Alternative Systems for AD & DTM


Colour and Magic

One of the major obstacles I find I need to overcome is the system's generic setting. Perhaps it stems from having so many co-creators, perhaps it's just the end result of trying to appeal to everyone, but a lot of flavour and colour is missing. This particularly jars with regard to magic. In the first place, magic loses its otherworldly mystique when every player knows the ins and outs of every spell effect. Compounding the problem, we have the dull, utilitarian spell names - 'Fly', 'Cause Light Wounds', 'Lightning Bolt'. Here's some ideas to help:

Religion-specific spell lists

It's a lot of work, but an individual set of priest spells for each faith really makes a difference to the feel of playing a 'cleric' character. I've integrated spells from plenty of other sources (e.g. the wizard spell lists), and renamed wherever necessary. You'll need to put your own work in as appropriate for your own pantheon, but as an example, here's the set for Azmobaana, nasty Chaotic Evil deity from Pangea:

(NB: Some of the below spells may be unfamiliar; they're specific to Pangea.)

      • Animal Friendship
      • Bless (R only)
      • Combine
      • Corrupt Food (as Purify Food And Drink, R only)
      • Detect Evil, (R only)
      • Detect Divine Influence
      • Devourer Touch (as Cure Light Wounds, R only)
    • from Wizards' list

      • Change Guise
      • Claws (as Chill Touch)
      • Beast Guardian
      • Blood Of Beasts (as Aid)
      • Call Upon Holy Might
      • Chant
      • Corrupt Soul (as Charm Man Or Beast)
      • Enthrall
      • Hold Person
      • Snake Charm
      • Spiritual Claws (as Spiritual Weapon)
      • Touch Of Scythes
    • from Wizards' list

      • Lesser Shapeshift
      • Scare
      • Strength
      • Beast Skin (as Holy Vestment)
      • Black Sun Rune (as Glyph Of Warding)
      • Corrupt Blood (as Cure Disease, R only)
      • Dispel Magic
      • Fearful Howl
      • Hold Animal
      • Prayer
      • Curse (Bane)
      • Slay Sight Or Hearing (as Cure Blindness Or Deafness, R only)
      • Summon Insects
    • from Wizards' list

      • Spectral Hand (2nd lvl)
      • Wolf Eyes (as Cat's Eyes)
      • Giant Insect (+R)
      • Neutralise Poison (R only)
      • Rending Wounds (as Cure Serious Wounds, R only)
      • Repel Insects
      • Sticks To Snakes (+R)
      • Stink Of Fear (as Cloak Of Bravery, R only)
      • Ward Off Weak (as Protective Aura, Greater)
    • from Wizards' list

      • Know Fear
      • Shades
      • Atonement
      • Breath Of Fear (as Aura of Bravery, R only)
      • Commune
      • Dismiss Weak (as Dispel Powers)
      • Insect Plague
      • Quest
      • Rip Apart (as Cure Critical Wounds, R only)
    • from Wizards' list

      • Instil Emotion (fear, hate, hopelessness only, 4th)
      • Walk In Dreams
      • Crack Marrow (as Heal, R only)
      • Great Ward (as Ward Against Beasts And Men)
      • Lair Of The Beast (as Forbiddance)
      • Wall Of Talons (as Wall Of Thorns)
      • Word Of Recall
    • from Wizards' list

      • Beasts Of The Night (as Greater Shades, 5th lvl)
      • Blight Of Thirst (as Transmute Water To Dust, not R)
      • Blasphemous Word (as Holy Word)
      • Bring Confusion
      • Creeping Doom
      • Enslave Great Beast (as Exaction)
      • Enter His Halls (as Astral Travel)
      • Gate Between Realms
      • His Sign (as Symbol)
      • Strength Of The Devourer (as Regenerate, R only)

Hopefully, names like Black Sun Rune, Devourer Touch and Ward Off Weak will immediately give the flavour of this evil cult, and further confound players who have (intentionally or otherwise) memorised the usual spell list. They should also suggest unique and appropriate special effects; Cause Light Wounds cast as Devourer Touch might be delivered as a vicious bite, for example.

Personalised Special Effects

Wizard spells also suffer from being pretty bland, on the whole. Seen one Fireball, seen 'em all. I allow (and encourage) wizards to describe their own special effects, which can be as diverse as the characters themselves. The archetype in Pangea has been good old Magic Missile, which has been described as a set of arrows, as little 'photon torpedoes', zooming musical notes (cast by a bard), and (most memorably) as a herd of miniature flying pigs, complete with squeals and resultant tiny trotter-marks in the target. Don't blame me, blame my players.

Once a wizard has decided on a look and feel, they should stick to it. I've awarded a few extra XP to wizard characters with a themed set of spells. Not only does this idea prevent lazy identification of a cast spell, it allows the perceptive to recognise wizardry they've encountered before. In Pangea we've also seen 'inherited' spell effects, where the first few castings of a borrowed or stolen spell conform to the theme of the originating wizard, until the new caster has had time to make the spell their own. There can even be families, associations or apprentice wizards who cast spells with the same set of standard effects, which may again be possible for others to recognise.

More Colourful Spell Names

I've always viewed wizards as an insular and antisocial lot, on the whole, and I don't see why they should agree on nomenclature. What one mage calls Cone of Cold, another might refer to as Winter's Fury, or The Terrible Breath Of Frosts.

Better and more evocative spell names can be poached from many sources; other games, good fantasy fiction, and so on. The game Ars Magica has the kind of elaborate and arcane names that appeal to me (its take on magic is generally excellent and colourful) - 'Ball of Abysmal Flame' is far more worrying than boring old 'Fireball', for instance.

Jack Vance's fantasies name many baroque and esoteric spells - Galvanic Thrust (a kind of Lightning Bolt) and the Spell of Forlorn Encystment (D&D's Imprisonment), to mention just two. Many of the extravagant spell names from original D&D show the influence of Jack Vance (and occasionally poke fun at Gygax's players - Leomund's Lamentable Belaborment is a dig at Lenard Lakofka's verbiage).

Again, what we end up with is magic that's more mysterious, and extra gaming colour, which is always good.


Here there aren't radical differences from the 2nd Ed system. The intention is to give wizards a more sorcerous air, and the abilities to perform all manner of tiny magics without worrying about memorisation. Again, hopefully this will add colour and spur players' imaginations. In Pangea a simple cantrip is usually the first spell taught by mages to an apprentice.

All wizards can have a single cantrip in effect at all times. The casting time for a cantrip is 1; usually a small gesture and perhaps a single word are required to cast them. They have a duration of five minutes at most - the caster can always dispel an extant cantrip at will. Range is no more than 10'.

The effects of a cantrip are essentially open; the only restrictions are that they cannot give a mechanical in-game bonus or penalty, nor can they be as powerful as a 1st lvl spell. They've been utilised for many different purposes in Pangea - here's some examples:

Anything summoned by, or under the influence of, a cantrip will weakly show to Detect Magic. Dispel Magic or similar powers will immediately remove cantrips.