Monday, 29 May 2017

Revised House Rules for LotFP Magic in the Early Modern Period

Libellus de magia veridica
~ or ~
Alternate Rules for LotFP Magic

The study of magic as both art and science is the subject of countless treatises, both laudable and infamous. Wildly varying opinions on its use and origin -- whether it be truly Inspired of God or all a great Enticement of the Divell -- have caused both saints (Albertus Magnus) and sinners (Iohannes Faustus) alike to be viewed as great magicians.

For our purposes, O Viator, the distinction is of little importance. All magic has some commonalities, and it is the approach to its practice which needs must concern us.

The pious Cleric, then, must be contrasted with the profane Magic-User, for they both command the same forces. The cleric's path is that of Natural Magic, whereas the magic-user seeks to subvert the natural order by force of will. Both, in the end, call upon spirits and the occult forces in nature to work their spells, whether Thaumaturgical or Theurgical.

I like the distinction between clerics and magic-users, but I also want the magic in the game to seem more like actual early modern magic than just D&D. To wit, I've devised a few house rules. The intent was to make only minor adjustments so as to leave as much of the rulebook intact as possible. I've still erred on the side of more game-like than realistic, else transcribing spells would be measured in turns and casting in days.

These rules are intended to supplant the magic rules found on pp.75-83 of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess Rules & Magic book. The spell lists and descriptions are unchanged, save only that Read Magic is no longer used. The class descriptions and progression tables for Clerics and Magic-Users (on pp.11&13) are also unchanged.

My aim is twofold. Firstly, I want make PCs' magic use seem more in line with real-world ideas of learned magic in the early modern period. Secondly, by so doing, I want to increase the weirdness of magic from other sources, as the effects and their workings will fail to conform to the established understanding of the magical arts.

Thus, the rules in this booklet are meant to apply to PCs and NPCs using spells from the main rulebook. Magic discovered in mysterious tomes from other worlds can and should function differently.

The Basics

There are two kinds of spellcaster, and two kinds of spells. Clerics are practitioners of divinely-inspired, natural magic, which is said to work in accordance with the Creator's divine plan. Magic-users practice a different sort of learned magic, and may call upon other ancient deities and demons to impose their will on the cosmos. The actual differences between one type of magic and another are quite vague, and may rest more on the opinions of the practitioners -- or their accusers -- than on the true nature of the world itself.

For gaming purposes, the distinction is simple. Clerics and Magic-users are adept at casting the spells on their respective lists. Clerical spells are performed through prayer, and Magic-user spells through various incantations and gestures. Spells of either sort must be "memorised" before being cast, and disappear from the caster's memory upon casting. The number and level of spells which may be memorised at any one time is given on the class charts.

However, unlike most OSR games, clerics and magic-users may learn and cast spells off each other's lists, but in this case the spells will count as being one level higher. Thus, a cleric may learn and prepare Magic Missile as a second level spell from her spellbook, and a magic-user may learn and prepare Cure Light wounds as a second level spell from hers. Note that clerics never receive 8th and 9th level spell slots, so will never be able to memorise 7th-9th level magic-user spells. Clerics casting lots of magic-user spells -- or even just higher level cleric ones -- will most certainly run afoul of the Church authorities.

First level cleric spells constitute something of a special case for clerics (only; Magic-users use them as 2nd level spells in all respects).


The complex formulae of magic require careful study and understanding in order to work. The human mind can retain only so much of this information, and much of it disappears from the memory as the magic is released. Spellcasters must keep a record of all this information, along with lists of correspondences and qualities, astrological notes to determine the influence of heavenly bodies and the propitious times for the working of Operations of the Art, philosophical discourses on the nature of the soul, &c. &c. These writings, tables, and images may be set down in any number of ways, from being scratched on potsherds, to being recorded on rolls of papyrus, or written with ornate calligraphy on dyed vellum and bound into bejewelled codices covered in human skin. Whatever the form these compendia take, for rules purposes they will be known simply as spellbooks.

Spellbooks are written in natural languages, though the writing may be hidden or obscured by various means: steganography, substitute alphabets, codes, enchantments, or simple bad handwriting. Read Magic is thus no longer needed (and stricken from the spell list), but Comprehend Languages may be required.

A spellbook is not itself magical, but many a wizard will protect a spellbook from theft with curses, sigils, and other sorts of magical defences.

