Binding Spells

This optional rule allows anyone to attempt to bind a spell into their own mind and hold it there. I’m using this in ACKS, but I’ve left as much “game mechanics” out as possible: Judges are encouraged to be creative. I am very interested in comments and criticisms.

To bind a spell, roll 2d6 + Intelligence modifier (your favorite system’s base modifier is fine), and get a result equal to or exceeding (10 + spell rank, minus half character level). That is, a first-level character attempting to bind a 2nd level spell must roll a 12+. For each spell that has already been bound with this method (a wizard’s normal spells for the day do not count), increase the required number by +1.

A natural two always fails, no matter how seasoned and intelligent the character is.

On a failure, make a second roll against the same number—on a success, the spell simply fails to be bound; on a second failure, a mishap of some sort occurs. Roll 1d6:

1–2. Nervous Breakdown A nervous breakdown lasts for 1d10 × spell rank days. The character is capable of nothing more strenuous than bed rest. 

3. Planar Blast
The character stressed the fabric of space and time and suffers the consequences! Roll 1d6:

  • 1–2 Blast. Pure magical energy blasts the character with concussive force, dealing 1d6 damage per spell rank. A successful save halves the damage.
  • 3–4 Summon. An elemental with hit dice equal to twice the spell rank appears and attacks relentlessly!
  • 5–6 Lost. The character disappears, lost in time and space! Roll 1d6 per spell rank; the would-be wizard is gone for this many months. A successful save reduces the time to days instead of months.

4. Cursed
The character is inflicted with a permanent curse. A spell caster of at least twice the spell rank can dispel it with remove curse or similar magics. Roll 1d10 (or use your favorite curse generator):

  • 1 Weakened. Halve Strength score.
  • 2 Befuddled. Halve Intelligence score.
  • 3 Drunk. Halve Wisdom score.
  • 4 Clumsy. Halve Dexterity score.
  • 5 Sick. Halve Constitution score.
  • 6 Hideous. Halve Charisma score.
  • 7 Madness. Character is incapable of anything but eating, sleeping, and ranting.
  • 8 Failure. Reduce prime requisite to 3.
  • 9 Bad Luck. Character suffers a –4 penalty on all attacks and saves.
  • 10 Aging. Age 1d6 years per spell rank.

5. Wounded
The character suffers an immediate, horrible wound. Spells which restore limbs or health can repair the wound, but only if the caster is at least twice the spell rank of the mishap.

Roll 1d20 and add the spell rank. The character takes damage equal to the roll, plus specific effects as shown below. If a character already has a rolled wound, move one step down on the table.

  • 2 Scar. No game effects, but can be noticed.
  • 3 Scar (Notable). It is harder for the character to impersonate others or be impersonated.
  • 4 Finger. Lose a finger. Again, this is notable, and may occasionally affect game play.
  • 5 Scar (Awful). Inflicts a –1 on reaction rolls among gentlefolk. May be worth a +1 among rougher sorts!
  • 6 Genitals. Infertile.
  • 7 Lower Back. Halve the amount that can be carried.
  • 8 Hips. Reduce movement rate by 30'.
  • 9 Eye. Inflicts –2 on missile attacks.
  • 10 Scar (Horrific). Inflicts a –2 on all reaction rolls, but +1 on Intimidation rolls.
  • 11 Liver. Must drink twice as much water.
  • 12 Hand. Lose a hand! A hook allows the character to wield a two-handed weapon at –1 on attack rolls.
  • 13 Nightmares. –1 to Wisdom).
  • 14 Aches. –1 to Dexterity.
  • 15 Knee. Halve the amount that can be carried, and reduce movement rate by 30'.
  • 16 Lamed. Halve movement rate.
  • 17 Lamed (Severe). Halve movement rate, and worsen AC by 1.
  • 18 Ear. –1 on surprise rolls.
  • 19 Foot. A peg or crutch required; halve movement rate, and worsen AC by 1.
  • 20 Arm. Lose an entire arm!
  • 21 Heart and Lungs. The character must rest 1 turn per three of any exertion; halve wilderness move.
  • 22 Heart and Lungs (Severe). –1 to Constitution. The character must rest 1 turn per three of any exertion; halve wilderness move.
  • 23 Brain. –1 to Intelligence.
  • 24 Tongue. Mute; cannot speak or cast spells.
  • 25 Blind. Lose both eyes!
  • 26 Both Legs. Quarter move, and worsen AC by 2.
  • 27 Both Arms. Lose both arms!
  • 28 Spine (Hips). Quarter move, and worsen AC by 2. The character is infertile.
  • 29 Spine (Neck). Paralyzed.
  • 30 Limbs. All legs and arms are shattered. Quarter move, and worsen AC by 2.
  • 31+ Dead. The character dies.

