Monday, February 24, 2014

A little mixup bears fruit: Spirit Magic for Labyrinth Lord

Rushing out the door from work, I totally misread the call for submissions to the OSR Superstar Competition. I initially thought that instead of designing a magic item, we were to design a magic system (I was only off by three letters). On the drive home, I came up with an interesting entry for the contest. Then I reread the Superstar listing and noticed my mistake. Then I created a magic item for the competition.

But the magic system was too good to waste. So here you have:

Spirit Magic for Labyrinth Lord

The most powerful spells of Prospero, the great magician of William Shakespeare's The Tempest, were
not cast by his hand. He had his faithful air spirit, Ariel, cast them for him. Prospero is an Enchanter, cajoling a local spirit to do his bidding.

In this variant for Labyrinth Lord, magic users don't cast spells, they convince local nature spirits to cast spells for them. Charisma is the secondary attribute of all magic users. Being a magic user gives the character the ability to perceive and communicate with the spirits in the area.

Elemental Nature Spirits

The local nature spirits are affiliated with the elements. The elements are Fire, Water, Earth, and Air. The four elements also form two pairs of opposites. Fire is opposite Water, and Earth is opposite Air. (GMs wishing to use this magic system in Asian-styled settings should use the Oriental elements of Fire, Water, Earth, Wood, and Metal.) These spirits can only cast spells associated with their element. The GM decides which spells are associated with each element (surely Fireball is Fire-based, but is Haste Fire-based because it makes you go fast, or Earth-based because it affects the body?). All spirits have a Spirit Level which determines what spells they can cast (level 5 spirits can cast 5th level spells).

Some places are strongly associated with a particular element. A forest will be more Earth-oriented, while a volcano Fire-oriented. Spirits of the given type are more prevalent than others, especially those of the opposite element.

When a magic user wants to cast a spell, they first need to find a local spirit that can cast the spell. The GM will tell the player what kind of spirits they sense in the area. To aid the GM, here is a chart for determining what spirits of what level are available:

Available Spirit Chart

d20Spirits in the area
1-10Spirits of one element
11-16Spirits of two elements, but not opposites
17-19Spirits of three elements
20Spirits of four elements

Spirit Level Chart

d20Level of Spirit
204 + result of another roll on the table


Mages have a Spirit Level which determines which spirits are safe to work with. There is no penalty for commanding spirits of your Spirit Level or lower. In fact, lesser spirits are easier to command. Requesting spells from a spirit of higher level than the mage is possible, but dangerous. Spirit Level = Magic User Level / 2 (round up). So, a 5th level magic user has a Spirit Level of 3.

To cast a spell once a spirit has been found, the mage takes a combat round to negotiate with the spirit to cast a spell. At this time, the mage can make offers of money, gems, magic items, etc. to entice the spirit to work for the mage. These items must be available at the time of casting. No promises to be fulfilled later. What these offers grant in terms of reaction bonus are up to the GM. Some spirits may require certain items to be offered, giving no bonus. Other spirits may give bonuses for simple offers, like pretty flowers.

On the mage's initiative, the GM makes a reaction roll on 2d6, adding the mage's CHA Reaction Adjustment and the mage's Spirit Level, and subtracting the Spirit's Level. The GM checks the Spirit Reaction Table to see if the spirit will cast the requested spell.

Spirit Reaction Table

2-Hostile, spirit attacks mage's party
3-5Unfriendly, spirit may attack mage's party or leave area
6-8Neutral, another round of negotiations needed
9-11Spirit will cast the spell, they may wander off afterward or stay nearby
12+Spirit will cast the spell and will react to further requests at +2 for two turns

With the Neutral result, the mage must take another combat round of negotiation with the spirit. This process continues until the spirit agrees to cast the spell or until the spirit leaves or attacks.


Prisby the Enchantress and her companions are traveling through heavy woods, trying to follow game trails to reach water. They become lost, circling around the same tree for hours. Prisby is a 7th level magic user with a Charisma of 15 (+1 reaction adjustment). This gives her a Spirit Level of 4. She would like to cast Find the Path to get out of the woods and find water.

First, Prisby looks for the local spirits. The GM rolls a 16 and finds two. Because they are in forest, the GM determines that one of the spirits is an earth spirit (because of the forest) and the other is a water spirit (not opposite Earth). Then the GM rolls for their spirit levels, rolling a 3 and a 5, respectively. This makes them both 1st level spirits. Neither of them can cast Find the Path, a level 6 spell. But the GM decides that spirits know their surroundings and can lead the party to water.

Prisby chooses the water spirit as the best for her purposes. She begins to negotiate with the spirit. Her Charisma gives her a +1, and her relative Spirit Level gives her a +3 (her 4 minus the spirit's 1). The GM rolls the spirit's reaction and gets a 7, plus 4 is 11. The spirit is convinced to lead the group to the nearby lake.

After the group drank their fill and filled their waterskins, a giant crab attacks them. The fighters hold off the enormous crustacean, while Prisby finds that the water spirit has left the area. She looks for another spirit. The GM rolls and Prisby finds a 2nd level Water spirit (because of the lake), 1st level Air spirit, and a 3rd level Earth Spirit (both not opposite Water). Prisby wants to cast a Sleep spell, and the GM decides that either the Water or Earth spirit could cast Sleep (sleep and dreams are often associated with water, and earth governs the body). The Enchantress picks the Water spirit, since it is lower level and easier to persuade.

This time, Prisby's bonus is a total of +3 (+1 from CHA and +2 from higher Spirit Level than the water spirit), and the GM rolls a 5, plus 3 gives a 8, a neutral result. So, the round ends and Prisby's companions are still having trouble penetrating the giant crab's hard shell. Prisby takes another turn to negotiate, this time upping the ante by offering the water spirit a flask of Holy Water, worth a +1 by GM fiat. Now the reaction roll is at +4, and again the GM rolls a 5, plus 4 = 9, a success. The Sleep spell goes off, putting the giant crab into a deep slumber. The crew easily kills it, and they feast on boiled crab that evening. Prisby finds her flask of Holy Water empty.