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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Random Illusionist Spells

A while back, there was a post on the City of Iron blog that casually mentioned how many of the new spells in Unearthed Arcana are illusions. I would say that this is because illusions hold the most promise for creating easy spell variants. Here's the basic recipe for a new illusion spell: start with a specific visual, auditory, or other sensory experience, add a specific side effect if the illusion is believed. An official example is the Shadow Door spell for illusionists: it creates an illusory door and makes the illusionist invisible when the door is "entered". The door has an illusory empty room "behind" it. An off-the-cuff idea for another such spell would be an illusory flash of light that causes a temporary blindness effect.

I actually started this post quite some time ago, and planned to work up a little random table for constructing new illusions. But looking over the existing illusionist spell list, I noticed how incoherent the list looks. Some simple spells have much more powerful variants with essentially the same usage and same spell level (compare Ventriloquism to Whispering Wind from Unearthed Arcana, for example.)

I think this post will have to serve mainly as a reminder to myself "fix illusionist spell list for my own illusionist subclass". I will point out, however, that you can create random illusionist spells by rolling a d6 and d4 on the Quickie Dice Tool sheet. The d4 gives the basic appearance: read vertical position as equipment type (right-hand side,) horizontal position as material type (bottom edge,) modified by the d4 result itself (use the four medieval elements.) The d6 gives the spell's function: vertical position gives equipment type or ability affected (right-hand side,) horizontal position gives basic action (top edge,) with the d6 result equal to the spell level. This will generate some pretty gonzo results; my challenge is to come up with a better way to generate huge varieties of random illusionist spells that still make sense.


  1. so D4 on 3 vertical, 1 horz and 4 on the die: appears to be a fire flesh map
    D6 on 4 vertical, 7 horz and 5 on die:
    spell function is making clothing and it's 5th level.
    What does that spell do? maybe it makes a map appear on someones skin like a tattoo but it can only be read when the skin is burned, or maybe it makes the wizard go all Shade-the-Changing-Man or maybe the caster becomes like a voodoo doll and wherever he touches himself his victim's corresponding body part bursts into flame...

    That is awesome!
    Why not use all four sides and leave it open to interpretation which is the subject and which is the verb, so you could cast a spell that makes plants into metal weapons or that throws light as volcanic glass.

    Have you ever heard of or seen anyone use a drop map as a character sheet? "My Chaos Wizard casts.." (roll roll)

    This could be kind of like the Bones RPG but with the chart serving the function of the customized dice.

    1. Yep, you can use it that way, although strictly speaking you're going "full wizard" instead of just illusion. I would have went more with an illusion of a vellum map with fiery symbols... since the "Clothing" result is linked to finery, jewelry, Charisma, and improvement of appearance, maybe I'd make it "The Map of Social Pitfalls", allowing the bearer to navigate the waters of a high-society party. Or, going with the more mundane function of clothing (protection from elements,) it could be "The Route of Safe Passage", allowing the illusionist to give others a map to a location known to the caster; while the map is open, it creates an illusion of garments appropriate to the weather for up to five people within a 60-foot radius. It also glows, acting as a torch in the same radius.

      It occurred to me after posting that you could use a d12 instead of a d4 and use the left edge for the vertical result instead of the right edge. The result on the d12 tells you which of the 12 columns in the middle to use to interpret the vertical result. Thus, your roll probably would have netted you an illusion of a trout-scale clothing that would impress merfolk royalty.

  2. I'm excited to see your eventual full-on illusionist. I have this gnome illusionist character, Quaidvalter Smudgment, that I always try to build when I try out different versions of the game, and since yours is easily the most thought-provoking OD&D-adjacent stuff on the blogosphere at the moment, I'm dying to see how he'd fit.