6. Mutation
The character suffers an immediate mutation from exposure to eldritch energies. Most of these mutations are obvious and may give a –1 or –2 penalty to reaction rolls. Roll 1d100/2 (rounded up) or use your favorite random table of mutations.

  • 1 Coloration. Alters color (hair, eyes, skin, or any combination) to an unnatural tone. The colors may also change over time.
  • 2 Snake Hair. Hair becomes 3-foot-long serpents. Grants an attack (3× bite 1d2–1), but anyone who comes within 3 ft. prompts a reaction roll: on a bad roll, the snakes attack on their own!
  • 3 Prehensile Hair. Hair lengthens to 4 ft. and gains the ability to carry 1/6 the character’s weight. The character can also hang by the hair, or do clumsy manipulations (opening a door).
  • 4 Elemental Hair. Hair replaced by hair-like heatless flame, smoke, fog, water, ice, or strands of light or darkness.
  • 5 Transparent Skin. Muscles, blood vessels, and organs are all visible.
  • 6 Mirror Skin. Can be used as a poor-quality, bumpy mirror.
  • 7 Glowing Skin. Provides bright candle light (5’ radius).
  • 8 Slimy Skin. Impossible to grip or hold if naked, and can squeeze through tight spaces easily.
  • 9 Fur Coat. Gains a thick fur coat. Grants +1 to AC.
  • 10 Feathers. Covered in feathers. Grants +1 to AC.
  • 11 Thick Hide. Skin is unattractively thickened and toughened (solid layer of warts, rhino hide, or similar). Grants +2 to AC.
  • 12 Scales. Covered in tough scales. Grants +3 to AC; move –30’.
  • 13 Suckers. Hands, feet, elbows, and knees are covered in suckers. Grants climb move 60’.
  • 14 Bulbous Eyes. Exceptionally large. Doubles radius of light sources, and grants a +1 on missile attacks at long range.
  • 15 Stalks. Eyes are on 1-foot stalks; can peer around corners more stealthily.
  • 16 Third Eye. A third eye. Grants ESP as the spell once per day. The eye stares at the target of the ESP.
  • 17 Transparent Eyes. Character’s face looks like it has empty sockets.
  • 18 Skull Eyes. Eyes all around the head; grants a +1 on Surprise rolls.
  • 19 Hand Eyes. An eye on the back of each hand. Gauntlets require a special cut-out.
  • 20 Immense Nose. Can track as a bloodhound.
  • 21 Too Many Teeth. Mouth resembles a manticore’s. Grants a bite 1d10 attack.
  • 22 Proboscis. Mouth becomes a 1 ft. long straw. Eating requires vomiting stomach acids onto the food (1 damage per turn, sufficient for one full meal in one turn), then slurping up the resulting liquids.
  • 23 Beak or Mandibles. Grants a bite 1d6 attack.
  • 24 Hand Mouth. An eye in the palm of each hand, and none on the face. Speaking requires special cut-out gauntlets.
  • 25 Cheshire Smile. Lips stretch ear to ear.
  • 26 Animal Head. Entire head is that of an animal. Choose one appropriate to the character and adjust size accordingly. Grants any bite attacks and senses of the animal, but prevents normal speech (some birds can mimic human speech, however).
  • 27 Oversized Head. Grants +1 Intelligence and Wisdom, –1 Constitution and Charisma.
  • 28 Stump Head. No head or neck; the face is a slight bump at the top of the torso. Cannot wear a normal helmet, and suffers a –1 on Surprise rolls.
  • 29 Skull. Skin, muscles, and blood vessels are all transparent around the head, causing the head to resemble a skull with eyes.
  • 30 Gills. Can breathe water.
  • 31 Sinuous Neck. Neck is 3 feet long and flexible.
  • 32 Horns. Some form of horns or antlers, granting headbutt 1d4 (charge 2d4) attack.
  • 33 Second Head. Grants +1 Intelligence, and –1 to Wisdom and Charisma.
  • 34 Tentacle Arms. Arms are 6 feet long (granting reach with all weapons), but lack the structure to handle bladed and two-handed weapons accurately. Character also gains a grab 1d6 attack (on a successful hit, an opponent of the same size or smaller takes the listed damage each round until a save is made).
  • 35 Long Arms. Arms are 6 feet long, granting reach with all weapons.
  • 36 Shriveled Arms. Arms are short and weak. Reduce melee damage by –1 and restrict weapons as for a halfling.
  • 37 Extra Arms. Roll 1d6: 1–3 add one arm, 4–5 add two arms, 6 add four arms. Each arm can wield a weapon separately, at a –2 penalty to the attack roll per weapon past the first two.
  • 38 Pincer. One hand becomes a crab-like pincer, granting a pinch 1d6 attack if the off-hand or pinch 1d10 if the primary hand.
  • 39 Agile Fingers. All fingers double in length, and become very flexible (adding extra joints, becoming tentacle-like, or similar).
  • 40 Small Claws. Grants a 2× claws 1d3 attack.
  • 41 Slug. Both legs fuse into a slug-like thing. Halve movement rate, and leave a slime trail.
  • 42 Serpent. Both legs fuse into a snake body. Reduce move by –30’ and gain a grab 2d6 attack (on a successful hit, an opponent of the same size or smaller takes the listed damage each round until a save is made).
  • 43 Fish. Both legs fuse into a fish body. Halve movement on land, but add swim 120’.
  • 44 Digitigrade Legs. Looks odd.
  • 45 Long Legs. Increase height by +25% (doubled leg length) and add move +30’.
  • 46 Hooves. Grants kick 1d6 attack.
  • 47 Hand-Feet. Halve move, but add climb 60’. Can grasp with the feet.
  • 48 Long Feet. Feet are doubled in length, and webbed. Grants swim 30’.
  • 49 Elephant Pads. Massive, trunk-like feet. Grants a trample 1d3 (5’ wide) attack (make a full move; anyone in the path who fails a save takes the listed damage; someone who makes the save can either avoid the damage or stop the character’s movement).
  • 50 Bird Feet. Grants a kick 1d10 attack.

