Perspective on Spells

Before Filippo Brunelleschi did about a decade’s worth of experiments, there was no standardized method of modeling linear perspective in visual art. That is, there was no way to represent 3-dimensional objects and locations in flat art. There were, of course, artists whose 2-dimensional art conformed to proper perspective, but there was no math set up for how to do it right every time.

Then there was.

A drawing of a church by Filippo Brunelleschi
A drawing of a church by Filippo Brunelleschi

And now, every art student is trained in basic linear perspective, as well as several other methods of creating realistic-looking art pieces. In the study of history, we always see that some specific person was the very first to do some thing which is popular now. There was the very first public High Five, in 1977. There was the first Action Figure, in 1964. The first Cartridge Video Games.

Dungeons & Dragons.

All these are examples of innovation in their fields. Be it in public celebration, dolls for boys, swappable video games, or games of imagination, these were so influential we still feel their effects today, over 50 years later.

In Brunelleschi’s case, maybe a bit longer.

When Gygax & Arneson created Dungeons & Dragons, they included a magic system that was a true innovation: an attempt at recreating the powers of the great Wizards of myth and fiction - mages hurling bolts of lightning from their hands and walking through walls and such. In the modern OSR, however, there have been created far too many Spells with various variations on variants for any Table to regard the magical system of The Game so simplistically. It is for this reason a more realistic approach to magic becomes preferable.

The best example of a traditional practice is the magic of the Cunning Folk, also known as “Witch Doctors”, “Magi”, or to some Appalachian people of America, “Granny Women”. These midwives, healers, and wise people tend to the sick, dying, and needy in their communities (often, in Western history, at great cost to themselves).Their magic is derived from Wisdom of the world around them, with medicinal plants and animal parts serving as the main focuses of their craft. Some ancient remedies, like ginger root for an upset stomach, are still used as folk cures today.

Consider that using Willow Bark Tea for pain was once an innovation by such folk, exciting and new.

For Brunelleschi, linear perspective was new, exciting, an innovation in 2-dimensional art. And now, 4 centuries later, we take that innovation for granted, expecting it of all art, or noting as a Subversion that art which doesn't have it. Likewise, Spells were new to The Game when Jeff Perren and Gary Gygax created Chainmail, and they only conceived of a few, but left open in their rules the possibility of more.

The section on Spells from Chainmail
The section on Spells from Chainmail

In creating D&D, Arneson and Gygax provided for players those Spells they and their friends had made at the Table, as examples of what could be done with the system. It was this inclusion of sample Spells, rather than an explanation of how to best generate Spells, that led many to consider Spells immutable rules of The Game, rather than the unique magics they were always intended to be.

The section on Spells from Men and Magic
The section on Spells from Men and Magic

In addition, it was the division of Spells into Levels that caused many to get the impression that all Spells must fall into Levels, with clear power delineations between them. This hierarchy of magic does not exist anywhere in the real world, and so an attempt at creating realistic Spells must conform to other rules.

Explanation of Spells and Levels from Men and Magic
Explanation of Spells and Levels from Men and Magic

Spells may be thought of as magical Causes which have mundane Effects. Whether uttering magic words that somehow summon energies from arcane places is the Cause or crushing some herb whose powder alters senses, whether the Effect is summoning a torrent of high-pressure water to attack your enemies or just having a good time, any combination of Cause and Effect makes for a unique and valid Spell.

Much in the way that any action gets easier to perform with practice, so should the performance of a given Spell become easier with time and effort in a realistic magic system. Whatever method is used of calculating the possibility that a caster fails to cast a given Spell, the chance of failure should be reduced as the Character uses a particular Spell, indicating their prowess with it.

Likewise, as the Effect desired is increased or decreased, simply increasing or decreasing failure chance by the same amount will yield reliably well-balanced results. Indeed, if the Cause becomes more or less difficult to pull off, adjusting the failure chance by the same degree will again make The Game feel more realistic, without sacrificing the fun that abstraction brings. That is to say, if more effort is put into Causing the Effect, then it is more likely the Spell will succeed, and the Effect will occur.

For example, if a Spell's Effect is to be increased by 16.66% (the increase from 1d6 to 1d6+1), then it should be roughly 16.66% more difficult to achieve (if checking Spell failure chance on 1d20, that would be a +/-3, or 15%; if checking on any number of D6s, the percentage could be more closely represented).

If a Spell's Cause is to contain half as much of the necessary component as is normally used, it should in turn be twice as difficult to perform (if the normal roll for failure would be a 3 on 3d6, then the adjusted roll should be a 3 or 4, for example). This both provides mechanical balance to the system and lends another layer of realism to The Game, as something that you don’t do correctly tends not to work. The less correctly you perform the task, the more likely it will fail.

This is simple logic.

