Spells without levels

Roerich - Magician (source)

Roerich – Magician (source)

Rather than rate spells by level and make some spells only available to high level sorcerers, spells could be level agnostic. Two important properties are required for a level agnostic spell. First, power and spell consequences need to be modulated so that basic game challenges are not circumvented. That is, all spells need to be appropriate for beginning characters. Second, spell capabilities must scale to some degree with sorcerer level so that they remain relevant throughout the game. This approach provides several benefits, such as the possibility of playing many different kinds of sorcerer from the beginning of a campaign (no waiting for 9th level magic-users getting raise dead in order to be a “real” necromancer), and puts more potentially campaign altering tools in the hands of players immediately (though such alteration often comes with consequences).

Lamentations of the Flame Princess has taken a similar approach with some spells, such as the first level summon spell, and A Spell to Grant One’s Heart’s Desire (basically, a first level variation of wish) from Better Than Any Man (available as pay-what-you-want). These spells were definitely an inspiration.

There may be some drawbacks to this approach to spell design as well, and I am certainly not claiming that this model is better for all campaigns. For example, there is something to be said for aspirational spells as motivation. Further, dividing spells into levels introduces complexity gradually. That said, random determination of spells can help mitigate information overload, and hopefully other adventure motivation will be available.

Following this logic, I have created a new set of level agnostic spells inspired by the original list in Men & Magic. Each spell description is restricted to three sentences. If backwards compatibility is desired, all spells could be treated as first level. If replacing all magic with level agnostic spells, rather than the standard spell progression, a sorcerer could have a number of spell slots equal to level, with bonus spells slots perhaps awarded for characters with an exceptional intelligence. Spells that persist over time last 1 turn per sorcerer level. Some spells make use of sigils. A sorcerer may only ever have one sigil of a given type active at a time and the creation of a new sigil causes any previous sigils of the same type to vanish.

The categories that seemed to arise naturally in this process were diabolism, elementalism, psychomancy, necromancy, spiritualism, translocation, and vivimancy. (There are a few spells that I’m still not sure about, which might potentially give rise to more categories.) Each of these categories will be presented in an upcoming post.

8 thoughts on “Spells without levels

    1. Brendan Post author

      I am trying to keep the spell descriptions high level and suggestive rather than overly specified, which I hope will help.

      The first batch of spells (diabolism) is up now, so let me know what you think.

  1. RedHobbit

    I’ve attempted to level-requisite spells in the past to varying results. One involved a spell-point system where the power, target, or effects of the spell could be augmented with additional spell points which in turn grew with level. It was alright but exceedingly generic.

    I’m currently working on a more Vancian approach whereby spells are divided into two categories, minor and major, silly & specific or awe-inspiring & dangerous respectively. The minor spells represent the oddities that are fun and often bizarre, think an extreme case of macrodactyly the size of a house. The major spells are your classical reality-warping kind that leave ordinary mortals panicked and sometimes turned into newts. The real fun is making a minor spell something useful without being too niche and finding a way of keeping major spells out of the hands of beardless-wizards still wet behind the ears. I’m fond of the Dark Souls approach that requires you to free a teacher then pay them an exorbitant fee or find the spell in the deepest dankest dungeon you can find. I’m also partial to the Raiders of the Lost Ark method where if your mind is too feeble your face will melt right off. In any event I’m looking forward to what you come up with.

  2. Jack Swallow

    Damn you, I was just on my way to post about a similar idea when I saw this. But of course, where I was going to reduce everything to four spell levels, here you’ve gone for the whole hog…
    Looking forward to the next posts!

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