Magic-users require that all their spells be written down in their spellbook(s). Clerics require that all their spells of 2nd level or higher be in a spellbook as well.

There is no set limit to the number of spells contained in any given spellbook. A PC's personal travelling spellbook could be a modestly-sized volume containing all the spells she knows set down in meticulously cramped handwriting. But a more famous grimoire found as treasure in monastery ruins, though it be a thick and weighty tome, may only contain a handful of actual spells repeating each one in several different ways. Learning a spell from such a book is a matter of picking the form of the incantation that works for you.

Beginning spells

A beginning Magic-User's spellbook contains three random first level magic-user spells (an elf's would contain just one, though these rules assume an historical setting without demi-humans).

Clerics do not need a spellbook for their first level spells. They begin with access to the whole first level cleric spell list (on p. 85 of Rules & Magic). They do, however need to acquire a spellbook before they can learn any second or higher level spells.

Preparing spells

A spellcaster must have six hours uninterrupted rest before preparing ("memorising") spells. Spells remain in memory until cast. The class spell charts show the maximum number of spells that can be memorized at each level. The memorisation process takes a number of hours equal to the highest level spell slot being prepared. Spells may only be prepared once every 24 hours; the human mind is unable to handle any more.

Reversible spells (marked with an * in the spell lists) are effectively two different spells, which must be learnt and prepared individually.

A magic-user prepares all spells by studying her spellbook, and clerics prepare all second and higher level spells in the same way; the spellcaster must be able to sit in reasonable comfort and study her spellbook without interruption.

Clerics prepare their first level spells through prayer alone. Whether these spells come directly from the cleric's God or an intermediary, a demon, an otherworldly entity, or simply the cleric's fervent belief in the efficaciousness of their orisons is left to the referee to decide. Though the cleric does not need a spellbook to prepare these spells, many do eventually copy them into their spellbooks as a devotion, and re-read those passages when preparing spells for the day.

A spell may be prepared in any slot of its level or higher.

Casting Spells

Casting a spell requires concentration, gesticulation, and either chanting or speaking words of power. A character who is bound, gagged, Silenced, or similarly hindered cannot cast spells. Unless otherwise noted in the spell's description, a spell cannot be cast secretly or disguised as another activity.

Cleric spells are rather less intricate to perform that Magic-user spells. The caster must hold a holy symbol of the appropriate religion (her own, one hopes, but the less devout seem still able to work magic), and cannot be more than Heavily Encumbered.

Magic-user spells require more intricate gestures. Both hands must be free, though the caster may have a staff, wand, or specially consecrated knife or sword in one hand. The caster may not be more than Lightly Encumbered.

Ritual casting

A spell may also be cast as a ritual. This allows a spellcaster to use a spell which she has learnt, but cannot yet prepare. A certain amount of expensive materials will be required, and the casting time will be measured in days, with the spell taking effect only at the end. Many spells are unsuitable for ritual casting (e.g. Hold Monster), but common sense should suffice to make these determinations. See Time of Magical Activities below for details of time and expense.

Option: Ritual magic may even be attempted by non-spellcasters, though it is much less certain. They treat all spells as two levels higher, and have an effective caster level of half their actual level (round all fractions down, minimum level equivalent of one). They must also make a saving throw versus magic or the ritual simply fails and all preparations are wasted. The referee may decide to apply other penalties to a failed ritual; an accidental Summon spell is traditional.

Learning New Spells from Experience

Spellcasters are assumed to be constantly studying and experimenting with the principles of the Art. To reflect this, when a magic-user attains a new level of experience, she is entitled to add a single magic-user spell of any level she can prepare to her spellbook. The player may choose the level of the spell, but the specific spell is chosen by a die roll; re-roll if the character already knows the spell. The research of this spell is assumed to have been spread out over the time it took the character to gain the new level. If for some reason the character has had no free time during this period, the referee may allow the new spell to have been learnt in a flash of insight. Clerics follow the same procedure for their spells beginning at the 4th level of experience.

Learning New Spells from a Book

If a spell caster finds a spell written down in a language she can read, she may make a saving throw versus magic to see if she understands it well enough to prepare and cast (or cast as a ritual). The character's Intelligence modifier is applied to the saving throw for magic-user spells, and the wisdom modifier is used for cleric spells.

