Compilation of ambiguous spell effects

Two orcs's picture

Spin-off from this thread.

If you want the player rather than the character to be creative and to make magic poetic I'd write spell effects as normal sentences and have any skill checks determine whether the spell could be applied to an ambigious (not any) situation.
"Make a sword return to its scabbard" could be a mind afflicting spell making someone stay their hand in a violent situation, or a telekinetic effect making the sword literally return or have a man rush to his lover. This effect could be used to find a path by purposefully separating a sword and it's scabbard and later casting a spell on the sword. Axe wielding warriors and eunuchs would be immune to this spell. The reverse of this spell would be powerful too.

Basic rules:
The spell effect is written in natural language.
It is ambiguous enough to apply to at least two situations without being a stretch.
It's specific enough that there aren't more than a handful of obvious applications.
Bonus points if the power level is what you'd expect from an adventuring magic user.

Just the effect is enough, only clarify and expand if you really want to. Here's the start:

"A sword returns to its scabbard."
"A flame burns through the night."
"Bloody tears stain cloth."
"A message is carried on the wind."
"A seed takes root."

Paul T.'s picture

I like this a lot.

You might be able to get a lot of the ambiguity you wish for by restricting how spells can be written. It might be in terms of the “magic words” known to a wizard, how these terms may be combined, the structure of the magic phrase, its length, or something else entirely. Restrict how it can written and you force the player to be more creative and less direct.

Well worth exploring!

Two orcs's picture

My intention is the opposite of letting players come up with spells on the fly - they have to apply their creativity to applying the spells rather than coming up with them. Instead of imposing structure on the phrases the phrases themselves make up the structure of magic. Of course this relies heavily on fair judgement from the GM and players who don't waste everyone's time with ridiculous stretches. This could probably work in a GM less system where all players are wizards and there is a communal vote if a certain attempted effect works as the caster intended.

Tod's picture

So in a game of this type, I'm imagining one might come across a scroll or grimoire possessing a number of spells which are defined by their titles alone, yes?
"Become a beam of light"
"Travel via emotional connection"
"Recognize an occluded significance"

Paul T.'s picture

I don’t think it has anything to do with whether is spontaneous or carefully constructed.

The point is that you want the spells to be “a seed takes root”, instead of “after two weeks,a planted seed grows into a tree that is 45 ft high, and requires two gallons of water a day; I can support up to 450 lbs of weight before breaking, and will live for two years before dying”.

The difference is that the first formulation of the spell is limited in terms of its length, its language, or its formulation. For example, maybe the wizard developing this spell was allowed to use “seed” or “root”, but not the word “tree”.

Two orcs's picture

"A snake becomes an arrow." - not ambiguous but it has the dual use of creating venomous arrows and neutralizing hostile serpents.
"A sour note spoils the evening."
"Someone sees stars."
"A wave knocks the captain off his balance."

Two orcs's picture

Paul, the reason I want short spell effects is not to restrict their power but to allow players to quickly parse them - to allow intuitive solutions to present themselves. In D&D mages act like artillery officers trying to fit different barrages and munitions to different targets. The ideal scenario I hope for is a problem presenting itself and the experienced mage player quickly scanning his 40 spells and having a few jump out at him - appearing in new light!

Tod, yes! But I bet most mages would not title their spells clearly to make figuring out their repertoire more difficult. I like your spells except for "Recognize an occluded significance" which I think should be written as "Reveal a hidden point." to make it detect daggers as well as layered language.