Thursday, April 7, 2011

Do You Need an Illusionist Spell List?

Every once in a while, someone at will post to the long-defunct thread "101 Days of RC D&D".  This was a pretty beloved thread - which is why it is frequently revived - and one that was responsible for more than one person's return to old-school gaming.  I know that I had been making moves in that direction, but participating in that thread really catalyzed a lot of my thoughts on the subject.

Anyway, I was thinking about something I had posted to that conversation regarding elven magic.  I was suggesting some ways to make elves - actually, I think that should be "Elves" - a bit distinct from human wizards - OK, "Magic-Users" - without really mussing with the rules too much.  My two ideas boiled down to making Elves nature magicians and giving them Druid spells OR making them creatures of glamour and giving them Illusionist spells.  Of those two, I was much more intrigued by the second, since the tree-hugger elf has long uninterested me, while scary-fairy-tale things still compel my attention.

I never got around to making that elven illusionist list of spells, but the idea has continued to interest me.  I might have done so for my Onderland Campaign, except nobody has played an elf so it wasn't needed.  But I was also held back by a nagging unhappiness with illusionist spells.  And the problem was basically this: when you come down to it, aren't all illusion spells just different applications of the same spell?  Unlike the MU spells, which involve all sorts of effects - from conjuring balls of flame to Jedi mind tricks to summoning demons - illusionist spells could be pretty much summarized as...well, creating illusions.

Some time later, I began to become intrigued by the second edition era Birthright setting.  Birthright had all sorts of things wrong with it, in my opinion, but it did some things right, and one of those was evoking a medieval sense of Faerie.  And the best book in the line on that topic was Blood Spawn, which was a totally inappropriate name, since it was about creatures of Faerie (called "the Shadow World" in Birthright) rather than creatures of the Blood (which was a, let's not get into it).  Anyway, Faerie is presented as place of constantly shifting appearance and every intelligent being in Faerie has an ability called "Seeming" which allows them to manipulate that reality.  At low levels, this is essentially illusion, but at higher levels the line between appearance and reality is lost and one can effectively order around the world to one's desire.

This, to me, is exactly what faerie glamour is supposed to be.  In my mind, the basic implementation in YAG would be that Elves in the mundane world have inherent powers of illusion - making straw seem to be gold, grass seem to be a feast, and goblins seem to be human babies.  As they grow more powerful, these glamours attain more reality.  And in faerie places, they are effectively total reorderings of reality.

But then I look at the various iterations of illusion spells and see that Audible Glamour is different from Phantasmal Force is different from Massmorph and so on.  And I think that maybe this really doesn't model what I'm thinking.  So here's an idea I have been playing with:

Faerie Glamour
In the mundane world, an Elf may cast one glamour per day per level, although his ability is unlimited in frequency when in Faerie (if using the standard spell-casting system.  I need to come up with alternate rules for Spellcraft & Swordplay and other games that use a casting roll).

At 1st level, the Elf can create an illusion that affects one sense.  This need not be the same sense each time; he could make an illusory light at one point (a will-o-the-wisp) and then make wholesome milk smell curdled the next.  The Elf can affect one additional sense for every three additional levels (4th, 7th, etc.)

At 13th level, the Elf can affect all five senses, at which point he is effectively reshaping reality.

Glamours do not disappear if touched or disbelieved.  Someone who touches an illusory snake and feels nothing there is free to draw his own conclusions, but the snake does not go poof.

At 1st level, the Elf's glamour last for five minutes.  The duration doubles at each additional level, so that they last for almost half-hour at 5th level (80 minutes).  At 13th level, glamours are of indefinite duration and last until the Elf dies or the glamour is dispelled.

Although the Elf can seem to injure someone with his glamours at quite low levels, these seeming can not do any actual damage.  Anyone subjected to an illusory attack makes the appropriate Save (depending on what system you are using).  If the Save succeeds, the subject believes himself to have avoided the whatever it was; if the Save fails, the subject takes damage as normal depending upon the attack (a sword, a fireball, etc.), but all of this illusory damage is recovered as soon as the glamour is dissolved and the subject has a chance to recover.

However, as the Elf advances in power, his glamour achieve more and more reality.  At 4th level, 20% of all damage done by a glamour (minimum of 1 point) acts like regular damage for purposes of recovery (however that works in your game of choice).  This increases by an additional 20% for every three additional levels (meaning 100% at 16th level if any Elf should be so fortunate as to rise to that height).

Obviously, this needs more work.  As much as I like the more laissez-faire treatment of spells in older D&D, illusions just seem to call for a bit more guidance.  For example, there may be a need to describe area of effect (I don't think a 1st level Elf should be able to make an illusory mountain).  I probably need some method of adjudicating the distraction effects of illusions.  But still, the idea appeals to me more than the standard illusion spells.  Has anyone ever done anything similar?


  1. Well, you could always split elves into two groups. Wood elves cast druid/nature magic, and high elves cast illusions.

    I'm thinking you could limit the illusions by how many per day, the size of the illusion, and damage potential to the level of the elf.

    So a 1st level elf could be limited to one illusion per day, to a 10' cubic area, and 1d6 damage. At 2nd level, 2 illusions/day, and can either increase area to 20' cubic area and 1d6 damage, or 10' cubic area and 2d6 damage, etc.

    You could also use level differential as a bonus/penalty to disbelieving the illusion.

  2. I like it, but I think that most pro-elf players wouldn't trade Glamour for the ability to throw fireballs at fifth level.

  3. One of the things I preferred doing in D&D was to theme the spells to the PC type. An elf magic missile might be razor edged leaf swirling from a small dust devil to strike. A magic users might be a dagger, dart, or arrow of glowing eldritch energy.

    I do like the ideas you propose. Yet consider how you can re-skin, rather than replace magical effects.

  4. I like it, but I think that most pro-elf players wouldn't trade Glamour for the ability to throw fireballs at fifth level.

    Well, the idea is that he could create a glamour of a fireball. But I need rules for that to work. A simple way woudl be to say that you can only mimic a spell which you could otherwise cast by level; so only a 5th level Elf could do a Fireball. Another way is to go as Breeyark suggested and say that the trade-off is that the Elf can throw a 1d Fireball at first level and a 5d one at 5th.

    Yet consider how you can re-skin, rather than replace magical effects.

    That's sorta the jumping off point here. I was originally going to plug in the illusionist spells but that may really be more complicated than not.

  5. I don't know whether or not you're willing to stretch things to adapting some AD&D (or later) spells - this idea seems like it's for an OD&D or B/X game from my reading. If you are, spells of the the like of the Creation, Shadow Magic, and Shadow Monsters lines of spells (and possibly even the later editions' "Shadow Walk" teleportation spell if you want to take things that far) kind of do what you want within an Illusionist "List of Spells". The higher levels the Elf gets, the more of this "shadow line" of spells to which he or she has access. Most of them start to show up around 4th or 5th level.

    One thing that may be workable is to give Elves a combined spell list (Nature and Illusion) unless that seems too stereotypical to you. I think a small Illusionist spell list combined with a small Nature or Druid spell list might be a good way to do things.

  6. Back when I first came up with this idea, I was, indeed, intending to use the AD&D Illusionist list. If I went that way now, I coudl use the list from LL's AEC.

    The spells you mentioned I always thought were awesome, but puzzled that one had to wait til middle levels to get what seemed the real spells.

  7. When I got rid of Clerics and consolidated the spell lists, Elves got Common access to Illusion AND Nature spells. Works out really well.

  8. AND nature? Is this not a bit too powerful for the beginning? I am sure you tested, just curious after all this time.

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