Thursday, September 1, 2016

S&W WhiteBox House Rules (7): Spellcasting & Sanity

This is the seventh and final post detailing the house rules I use for Swords & Wizardy: WhiteBox. Today we deal with spellcasting and sanity. Cheers!

As a referee, I have been known to get fussy about spellbooks and scrolls. Sometimes players treat the spellbooks and scrolls they find in the hoards of slain evil wizards kind of like how kids collect baseball (or Yu-Gi-Oh!) cards: got it, got it, need it, got it, need it ... toss aside. This bugs me a little bit. So I like using costs for adding spells to spellbooks and rules that make casting spells off of scrolls risky.

I also added sanity rules to handle situations like encountering hideous and otherworldly monsters, reading forbidden books, speaking the names of Old Ones, suffering from fear (whether a spell or magic item), doing blasphemous things, and generally freaking out and going crazy like Pink from The Wall or GG Allin, or going completely bat shit insane like Jim Jones or Elizabeth Báthory.

The end results of which are, of course, taken straight out of the good old AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide. :-)


A spellcaster prepares and casts a certain number of spells each day, determined by her experience level. A spellcaster can prepare new spells after 8 hours of rest. It takes 1 hour to prepare all the spells a character can cast each day.

A spell remains prepared in a caster’s mind until it is cast. However, if a spell is not cast by the end of the day, the caster does not get to “double up” on that spell the next day—that spell level “slot” is still occupied by the previous day’s prepared spell. Thus, a spellcaster may stretch her prepared spells over multiple days, weeks or even months, if necessary. For example, if a wizard lost her spellbook and could not prepare new spells, this capability could be a life saver.

A spellcaster may attempt to cast a spell directly off a scroll so long as the spell is identified with Read Magic and the spell is of her proper type—a wizard can only cast arcane spells and a cleric can only cast divine spells. The process of casting a scroll spell is the same as casting a prepared spell, except the caster doesn’t use up one of her spells and she must hold the scroll in-hand while casting the spell. Once a spell is cast off a scroll, the magical writing disappears from the scroll and the spell can never be cast again. Despite the similarities, casting a scroll spell is significantly riskier than casting a prepared spell—the magical writing and incantations are not the caster’s own, and therefore the chance of making a mistake increases dramatically.

Whenever a spellcaster tries to cast a spell off of a scroll, a test is required to see if the character properly translates and channels the spell. To make a Scroll Casting test, roll 2d6 + Intelligence modifier (for wizards) or Wisdom modifier (for clerics) and consult Table 42: Scroll Casting below. If the spell level is a higher level than the character can cast, apply a -1 penalty for each spell level difference. For example, if the spell on the scroll is level 5 and the character can only cast level 2 spells, the test roll suffers a -3 penalty.

Table 42: Scroll Casting
2d6 + Int Mod
2 or less
Eldritch Backfire. The casting attempt backfires and the scroll is consumed in an explosion of searing eldritch fire. The caster suffers 1d6 damage per level of the spell on the scroll (no saving throw allowed).
Failure. The casting attempt fails and the spell is lost from the scroll.
No Effect. The spell does not go off, but remains intact on the scroll. Something during the casting was missed or done incorrectly. The caster may try again next round.
Success. The casting attempt succeeds and the spell is used from the scroll.
12 or more
Eldritch Triumph. The casting attempt succeeds beyond expectation. All spell variables are maximized and saving throws to resist the spell (if allowed) suffer a -1 penalty.

Wizards begin play at 1st level with one or two more spells in their spellbooks than they are able to cast. Players may choose one 1st level spell for their wizard characters (two if the wizard has an Intelligence score of 13 or higher), and randomly determine one other 1st level spell. Additional spells can only be added to a spellbook through game play.

SPELLBOOKS (Warning - Fluff text present!)
A graduate of the Iron Tower of the Manalishi embarks upon her adventuring life with an impressive-looking spellbook; a thick, weighty tome of a hundred or so creamy-yellow vellum pages with a cover of immaculately-stitched and dyed leather, bound with sturdy but delicately-etched polished black iron, and decorated with brilliant silver and gold filigree or other lustrous finery.

However, not all wizards use spellbooks of such traditional “book” form. A village hedge wizard might keep a ramshackle collection of coded sketches, notes and diagrams upon a bundle of fraying parchment sheets as a spellbook. An elven hermit might record his spells on papyri sewn together to form a great, long scroll. A dwarf runecaster’s spellbook may consist of a collection of polished obsidian rune stones meticulously categorized in a crystal and black iron case lined with padded silk.

The physical form of a spellbook isn’t significant to the game rules, a player is free to detail her character’s spellbook as she likes.

