07 July 2009

Magicians and the Colours of Magic

These rules are meant to modify the Swords and Wizardry magic rules [or the rules of 0e D&D, Basic/Expert D&D, Labyrinth Lord, Basic Fantasy RPG, or – with a little work – 1e AD&D or OSRIC] so that they more closely resemble the way that magic works in most classic ‘swords and sorcery’ tales.  Specifically, they introduce the idea of the ‘colours of magic’ – magic spells are classified as ‘white,’ ‘grey,’ or ‘black’ in nature.  A new system of casting spells is also outlined, as well as a new class, the ‘magician,’ that replaces both the standard cleric and magic-user classes.

The Magician Class

The magic-user and cleric classes are replaced with the magician class.  Magicians may be benevolent witches, reclusive shamans, eccentric sages, enigmatic priests, malevolent necromancers, or megalomaniacal sorcerers – their exact nature depends on their background, goals, spells, and sanity.

There is no longer any division between ‘cleric’ and ‘magic-user’ spells.  Instead, spells are categorized as ‘white,’ ‘grey,’ or ‘black’ (as explained below).  Magicians may learn and cast any kind of spell.  Magicians who focus on white magic tend to be called wizards, savants, or thaumaturges.  Magicians who focus on grey magic often are called enchanters, mages, or illusionists.  Magicians who focus on black magic tend to be called sorcerers, warlocks, or necromancers.

Magicians of any focus who are associated with a cult or religious order might be called priests, seers, or acolytes.

The Prime Attribute of Magicians is Intelligence.  Magicians with an Intelligence of 13 or greater receive a bonus of 5% to all experience points earned.  Magicians with an Intelligence of 15 or greater can prepare an additional first-level spell.

Magicians use the ‘magic-user’ experience chart, spell chart (ignoring spells above level 6), and saving throws.  Like magic-users, they typically eschew armour, although they may wear leather armour without interfering with their spell casting, and are not trained in the use of shields. 

Magicians may use any weapon, although they receive a -1 to all damage rolls (but always do a minimum of ‘1’ point of damage), unless they are using daggers, darts, quarterstaffs, or slings.  (If using the ‘Class-Based Damage’ system that I presented in Knockspell #1, magicians use the ‘cleric’ damage table, and do not suffer any penalty to their damage rolls.)  Since magicians normally need at least one hand free in order to cast their spells, they rarely will use two-handed weapons (except for quarterstaffs, which are easily held in one hand when necessary).   

Magicians use the ‘cleric’ attack chart when using one-handed weapons (including slings, throwing daggers, and darts) or quarterstaffs.  They use the ‘magic-user’ attack chart when using any other kind of weapon (including missile weapons other than slings, throwing daggers, and darts).

Magicians use a d6 (no modifier) as their hit die.  (Thus, using the damage rules outlined above, first level magicians start with 11 hit points, prior to any constitution modifiers.)  They receive one hit point per level after level nine. 

First-level magicians start with a spellbook that contains three first-level spells (player’s choice) and one second-level spell (player’s choice).  All other spells must be found, learned from a tutor (usually for a steep fee), or purchased (also usually for a steep fee).

Magicians can prepare a number of spells as determined by their level (see the magic-user spell chart; as noted earlier, magicians with an Intelligence score of 15 or greater may prepare an additional first-level spell).  A magician may change the spells that he/she has prepared with eight uninterrupted hours of study (the magician’s spellbook must be available).

Magicians may cast any spell that they have prepared any number of times – however, as explained below, they suffer exhaustion (loss of hit points) every time that they cast a spell, which limits how many spells they can cast before resting.

Magicians can write their own scrolls, copying the spells from their spellbooks, at the cost of 200 gold pieces per spell level for supplies (special ink and parchment).  It takes one full day per spell level of careful work to copy a scroll (one has to be very careful when dealing with the mystical powers!).  Thus writing a scroll of a fourth-level spell would cost 800 gold pieces and take four full days of work.  Spells cast from scrolls, whether prepared by the magician or found, cause exhaustion – and, if the spell is classified as ‘black magic,’ corruption – just as if the magician had cast the spell normally.  Scrolls increase the range of spells available to a magician; they do not reduce the physical costs of casting spells.  (Exhaustion and corruption are explained below.)

Magician Summary

Prime Attribute: Intelligence, 13+ (5% experience)
Hit Dice: 1d6 (Gains 1 hp/level after 9th level)
Saving Throws: As Magic-User
Experience Chart: As Magic-User
Armour/Shield Permitted: Leather only
Weapons Permitted: Any, but does less damage with certain weapons (see description above)
Attack Charts: Cleric (if using one-handed weapon or quarterstaff) or Magic-User (all other weapons)
Spells Prepared: As Magic-User
Spell Casting: Any number of times per day, but spells cost exhaustion (hit points), and possibly corruption (if a ‘black magic’ spell is cast)


There is no division between ‘clerical’ and ‘magic-user’ spells – all spells can be learned by magicians in the same way that magic-users do (i.e., by recording them in spellbooks, and ‘preparing’ them to be cast later).  If a spell has both a ‘cleric’ and a ‘magic-user’ version, use the ‘magic-user’ version. 

