Runequest Thursday #3: A New Sorcery (Part 1)

Clint Staples

I have always liked the idea of sorcery in Runequest, but I have never been fond of the system for Sorcery in any of the iterations of the game. So, because I can't leave well enough alone, I worked out my own, based on the Magic System from the long OOP Worlds of Wonder boxed set. It contains much that would be familiar to those who know the original, but with a few more spells and some game balance issues addressed. I have been using it for a few months in my Gloranthan Runequest game based on the Legend Rpg System and it has been working well. So I here present to you the first installment of Sorcery as it exists in my games. 


Sorcery is the direct manipulation of the cosmos through application of the will. It relies on no god or spirit, only the knowledge and mental strength of the sorcerer.

The Sorcery Skill

The skill of Sorcery allows a sorcerer to learn sorcery spells and understand the methods of his craft. The Skill may be rolled upon to:

  • Learn New Spells through instruction or research.
  • Recognize Sorcery in effect, or in the process of being cast.
  • Detect Magic, recognize a written sorcery spell or grimoire of spells, in whatever form they take.
  • Analyze Magic Items. 1d6 Hours and 1d6 POW per hour per item.
  • Comprehend Runes and their meaning for Sorcery.

Costs of Magic

Each level of a spell normally requires the expenditure of 1 POW to cast. If a sorcerer’s POW is reduced to 0, he cannot cast magic, even if he has stored POW available. The POW will return at a rate of 1 point for every half hour of full rest or every two hours of movement and action. A failed or aborted spell costs 0 POW.

Levels of Effect/ Time to Cast Spells  

Nearly every spell on the Spell list is variable, which means that, if more levels are known, and the necessary POW is spent, more powerful versions of a spell may be cast. The exact effect of these extra levels of POW is described in each spell description.

Every sorcerer has a Manipulation Limit [1/3 INT rounding up] which governs the maximum number of levels of a spell he can learn or cast.


Spell Strike Rank - Each level of POW in the spell subtracts one from the sorcerer’s SR for the encounter. Thus, if Sangor’s SR is 15 and he wishes to cast a second level Fire/Frost, the spell will happen at SR 13 (15-2). In subsequent rounds, Sangor’s SR would begin at 13.


  • For each additional strike rank you spend casting, you may increase your chance to cast by 2%. Doing so reduces your SR from then on, to a minimum of 0.
  • A sorcerer may also spend extra Combat Actions casting. Each one grants +20% to the spell success chance.
  • Each level of the spell, regardless of how the levels are used, counts for POW cost and reduction in SR.

Overcoming POW

Unless otherwise stated, any magic affecting a living target, such as Change or Control, must overcome the POW of the target on the Resistance Table. This need not to be done if the target is willing to receive the spell, as in the case of someone receiving a Heal or Enhancement spell.

An unconscious target cannot resist a spell.

Memorization of Magic

A sorcerer must have spells memorized to use them quickly. The limit to the number of levels of spells a sorcerer may have readied is equal to the INT of the character.



Any other spells a sorcerer knows must be carried in spell books, or stored in the INT of a bound spirit or specially prepared magical item.  It takes an hour to change any number of spell levels held in mind, but the sorcerer must have access to his grimoire to access a spell not in his memory.

A spell may be used directly from the sorcerer’s grimoire, but this will take one full melee round per level of effect desired. A grimoire need not be a book. It could be a set of tattoos, a sigil covered robe, even a rune embossed staff or a set of carved armor.

A sorcerer may use another sorcerer’s spell book if the sorcerer makes a Sorcery check at Difficult [-20%] as a percentage for each spell he attempts to use. Otherwise, the notation for the spell will be incomprehensible. Reading it anew may be attempted only when a character’s Sorcery increases.

The Sorcerer


A sorcerer gains initial experience according to their background, but their profession choice is Sorcerer. A character who becomes a sorcerer will receive the following benefits:

LITERACY –The character will receive Sorcery and Read and Write [Language] as Advanced Skill choices. 

INITIAL SPELLS – A character will be trained up to INT + Magic Bonus% skill in nine spell levels of his choice, with no higher than level 3 in any spell.

MEMORIZATION TRAINING – The character will be trained in the techniques allowing him to memorize spell levels in his INT.

DISPEL – a Sorcerer is trained to dispel his own spells as a free action on his Turn.

Gaining POW

A magician needs a high POW to get into the profession, to fuel his spells, and to successfully overcome the resistance of target. Fortunately, it is possible for his permanent POW to increase in the course of his career.


Any time a magician overcomes the magical resistance of a target, his POW has been exercised and may increase. Each spell description notes whether a POW check might be gained while using that spell. Subtract the current POW of the character from the Species Maximum [usually 21], then roll the result or less x5 on 1D100.


Sangor the Sorcerer, with a POW of 17, subtracts that from 21 to get a result of 4[x5 = 20%]. He rolls 1D100, getting a 33. Sangor does not succeed in gaining POW.

