My office Lunchtime Dungeons game stopped in the middle of a fight this week. Tomorrow, the players will face two high-level priestesses of Lolth who planeshifted on them to free a prisoner. And I have no idea who will die.
I know, you can never tell in advance how a fight will go in an adventure game. Those chancy d20s, right? But even then, I have no statistical idea of who will win, and that’s mostly because I’m mixing rules systems all the time.
The characters are made with Lunchtime Dungeons, and armed with items and spells from across the old school galaxy, old worn books and spiffy new PDFs. The opposition is straight from a Spelljammer adventure. And I am not doing any conversion work.
This makes me the ultimately fair referee. When the players ask me “how powerful would this dragon be?”, I can only answer in in-world terms. “Well, it razed a couple of villages, and the party of knights that was sent to kill it never came back.” Of course, I can compare hit dice and levels, but I never know the way I would if every element of the game was written in the same system.
I saw interesting power level discrepancies when I was running old modules in Macchiato Monsters, but I blamed freeform magic. You can trust clever players with level 5 magic users to get out of White Plume Mountain with a friendly, momentarily shrunk biggest giant crab anyone’s ever seen in a bucket of water.
In my present game, magic is of course a factor. It’s like an enclosed Flailsnails campaign, if you will. It’s an open table, ongoing game; people drop out for long enough for me to forget all about their abilities and the items they picked up. When they come back, looking everything up is not an option, so I make a ruling. Same with those AD&D spells the dark elves have – I’ve read over them when prepping, but I probably won’t check the exact procedure at the table.
So shit will happen that no one could have foreseen – not the players, who mostly aren’t into rules anyway, and certainly not me. For all of us, the world is this unpredictable, dangerous, believable mess. Will a minor potion save the day? Will the toughest fighter in the party be turned into dust? Will the campaign setting be set ablaze by a barely controlled spell?
As promised, this is the second part of the spell list for Dungeonsnack, my minimalistic adventure game system. (I guess I have no excuse to not release it now.) You can find the first part of the spell list here. Again, the goal is to have an original spell list that encourages out-of-the-box thinking for my team building sessions of Dungeons & Dragons.
What’s next? I’ll look at the lists for higher level spells, but as I have made these more flexible, I’m expecting a lot of the spells to be redundant. Also, first and second level spells are what I need for introductory games, so it may be a while.
30 Low-Level Spells for Adventure and OSR Games
1. Attune Map 2. Aura Sight 3. Battle Hymn 4. Blessing of the Fickle Saints 5. Celestial Window 6. Cloak of the Chameleon 7. Commune with Stygian Librarian 8. Crystalline Barricade 9. Djinn Guardian 10. Eldritch Surgery 11. Emberskin 12. Experience the Possible 13. Fly True, my Trusted Friend! 14. Fungal Changeling 15. Gift of the Tongue
16. Halo of the Selenites 17. Head over Heels 18. La Fontaine’s Trick 19. Mechanomancy 20. Microwave Shell 21. Mouldbane 22. Phase Shift, Offensive 23. Pylophony 24. Reflective Retreat 25. Shadow Torchbearer 26. Soul Vortex 27. Spelltrap 28. The Unwearied Wanderers 29. Toadstool Theatrics 30. Vermin Friendship
Duration: 10 minutes The caster causes a map they are holding to commune with the part of reality it represents. They can ask it one yes-or-no question per caster level. The map’s knowledge is limited to cartographical features: it doesn’t know about occupants or the history of the place (unless the map is ancient, missing pieces, or otherwise special – at the referee’s discretion). For the price of 3 questions, the caster can point to a blank space on the map. The room or area there appears, drawn as accurately as the rest of the map. There is 1-in-6 chance that each trap, secret door, or other hidden feature is represented.
>> I love locate object for dungeon delving. It took a while to find an idea for this, but I’m quite happy with the way this makes the in-world map more relevant.