So, a Spell which is 10% weaker than a similar Spell, but at the same time takes no effort to cast whatsoever (100% less Cause) would be 90% more likely to fail (perhaps 2-11 on 2d6, with 12 being success), while a Spell which is 200% stronger (3d6 damage, say, instead of 1d6) but also takes three times as much effort to cast (due to more material components spent, magic words spoken, or arcane symbols drawn - whatever method of increasing the Cause in difficulty) would have no more or less chance of failure than the Spell it was adapted from (failure on a 0 on 1d10 would still be failure on a 0).


  • Cause: Throwing a ball of black powder and glass.

  • Effect: Summon a ball of flame for a moment. Cannot be controlled once lit. Causes 1d6 fire damage.

Words of Fire

  • Cause Drawing the correct symbols upon a scroll of parchment.

  • Effect: Flames are summoned from within the essence of the parchment. Cannot be controlled once lit. Causes 1d6 fire damage.

Concealing Cloud

  • Cause Throwing a ball of black powder and glass.

  • Effect: Summon a cloud of dark smoke. Cannot be controlled once summoned. Causes total blindness in Area.

Hellfire Burst

  • Cause With arcane symbols drawn in the air, the Words of Opening are spoken.

  • Effect: The gates of Hell are flung open in one spot to pour Hellfire into the world. Causes 1d6 fire damage, but only to the sinful, and does not light objects on fire.

Elemental Fireball

  • Cause Verbally commanding a Fire Elemental which is trapped within a gem.

  • Effect: Summon a ball of flame for a moment. Can be controlled by voice. Causes 2d6 fire damage. Increase Failure Chance by 50% or else call for regular Charisma tests to account for the difficulty controlling the Elemental in the gem.

Faith Healing

  • Cause: Prayer to a higher power for Healing.

  • Effect: A wound is miraculously healed. Heal 1d6 HP.


  • Cause: The application of a Salve.

  • Effect: Natural healing is sped up thousands of times. Heal 1d6 HP. Decrease Failure Chance by the Failure Chance for making Salve.

Curing of Ailments

  • Cause: Prayer to a higher power for Healing.

  • Effect: An illness is miraculously cured. Remove negative condition from Character.

The Song of Soulbinding

  • Cause: Playing a song which is irresistible to souls.

  • Effect: Prevents souls from leaving their bodies, keeping them alive until the bodies are healed naturally. Decrease Failure Chance by Failure Chance for playing the Song. Test relevant Abilities at regular intervals to maintain the Song.

Spiritual Rebirth

  • Cause: Prayer to a higher power for Deliverance.

  • Effect: Causes an injured or ill Character to be fully, miraculously, healed. Heal all damage to Character. Multiply Failure Chance 10 times.

Push Door

  • Cause: Pressing on a stuck door, concentrating mental energy to assist you.

  • Effect: The door opens.

Winds of Entrance

  • Cause: Speaking the name of the wind.

  • Effect: Summons a gust of wind strong enough to force a door open.

Hold Door

  • Cause: Pressing on an unlocked door, concentrating mental energy.

  • Effect: Door stays shut even if being pushed on from other side.

Winter’s Door

  • Cause: Pouring water from a glacial stream onto a door frame while speaking words of power.

  • Effect: Water fills the cracks between the door and frame, then freezes, expanding and pushing the door off its hinges.

Brute Strength

  • Cause: Using mental energies to shore up the strength and integrity of someone’s arm.

  • Effect: The Character becomes strong enough to punch through a door.


  • Cause: The Character concentrates on the properties of an object.

  • Effect: Allows the Character to determine the object's history and uses.

Lend Language

  • Cause: Whispering magic words to an object, giving it the power of speech.

  • Effect: The Character is able to converse with the object about its history and uses.

Alter Object

  • Cause: The Character concentrates on the properties of an object.

  • Effect: Allows the Character to change those properties in one or more ways.

Throw Bones

  • Cause: Drawing a sigil on an object and tossing it on the ground.

  • Effect: The sigils that land face-up are indicative of some distant event.

Path of Fate

  • Cause: The Character concentrates on the properties of an object.

  • Effect: The Character sees the object’s fate, knowing what it will be used for in the future.

Brunelleschi's Transportation

  • Cause: Physically folding the dimensions of space and time by hand.

  • Effect: The Character is able to travel from one place to another without crossing the distance in-between.

Zephyr Road

  • Cause: Blowing into a specially carved whistle.

  • Effect: The Character is lifted from one place to another by air.

Brunelleschi's Restoration

  • Cause: Physically folding the dimensions of space and time by hand.

  • Effect: The Character is able to make destroyed objects whole again.

Zephyr Constructor

  • Cause: Trapping a powerful spirit within a gust of wind.

  • Effect: Wind sculpts the ground into whatever shape the Character wishes. Increase or Decrease Failure Chance based on attitude of the spirit.

Brunelleschi's Press

  • Cause: Physically folding the dimensions of space and time by hand.

  • Effect: The Character is able to crush their enemies beneath the weight of the ground in front of them. Deals 20d6 Crushing Damage. Multiply Failure Chance by 20.

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