No spells above level 6 exist, although powerful but costly ‘rituals’ may be created by the Game Master in order to simulate the powers of higher-level spells – including especially the summoning of vile demons!  

There is no ‘read magic’ spell.  Instead, all magicians know the ancient eldritch language in which all magic is written.

Spells are divided into White Magic (spells that promote or maintain life, protect against harm, and generally are ‘in tune’ with the natural laws and forces of the universe), Grey Magic (spells that typically involve the manipulation and/or alteration of objects and/or minds), and Black Magic (spells that typically are destructive and/or ‘contrary to nature,’ say, by being necromantic in character or by drawing on forces beyond this universe). 

White Magic

First Level: Cure Light Wounds (applies only to lost constitution points, not hit points), Detect Evil, Detect Magic, Light, Protection from Evil, Purify Food and Drink, Read Languages, Shield.

Second Level: Bless, Continual Light, Detect Invisibility, Find Traps, Speak with Animals, Strength.  [Excruciating Cauterization] [Force of Forbidment]

Third Level: Cure Disease, Dispel Magic, Prayer, Protection from Evil (10 ft radius), Protection from Normal Missiles, Remove Curse, Water Breathing.  [Word of Ioun]

Fourth Level: Create Water, Cure Serious Wounds (applies only to lost constitution points, not hit points), Neutralize Poison, Plant Growth, Remove Curse, Speak with Plants. 

Fifth Level: Animal Growth, Create Food, Dispel Evil, Insect Plague. 

Sixth Level: Anti-Magic Shell, Control Weather, Conjure Animals, Legend Lore, Restoration.

Grey Magic

First Level: Charm Person, Hold Portal, Sleep

Second Level: ESP, Invisibility, Knock, Levitate, Magic Mouth, Miror Image, Phantasmal Force, Pyrotechnics, Silence (15 ft radius), Snake Charm, Web, Wizard Lock.

Third Level: Clairaudience, Clairvoyance, Darkvision, Fly, Haste, Hold Person, Invisibility (10 ft radius), Rope Trick, Slow, Suggestion.  [Ball of Ice]  [Filigree]  [Omar’s Mistake]  [Red Bull]  [Rejectment]  [Strange Waters]

Fourth Level: Charm Monster, Confusion, Dimension Door, Fear, Hallucinatory Terrain, Massmorph, Polymorph Other, Polymorph Self, Sticks to Snakes, Wall of Fire, Wall of Ice.  [Hylogenesis]  [Imperfect Suspension]  [Infuse]  [Seven Gates]

Fifth Level: Feeblemind, Hold Monster, Magic Jar, Passwall, Quest, Telekinesis, Teleport, Transmute Rock to Mud, Wall of Iron, Wall of Stone.  [Crystallogenesis]  [Magpie]

Sixth Level: Animate Object, Enchant Item, Geas, Lower water, Move Earth, Part Water, Project Image, Repulsion, Speak with Monsters, Stone to Flesh, Word of Recall.  [Twilight of Thieves]

Black Magic

First Level: Magic Missile.

Second Level: Darkness (15 ft radius), Stinking Cloud.  [Strangulations]  [Tarnu’s Collaring Coiffure]

Third Level: Fireball, Lightning Bolt, Monster Summoning I, Speak with Dead.  [Tarantella]

Fourth Level: Ice Storm, Monster Summoning II, Wizard Eye.  [Beast of Chaos]  [Deadly Bliss]

Fifth Level: Animate Dead, Cloudkill, Commune, Conjure Elemental, Contact Other Plane, Finger of Death, Monster Summoning III.  [Deadly Dissolvative]  [Most Horrible Absorption]  [Six Mouths of Horror] 

Sixth Level: Death Spell, Disintegrate, Invisible Stalker, Monster Summoning IV.  [Cohesive Cocoon]

Spell Notes

In addition to all 7th-9th level spells (except for ‘Restoration,’ which I have made a 6th level spell), I have removed the spells ‘raise dead’ and ‘reincarnation,’ as they seem inappropriate for a ‘swords and sorcery’ flavoured magic system.  

To ameliorate the consequences of ‘permanent death,’ the modified rules concerning hit points and damage presented earlier should make character death somewhat less frequent.

The ‘Extension’ spells (I-III) do not belong to a particular colour (white/grey/black).  Rather, they belong to the same colour as the spell they are used to ‘extend.’  So using Extension I to extend the duration of a ‘fly’ spell means that the magician in question has cast two ‘grey magic’ spells (and thus would suffer 12 points of exhaustion damage, as explained below).

