Sunday 30 October 2022

Why Nine Spell Levels?

 For Aclas

I’ve been thinking about how my practitioner does and doesn’t fit the actual thoughts I have about how Aclan magic works. This is basically a ramble on that subject. 

But, in essence, I’m trying to explain why there are nine spell levels, and why I think every wizard should know Fireball and Dispel Magic.

First Level - Simple Circuits

The most simple class of spells. Can be drawn out in about six seconds, give or take for the hand-eye coordination of the Practitioner in question. Magic flows round the circuit, and effect is achieved. 

Note, that ‘Simple’ need not mean ‘Weak’. Some of history’s most devastating spells - for example, the indefatigable Magic Missile and the thousand imitators thereof - are of the First Level. 

The amount of magic needed to activate a Simple Circuit is the measurement for 1 Thaum, the standard unit of magic. 

Second Level - Concentric Circuits 

Circuits of the Second Level employ layered or combined Simple Circuits to produce a variety of effects. This is as far as a static, easily drawn circuit can go - beyond this point, it takes too long to scribe out the actual circuit in a high stress situation, facilitating the need for fireproof ‘spellbooks’, spell tattoos and engraved circuits. 

The Second Level is by far the most common of the Spell Levels. 

Famous spells such as the lost Sending, the banned Invisibility, the extremely banned Charm Person and the beloved Magic Mouth are in this Level. 

Not all of a Spell’s function need be contained inside the caster’s circuit - Identify, for example, is a Second Level spell that connects your circuit to another, much more powerful spell, allowing you to reference the extensive texts of the Great Library of Shere without needing to physically have them. 

Third Level - Attuning Circuits

At the Third Level, specially designed circuits can adapt to the presence of other circuits, conforming to their shapes or responding to their stimuli. 

The most famous of these is the venerable (and well-used) Counterspell, which connects to and breaks an activating circuit before the effect can even begin. 

Animate Dead and Nondetection, for example, both ‘attune’ to the specific body they are cast on, fitting snugly to the dimensions of the corpse or the fugitive, as is required. Protection from Heat grows stronger in proportion with the heat it is protecting from, as do Protection from Cold and Protection from Rain

Fourth Level - Ongoing Circuits 

At the Fourth Level, a Circuit can repeat as long as the Practitioner has power to make it do so, sustaining the effect over longer durations than previously possible. 

Classically, Wall of Fire and Freedom of Movement are Ongoing Circuits, maintaining a long-sustained effect for as long as the Practitioner can handle it. 

Dimension Door produces a long row of many low-power micro-teleports in the blink of an eye, avoiding the classic problems (fragmentation, interpolation, destabilisation) of teleport effects, in exchange for a limited range. 

Control Water nudges all affected water, then resets to nudge again twice per second. Greater Invisibility repairs itself automatically when the effect is broken by strenuous movement or extremely bright light, and the theoretical spell Polymorph maintains a constant fight with the target’s soul to prevent it from transforming them back via sheer ontological inertia. 

Fifth Level - Responding Circuits 

Spells of the Fifth Level can be modulated while their effect is in progress - paused, accelerated, empowered or redirected. 

Consider Delayed Blast Fireball - a name which pedants love to bring up as "technically inaccurate" at trivia nights - which can be, well, Delayed - you prepare the explosion, then brake it. 

Arcane Hand responds to the manipulations of the Practitioner’s dominant hand, allowing for extremely precise control of what would otherwise be a very unwieldy implement. 

The banned and widely-reviled spell Dominate Person can be made to lie quietly dormant for years at a time, preserving its energy for when the enchanter needs to unbrake it, to reassert control over the unfortunate under the spell’s effect. 

Far Step is another attempt to solve the Teleportation Problem - one massive, slow teleport effect, released in short fits and starts to fling oneself many short, safe distances, instead of one long, dangerous one. 

Sixth Level - Sustaining Circuits

Spells of the Sixth Level can repeat themselves without needing to draw the power straight from the Practitioner - from whence they actually gather it varies, but often the spell’s design is complex enough for it to simply use the comparatively greater investment of power when first cast in a more efficient manner. 