Blessing of the Fickle Saints
Duration : until fully expanded (see below) The Kasinous, also known as the 36 fickle saints of chance, turn their attention onto the caster and their allies. The party gets a Blessing risk die according to the caster’s level: Δ6 if 1st to 3rd levels, Δ8 at 4th to 6th levels, Δ10 at 7th to 9th level, and Δ12 at 10th level and above.
Every round, exploration turn, or travel day, any player can roll the Blessing die and add its result to the dice roll of their choice.
On a result of 1 to 3, the die is stepped down to the next lower die (Δ12 to Δ10 to Δ8 to Δ6 to Δ4). A Δ4 that is stepped down means the blessing is expanded.
On the maximum result, the die is stepped up (Δ6 to Δ8, and so on) and the 36 saints change their mind: the Blessing die goes to the referee, who uses it as they want.
If the referee gets the maximum result, they give the Blessing die back to the players.
If the Blessing die hasn’t been used at the end of a round (in combat) or exploration turn (outside of combat) or day (in a city or wilderness environment), whoever holds it (referee or players) must give it to the other side.
* Risk dice are from Macchiato Monsters: they are noted Δninstead of dn(where n is the number of sides of the die).
>> This is obviously bless. I’ve just tried to make the spell more interesting than an improved 5% chance of hitting monsters and resisting spells.
Duration: until dispelled A spell inherited from spacefaring elven archmages. It creates a minute, airtight window to the vicinity of a distant sun. The window appears on the palm of the caster’s dominant hand, projecting a cone of light. Within their ability, the caster decides the type of sun and how close to it the portal is.
The caster chooses the colour and the range of the light (up to the caster’s level in metres).
If the caster wills it so, the window also casts radiation that is damaging to living tissue (caster level in damage per round of exposure — save to avoid).
A sentient being staring directly at the window for several hours can sometimes glimpse a secret of the universe (referee decides – a save is always needed to stay sane).
By touching their palm to a surface (an attack roll may be needed), the caster can stick the window to it. It stays there after that.
Star invasion. If the window is left unattended, there is a 1-in-6 chance every month it opens and lets something out.
>> Continual light is such a good spell for enterprising PCs, and also the first premise of the old magic-breaks-the-world conundrum. (Why isn’t everything lit by continual light items after a couple of generations?). We already have two light shedding spells, so I looked at the offensive aspect of the light spells, trying not to undermine shadow torchbearer and aura of the Selenites.
Cloak of the Chameleon
Duration: until removed The caster grants the power of camouflage to a single skin or pelt. The more exotic the skin is, the harder it is to notice the wearer (or hidden area/object) by sight or smell (the wearer make just as much noise as anyone else). Some guidelines are given below. Note that the chance of hiding is for a creature who stays very still; it is reduced by 1 or more if it is moving. At the referee’s discretion, a large pelt can be used by more than one creature. When the skin is removed, the spells ends and the skin is destroyed.
Hood of pigeon feathers: 1-in-6
Ram or billy goat skin: 2-in-6
Stallion or bull hide: 3-in-6
Polar bear or white tiger pelt: 4-in-6
Halfling scout or elf maiden skin: 5-in-6
Blink dog or displacer beast fur: 6-in-6
Lammasu or ki-rin: 7-in-6
>> This is merely a reskinned (haha) version of invisibility with a tug towards plot creation. Side note: I love that invisibility can make objects disappear permanently. I don’t think this is used often enough! Maybe because of magic-breaks-the-world again? How long does it take until cities are full of invisible doors and coffers?
Duration: permanent until destroyed This spell creates a 10 square metres surface of translucent, friable quasi-matter (the caster chooses the exact dimensions). The barricade has d6 hit points per caster level and can be destroyed by normal means. Reducing the barricade’s HP to half is enough to poke holes into it, making it porous to spells and missile attacks.
>> Basically, a more combat focus version of web. It’s not as awesome, though. I may rework or rewrite it later.
Duration: 1 turn per caster level This impressive but uncomfortable spell wreathes the caster’s skin in hot smoke and burning ash. They are immune to normal and magical fire, but everything they touch or wear have a 1-in-6 chance of melting or catching fire every minute. Also, even if the caster can breathe normally, their companions may want to stay upwind of them. Of course, stealth is out of the question in most environments (except maybe volcanoes and hellish planes).
