I love the Magic Word system. It is my finest contribution to the gaming world: elegantly simple caster magic that encourages creativity, and removes the need for cumbersome spell lists. I don’t know if anyone aside from me is actually using it, but I just can’t imagine going back to running spells any other way. Magic Words feels so natural to me at this point.
Another thing that I love are crazy magical laboratories filled with curios, oddments, and the inexpiable paraphernalia of the magician’s craft. Furthermore, the way LotFP handles magic laboratories is one of the best changes Raggi made to the base B/X formula. It’s simple, it’s elegant…and Magic Words broke it.
For those unfamiliar, I’ll summarize. In LotFP, magic labs are measured by monetary value. So if you find a tome of magic theory worth 100sp, and you put it in your lab, then it adds 100sp to your lab. Labs are required for “Magical Activity,” and the value of the lab is a major factor in determining how difficult such activity is.
But I don’t really use scrolls, and I don’t allow players to transcribe spells. Potions are produced using the Alchemy skill. I’ve rewritten how wands work. I’ve also rewritten how staves work. And, of course, creating new spells is trivial, since that’s kinda the whole goshdang point of using Magic Words in the first place. That list encompasses the whole of what RAW LotFP calls “Magical Activity.” So, as I said, I’ve broken LotFP’s magic labs in basically every way.
Which means that the Magic Words system needs its own method for using magic labs, drawing on the core concept of LotFP’s system.
Magical Libraries and Laboratories for Magic Words
A magician’s laboratory is where they store objects for study. Tomes of forbidden knowledge, mystical objects of unknowable purpose, the corpses of demons ready for dissection; such things can provide insight into new realities as yet unknown.
Laboratories are ranked according to their value, which is measured in two ways. First there is Total Value, which measures everything in the lab taken together. Second, there is Unused Value, which measures the the objects which the magic user can still learn from.
For storage, every 500 silver pieces worth of lab value requires 10′ of square space to store. Objects that are appropriate for a magical lab must be discovered through play. If sold, lab items are worth 1/2 their value on the open market.
Unused Value can be spent in place of the time normally required to craft a new spell. It costs 500 sp of unused magical laboratory value to combine words into a new spell, which the referee will present at the next session as usual. Though, if the Magic User decides to go on a spending spree and produce a dozen new spells in a single session, the referee is well within their rights to say they’ll deliver the new spells in installments. A player expecting more than two or three new spells a week is being excessive.
This is a useful change for two reasons. First, my intent was for the player to be able to make a new spell pretty much every game session. But in practice, my players often end In Media Res three, four, or even five times in a row. I can’t reasonably allow the Magic User to craft a new spell while they’re in the middle of a combat, and as a result, Magic Users get frustrated. They wind up with ever-lengthening queues of spells they’re waiting to craft. That’s not inherently a bad thing, but it can reach a point of excess. Hopefully, this will alleviate that.
Second, this will allow higher level magic users to spend a little more time pursuing goals other than crafting new spells. Stuff like training skills, or casting longer ritual spells. They can diversify their interests a little bit without feeling like they’re wasting time that would be better spent on their wizard duties.
Once unused value is spent it’s subtracted from the unused value. However, it remains in the Total Value.
The Total Value of a magic user’s lab is a measure of cosmic prestige. Magicians hoard the mystic oddments they discover, show them off to their friends, and brag about them to their enemies. The acquisition and display of magical novelties is the primary social lubricant of the wizardly caste.
A wizard who is high level, but lacks a princely collection of curios, will be looked down upon. They’re like a wealthy merchant without a noble pedigree. A creature to be dismissed in public, and only dealt with in dark rooms where no one can see your shame. On the inverse, a wizard of low level with an excessive wealth of curios is likely to be robbed and murdered in a trounce.
And wizards are not the only folks who take notice of fine collections of magica obscura. There are things which move beside us. Things for whom most of us are beneath notice. But a fine magical collection may draw their attention for a time. Players should track the Total Value of their labs according to the Specialist’s experience table. Each time their lab “levels up,” it has drawn the attention of a thing beyond the experience of mortal things. Roll 1d20 to determine what creature is drawn forth from the dark beyond:
- Sandestine – Incorporeal creatures of impossible swiftness. Only their faint outlines are visible to humans, and they do not require any sustenance or sleep, though they do feel boredom acutely. Sandestines are keen observers, highly valued as spies or sentries.
Some insignificant bauble from the laboratory has caught their eye, and seems infinitely important to them. In exchange for 1d6 money worth of the lab’s Total Value, the Sandestine will bind itself to perform a single task for the magic user. Sandestines are notably poor negotiators, so the blank check of “a single task,” may be abused by clever magic users. Though there is nothing quite so unreliable as a bored Sandestine.
