Spells of Epic Proportions

Today, I was thinking about spells, their effects, and the caster’s level in S&W… It may have been Erik Tenkar’s Tavern Chat Podcast that planted the seed.

I’m sure there are other systems that have dealt with this already, but spells are cast to generally create some beneficial effect. The power of these effects dictate the Spell Level, which then dictates the required level of the caster that can cast it. In a nutshell, you cannot cast anything that is too high a Spell Level.

Let’s take a Level 1 Magic-User as an example. He can cast a Magic Missile, but not a Fireball.

So, why can’t they?

It doesn’t make a lot of sense if a Level 1 Magic-User with 17 INT has the same INT score as a Level 6 caster, surely they could learn it, but maybe their bodies and minds are not prepared for the endurance needed — that comes with Levels.

This brings to mind the AD&D1E version of the Staff of the Magi and Staff of Power with their Retributive Strike (nuclear) option, where the staff could be broken to deal a catastrophic, deathly strike. This higher-powered effect is very beneficial, but comes at a high cost. It’s a great narrative tool for a game too. Stories can be told of the colossal battles and their great cost. It also gives casters a new-found respect.

How can we make that possible? Well, here are some thoughts.

  • Gimme All The Spells: A Magic-User can cast spells of any level providing they are known and memorized.
  • They Sacrificed Themselves: Casting a spell where the Spell Level is 3 or more levels higher than the current maximum Spell Level the caster can cast, will die 1d4 rounds after casting (successful or not — see below). No Saving Throw. Only a Wish spell can reverse it. Example: A caster casting a Level 4 spell, when they can only normally cast a Level 1 spell, will die after casting.
  • Spell Casting Failure: For each Spell Level above the usual maximum you can normally cast, has a 10% chance of failure. A caster that can normally cast a Level 3 Spell can cast a Level 9 spell with 60% chance of failure, and will also die after casting (even if the spell failed).
  • It Worked And I Didn’t Die: So, if you did cast it without dying, there is still a cost. Any time you have to roll to cast a spell higher in Spell Level than you can normally cast, you suffer.
    • If the spell succeeded: Take 1d4 hit points damage per Spell Level you attempted to cast. Also lose an additional random spell from your memory until you rest and re-memorize.
    • If the spell failed: You are reduced to 1d4 hit points and your memorized spells are wiped until you take a days rest and re-memorize.

Table 2

Should the risks be higher or lower? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


2 thoughts on “Spells of Epic Proportions

  1. What if rather than killing them it burns them out. Reduces them to not being able to cast. Then the player has to decide whether to keep the character and re train or subclass of allowed or even try and earn a wish or favour from a deity. It could drive a whole seasons campaign.

    1. Possibly that could work too.
      I had in mind the scene of Gandalf at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, where he was prepared to sacrifice himself for the others. So, yes. An alternative to death but not much better. More of a re-inventing.
      I liked the idea of the high level spell effects to be fatal and ‘last resort’ kind of stuff. The remaining party could tell tales of their fallen comrade and the sacrifice he made.

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