Scrying, for example, produces an observation circuit at the target location, which self-sustains until the Practitioner is finished looking through it. 

Chain Lightning is simply Lightning with the ability to sustain, repeating itself over and over with slightly less power until it fizzles out on grass and mice. 

One of the theorised suggestions for the secret of the terrible spell Disintegrate - not widely taught outside of the isolated island of Kawo - is that it is simply a Sustained Magic Missile, firing over and over again, hundreds of times a millisecond. 

Seventh Level - Expanding Circuits 

Spells of the Seventh Level can create new effects while their main one is ongoing, in response either to the Practitioner's demands, or to set conditions. 

Finger of Death can switch halfway from a fairly simple murder-spell into a dense, streamlined version of Animate Dead

Magnificent Mansion carves out a supernal pocket dimension, then builds rooms into it based on the Practitioner’s commands.  

The lost spell Sequester was famous for its ability to have durationless conditions set for its ending - creatures and warriors appearing from thin air when the conditions were met, with no time having passed for them, but years having passed on the outside.

Some spells simply need Expanding Circuits to achieve their effect. Reverse Gravity (and the theoretical Teleport) need a great deal of “If, X, Then, Y”, subcircuits, for odd edge cases such as, for example, very very heavy things, and creatures currently in flight. 

Eighth Level - Cascading Circuits

Spells of the Eighth Level can be set on runaway cascade processes, drawing magic from surrounding sources of energy to power effects that reach far beyond the thaumic capability of a single mortal. 

The simplest, most notorious spell of the Eighth Level is Horrid Wilting, the famous thought experiment of the necromancer Avrendus - it is a cascading circuit which is confined to a small area, and nothing more. Cascading millions of times a second, it rapidly extracts all heat, magic and other energy from the targeted area, leaving it completely still, frozen, and dead - before using the stolen energy to simply end its own effect and disperse the excess. 

The spell Demiplane produces a self-sustaining pocket dimension by means of an ongoing cascade expansion fighting against the inevitable contraction all pocket dimensions undergo, achieving equilibrium. Current legislation has banned the use of Demiplane among the very, very few wizards that can actually cast it, until the Constellar Commission can figure out where the spare energy is coming from

Mighty Fortress, a famous ancient spell, is a cascade matter-production and matter-arrangement spell - start the effect, go have a cup of tea, and come back to a cascade generated fortress with tolerably confusing architecture. 

Ninth Level - Autonomous Circuits

Spells of the Ninth Level are famous for their Autonomy - that is, the spell can adapt itself efficiently and appropriately to stimuli without the need for the Practitioner to do anything.  Ninth Level spells are effectively mythical. Certainly, no joe schmo Practitioner on the street fixing door-hinges for a living knows anything about them. 

These spells are fire and forget - once cast, they simply happen, adapting and transforming the circumstances to produce far-reaching, highly potent effects. 

Foresight makes billions of predictions a second under its own power, then picks the twenty or so the human brain can handle at once, and delivers them in a neat bow without needing to be told to do so. 

Meteor Swarm begins a high-level cascade of highly unstable chain-teleports to bring pieces of cosmic debris screaming down on pillars of radioactive fire - when the need for overkill arises.

The theoretical spell Kill is the most elegant form of the simple murder spell - it anticipates and overcomes all possible defenses in a fraction of a millisecond, then carries out the most energy-efficient form of total destruction. 

Some say these spells have a faint will of their own - Invulnerability activates itself in moments of terror, Meteor Swarm grows stronger when cast in blind rage, Shapechange is weak and paltry for those with an inflexible mindset, and, in what tales are told of the mythical Wish, the spell’s propensity for following one’s exact words surely implies malign intelligence. 


A spell of a given level has all of the traits of the levels before it. 

A Second Level spell is technically ‘Standard’, and Concentric. 

A Seventh Level spell is Standard, Concentric, Attuning, Controllable, Sustaining and Expanding. 


Side Note: Power Words

The Power Word spells are older than known civilization. The famous Power Words every mage thinks of are actually twofold - the Word itself, in an unknown language which rings the ears and heats the air in one’s lungs, and the Circuit which allows the wizard to speak it without the customary repercussion - that is to say, combustion. 