For every successful roll to gain POW, the magician will gain 1d3 point of POW. This roll is made along with normal experience checks, when sufficient time is available after an adventure.

Losing POW

Some ceremonial Magics, such as Enchantment or Necromancy, take permanent POW away from the practitioners. Magical mishaps or attacks by certain monsters might also result in temporary or permanent POW loss.

Gaining New Spells and Spell Levels

Sorcerers may gain new spells by buying Levels at the prices on the list of Spells [if she can find a teacher], or by spending 1d6 weeks, +1 week per level to be gained in full-time research, then attempting to make a roll on his Sorcery Skill – 5% per level of the spell being studied. A successful roll means that the sorcerer has gained new knowledge, a spell of his choice from the list at Level 1, or a new level of a spell he already knows. A failed roll may be retried each following weeks of continued study. New spells gained by research begin at a percentage equal to his INT+ Magic Bonus.

A sorcerer may research part time, though no less than half-time [3.5 full days of research per week], in which case increase the time required by the requisite amount. In addition, the level-based reduction on the Sorcery check is Level x10. For higher level spells, full-time research is definitely the better option.

A sorcerer may also study to raise his casting ability. Each 1d3 weeks of full time study, he may roll his Sorcery. If he succeeds he may place a check against one of his spells for Experience rolls. After rising in a spell chance from study, the spell chance must be raised by actual use before it can be studied again.

Potent magical items, libraries, Cabal memberships and grimoires may confer bonuses to certain research rolls.


Sangor attempts to learn level 3 in Summon Salamander. Having rolled a 4, he spends seven weeks in full-time study of his subject, aided by a tome found in his adventure ‘On the Nature of the Plane of Pyres’, which grants +10% to sorcery research checks regarding fire. At the end of that time, he roll on his Sorcery of 61%, subtracting 15% for the level of the spell. Adds 10% to this modified skill [for his book] he has a 56% chance to learn the new level. He rolls 60, not quite good enough. Another week of continued study gets him another chance, at the same percentage. He rolls a 14 and masters the deeper understanding of the plane of fire.

Sangor then attempts to study Level 1 of Vision, while juggling other duties. He studies half-time forsix weeks to make up the necessary three weeks of study required [a roll of 2+1 week for the spell level ] and has a 51% chance to succeed [61% - 10% per level of the spell to be learned].

Purchase and Memorization of Spells by Non-Sorcerers

Non-sorcerers may learn Sorcery, but they are not taught the necessary notation to create or read a spell book, and they are not taught how to effectively memorize spells. Therefore a non-sorcerer cannot carry more than ¼ his INT in sorcerous spell levels [round down].

Non-Sorcerers start at INT+ Magic Bonus% with each spell learned.

Sorcery Spell Costs

Nearly every sorcery spell is variable, and levels must be learned separately. Successive levels of a spell increase in cost by 500L over the previous level. So a spell that costs 1000L for level one will cost 1500L for level two, and 2000L for level three. A sorcerer cannot learn higher levels than his Manipulation Limit.  

Non-sorcerers have a Manipulation Limit of ¼ INT [Round Down] and cannot research spells.

The  Sorcerer’s Staff

A sorcerer may pay an enchanter [or do the job himself if he is an enchanter] to have a staff made for him. The ritual will take 5+1d6 weeks of the sorcerer’s time and he will have to pay for the enchanter’s upkeep and the expenses of the enchantment at a rate of 3d6 x100 Lunars per week. The sorcerer must be available for that time, and cannot be away from the process for more than a few days at a time. The final ceremony will cost him a point of POW, permanently subtracted from his characteristics.

  • The staff acts as a reservoir of POW for the sorcerer. It will have a POW equal to the sorcerer’s after he has sacrificed the point of POW, and it can be used to power spells instead of using the POW of the sorcerer. It regains POW at the rate of 1 POW every 2 hours, and cannot be reduced to zero POW without withering and dying.
  • A sorcerer’s staff has 20 Hit Points and AP according to the material used in its construction +1d6. 
  • In melee, at a cost of 1 temporary POW from the staff, it can do an additional 1D6 damage to a target struck with it, if its POW overcomes the POW of the target. If broken in combat, the staff will wither and become useless and dead. If the sorcerer dies, his staff loses its special staff abilities permanently, though it will retain any other enchantments. A staff may have Protection and Countermagic spells laid on it.
  • A staff need not be an actual ‘staff’. Sorcerers have been known to have jewels, wands, or even weapons enchanted. However, the cost of time is doubled for any non-wood substance. A sorcerer may have any number of staves.


Next time, the actual stuff that sorcerers throw around - Spells!


Note: This is not intended as any sort of challenge or complaint against Basic Role Playing, Runequest, or any other game system or license. I hope you will like it, try it out, and even let me know how it went.