Here is a reworked version of the magical disciplines system. This iteration is slightly more limited (there are only 12 disciplines) and they subsume the common cleric functions using a colors of magic system. Vitality magic risks causing aging (though I have some updated and streamlined mechanics for this inspired by Talysman that I will post separately).
The spell metaphysics and descriptive parts are heavily influenced by The Dying Earth, which should probably be obvious. This is part of something that is rapidly evolving (to both my dismay and delight) into a full-blown heartbreaker (that is still entirely compatible with the traditional game). Thus, there may be several references to other aspects of the system that are not explained herein. Apologies for that, but I suspect things should be pretty clear from context. Posting smaller parts as blog posts helps me make progress on the whole.
Worm-eaten books speak of hundreds, or even thousands, of spells in the past. In these degenerate times, only twelve spells remain. Each has been handed down through the ages, hand-prepared laboriously (for each individual must make their own copy to fully understand the mysteries). For example, though most sorcerers have knowledge of the dread tome of necromancy, actually procuring a copy can be far from easy. This is compounded by the fact that white magicians commonly destroy the books of black magic and vice versa. Spells are not mere manipulations of reality using arcane techniques. They are actually a type of hyperdimensional creature that exists sideways to reality. Preparing a spell involves binding such a creature, and imprisoning it inside the sorcerer’s consciousness. All effects within a single domain are actually manifestations of the same kind of bound creature. Generally, spells work against sorcerers, which is why “higher level” effects are harder to accomplish (and more dangerous). Forgetting a spell means the sorcerer has lost control of the creature in their head.
All characters have a rank in each discipline, ranging from 0 to 6, where 0 indicates no familiarity and 1 indicates basic competence. Magic-users may “safely” attempt effects of level equal to or less than their discipline rank. When casting a spell, a magic-user must make a saving throw. Upon success, the spell goes off and they may use spells from the discipline again in the same day. Upon failure (but not fumble) the spell still goes off, but the magic-user may use no spells from that discipline again until they have had a good night’s sleep and studied their magic books. If a fumble is rolled, the spell fails or backfires in some inconvenient (and probably dangerous) manner (use the spell fumble or corruption system of your choice). A roll of 1 is always a fumble.
Higher level effects may be attempted, but at greater risk. The same procedure is used as above, but the saving throw takes a penalty equal to the spell level, and the save must succeed for the spell to go off. A roll of 20 is always considered a success. Also, the fumble range is extended by the level of the spell. So, if a 4th level magic-user (max spell level: 2) is attempting to cast a 5th level spell, they roll their saving throw with a -5 penalty and the spell backfires on rolls of 1 through 6. This same procedure will obtain until the caster reaches 9th level, when the save penalty disappears and the fumble range drops to 1. In other words, the progression is not linear (though the base save versus spells does improve at 6th level and 11th level); this is intended. You don’t get it, and don’t get it, and then it finally clicks. Thus, magic-users may attempt any effect at any level, though doing something like conjuring an elemental at first level will almost certainly result in disaster.
Magical affinity ranges from -6 (chaotic) to 6 (lawful). All characters begin at 0. Whenever a character casts a black magic or white magic spell, affinity shifts one step in the appropriate direction. For example, if a sorcerer casts charm person, which belongs to the domination discipline (black magic), affinity shifts one point negative. Affinity cannot be higher than 6 or lower than -6, so ignore any further shifts in either of those cases. Affinity serves as a penalty to casting spells from the opposite end of the spectrum. For example, a sorcerer with a magical affinity of -4 (chaotic) would take a penalty of 4 when casting white magic spells. In addition, black magic is forbidden in most civilized areas (“malfeasance”) and is punishable by branding and banishment (at the very least) or death by burning (more commonly).
Magical affinity encodes some aspects of what would be considered alignment in other games. It has nothing to do with morals or behavior, however; affinity only measures a character’s relationship with the cosmic forces of law and chaos. Characters with affinity scores of more than 3 in either direction may start to be affected by, for example, protection from evil. They may also manifest their affinity in other ways, including mutation or physical changes.
Characters that choose the path of SORCERY begin play with one spell book (determined randomly or by player choice). All other spells books must be discovered through play. It is possible for adventurers on other paths to gain competency in spells also, but it is twice as difficult. Sorcerers may learn no more than 1 plus their intelligence modifier disciplines, and other classes may only learn a number of disciplines equal to their intelligence modifier. No adventurer may advance more than one point on a single discipline per advancement period. (I’m still playing around with several other schemes for advancement limitation, including limiting the total spell ranks to the intelligence score, and providing “retraining” rules.)
||cure light wounds
||cure serious wounds
||prot. from evil
||prot. from evil 10′ radius
||prot. from missiles
||minor globe of invulnerability
||contact higher plane
||rock to mud
There are legends regarding spells that can manipulate gravity, or bend space (allowing travel over great distances with a single step). This magic has been lost. However, it may still reside in mouldering tombs or hidden deep in lost ruins.
This table is still a work in progress. You will notice that a few of the effects are new, and one or two have had their level adjusted. I am considering having the necromancy and turn undead spells more directly mirror each other (see also my necromancer draft from a while back). I really like the idea of maintaining the traditional spells (both by name and effect) in this system, so I don’t want to stray too far from that ideal. Or maybe I do. Who knows where the muse will take me.
I am aware that some of the terminology is less than ideal. On the one hand, I like using multiple words for magic-users (wizard, sorcerer, wonder worker, etc), but on the other hand, using fewer terms is likely to cause less confusion. I am leaning towards standardizing on sorcerer, as it also matches “the path of sorcery,” which is the analogue to the magic-user class in this system. Perhaps falling back to the more general magic-user in some cases, since it is possible (though harder) for other kinds of adventurers to use magic. Also, there is some problematic overloading of the word “spell.” Following Vance, I want to use that word for the entire discipline, but other fantasy games use the word spell for individual effects. Right now I am still inconsistent on this.
The magic books will get better names. The book of necromancy will probably be The Necronomicon, for example, if that term is now in the public domain.
Malfeasance as a term is from English law, but was borrowed in this context from The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss.
I’m extremely happy with the cosmic reinterpretation of alignment as affinity. The new term should help avoid arguments about ethics and moral philosophy. It also manages to apply only to those classes that are tampering with the cosmos (clerics and wizards).