The Special Case - The Zeroth? Level

Fireball and Dispel Magic are (and this is a neat little secret), the same spell. The wizards of the Academy of Kelesh refer to it as Ur-Spell, or Zero, because it is by definition the first thing a wizard learns to do: the aimed release of energy. The wizards of the College of Spires refer to it as Blast, because, well, that’s accurate. Most other wizards call it, at least in its first stage, Prestidigitation, or Cantrip

Consider the two classic wizard’s tricks - snap your fingers to light a small flame, snap your fingers to end one of your spells. The fingersnap is the spell - producing a momentary, rudimentary circuit with your thumb and your middle finger, then snapping it, releasing the energy, and letting sparks fly. 

In a very real way, magic is fire. 

Reality is built in layers - when you destroy the physical layer, you shred buildings, ignite flesh, rip cobble from cobble with black smoke and the rumble of thunder. When you destroy the supernal layer, you quietly rend circuit from circuit, enchantment from relic, spell from source and magic from vis - it is quieter, but no less apocalyptic. 

This is why spirits scream, and angels cover their ears, when you cast Dispel Magic

Physical and Supernal, are the two layers the Practitioner reaches with ease. But what of the others - can a mage burn the spirit world without needing to go there? Send quiet death rushing through the twilit half-realm of the umbral plane? Rend irreparably the forms of thought, by unleashing Zero on the enlightened plane? Burn the very skin of God herself?

Thursday 13 October 2022

Small Gods of the Old Forest

For GLOGtober, I think?

Grod Gral Fyn

He’s long and grey, with stretched and rooty limbs, and a crude-metal mask for a face. He has two tails and halfmoon horns. He lives in a black bog pool, under the roots of the deepest trees. He’s got seven shadows, which whisper cruel truths to him when the moon is full. 

He’s a little god, of rot and stagnant pools. He sleeps down there, or swims in circles. Coax him to the surface at the water-riven cave, with fox-corpse and dripping tallow. 

What does he want?

  1. A draught of dreamless sleep. 

  2. Misery distilled. 

  3. The eyes of a sheep-king. 

  4. Your last breath - death will chase you closer. 

What are his boons?

  1. Invisibility. The crudest kind. 

  2. Fog, wrapped in bundles of fur.

  3. Poison of sleeplessness, in a stone cup. 

  4. One of his shadows, to whisper you secrets. 

What are his banes? 

  1. Icy chill, which others feel. It sours drinks and scares animals. 

  2. Hungry, chasing fog, which eats dreams first and your name last. 

  3. Welts and blemishes, blue and black. 

  4. Shadow-theft - shapeless under the sun, you are now Fyn’s thrall. 


She’s perched up there, in the branches above your head. Corded muscle, and plumes of green and dun feathers. Her huge and crooked wings hold round her like a cloak, as iron-taloned fingers grip the branches. She has a monkey’s face, red and big-eyed. There is a second shape, far above, made of cloudstuff, which follows her as she moves. It is huge, but indistinct. 

Her voice is low and crooning, faintly sing-song. Coax her to a meeting with burnt fruit and scattered salt, at the old petrified tree. 

What does she want?

  1. Secrets from the realms of folk.

  2. Disgusting booze made from wild fruits. 

  3. A song from a far-off land.  

  4. Your allegiance. 

What are her boons? 

  1. Knowledge of the language of birds, taught by eating a rotten quince. 

  2. Old shiny treasures retrieved from high-cave vaults. 

  3. A storm-bezoar. Looks like a black hailstone, makes you immune to lightning.

  4. You can easily break any bindings you’re put in. 

What are her banes?

  1. Stony limbs, slow and cracked. 

  2. Lightness, so light the wind could snatch you. 

  3. Birdshit - not birds shitting on you, bird shit

  4. Open, taloned violence, biting at your face.


He walks among the trunks. He drags his stony heels in the leaf-mould as he hums off-key and cackles at nothing. He used to be a little god of hidden places, but they burned his shrine. He’s bitter, now, bitter and twisted. 

