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).

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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2019-03-07 Bears and Shadows

Ufala’s book of ursomancy and shadow walking makes her and her witch friends great assassins, I guess? This is part of my Spellcasters project. The flying bears idea has been part of my thinking since 2012.


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2019-02-23 Spellcaster

I’ve finished another spell caster! This time it’s Wogan. His spells start with spells about wolves, but then there is stuff like turning into a werewolf, summoning shadow hounds, crossing over into an eternal tundra (Jaghut style), travelling as dust and bone binding (T'lan Imass style), and so on. I like the Malazan books, yes I do.


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2019-02-03 Geomancy

Today I’ve been working on Zorkan and his Geomancy spells. Some high level spells remain to be determined!


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2019-01-23 Magic Words

I just read @linkskywalker’s blog post, Magic Words suck. Here’s Magic in the Moment.

I was immediately reminded of “Four-by-Five” Magic System for the Fudge RPG by Steffan O’Sullivan. In the four-by-five system you have four actions (enhance, diminish, communicate/sense, and control) and five realms (body, mind, spirit, energy, matter) and every spell is a combination of these two.

I was also reminded of Das Schwarze Ague Professional: Schwertmeister Set 1. There, you had 18 rune stones (18 words), each with a different value, and three places to put them: one for the medium that carries the magic (multiplier 1), one for the way of the magic (multiplier 4), and one for the target of the magic (multiplier 2). The example they gave was a spell that gave you a free critical attack using the runes Sight (2) as the medium (×2), Fight (5) as the way (×4), and Body (4) as the target (×1) for a total cost of 4+20+4 = 28 “astral” points (manna cost).

As you can see, here’s the first problem I find in these more free form magic rules: they result in free form results which you then need to interpret again and again. Or you can start writing them down, meaning that you will end up with a suggested list of spells of various power levels. You will simply give magic users more flexibility. Do they need more flexibility? I don’t think so. Also note that Link Skywalker started the discussion by comparing fighters and magic users, saying that “from this perspective Magic Users are the first example of unnecessary complexity creeping into the game’s rules.” I don’t know. I’d ask: how short can you make the rules? Short rules are a proxy for easy rules in my mind.

The second problem I had was when I tried a simpler variant of the above where I wanted to use some sort of rune-based or kanji-based magic. This time I had an actual player interested in using it and he picked the Air rune. And he flew around in some long jumps, gliding through the air. And that was it. I felt that he hadn’t taken advantage of the flexibilities given, couldn’t think of creative uses in a pinch, and I concluded that perhaps the system was too free form. Creativity needs some constraints.

Link Skywalker has a solution for all of this. He also provides a list of words (like the runes I mentioned above). He has some suggestions for things that might increase the difficulty. And most importantly:

After successfully casting a spell, Magic Users may record the spell for later use. Each recorded spell may be used once per day without a casting roll. These still count as successful spells for the purposes of determining the base target number. Magic Users may know a maximum of one recorded spell per level. At any time they may forget a recorded spell if they wish to replace it with a new one.

It might work. But then again, a referee might also simply sit down and start writing ten or twenty spells, and then players and referees simply add to the list. You know I like D&D-as-oral-history and this kind of writing and forgetting and remembering has potential. Perhaps that’s simply what Gary Gygax and his players did way back when.

It’s something we all should do for our campaigns. As for myself, I’m trying to do something similar by simply writing up two dozen magic users and elves for my campaign setting, including their spells, for all to use: Spellcasters. It’s based on what I can remember of the spells I like, and it’s new stuff that fits the Vancian magic system as used in classic D&D. I’m excited!


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2017-12-14 Casters

OK, I have a new project! Remember how I wrote and illustrated the monster section for my Halberds & Helmets Ref Guide? Well, I decided I also needed a list of spell casters including their spell books in order to provide for an interesting selection of magic user and elf mentors, patrons, matrons, quest givers and foes. So here we are!

My challenge: to write up the spell books of two dozen casters, all with more or less unique spells. My “D&D as oral tradition” challenge is to simply not look up any spells and see what feels right. Remember the blog post about Rulings?

“If people remember a rule, it is applied. If a new rule is proposed on the spot, it is applied and if it remembered the next time such a situation comes up, it is applied again. The rules are what people can remember. Slowly, rules fade out and new ones fade in. It’s a living, mutual understanding of how the game will be played.”

I think this might also apply to spells. I’m going to refer to the spells I wrote for my monsters, though. I really want to make this more cohesive. Casters learned their spells from these monsters!

Hopefully the spells and these monster references will help me describe the casters in a way that already suggests what their towers look like. A paragraph or two about their lair would be great. Belchion has already provided me with a magic item for most of them. This is going well.

You can find the casters I have on the Spellcasters page of the Halberds & Helmets wiki. I created all the pages with faces from my face generator but only the casters from Agrimach to Gerdana have spells right now.


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2010-12-16 Schools of Magic

Other people have written about one possible limitation for Magic Users in the reading of the B/X Rules: magic users and elves may only know as many spells as they are able to cast per day. Their spell book just cannot grow beyond this limit. I will still let magic users and elves start with two first level spells and one second level spell, however.

I’ll give the above limitation a try in the Labyrinth Lord campaign we’re running in the first half of 2011. We’ll see what the players think of it.

I’ve also thought about introducing the Five Color Magic by Lord Kilgore or Color Magic by Roger the GS. But I’ve decided on something simpler.

I’ve started to make a list of 9th level magic users (many of them inspired by magic users played by myself and others in different games in recent years) and assigned them their spell book according to the limitations discussed above: three first level spells, three second level spells, three third level spells, two fourth level spells, and a fifth level spell.

Learning about the spells at the disposal of the various magic users in the setting, searching them out and learning their spells is going to be an important element of gaining a level. Essentially these magic users are the magic schools available for player characters.

The campaign starts out near a settlement of elves sailing the sea ruled by their queen Gerdana. Her spells basically define the standard spells available to regular magic users in the area.

I’ve also tried to go through the collection of spells I gathered from the Ancient Vaults & Eldritch Secrets blog, assigning these spells to the various 9th level magic users of the setting. That’s how I’ll introduce new spells. We’ll see how well this goes.


Comments on 2010-12-16 Schools of Magic

I think this is a pretty awesome idea. And I don’t even like Vancian spellcasting :P

It also makes tomes with unique spells awesome treasure, both for magic-users and elves, but also for the NPCs of the setting. I remember various articles, from Dragon magazine as well as WotC’s site, that talked about unique spellbooks, the wards that guarded them (opening a spellbook could be an adventure unto itself), and the spells contained within.

Adrian 2010-12-16 22:43 UTC

There’s more discussion of the limitation imposed on magic users here: Screwing Magic Users. I think that the intent is that you either spend money researching your own spells, or you are taught spells by other magic users. I think there is no copying of spells from scrolls and magic books.

I do like the idea of well guarded spell books, however. They must still be protected from thieves, I guess. And having a spell book containing the spell might cut down research time and cost significantly. Maybe halving it? I need to look at the research rules.

AlexSchroeder 2010-12-16 23:10 UTC

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