That’s cool and all…but what does a “bound spell” actually mean?

My outsider’s guess is its Vancian in the literal, original sense of Vance’s Dying Earth novels rather than regular D&D memorization. Forcing a squirming alien Spell into your brain, by an act of sheer willpower more than scholarship, where it takes up a noticeable fraction of your brainpower until its fired off.

Anyway, I like the look of it. I think throwing it open to anyone is the one way I personally wouldn’t use it. I happen to like leaving mages their schtick, and I never much liked the “everyone’s a spellcaster” aspect of Rolemaster or Runequest. But I can see myself using the mechanic to awesome up mages, OR dropping mages entirely, and using that mechanic in a game with just, say, fighters, rogues and scholars. It’d be one way to model Fritz Leiber’s Grey Mouser character.

I like the idea, but here’s an alternate, ACKS-style mechanic… This might be applicable only characters with “Arcane dabbling” or similar proficiency.

Allow characters to roll as if they were a mage “researching” a spell of the level (or double the spell level, to maintain character level/spell level relationship you are using. On a failure, they save vs spells or suffer as described above.

bobloblah: Bind spell is the Vancian thing that Saladman identified.

Throwing it open to everyone is mainly because non-mages using these rules are approximately equivalent to a mage trying to wield a knife in a sword-fight or pick a lock. At any given level, the mage is substantially better, safer, and more reliable, but it’s something that, at least in my settings, anyone with a reasonable degree of education can attempt.

DrPete: For INT 9-12 and no previous spells bound, that works out about how I want. But in my mind, a highly educated fighter (high INT) has significantly better chances than a fighter would normally have, although he’s no match for a wizard. On a d20 scale, that’s not actually true, but on a 2d6 scale, it is.

It’s possible to shoehorn that into The One True Mechanic as well, of course, but . . .

I’d rather say “halve class level” than say “double spell rank, double your INT modifier, and double the number of previously bound spells” prior to adding the modifiers all together.

If you prefer swingier results (the main difference in using a d20), you could use 1d10 or 1d12 instead.

Heh. This is really good. I’m working on something similar(ish) that allows arcane casters to cast more than their daily allocation of spells but with risk of what I’m calling ‘Backlash’. I’m putting together a D20x6 table similar to the Mortal wounds table for all the unpleasant things that could happen… I’ll stick it on Google Drive and share it! (And if you don’t mind I may steal a bunch of your horrible effects to pad it out as I’ve been suffering lack of inspiration!)

Thanks. I never read Dying Earth.

I’m reading through ‘Tales of the Dying Earth’ right now.

So far, I’ve identified 5 or 6 magic items and more than a few spells lifted directly into DND.

It’s almost improbable how much of the style was lifted. The set of Cugel stories, in particular, read like someone’s campaign story hour - just a guy wandering around, getting in trouble with weird little niche groups of NPCs.