He’s shaped like a little grey man, with an egglike head and black pitted eyes. Those fish-egg eyes worm in his sockets, as his branch-thick limbs creep for his axes and cord. Summon him rudely, with burnt wood and banging drums at the charcoaled copse. 

What does he want?

  1. Fire, in strange and unseen kinds. 

  2. Dismembered animals. 

  3. Compliments and grovelling. 

  4. Wanton destruction. 

What are his boons? 

  1. Strong cord, so strong even a big god couldn’t break it. 

  2. Hot blood, smoking and steaming. People will give you a wide berth.

  3. Boots which eat the sounds of your footsteps.

  4. A black glass eye, to replace one you might have lost. It sees grudges. 

What are his banes?

  1. The worm mark. You look like easy prey. 

  2. Lockjaw. 

  3. Structures and vehicles you touch will collapse over the course of weeks.

  4. Flammability. 


He was brought here by an army in older times, bound to a mile marker and mounted on a wagon. He boomed their war chants, he sang the songs, revelled in praise and adulation. Then, defeat, and abandonment. His marker has lain in a foetid pond beneath a weeping willow for some centuries now. 

What shape is he? None can see, but the pond smells of gore, and the breath of horses, and the smoke of rusted guns. Attract his attention at the willow-bridge, with a bit of blood and an old marching song.  

What does he want? 

  1. Admiration and camaraderie. 

  2. Weaponry, good weaponry.

  3. Freedom.

  4. Horse heads. By the dozen. 

What are his boons?

  1. A shiny old sabre. The bane of horses.

  2. Soldier’s bones. They rattle when a foe draws near. 

  3. The general’s helmet. During a first meeting, you have charisma and authority. 

  4. The warp-spasm.

What are his banes?

  1. Horrific nightmares of no-man’s-land and screaming mitrailleuses. 

  2. Hatred spreads out from you like a disease. 

  3. Dysentery and trench-foot. 

  4. Halitosis. 

Saturday 1 October 2022

With Patient Craft (Class: Wonder-Worker)

 Or Wizard for an easier shorthand. 

This isn’t for anything in particular, it’s just an idea I had. 


Starting Items: Fine clothing, Grimoire (1 Slot), three Implements from any combination of the lists (see below). 

A - Crown, Working Wonders, School, +1MD

B - Bag of Holding, +1MD

C - Caution, +1MD

D - Artisan, +1MD


You can only do direct magic inside your ‘Crown’, which is [templates] * 10 paces

Effects that would leave your Crown falter and fail unless otherwise stated. Effects must originate within your Crown. 

Working Wonders

To work wonders, combine a Word, and up to [templates] Implements.


Words are often found as sacred glyphs in the books of angels, in the books of other wizards or in places where Wonder-workers once congregated. When in a Libram, a place of great knowledge, you can roll 1d8 on the Word List of the associated School.

Your Words are kept in your Grimoire. You can only use Words if you have a physical representation of them in your Inventory (usually in, say, your Grimoire). 

A Grimoire has no practical limit on the number of Words it can contain. 

 It takes a day to copy one word into a Grimoire. 

A new Grimoire costs 100g.


Implements must be found in the world, until you can make your own. 


Your School determines what Words you know.

Roll 2d6 on your School’s Word List at Template A, and 1d8 each level thereafter. 

Bag of Holding

Gain 4 extra Inventory Slots.


You can re-roll 1MD a day and take either result. 


You can now make Implements. 

You can take an otherwise mundane object and prepare it with a day long ritual.

Now, take the prepared item, and cast a total of 20MD on it - across as much time as you like. 

It is now an Implement - if it doesn’t have a written effect below, then you can suggest an effect. 

Magic Dice, Mishaps, Dooms

You roll MD to make spells. They return on 1-3 and expend on 4-6, as usual. 

Mishaps happen on doubles, Dooms happen on triples. They’re themed around whatever Word you were using at the time. 