- Ajuaba – A creature of spheres, lights, and wafting silks. It has come to the wizard because it has a problem it believes the wizard can help with. The Ajuaba knows too much. It knows everything there is to know in the cosmos, so long as that thing is not a closely protected secret. The excess of knowledge weighs heavily upon the creature’s mind. It will plead of the Wizard: ask it a question. Once it has shared what it knows, it can finally forget, and its burdens will be slightly eased. If the wizard offers to take yet more knowledge off the Ajuaba’s brain, it will melodramatically respond that it could never place such a burden on anyone. The small relief the Wizard offered was all it could ask of anyone. It is adamant on this point, believing that each tiny bit of knowledge is painful to bear, and that any demonstration to the contrary is merely bravado.
- Carcabat – A slimy thing, which sees through a galaxy of lights that orbit its body. They are the fishermen of the unseen ether of the cosmos. The wizardly crafting of wands appears like clumsy child’s play to them. With exasperated patience, they will offer to show how the deed ought to be done. Standing behind the wizard, they will offer instructions that make no sense, while guiding the wizard’s hands through rituals too complex to remember. The wizard may immediately create a new wand using only a single hit point, and they may roll on the table 3 times, selecting which of the 3 they roll they would like to keep.
- Elapera – A narrow thing, which somehow gives the impression of an imperiously perfect posture, without having any recognizable anatomy. Its initial interest in the laboratory will quickly turn to scorn once it notices the drab state of the magic user’s spells. It will ask the magic user to show it their favorite spell. When they do, they will declare the thing to be entirely inadequate, and insist that the magic user do the work over again under their guidance. For the cost of 1,500 unused lab value (which remains in total lab value, as normal), the magic user may re-create a spell they have already created. The new version of the spell will be significantly improved over the original, in a manner determined by the referee. Upon completion, the Elapera will declare the work “almost adequate,” and congratulate the magic user on rising above the simplistic capabilities of their species, if only in the smallest degree.
- Panciu – A thought creature which travels the cosmos from mind to mind. It is impressed with the wizard’s laboratory, and offers to show them a bit of long forgotten lore in exchange for the pleasure of a tour. Panciu know the traditional spells of D&D! Roll 1d10 to determine the spell level, then randomly determine one of the spells from that level. If you roll a 10 while determining the level, then you must switch to a different spell list and roll again. (If you don’t have a different spell list, just keep re-rolling until you get a 1-9).
The referee should then re-write the spell to be levelless. The magic user also learns any magic words that can be taken from the spell.
- Silchar – A creature of sensual delight, with 4 long tentacular tongues, eight eyes, three cavernous nostrils, six genitalia (one of each type), and numerous other sensory organs. It would very much like to taste such a refined magic user as it now sees. If allowed, it will enshroud the lab’s owner in its many tongues, enjoying every subtle nuance of their taste. Once it has thoroughly tasted, it will depart gratefully. So long as the MU does not wash themselves with any great thoroughness, the licking will leave a film of fortune over their body. The next time they are required to make a saving throw, it will automatically be successful.
- Mukdahan – Fleshy platonic solids which are baffled & fascinated by the variety of human appearance. After a tour of the fascinating laboratory, they will ask the Wizard if they may take their body, to put it on display in one of their galleries. In exchange, the they will provide the wizard with a new body of their choice. The Wizard may opt for anything they like: a new gender, a new age, a new ethnicity, etc. They can also roll new physical stats (STR, CON, DEX), as well as add 1d4 -2 to their Charisma.
- Odrelos – A thing which can only be described as “visible wind,” blows into the wizard’s laboratory, rapidly forming itself into words and letters to communicate. It has a moment of business in this realm, for which it will need some local currency. In exchange for 5,000 money, it will reveal a secret. Any secret–for it knows them all. So long as a bit of knowledge is held within only 0-16 minds, an Odrelos will know it as well.
- Aromtap – Creatures who move through time the same way you or I might move through rooms of a building. It will take the magic user, along with any companions they wish to bring, to a time & place of their choosing. Each character who goes on this trip must pay for it with 1 year of their life per day they wish to spend in this other time and place. When they are returned, they will rapidly age.
- Balamgg – A catalogist who has carefully noted the location of several Wizard Staves. In exchange for 1/4th the money required to reach the magic user’s current level, it will retrieve one of those staves at random, and deliver it to the magic user. Once it has the money it will simply burn it. The currency itself has no meaning to the creature, its true payment was the act of extracting value from the magic user.
- Toynnin – Feeds upon ill fortune. The creature will excite the mind of the magic user, allowing them to instantaneously create 1 new spell for every -2 taken to a future saving throw. The magic user may use all of their penalties at once, or spread them out over multiple saves, but they must take at least a -1 on each saving throw until their debt is paid.