If she is reliant on a magical effect (e.g. Comprehend Languages) to read the spell, the effect must have a duration of at least 1 hour per spell level; this will also be required to prepare the spell if it is understood. A scholar can be hired to translate the spell if needed; see *Transcribing spells from spellbook to spellbook below*.

If the character has already learnt a version of the spell from a different source, or if they are being taught by one who already knows the spell and is able to prepare it there is an additional +5 modifier to the saving throw.

If a book being used is merely a copy of another spellbook, including any famous grimoire, there is a 10% chance for each spell (check individually) to have an error or idiosyncrasy of the transcriber which renders the spell useless without further research to correct the fault. The referee should make this roll (as well as the caster's saving throw) in secret, as the character can never be certain if it is the formula that is at fault or her own skill.

If saving throw succeeds, the character understands the spell, and may prepare and cast it from that book (and/or cast it as a ritual) without difficulty for ever after. The player should keep careful track of which spells her character has learnt in each spellbook she possesses.

Should the saving throw fail, the character must research the spell as described below.

Researching New Spells

A caster may add a spell to her spellbook through intensive research. Any spell on her class spell list in the Rules and Magic book may be researched, even if the caster is not of a sufficient level to prepare it. The caster may research a spell on the other class' list, but must be of sufficient level to prepare the spell (e.g. a Cleric may not research Charm Person until she reaches 4th level, as it must be memorised in a second level slot).

A character may research a totally new spell of the player's devising or a spell from another source than the main rulebook with the referee's permission.

If the character is doing research from scratch, a library of at least 1000sp / spell level is required.

If the character possesses a talisman, potion, or other magical item containing the spell, a laboratory (or library in the case of parchment talismans) of at least 750sp / spell level must be used for research, though this will use up the item's magic in the process.

If the character possesses a book with a faulty copy of the spell, she will need to work in a library of at least 500sp / spell level to correct the error, and the research time will be significantly lessened.

If the character is trying to understand a good copy of a spell that she has found, the library required need only be worth 250sp / spell level and the research time will be much reduced.

Researching a spell assumes the magician is copying the spell into her spellbook, and no additional time or expense for transcription need be levied against her. Each interruptions adds 1 day per spell level to the time required, unless the character is working from a potion or talisman, in which case the interruption spoils the research and the magic of the item dissipates.

Transcribing spells from spellbook to spellbook

Transcribing spells is a relatively straightforward procedure, requiring little more than time, ink, and a quiet place to work. Any spell to which a character has access (and can read) may be transcribed, but the spell will still need to be learnt as described above.

Alternately, you can hire a scholar to do the transcription for you. Roll time normally with no INT modifiers, and add the cost to the normal rate for a scholar shown on the retainers table. There is a 10% chance that an error or an idiosyncrasy of the transcriber will creep in (in addition to that noted above), rendering a spell useless by the PC spellcaster. Check for each spell the first time it is cast. If the scholar is translating a spell, double the time taken and increase the chance of error to 20%.

Talismans and Curses

A Talisman, usually a scrap of parchment or small charm, may be enchanted with a one-use spell that affects the item's user (only). A parchment talisman requires the use of a library, others will require a laboratory.

Attempting to activate a talisman requires full concentration for one round; no movement or other actions are permitted. The user must be wearing or carrying the talisman, and be able to speak freely. Alternately, a spellcaster may affix the talisman to a willing ally, in which case the conditions above apply to her, and the ally must remain motionless and silent. A non-spellcaster may use a talisman herself, but must make a saving throw vs. magic in order to "cast" the spell. If the save is failed, the magic simply does not activate, and a new attempt may be made on the next round.

The talisman's magic functions at the level of the spellcaster activating it, or half the level (round down, minimum of 1) of a non-spellcaster.

Multiple instances of the same spell may be put on a single talisman. There is no practical limit to this save time and expense. A discharged talisman may be re-enchanted, but there are no time or cost savings.

Curse tablets are a special form of talisman, and may be made in the same way. The magic (specifically, the Bestow Curse spell; the referee may allow other spells such as Hold Monster or Polymorph Other) is released when the subject of the curse passes through a certain area wherein the tablet lies buried, or handles an item bearing the curse. These curses may be made to affect either a single named individual, or else to affect the first person crossing the cursed threshold; this determination must be made at the time the curse is wrought.

