light magic systems like the ones I saw in Burning Wheel and Barbarians of Lemuria. I mean, I like rulings, a “short negotiation”.

I propose how this is going to fall out and there’s a little moment of silence where players can interject or propose a different ruling until we’re all as happy as can be, and play proceeds.

But I don’t want to have this sort of discussion for every single spell being cast. Is power level two or three more appropriate? How about we figure it out and write it down? And then we write it down for the next spell, too. And for the one after that. Well, actually, now that we’re doing that, how about going back to those old spell lists. It works!

Yes, it’s less “mysterious”. But it works. I guess “spellburn” allows magic users and elves to cast more spells at the risk of permanently reducing their ability scores, and that fits well with some of the literature. I’d be willing to try it. Back when I was trying to run M20, however, where hit points also doubled as mana points and so casting spells simply drained hit points, my players were not amused. So I have the lingering feeling that this is great for short character arcs but less interesting for campaigns fifty sessions long.

Anyway... I still love good ol’ spell lists! I like Gavin Norman’s Theorems & Thaumaturgy. I like Nathan E. Irving’s The Basic Illusionist. And Ancient Vaults & Eldritch Secrets as been posting new spells since 2009! 😀

And I’ve been working on my own spells, too. I’ve been organising my Spellcasters document as a list of individual magic users and elves with their spell books, each with more or less unique spells (but in practice of course many of them also share such classics as charm person or sleep). In a game were casters need teachers, the magic users and elves in the book can act as such. Or perhaps they can simply be interesting non-player characters in your campaigns. Let me know if you ever use one of them! 😁

These last few days I’ve been working my documents:

  • the title page now has a date 😇
  • there is an EPUB edition
  • there is a simple list of spells, too
  • there is an EPUB edition of this list as well
  • and all the casters are still available as individual PDF files

You can find all of this in the download section.


Comments on 2020-01-05 Spellcasters and Spell Lists

Do you refer to first or revised edition of Theorems and Thaumaturgy?

– K Yani 2020-01-05 19:08 UTC

I think for the purpose of this argument it doesn’t really matter. The one I know best is the first one, though.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-01-05 20:16 UTC

I am asking because on DriveThru storepage one review mentions that some part(s) is/are removed in Revised edition.

– K Yani 2020-01-06 11:38 UTC

That is true. Contact me via email and send you a copy. 😀

– Alex Schroeder 2020-01-06 14:58 UTC

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2019-09-19 Witch magic

I finished another spellcaster for my Spellcasters project: Qunu. Witches, curses, charms, that kind of thing.

I know, nothing special or revolutionary to see: just good old Vancian magic, spells in the range of 1–5, i.e. for spellcasters in the range of levels 1–10. 🧝🏻‍♀️🧝🏼‍♂️🧙‍♀️🧙🏼‍♂️

And I wrote a little script that extracts all the spell descriptions and puts them on a wiki page. That should allow for easier reference, and it gives you quick access to the Markdown source.

And the collected PDF with all the spellcasters (work in progress) now has a title page that makes it look like it belongs next to the Referee Guide. I’m so proud of myself. 🙂



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2019-09-10 Spider magic

I finished another spellcaster for my Spellcasters project: Iauniel. Spiders, webs, that kind of thing.

I know, nothing special or revolutionary to see: just good old Vancian magic, spells in the range of 1–5, i.e. for spellcasters in the range of levels 1–10. 🧝🏻‍♀️🧝🏼‍♂️🧙‍♀️🧙🏼‍♂️

And I wrote a little script that extracts all the spell descriptions and puts it into a separate document. But later I deleted it again. I think putting the spells on a wiki page is easier for us all since you can always get back at the Markdown.

There’s some cleaning up I need to do: resolve duplicates, rename those that share the same name but aren’t actually duplicates, and figure out what to do about duplicates in the first place: replace them with new and original spells?

But first, I need to finish the spellbooks!


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2019-08-29 Warp Spellcaster

I wrote up the spells for another spellcaster in my Spellcasters project. As you know I use the strict interpretation of the magic system: the spells per day are also the spells you have in your repertoire. Magic users and elves cannot learn more than these spells. Exchanging one spell for another takes weeks of research and retraining and usually only happens as characters gain a level.

Furthermore, new spells cannot be learned from scrolls or spellbooks: you need a teacher to learn new spells. Thus, every high level magic user and elf in the setting is automatically a sort of one person school of magic. Therefore, I always need a bunch of high-level magic users and elves to run my games. These are the patrons for my player elves and magic users. Here are the new spells they can learn, and hopefully that also creates some adventure seeds at the same time.