Once you’ve started on the Doom of [Word], whenever you roll triples again, you advance towards it. Dooms have three steps…

  1. Cosmetic change themed around [word].

  2. Transformation themed around [word].

  3. Messy demise with collateral damage, themed around [word].

A given spell has [sum] points of power - dealing [sum] damage, reducing [sum] damage, etc.

Things beyond just damage allow creatures with the same or more HD than you to save


Former Imperial School

Once complicit. Military. Now shamed and penitent.

Colours: Red and White

Symbols: Imperial heraldry defaced, or iron circlet. 

Classic Implements: Staff and Wand. 

  1. Light

  2. Smoke

  3. Arrows

  4. Fear 

  5. Healing

  6. Roar

  7. Fire

  8. Walls

Windfarer School

Curious. Disorganised. Often found in ports. 

Colours: White and Sea-Green.

Symbols: Ship in full sail, or cloud above the sea. 

Classic Implements: Runed Glove and Mirror 

  1. Rope 

  2. Birds

  3. Waves

  4. Magnetism 

  5. Clouds

  6. Rain 

  7. Lightning

  8. Wind

Southern School

Pious. Secretive. Aloof and isolationist. 

Colours: Blue and Silver. 

Symbols: Closed eye, or angelic glyph. 

Classic Implements: Lockbox and Gold Chalk. 

  1. Invisibility 

  2. Hallucinations 

  3. Awe

  4. Cold

  5. Confusion 

  6. Silver

  7. Truth

  8. Water

Northern School 

Prosaic. Itinerant. Down-to-earth and popular. 

Colours: Green and Gold. 

Symbols: Brass ring, or spurs.  

Classic Implements: Rod and Key. 

  1. Mending

  2. Wood

  3. Growth

  4. Soil

  5. Healing

  6. Livestock

  7. Gold

  8. Stone

Monastery School

Rare. Empirical. From outside the established order. 

Colours: Black and Grey.

Symbols: Empty hand, or black hood. 

Classic Implements: Orb and Mask. 

  1. Silence

  2. Fog

  3. Calm 

  4. Fear

  5. Healing

  6. Pain

  7. Darkness

  8. Ghosts

And many others besides


Implements take up 1 Inventory Slot unless otherwise stated.

1d20 Implements with Direct Effects:

  1. Wand - Create or conjure [word] at a distance. 

  2. Rod - Make a strike charged with [word]. Add 2 to [sum]. 

  3. Staff - Fire a cone-shaped blast of [word]. 2 slots.

  4. Sword - Cut through [word]. 2 slots. 

  5. Orb - Get a vision of nearby [word], or something in nearby [word].

  6. Horn - Affect all in your Crown with [word]. 

  7. Bell - Drive out all [word] from your Crown. 

  8. Lockbox - Draw in [word], sealing it in the lockbox. Contains 1 thing at a time.

  9. Hammer - Break [word] with a strike. 

  10. Mask - You are invisible to creatures of [word], and [word] itself. 

  11. Seeing Stone - Look through [word] in your Crown. 

  12. Lots and Bones - Speak with [word] for a time. 

  13. Alembic - With an hour’s work, create a Potion of [word]. Takes 2 slots.

  14. Runed Glove - Move [word] within your Crown. 

  15. Rope - Contain [word], preventing it from moving. 

  16. Mirror - Reflect or deflect [word] while the mirror is aloft.

  17. Key - Insert the key to open a door through [word].

  18. Black Chalk - Draw a ritual circle to summon a demon of [word]. Consumable, has 6 uses.

  19. Gold Chalk - Draw a ritual circle to summon an angel of [word]. Consumable, has 6 uses.

  20. Bow - Create an arrow of [word], which can be fired as a normal arrow even outside of your Crown.

Consumable implements vanish upon use, necessitating finding or buying more. 

1d20 Implements with Modifying Effects

  1. Blackberry - Increase [sum] by 1 when you're chewing it. Consumable. Start with 10.

  2. Flint Knife - Cut yourself with the knife, adding the damage you take to [sum]. 

  3. Spark-split Branch - Affect up to [dice] extra targets, but reduce [sum] by the number of targets.

  4. Braided Cord - Delay an effect for up to [sum] minutes, setting a condition upon which it triggers. You don’t need to be conscious for it to trigger. If the time passes without it triggering, the effect simply doesn’t occur. 