- Valachk – A grinning thing which punctuates too many of its sentences with a humorless chuckle. Not because it is a menace, (though it is), but because it sincerely believes doing so will put humans at ease. Valachk know nothing of what has happened, only what will happen. From a human perspective this may seem an impossible way to live, but the Valachk do just fine. They would like to Rent half of the magic user’s maximum hit points. They won’t say what they’ll do with it, but they promise to return them unharmed and whole. In exchange, they will tell the magic user of one future event. This future event is not described at the table. Instead, the magic user moves forward with this nebulous knowledge. At any point, the player of the magic user may announce “This is the event the Valachk told me about.” The game’s time will then rewind some appropriate amount, so that the magic user can relive the event with appropriate foreknowledge.
After they’ve re-lived the event, their hit points will be returned to them, as promised.
- Gader’el – The Gader’el isn’t terribly interested in the Magic User’s collection, but the existence of said collection has made it think the MU may be suited to its needs. It requires a body, with a mind capable of holding spells. It guarantees to return the body without any permanent damage, and in exchange it will use any spare moments it has to teach the body how to perform a few of the tasks that the Gader’el is familiar with. If the magic user agrees, their mind is instantly transported to a dark void. It is terrifying, to be a displaced mind. Fortunately, it also passes as swiftly as sleep. When the Magic User awakes from their nightmare, the Gader’el will already be gone. The MU’s body is injured. They’ve only got 1d4 hit points, with at least one serious injury that will take time to heal. However, they will also discover that 1d3 randomly determined skills have been improved by 1 step.
- Jikinburchk – An exhuberant creature which delights and marvels at the Wizard’s collection, almost to excess. In thanks for putting together this fabulous collection, the Jikinburchk will offer to put on the most sumptuous, sensual, hedonistic party imaginable. Anyone invited to this party will have a phenomenal time, and it will reset the Magic User’s reputation within a community to “generally positive.” Even if the Magic User had previously earned themselves a reputation for stealing babies to sacrifice in their magical rituals, all will be forgotten in the haze of good times.
- Lempema – A creature which roams the past, but cannot imagine the future. They are the unwitting cousins of the Valachk: anatomically similar, but neither can even conceive of the other. In exchange for being given permission to peruse your personal history at their leisure, they will erase a single past event for the magic user.
The erased event should be direct: preventing the death of a single person, undoing a theft perpetrated against the magic user, or perhaps an encounter with ghouls which resulted in a lost experience level. The referee is also entitled to impose consequences for erased events: if Robert had never died, would the party have ever met David? If the party never encountered those ghouls, they wouldn’t have the magic ring that one of them wore. There is no need to think about this too hard, and indeed, it works best if the referee is somewhat lenient here. This is, after all, supposed to be a boon.
If the Wizard agrees to this bargain, they will often find the Lempema within their memories, standing in the background observing what’s going on.
- Uzuzuz – One of many creatures which might be called. “Grim Reapers” by mortals. Uzuzuz knows the location of all the dead, and will bring one of them to speak with you. Uzuzuz will provide translation, and allow you to speak with this person for as long as you are able to continue speaking.
In exchange, all Uzuzuz asks is that he be the one to guide your soul into the beyond when you eventually die.
- Hyuteir – Speakers of spells. Every word in the language is a spell word. When wizards cast their magics, they are speaking in the language of the Hyuteir. This one is willing to reveal any one spell word that the Magic User desires. In exchange, the first spell the Magic User makes with this word belongs to the Hyuteir who gave it to them. The MU may never use it themselves. The Hyuteir find the ways in which smaller creatures use their language amusing, and many have become collectors of spells. Exclusivity is highly prized among their spell collecting connoisseurs.
- K’ksht – A creature which enjoys a good mortal brawl. In exchange for 1 point of the magic user’s Strength, it will slice off a part of itself appropriate to the magic user’s needs. This part will form into a creature that stands 5′ tall, +6″ per level of the MU. It has the abilities of a fighter the same level as the MU, but with a d12 hit die, instead of a d8. It gets two d6 claw attacks each round (upgraded to d8 at level 5, and d10 at level 10), and an armor rating of 12. It is eager to fight to the death, and will never retreat to preserve its life. If the magic user orders it to stop attacking because they wish to parley, the slice of the K’ksht will obey. If they merely wish to flee, the K’ksht will stay behind and finish the battle. If they survive, they will rejoin the Magic User later.
- Grue – A thing which lives in the dark. Hungry. Is looking for someone to eat. As payment for not eating you, you must tell it someone else for it to eat. The MU may choose anyone who has at least some chance of being in the dark at some point. (Things that glow are immune). The Grue has a 3-in-6 chance of eating that person within the next month, removing them from play forever. The referee may modify the chance up or down by 1, if they think the person is particularly capable, or incapable of dealing with a Grue. But that’s it. Even your biggest baddest dude has a 2-in-6 chance of being eaten by the Grue.
- Nulapuv – A benevolent creature, who would like nothing more than a tour of this fine magical laboratory. In exchange for an enjoyable evening, it will grant one Wish to the Magic User.