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Thursday, August 15, 2019

Nearly-Permanent Spells Using Conceptual Magic

Last time I talked about changing the way spell stats are handled, I focused on spell duration. By default, spells would be very short, only a few minutes (determined by a random roll.) To extend the spell, a spell caster would include something to bind the spell duration to. Some examples:
  • Bind a spell to a candle. When the candle burns out, the spell ends. Duration is several hours.
  • Cast the spell at sunrise, binding it to a flower that closes at sunset. Spell lasts until the sun sets.
  • Cast the spell over several days, binding it to a chicken egg. Delays the spell until the chick hatches. Spell lasts as long as the chicken is alive.
These all extend the duration of a spell, they offer tactical choices for PCs facing spell-casting opponents. Snuff out the candle, destroy the flower, or kill the chicken to end the spell early. It also has the benefit of explaining “weird” rooms in dungeons. A room full of candles with no explicable purpose is sustaining one or more spells. Extra candles make it difficult to end a specific spell.

Along the same lines, consider some of the ways fairy tale spells are broken, like being awakened by a prince’s kiss, or killing the bird that hatches when you break an egg hidden in a chest buried beneath an ancient oak on a distant island. What’s the reason behind things like that? Why would a magician even specify how a spell can be ended?

Magicians set odd conditions for ending a spell to make the spell last a very long time.

This is why I call conceptual magic “conceptual”. Tying spell durations or counterspells to concepts, like “being kissed by a prince”, rather than numbers, like “12 turns”.

There’s have to be some rules to something like this, of course. For one, the number of conditions would be tied to either spell level or spell caster level. Sixth level spells could have a chain of up to six conditions:
  1. Break a mirror
  2. On an iron anvil
  3. While ringing a bell
  4. On a burning barge
  5. On a mist-covered lake
  6. When a nightingale begins to sing
Each of these conditions would require spell components. Some obvious, like the mirror and bell. Some linked conceptually to the desired condition, such as a piece of rotted timber from a shipwreck. Some may require creating “fake” versions of the desired condition, such as constructing a “lake” in a basin and blowing a cloud of incense over it.

If any generic item fitting a spell condition will do (break any mirror, on any anvil, ring any bell,) then the spell caster can likewise use any ordinary item. Any time a specific item must be used (this mirror, this anvil, this bell,) the caster must make the item themselves, or personalize it with some ritual.

Binding spells to things with an obvious duration (candles and chickens) requires some care, but usually doesn’t require supernatural ingredients. The spell caster might have to make their own candles and mix herbs into the tallow, for example. Binding spells to things like breaking a mirror requires the inclusion of magical ingredients, like the blood, fur, feathers, or bones of an enchanted creature, or rare roots and leaves collected under unusual circumstances. These help bind the condition desired to the spell.

More work needs to be done on this, of course. For example, extraordinary conditions need to be sorted into types… at the very least, conditions that seem logically impossible must be harder to bind than those that can be duplicated by almost anyone. But there are enough details here to be able to improvise at least a few such conceptual bindings.

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  1. More spells should end when you choke the chicken.

  2. Another blogger on the OSR discord has been doing something like this in their game. They have the caster pick the condition when they first cast a particular, and don't get the magic dice back until the condition occurs, and further causes unintended consequences/wild magic/spell backlash if magic sits untended too long. Plus you can then get into hunting down wizards after learning the condition for their spell to un-whatever your party members/your village/the world, reducing the need to bring cleric and magic users along specifically to dispel conditions.

    First talks about it here: https://wasitlikely.blogspot.com/2019/05/the-blade-is-binding-magic-violence-and.html
    and then some more details here: https://wasitlikely.blogspot.com/2019/07/peril-system-v02-now-with-d20.html

    1. I guess that's similar, but it sounds like a very system-first approach, which is exactly what I want to avoid.