  5. Bullhide Belt - While the belt is buckled, the [sum] of spells affecting you is lowered by 3

  6. Silver Circlet - Produces a foot wide “bubble” of your Crown, allowing you to affect things near it. Stops being yours if you spend more than a day away from it. 

  7. Rune-Stitched Robes - Increase [sum] by 3 when no other wizards are present. 

  8. Northerner’s Flask - Increase [sum] by 3 when drunk, but mishaps are more severe. 

  9. Furled Bloom - Spells overspill to things near them. Consumable. Start with 6.

  10. Blood Red Root - Increase [sum] by however much HP you're missing. Consumable. Start with 6.

  11. Lead Wired Hood - When wearing this, people in your Crown must save to realise effects originate from you. 

  12. Loyal Hound - A good dog, specially trained. Always counts as being in your Crown, and can transfer your effects to things touching them, unless you give them reason to no longer trust you. Takes up 4 slots if you have to carry them. 

  13. Pupilflaw Stone - Replace [word] in this spell with Eye. Consumable. Start with 6

  14. Erlking’s Shot - Allows spells to affect the inside of people and animals. Consumable. Start with 6.

  15. Old Imperial Money - Spend it 1-to-1 to increase [sum]. Consumable. Start with 10.

  16. Horn Cane - Allows you to affect horned animals you can see, even if they’re not in your Crown. 

  17. Imperial Banner - The effect repeats [dice] rounds in a row. 2 slots.

  18. Iron Fishhook- When this is stuck in you, reduce all [sum] by 3, but increase all [dice] by 1. Deals 1d3 nonlethal damage when pulled out. 

  19. Gold Medallion - Increase [sum] by 2 when in direct sunlight.

  20. Angelic Writ - When you are in good standing with the angelic legions, increase [sum] by 3.


This is not an exhaustive list, of course. Stranger implements do more numinous things. 

For example…

1d10 Taboo Implements

  1. Glass Athame - Damage yourself with this knife, losing Max HP equal to the damage. Permanently increase all [sum] by the Max HP lost. You lose this bonus if you lose the knife. 

  2. Hand of Glory - Sleeping people you can see are inside your Crown, at any distance. 

  3. Cyclopean Eye - Mummified and leathery, the size of a lemon. If you know a fearful or shameful secret of a Wizard, their eyes are considered to be inside your Crown, at any distance. The only escape is making the secret public. 

  4. Dried Tongue - When you see another Wizard use a Word, you can mangle that Word into a related one - Fire to Smoke, for example, or Iron to Lead. Has 6 uses, then burns to ash. 

  5. Wizard Femur - Add 4 to [sum] if harming another Wizard. 2 slots. 

  6. Black Powder - Causes [word] to violently explode. Consumable. Start with 6

  7. Demon’s Horn - Replace [word] in this spell with hellfire. Hellfire is teal, inextinguishable, and screams. 

  8. Azure Book - Infuse a corpse with [word], giving it motion and a strange power. You command the resulting shamblers. 

  9. Horvat’s Nails - Your Crown also originates from any body, living or dead, that has 3 or more of these nails in it. You start with 8

  10. Wizard Skull - You can hide a [word] inside this, and then recall it to you at any time, from any distance. Allows you to sneak words into places where they take your Grimoire off you. If you don’t have paper ready, the Word brands onto your skin, dealing 1d6 damage. 

Possession of Taboo Implements is illegal under the tattered remnant of Imperial Law, and the punishment is the process of Abdicatio, or Un-Crowning - the removal of magic. 

Some Example Spells:

You use Runed Glove with the word Awe, moving the awe the crowd feels for a heroic knight to yourself. 

You use Rope with the word Water, stopping seawater from flooding into your sinking ship. 

You use the implements Bow and Furled Bloom with the word Fire, producing an explosive incendiary arrow. 

You use the implement Azure Book and the word Cold, producing a freezing shambling corpse you command. 

You use Wand and Demon’s Horn, igniting something you are pointing at with hellfire