The costs associated with a spellbook are stricter in the rules than the form it takes. There are three basic rules regarding spellbooks and their costs:
  1. Starting Cost: A spellbook costs 25 gp and has all of a wizard’s starting spells.
  2. Adding Spells: When a character learns a new spell, she “copies” it into her spellbook. This costs 200 gp per spell x spell level. The time required is 1 hour per spell x spell level. The gold is spent on special materials.
  3. Replacing Spellbooks: Replacing a lost or destroyed spellbook is a time-consuming and costly process. It is far cheaper to create back-up copies of spellbooks than to replace them. However, if necessary, creating a new spellbook costs 1,000 gp per spell x spell level. The time required is 1 week per spell x spell level. The character cannot do anything else during this time.

Whenever a wizard discovers a new spell—most likely on a scroll or spellbook found in a treasure hoard—she may attempt to learn it and copy it into her spellbook. There are three things a character must do to learn and copy a new spell:
  1. Read Magic: The character reads the scroll or spellbook pages with Read Magic to identify the spell. Each spell requires one casting of Read Magic.
  2. Learn Spell Test: The character must succeed on a Learn Spell roll (see Table 27: Learn Spells below). Roll 2d6 modified by Intelligence.
  3. Time and Gold: The character must spend the appropriate time and gold as noted in “Adding Spells” under Spellbook Costs above.

Table 27: Learn Spells
2d6 + Int Mod
2 or less
Eldritch Backfire. The spell is not learned and the scroll is ruined (or the spellbook pages for that spell are ruined).
Failure. The spell is not learned and the spell is lost from the scroll (but not a spellbook).
Learned. The spell is learned and may be copied normally. The spell is considered “harmlessly cast” from the original scroll (but not a spellbook).
Eldritch Success. The spell is learned and the cost to copy it once into a spellbook is halved. The spell is considered “harmlessly cast” from the original scroll (but not a spellbook).
12 or more
Eldritch Triumph. As Eldritch Success, plus the spell remains “uncast” on the original scroll.


Sanity Points (SP) represent a character’s mental resolve and capability to withstand terror, eldritch horrors and insanity. Sanity points most often come into play when a character makes a saving throw to resist the horror of an otherworldly creature, after reading a forbidden tome of unspeakable lore, or to resist a spell that causes fear.

All characters have SP based upon their initial Wisdom scores at 1st level. A character with a Wisdom score of 12 starts the game with 12 SP. Think of sanity points a bit like mental hit points—a character can take only a certain amount of sanity damage until he goes insane and is removed from the game.

Table 38: Sanity
Wis Score/San Pts
Threshold Effect
PC insane and removed from play
PC gains major mental illness
PC gains minor mental illness
PC gains mental immunity
Wis Score/San Pts: The character’s Wisdom score and Sanity Points at 1st level.
ST: Modifier (Wisdom) applies to saving throws against sanity-draining effects.
Threshold: Describes a character’s general mental state based upon his current SP total.
Threshold Effect: This is what happens when a character’s Sanity Threshold drops or rises.

Saving Throws: When a character’s sanity is attacked—whether by a monster's presence or gaze, a spell, a curse, a trap, a magic item, or whatever—the character must make a saving throw modified by Wisdom. Success means the character is fine and suffers no ill effects, unless the attack type specifies otherwise.
Sanity Point Loss: If a character fails the saving throw, he suffers the full effects of the specific attack, and a temporary or permanent loss to his SP total. A temporary loss is typically 1d6 points, restored at a rate of 1 point per day of complete rest (no combat or adventuring activities allowed). A permanent loss is typically 1 or 2 points. Only the most horrific creatures and events cause permanent SP loss.
Sanity Threshold & Mental Illness: When a character has lost SP, his Sanity Threshold may drop—see the table above. If a character’s Sanity Threshold drops to Weak-Willed or less, he goes slightly mad and gains a minor mental illness. If his SP loss is temporary, so is the illness—it goes away when his Sanity Threshold rises to Stable. If the Sanity Threshold becomes Weak-Willed permanently, so is the mental illness. Thereafter, if the character’s Sanity Threshold drops another level—Weak-Willed to Fragile or Fragile to Insane—he gains an additional mental illness, either temporary or permanent.
Determining Mental Illnesses: When a character gains a temporary mental illness, the Referee (or player) rolls 1d10 and consults Table 48: Insanity & Mental Illnesses. The character suffers this type of insanity until his Sanity Threshold rises to stable. If the character suffers a permanent mental illness, roll 1d20 and consult the same table. The referee arbiters any details of the mental illness.
Restoring Lost Sanity Points: In addition to regaining 1 lost SP per day of complete rest, a character’s SP may be restored with any Cure-type spell: instead of restoring hit points, the spell restores sanity points.

Table 48: Insanity & Mental Illnesses
Roll d10 or d20
Type of Insanity
Roll d20
Type of Insanity
Pathological liar
Hallucinatory insanity
Dementia praecox
Homicidal mania
Delusional insanity
Suicidal mania
Note: These disorders are detailed on pages 83-84 of the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide.