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.