>>This is resist fire with a bit of added texture and risk.
Experience the Possible
Duration: 1 second per caster level Casting this spell with a mere whisper, the character can glimpse into a timeline branching from reality, starting with their next action. The experience is very short, but sufficient to get an idea of whether a door is trapped, or if an interlocutor would take offense at a joke, etc. When the spell ends, the caster effectively goes back in time and must decide what to do. If they choose not to act at all, they must save or be forced to reenact the triggering action. This is why wizards have a reputation of acting strangely sometimes.
>> Without invisibility, detect invisible is useless. So I thought abut information gathering spells, keeping in mind that I have two strong ones already. I am aware that this could be used to accurately detect traps, but as it’s a one-use spell, I don’t think thieves will feel disempowered.
Head over Heels
Duration: 1 hour The target’s relationship with the floor and ceiling is inverted; also, their feet and hands swap purposes. Not only are they able to use their hands to walk, magically suspended from the ceiling, but also they can manipulate objects with their legs. If there is no ceiling, tree branches and other overhead objects can be used to walk. The spell doesn’t work if there aren’t any. It is however very difficult for them to interact with the floor and ceiling normally (just as it would be for someone else to walk on their hands while holding a sword with their toes). An unwilling target is allowed to save.
>> A silly reskin of levitation. I voluntarily glossed over its effect on gravity to let referees decide what happens when this spell is cast in places with very high ceilings.
La Fontaine’s Trick
Duration: permanent Up to one normal animal per caster level is granted the ability to speak. Roll 1d12 to know what languages the creatures know. Look at the table below: it can understand and speak the languages between (die result) and (result + caster level). The animals also gain the personality traits in brackets corresponding to the die’s result, which may influence their reaction to the characters.
1: Demonic (cruel and scheming) 2: Draconic (greedy and temperamental) 3: Goblin (cowardly and mocking) 4: Medusa (artsy and traitorous) 5: Gnoll (proud and ferocious) 6: Dwarvish (gruff and industrious) 7: Elvish (haughty and intellectual) 8: Gnomish (curious and inventive) 9: Halfling (hungry and jolly) 10: Sylvan (shy and benevolent) 11: Celestial (peaceful and judgmental) 12+: Common (talkative and nosy)
For example, a 3rd level caster who rolls a 6 to bestow speech to a group of mules would bestow them the ability to speak Dwarvish, Elvish, Gnomish, and Halfling. The animals would behave like a bunch of grumpy miners.
>> Talk with animals. A druid spell before there were even druid player characters! Again, I tried to make it more playful while covering the same area. I hope you will forget the meta/French name.
Duration: 1 hour The caster gets an innate sense of how mechanisms and complicated machines work. Their chance to detect moving parts, such as pressure plates and secret doors is twice as likely with a cursory glance (they will always detect them when looking). The caster is able to infer what (non-magical) effects pulling a lever or turning a key will trigger. They aren’t able to disarm a trap, but their description of the mechanisms should give a generous bonus to the thief’s skill roll. The caster also learns how to operate machinery, but they must make an INT check if they want to keep doing so after the spell ends.
>> I cast find traps and we can fire the party’s thief! Again, this is an attempt at broadening the applications of the spell while creating a lot of edge cases (and headaches for the referee).
The caster holds a silver mirror (worth 10 GP) in their hand. If they are hit by an attack, the mirror is destroyed and the caster disappears into the mirror dimension for 1d4 rounds. Note that the caster can also destroy the mirror. They cannot affect the material world, but they can watch it (and be seen) through reflective surfaces, including the mirror’s fragments. They are free to do whatever they like during the spell’s duration. If they wander too far away from a reflective surface however, the referee may ask for a check or save to avoid becoming lost in the mirror dimension. At the end of the spell’s duration, the caster reenters reality from the closest mirror or reflective surface.
