November 23, 2011

Spellbinding, Take Two

In a previous post, I talked about an alternative magic system for D&D where, instead of a fixed spell list, player characters could come up with spell effects on the fly, based on found items.  Now Trey’s post on using a flavor of magic closer to what’s described in medieval literature got me back to this idea.

To reiterate what the Spellbinding system is all about, it’s a system whereby player characters build their spells based on associations with a found object.  For example, an eagle feather might let you summon an eagle, talk to an eagle, or grow eagle’s wings and fly, whichever is more useful to you at the moment.  Now for my new ideas on this:

Gathering Foci
Spell foci must be gathered for use, and because by default the focus is consumed in the casting, there’s always a need to gather more. 

Numinous Items
Player characters may find Numinous objects, which grant bonuses to the spellcasting because they are of an innately magical nature. 

For example, an eagle’s feather gives me a normal casting roll to do any of the above effects; but a feather from Gwaihir Windlord gives me a big fat Tolkienic Bonus for the same effects!  Now if you want an even bigger bonus, try questing for a feather from Thorondor himself.

Starting Spell Foci
GMs should work with players to determine what their starting spell foci are.  To give new, low-level characters some versatility I’d suggest Level + 3 foci, to be chosen from a list of items provided by the GM, or worked out based on character background.  (Level + INT modifier also works)

These first foci are presumed consumable; players can have a permanent focus, but it costs 2 slots. 

Let’s say I want to play a disciple of Radagast the Brown, a wizard who had an affinity with birds: given this theme, the GM lets me pick 4 consumable foci related to birds, or 1 permanent focus and 2 consumable foci related to birds, since I’m starting at first level. 

I pick an eagle’s feather, which I associate with combat uses, a crow’s feather for wise and wily scouting or trickery, a  plover feather because plovers have this neat trick of decoying predators away from their nests, and I think I can associate this with a spell for escape, and finally an owl’s feather, for finding things in the dark and maybe fighting rodents. 


  1. I really like this idea. I'm thinking that an eagle's clawed foot might provide the basis for a close-combat spell. The mage could wield one in each hand! Would a single talon provide the same effect or be used for different purposes? A fighting cock might also provide the same sort of thing - or perhaps be better suited.


  2. For me, it would be all up to how the player envisions the spell and what the GM lets him get away with. As far as the principle of association is concerned, a single claw is as good as two.

    I see very different fighting styles happening between making combat magic with an eagle's claw and a fighting cock's spur. With an eagle's claw, you could make powerful grabs and crushing punches; while with a gamecock spur I would see the mage suddenly leaping into the air and unleashing flamboyant kicking or hooking attacks. :) Which is making me think kung fu like anything right now ...


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