I’m amazed by the variety of implementations of spellcasting in OSR systems. I asked OSR Reddit what the problems are that these new implementations are trying to solve, what the most popular approaches to spellcasting are, and people’s preferences. I distilled the discussion into the following analysis.

  • Perceived problems with OD&D
    • Boring
    • Vancian magic isn’t magical enough
    • Difference between spell levels and PC levels
    • Set spell lists
    • Doesn’t suit certain settings and types of campaigns
  • Types of spells
    • Set spell lists:
      • By spell level
      • By player level (e.g., level 2 spell for level 2 caster)
      • By schools (e.g., Necromancy)
      • Level-less
    • New spells are discovered in game (as treasure or from other casters)
    • Improvised by player
  • Availability of spells
    • Cantrips can be used any number of times
    • Spell slots:
      • With slots per level
      • Overall number of slots (level-less)
      • Spells have physical form (e.g., scrolls) and take encumbrance slots
    • Any spell they know:
      • Chosen by player
      • Chosen by player if they pass a check (e.g., Intelligence)
      • Determined randomly
    • Casting has a cost:
      • Time — Spellcasting takes 2-3 rounds
      • Reduces hp
      • Mana cost
  • Success of spells
    • Target, if any, gets a saving throw
    • Caster rolls for success
    • Caster failure results in anything from magical side effects to catastrophes
    • Magic Dice (MD) per level, with option to roll as many or as few as you wish (GLOG) but with doubles result in a side effect and triples result in a catastrophe

Based on this research, I decided to do a survey to provide feedback to the OSR (Old School Renaissance) community on what Level 1-3 spells are considered most useful. The results can then be used to create shorter spell lists and player aids.

For each of the six groups of spells, you’ll be asked to rank at least the top three spells for OSR play, from most useful to least useful. You can take the survey here:


Many thanks!

Update: The survey wrapped up, and you can see the full results–OSR Spell Preferences.

Illustration credit: The Sorcerer, by Jennie Wilde.