>> Mirror image is everyone’s favourite defensive spell, even if this version is less efficient than the one I remember from AD&D. This is less efficient as a combat spell, but creative PCs can use reflective retreat to explore and bypass obstacles.
Duration: 1 hour Range: 10 metres per level This spell lets the caster open an invisible gate into the astral void, where the spirits of the dead travel. The astral currents thus released let the caster perceive the souls of sentient beings in the vicinity, even if the beings are not normally seen (i.e. invisible, or just in another room). By concentrating on one soul in particular, they can:
Know whether it has a connection to a divine or other powerful supernatural being (like clerics, warlocks, or some undead).
Borrow the soul for up to a minute per level, allowing instant communication of complex thoughts and concepts. (Touch required, save cancels.) The target’s body falls unconscious until the soul is returned.
>> As written in Moldvay and Cook, ESP is mostly useful for detecting enemies (provided you have time) and interrogate prisoners. I tried to duplicate this and add another use. Also, there should be more soul magic in D&D. Soul harvest from Wonders & Wickedness has provided much entertainment at my table!
Duration: 1 minute per caster level The caster conjures a mystical sphere of energy that automatically captures a spell cast or aimed at a point in its immediate vicinity. The spelltrap hovers and can be moved slowly as long as its caster concentrates. When the spelltrap ends, the captured spell takes effect as if cast at the spot where the trap was. Some additional details:
A spelltrap can be popped like a bubble; it has AC 0 (19), and a number of hit points equal to its caster’s level.
The caster of a spelltrap can attempt to dissipate the captured magic, effectively negating the spell. However, there is a base 1-in-6 chance that the spell is released accidentally. Add 1 to these odds if the caster of the trapped spell is of higher level, and 1 if the caster of the spelltrap doesn’t know the captured spell.
At level 3, the caster can capture their own spell if they cast it immediately after spelltrap.
At level 7, the spelltrap can be kept empty and floating for up to an hour, or until it captures a spell.
>> Replacing silence, 15ft radius is no easy task. I had to choose between its two effects: stealth and incapacitating spell casters. I went with the latter, and made it more polyvalent if not as efficient ror the purposes of killing evil cultists.
Duration: concentration (see below) The caster throws mushrooms on the ground (up to one mushroom per level); each one grows into the desired shape, up to the size of a large humanoid. The caster must concentrate on the spell to animate their fungal creations. If they stop, the theatrics crumble in 1d6 minutes. Only rare and expensive* mushrooms can accurately mimic a creature or object, but any fungus can approximate a humanoid or a door well enough to fool a casual viewer at a distance or in dim light.
* Rare and expensive: according to the setting and the referee’s discretion. If they plan to impersonate an elven queen, the caster may have to quest for the mythical royal purple milkcap, which can only be found in Farthest Faerie. Any decent alchemist will sell a dozen greenwart puffballs, good for mimicking goblinkind humanoids, for about 8 GP.
>>This is phantasmal force with a fungal twist and an opportunty for story hooks.
Duration: 10 minutes per caster level The caster is able to communicate with one type of creature commonly considered as vermin (insects, arachnids, some rodents, birds, or bats, etc.). Cooperation is not guaranteed: roll 1d10 + caster level on the monster reaction table (reproduced below). At the referee’s discretion, an offering (of food, for example) may justify another roll.
2d6Reaction 2 or less Hostile, attacks 3–5 Unfriendly, may attack 6–8 Neutral, uncertain 9–11 Indifferent, uninterested 12 or more Friendly, helpful
>> I have no idea how snake charm made it into the Greyhawk book of OD&D. Bible inspiration? Good ole orientalism crap? Did someone in the original crews run a snake themed dungeon? Will we ever know? John Peterson, we need you!
Here’s an offering for you, D&D DMs, adventure game masters, old school referees: a wounds system where your hit dice are a pool to roll from every time you get hit. Use it, hack it, mock it. It’s your call!
I’ve used these rules for a few months in Lunchtime Dungeons, but they don’t gel with my audience. Most of my players are casual gamers – they love our sessions, but they don’t interact with the mechanics as much as gaming nerds would.