Alternately, if a part of the named victim (hair, nail clippings, blood, etc.) is affixed to a poppet or wax figure, the curse can be sent over a small distance (e.g. within the same city).

An item may be also cursed. The curse may affect a named individual, the first person to handle the object, or anyone stealing the object. Book curses against thieves or the merely curious are popular amongst magic-users. Multiple curses of the same type may be added to an object, but only one will affect any given target (e.g. a book curse against theft may be enchanted thrice, affecting three successive thieves).

Curses always function at the level of the caster who made them.

Creating a potion

The essence of a spell may be distilled down in to liquid form so that, when consumed, the drinker gains the benefit (or detriment) of that spell. The person brewing the potion must be able to prepare and cast the spell in question. The magic operates at the caster level of the potion's maker.

Libraries and Laboratories

Spellcasters need libraries and laboratories to assist them in their work. These are rated by cost. For every 500sp a library is worth, 100 square feet are required to house it. A laboratory occupies 100 square feet for every 1000sp of value. These are not transportable without massive effort. Library and laboratory supplies can only be purchased in large cities. Those discovered as treasure and somehow transported only add 1d100% of their value to the looter's own, due to duplication and/or differences in approach.

Each time a laboratory is used, a save versus magic is required. If successful, the laboratory uses supplies which reduce its value by 1d20x100sp. A failed saving throw wastes 2d20x100sp. On a natural roll of 1, there is an explosion which destroys 5d20x100sp worth of the laboratory, and inflicts 1d10 damage on all present (save versus Breath Weapon for half damage).

Scholars and Alchemists

A scholar may be hired to assist with spell research in a Library, and an alchemist may be hired to help with work in a Laboratory; see the Retainers chapter of the Rules & Magic book (pp. 47-51). A scholar may also be hired to transcribe spells, in which case a library is not needed (though living space is still a requirement).

Creating holy water

As protestants reject holy water along with other popish trappings, the blessing of holy water is only available to Catholics. A special rite must be performed on a Sunday, either in the church proper or in the sacristy.

For game purposes, assume that the rite takes 2 hours, and at the end a single small vial of may be filled with some of the water and a Bless spell be cast over it, turning just that quantity into the holy water as described in the rulebook. The rest of the water in the vessel only has the game effects of holy water whilst it remains in the church.

Time and cost of Magical Activities

Magic is a time-consuming pursuit, and often an expensive one. One cannot rush the workings of the Art, nor indeed the more mundane aspects of research and experimentation.

Supplies must be purchased in advance at the indicated costs. The player may peruse the time & cost table before deciding how much her character will purchase, but the purchase must be made before dice are rolled to determine the actual time needed. Running out of supplies during an operation will cause it to be interrupted. If more supplies are purchased than are needed, the excess can be used for the next magical procedure, but will only count as 1d100% of their purchased value due to the differing requirements of each individual operation; this roll may be made before other supplies are purchased.

Transcription and non-laboratory Research need not be completed all at once; however, each interruption adds 1 day per spell level to the time remaining. All other operations fail if interrupted. There is a 10% chance that a failed operation results in a curse, to be determined by the referee.

The time required for an operation is determined by a die roll, multiplied by spell level. The die roll is reduced by the character's Intelligence modifier for magic-user spells or Wisdom modifier for clerical magics. This modifier is applied before multiplication, but the total die roll may never be reduced below 1. Most operations have a library or laboratory listed as a requirement. Should this requirement not be met, the total time required for the operation is doubled.

Activity           Time Required             Cost      Lab/Lib.   Interruption
--------           -------------             ----      --------   ------------
Preparing spells   6hrs +1 hour x highest SL              -       fails
Ritual casting     2d6 days x SL             40sp/day     -       fails
  from scratch     3d6 days x SL             30sp/day  1000sp/SL  allowed
  from item        2d6 days x SL             25sp/day   750sp/SL  fails
  from faulty copy 1d6 days x SL             20sp/day   500sp/SL  allowed
  from good copy   1d4 days x SL             20sp/day   250sp/SL  allowed
Transcription      1d10 hours x SL            1sp/SL      -       allowed
  a talisman       2d6 days x SL             50sp/day  1000sp/SL  fails
  a potion         1d6 days x SL             50sp/day  1000sp/SL  fails
  holy water       2 hours                      5sp      -        fails

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