Anyway, this magic user is all about mutations, growing stuff, cloning himself, stuff like that. A bit of a vivimancer, a bit of an evil cleric, a bit of what little I know about Warhammer: Korokoro.

When I picked his name, I did not know about the Koro phenomenon. Now I keep wondering: is this a missed opportunity, or should I simply rename the poor guy?


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2019-04-26 Adding Spellbooks to Hex Describe

I’ve found a way to combine Hex Describe with my Spellcasters project: the spellcasters in the descriptions now pick from the spellbooks of the “famous” spellcasters in my big list. I’m still amazed I was able to pack it all into random tables but it actually works. Here’s an example:

Image 1


Comments on 2019-04-26 Adding Spellbooks to Hex Describe

If anybody feels the urge to add to the mini-setting generator I’ve been working on for a while now, I’d be happy to answer questions, ask for specific input if that’s what you’d like (we could try and turn it into “Gygaxian democracy” events?), or whatever. These last few days I’ve been writing stuff for a hidden fortress of elves (drow, if you want) up in the mountains.


To illustrate how this would work, let me give you some examples.

The companions of the netherworld elves subtable basically has only two entries:

  1. 1d8 bugbears
  2. 3d6 myconids

We could add some more.

The gate of the netherworld elves subtable basically has only four entries:

  1. a chasm guarded by 2d4 giant spiders
  2. a throne room of a spectre
  3. a former dwarven forge protected by giant spiders, a fire giant, and 2d8 duergar
  4. a guardian of an evil power (a spirit naga for Set, 1d8 wights for Orcus, a demon boar for Hel, a gorgon for Nergal, a vulture demon for Pazuzu)

We could add some more.

Or we could add a one or two sentence vignette? Anyway, that’s usually how I work. Once I have the basic structure for a thing, I just keep adding to the “branches” until I can click on those links and it’s no longer boring, doesn’t repeat too often, and so on. And of course I get to build on all the other things that have already been added, magic items, evil powers, monster stats, and so on.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-04-27 12:23 UTC

I love how this is practically a small dungeon, generated automatically, with no map required!

– Alex Schroeder 2019-04-27 21:28 UTC

I think it would be nice if somebody looked at the current Hex Describe output and went “there’s quite a lot of repeating or boring description here and here” (with examples perhaps) and then some suggestions like “I think we need more stuff in swamps, how about we add more lizard folk? Or grave barrows?” And then we’d start brainstorming monsters and situations and description and I’d put it all into the right format and off we go. Something like that?

– Alex Schroeder 2019-04-28 09:42 UTC

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2019-03-12 Traditional spells from an old NPC

Decided to polish the entry for Lady Gerdana, one of the NPCs that goes back a very long time by now. It all started in the Wilderlands of High Fantasy and the village of Longbottle which had an elven ruler called Lady Gerdana. Her spells are very traditional because back then I didn’t really want to write new spellbooks. A source of classic spells for my campaigns, of course. I mentioned her in a blog post back in 2010.


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2019-03-12 Goals for the Spellcasters document

In two of the recent entries I talked about “polishing” the entries. What was I thinking about?

Here is how I started: I generated a random face for every letter of the alphabet, half of them for elves, a quarter for men and a quarter for women. Then I assigned them to letters, picked a name, and wrote the spellbook skeleton for a 10th level spellcaster: three spells of every circle up to fourth, and two spells for fifth.

The next steps would be picking a name or theme for the book (Fire, Earth, Doors, Ropes), write an intro about the lair where they live, the retainers they surround themselves with – and writing the spells.

Ideally, I think, each spellcaster would get a two page spread. So once the spells are done, “polishing” means looking over the spells again, and adding or removing text until I get a nice, full two page spread. I love writing about lairs because those translate very directly into adventures. I’m not adding maps, though.

I guess I could add more artwork. Oops! One day, perhaps...


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2019-03-12 Doors and extradimensional pockets

Elam’s book of Doors (Liminurgy, the working of thresholds) has been lingering for a while. It had all the spells but also a placeholder for more and I had no ideas left so I decided to fiddle with the text in order to make it a nice two page spread. No retainers guard Elam but in the intro I allude to pale people from mirrors kidnapping victims and I’m thinking of the vampires from A Red and Pleasant Land. I always liked this idea even though I never used it.


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