This is one of the challenges of this gig: I have to constantly remind myself than, even if I want an engaging game, I’m running Dungeons & Dragons in offices for team building purposes. I’m not designing for fantasy enthusiasts and practicing gamers. Maybe I need to frame that above my desk.
Hit Dice Pool and Wounds
But you aren’t reading this to listen to me whine about game design. Here’s how the HDW system works.
For fluidity’s sake, these rules do away with damage rolls. (You can keep them if you don’t mind an extra roll, it’s really no big deal.) Below are the numbers I use, along with some weapons traits.
A modified attack roll of 20 or more is always a critical hit, and the damage is doubled. This makes even a knife a threat to moderately experienced characters, which I think if more interesting (i.e. lethal).
Your hit dice are a pool. For example, using ‘classic’ B/X D&D rules, a 3rd level fighter keeps 3d8 on their character sheet; a 7th level thief has 7d4.
Optionally, hit dice can be spent and added to attack or damage rolls. (I’ve never used this rule or fear of confusing newbies but I would with gamers.)
When you are hit, spend as many HD from your pool as you want. Roll them, add their scores, and subtract the total from the damage: if the result is more than zero, read the result on the wounds table below. Meaning: you want to beat the damage with the total of the hit dice you choose to roll. (Props to Emmy for inspiring the early version of this table with her horrible wounds rules.)
1-2: You will keep an ugly scar.
3-4: Painful blow. Save to avoid falling unconscious for 1d4 rounds.
5: Bleeding out. Roll one of your HD: you will lose it in that many turns. Keep doing this until bandaged or healed or out of HD (in which case, you die).
6-7: Lose something. Roll d6: 1. Fingers (d4); 2. Hand; 3. Nose; 4. Ear; 5. Eye; 6. Looks. Some rolls may be at a disadvantage.
8: Leg useless. Save to keep it when healed. Can’t run. Disadvantage to agility tasks.
9: Arm useless. Save to keep it when healed. Disadvantage if needing both arms or if it was the dominant hand.
10-11: Head wound. Disadvantage to all rolls. Save or lose 1 memorised spell/spell slot.
12: Dead man walking, 1 + Constitution modifier rounds to live.
13+: Vital organs destroyed, instant death.
All the HD rolled are lost until you rest or get healed (see below). When you are out of HD, read the damage directly on the table. Whatever the result, you must also save with Constitution or Wisdom or die.
Example: Holka is a 4th level dwarf. In a scuffle with a hobgoblin guard, she’s hit by a halberd and takes 8 damage. The player could roll three of her dice and have an excellent chance of shrugging the blow (the average roll for 3d8 is 13.5) but she decides to keep two in case she gets hit again. Bad idea: she rolls 2d8 and gets a total result of 3. The referee subtracts the roll from the damage (8 minus 3 is 5) and looks at the corresponding entry on the wounds table. Holka is now bleeding out. This fight had better end soon.
Other sources of damage
Spells and other non-weapon attacks do fixed damage as well. As a rule, I would use the average value: a 5d6 fireball would do 18 damage for example.
In other cases, like with fatigue, life drain, poison, and other non-wounding damage sources, I just make characters lose hit dice from their pool.
Rest and healing
With six hours of uninterrupted rest, you get your spells back and recover a number of HD equal to half your level, rounded up. In combat, magical healing recovers 1 HD per level of the caster.
Lunchtime Dungeons goes back to hit points
So I’m sticking with good ole HP and damage rolls from my games; the jury is still out about a wounds table vs. a simple roll to stay alive at zero HP. Maybe I’ll use the former in Lunchtime Dungeons and the latter in Dungeonsnack, which I’m trying to keep as minimalistic as I can. (I’m using it for demo purposes rather than full blown “team building with D&D” sessions.)
I really like the wounds system though, so I might use it in another game at some stage. In the meantime, it’s here for you to give your players a meaningful choice in combat – and see their characters lose a limb or two.