Remember that the ‘cure wounds’ spells only heal lost constitution points – not hit points!

Spells in square brackets are taken from Matt Finch’s ‘Eldritch Weirdness: Book One.’

Spell Casting: Exhaustion, Corruption, and Sanity

When magicians cast ‘white magic’ spells they suffer exhaustion damage equal to one hit point plus one hit point per level of the spell cast (so a magician who casts a third level white magic spell would suffer four points of damage).

When magicians cast ‘grey magic’ spells they suffer exhaustion damage equal to twice the level of the spell cast (so a magician who casts a third level grey magic spell would suffer six points of damage). 

When magicians cast ‘black magic’ spells they suffer exhaustion damage identical to that caused by ‘grey magic’ spells (twice the spell level).  In addition, magicians casting ‘black magic’ spells must make a saving throw (versus ‘spells’ if using a system other than S&W) in order to avoid corruption.  If this saving roll is failed, the magician is corrupted slightly and suffers a loss of temporary Wisdom points equal to the spell level (e.g., 3 points of temporary Wisdom for a third-level spell).  Temporarily lost points of Wisdom can be recovered at a rate of one point per complete day of rest and meditation (no other action possible).  The spell ‘Restoration’ will restore instantly all temporarily lost Wisdom points. 

Furthermore, if a magician casting a ‘black magic’ spell fails his/her saving throw by rolling a ‘1,’ then that magician loses one point of Wisdom permanently (so if a magician fails his/her saving throw casting a third-level black magic spell by rolling a ‘1,’ he/she would lose one permanent point of Wisdom and two temporary points of Wisdom).  The spell ‘Restoration’ will not restore any permanently lost Wisdom points.

A magician whose permanent wisdom score is lowered to 2 becomes insane, and possibly the thrall of an extra-planar demonic force.  He/she henceforth is a non-player character!

Final Notes

1. These house rules are meant to be used with my other house rules, and in particular my rules for sanity and damage (both already posted on this blog).

2.  A version of these house rules will appear in a longer article on ‘swords and sorcery’ campaigns in issue 3 of Knockspell magazine.


  1. You have "Protection fom Evil (10 ft radius) listed twice in the White Magic list. Once at 3rd level and again at 4th level.

  2. Yeah, that's a mistake that I have yet to fix. (When I combined the cleric and magic-user lists from S&W, I accidentally listed both the cleric and m-u levels.)

    It simply should be 3rd level.

  3. Did you consider permanent loss of a random number of hit points when failing the black magic saving throw?

    1. Ray, no I didn't, but I think that it's a promising idea!

  4. Have you play tested this out? Seems very neat, allows mages to dictate how bad ass they want to be and what they are willing to sacrifice.

    1. I ran a S&W campaign using these rules. Because of its sporadic nature (the group was based in Toronto, but I was only there part-time), the campaign only went for 6 adventures. The (surviving) characters reached level 3 in the end. Thus it wasn't a comprehensive playtest. The rules worked well, but when they were adapted to Crypts and Things, others found them unbalanced, so the version in C&T is different than the one here (essentially, C&T keeps the 'spell slot' system, and adds fatigue and corruption to spells of the appropriate 'colour').

  5. I don't recognize some of those spells, I was able to ggogle some of them. Can you provide a footnote or something so I know where to find some of these spells.

    1. Evil Eli: the spells in square brackets are taken from Matt Finch’s ‘Eldritch Weirdness: Book One.’ All of the others are from the S&W core rules.

    2. Also, my apologies for not posting your comment and replying earlier!

  6. What is the difference between purchasing and learning from a tutor? How does one "purchase" a spell?
    BTW, thanks for sharing! Never seen your blog before, and I was scouring the internet for an alternate magic system for S&W, and yours is exactly what I was looking for

    1. Sorry I never replied to this comment! Purchasing spells (or learning from tutors) are to be decided by GMs. I never came up with any formal rules for this matter.

  7. There's some fantastic ideas here, however it feels that by giving one spellcaster class access to ALL spells diminishes the choices that players can make.

    For example in some home games of ADnD I like to stipulate that ALL wizards must be specialists, as that allows a lot more diversity and creativity.

    Couldn't you just have different types of mages (White, Grey, Black) with some spell crossover for each list? Or maybe some spells are considered two levels higher for alternative mages?

    Great house rules though!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Fanfan, and apologies for not answering earlier. One possibility I considered was distinguishing between "White Magicians" and "Black Magicians" and allowing both to cast "Grey" spells, but be restricted from learning and casting spells from the opposite "colour".


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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who lives primarily in Toronto but teaches in Milwaukee (sometimes in person, sometimes online).