Your favorite list of spells with short! descriptions and less overpowering / broken spells?

A number of (OSR) systems have entire spell lists that fit on one to three pages, including the entire descriptions which are usually one or two lines of text for each spell. I love this, because I find having to look up and read a long spell description and possibly debate what exactly is meant by it during tense (combat) moments really breaks flow, immersion and fun and slows down the game. Short spells descriptions hugely mitigate this.

I would like the list (could be from any game or edition) to include the classics, like Acid Arrow, Lightning bolt, Shield, Fire ball, Feather fall, Lightning bolt etc (if the names are a bit different, that’s ok.)

As far as overpowered and broken spells go, most editions have extremely powerful and suspense/game-breaking spells (or sometimes even Cantrips) at almost every (spell) level. Ideally I would like the more powerful spells, such as Fireball to be set at a much higher spell level. I am making a system where there are still 7 to 10 spell levels. I am also capping player advancement to about 7 to 10th level characters in This way I could make sure that spell levels are actually the same as character level. The implication is that many spells would shift up a few levels. Fireball might be a 5th spell level rather 3rd. Perhaps to compensate, the lower levels could have more specific, single purpose spells.

I will also be using the system that magic is not predictable, casters roll a D20 to see if their spell succeeds (against a target number from 1 to 20 based on the AC or magical nature of opponent and other factors that GM reasons will affect difficulty). Fail the roll and the spell completely fizzles, no harm done. Succeed and and then they roll another D20 to determine how! effective their spell was. Roll 0, that is very bad. So, essentially a spell attack.

Of course bonuses or advantage will be given by the GM to the second roll as well, this way a 6th level caster casting a 1st level spell has a far smaller chance of being rather ineffective compared to a 1st level caster, casting that exact same spell. In some situations perhaps the spells automagically succeeds, no roll needed (high level caster under no stress at all casting innocuous low level spell she has cast 20+ times before or very low power Cantrips).

-> If you succeed on the first roll and then you roll a 5 on your second roll = small ish fireball with not very high damage. Roll 20 and a massive fireball reduces all 7 Orcs to ash. Second roll is essentially a spell damage roll/effectiveness roll.

I won’t be using spell tables or even a truly hard limit on how often a character can cast the same spell or varied spells, but I will limit what spells the character knows (must adventure, apprentice and research for new spells). To limit spell usage without a spell table I have the risks mentioned above and I also implement the following:

As a PC casts more spells in a shorter time period, they will get harder target numbers, even if circumstances are identical otherwise. Cast ‘Light’ first time that day? Target nr is 6, cast it again 5 mins later? Target nr is 9. Again 1 minute after that? Target nr is 16 etc

Forgive the long explanation, but magic is complicated and what I am looking for not that easy/kinda specific.

Should you know of snappy/short spell list that are open source or the creator allows people to drop it into their system, even better. I am sure I would have to rearrange the spells to the spell levels I think would work for my system above and tweak some descriptions, but it would be awesome to have a starting point and get your opinions on spell lists/balancing magic for OSR style, challenging play. Cheers.

3rd circle spells are already accessed at 5th level, so I don’t really understand why you would need to compensate for this.

If you’re using OD&D spells, you are only missing even levels (2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th) - you could shift some of the stronger spells up one level (say, Sleep from 1st to 2nd) or decrease the power of higher level spells (say, Fireball from 5th to 4th, but it deals less damage, affects a smaller area, or something).

My issue with the first route is that magic-users are very weak early on. In fact, without their superpowers like Sleep and Charm Person, they have no redeeming factors early on. The second route also weakens the magic-user, unless the “true” spells are also preserved, but then it makes them stronger in turn (because they potentially have access to more spells of similar effect; say, +1 or +2 damaging spells per day by level 5).

EDIT: Oh, if you’re already implementing a casting roll, why not just leave the spells and spell levels as they are for the first iteration to see how much the casting roll affects them already?

At any rate, tread carefully, and please report back as soon as you get to test it out :wink:


Here is a simple spell list from Trophy Gold. Might give you some ideas.


I’ve never really love the magic in D&D. It seems broken: too powerful and restrictive at the same time, and not so evocative.

Since I’ve read and tried many OSR games, I’ve adopted the Beyond the Wall magic system.

In Beyond the Wall, the magic system is really nice and different. A mage can cast cantrips , not potent but useful spells which don’t count in your spell limit by day, but requires a stat check to not cast a fumble!

A mage can also cast regular spells , who are levelless. They are not powerful but useful, and they are very few regular spells that are damage dealing spells. You can cast as many spells a day as your level, and doesn’t need to read your spellbook each day for memorize them, so it’s not Vancian magic.

And a mage can cast rituals , who are very long to cast (1 hour by level), need a stat check, but are very powerful and doesn’t count in your spell by day limit. The rituals have a level, so for learning and launch a ritual, you need to be of the ritual level. You miscast the ritual? He takes place, but with a negative twist! For example, the ritual fireball (it’s not a spell) is level 5 and is really useful for attacking a castle door or an orc camp. But it takes 5 hours to prepare it :slight_smile:

With this, I can say goodbye to the old “linear fighter, quadratic wizard” problem, and it’s more subtle and more interesting for my players (they said).

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I don’t have much to say but I have something to point towards.
Brendan S (necropraxis) re-wrote all spells that appear in Deep Carbon Observatory. The result incredibly useful for games that do not use Spell-Levels.

The supplement is free. Allow me to link you.

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Well the thing is, I think it is silly and illogical to have a 5th level Wizard not being able to access 5th level spells (if few / not often, as long as it is also risky),… for any new to tabletop and DnD style magic player that system sounds weird/unintuitive and requires a spell table or something else that can not easily be remembered. I think it is simply a problem with the power levels of some spells or possibly their descriptions/effects being too powerful and game-breaking for the level they are currently assigned to.

For reasons explained above. :slight_smile: I want short descriptions that at least don’t imply -or straight up state- that the spell is extremely (overly) powerful. Also, if I only rely on the casting roll to mitigate OP or spell level problems, it will still mean a spell is very OP or potentially game-breaking but just based on random luck of the die/at unpredictable moments. It would almost be like the warrior sometimes doing triple or more damage with the exact same swing and weapon sometimes, just because he rolled well. I don’t feel any critical hit should do more than double damage, or at least not have a 5% chance to do that every time you swing weapon or cast spell.

You raise a very good point about Wizard being very weak early on, hit point wise and also AC wise. Which is why I would want to add or modify a few spells. For example: a spells that gives only the caster (when cast on himself) a few extra “ghost hit points”, somewhere between 2 and 7. These hit point would last a limited amount of time. Or a shield or armor or barkskin type spell that last minutes or at most an hour, giving a very temporary AC bonus somewhere between +1 and +3, but again only if cast on the caster himself. That should really increase the survival chances of a Wizard early on, without being a benefit or buff that will give huge and lengthy or permanent (and potentially game breaking or game unbalancing) magical bonus to the entire party/or will play a too big role at higher levels.

These type of spells would balance out the Fighter class VS the Wizard since in my system better physical armour messes with the casting roll, so the fighter could run around always having AC 14 to AC 19, while the caster could only have those ACs for very temporary stretches of time and it would cost him spells, which would also have some risk of failure or bad effects at the moment they are being cast.

While I do very much like a few spells (Chromatic Orb is one of my favourites) that scale in power level as the Wizard levels, most of them end up pretty OP quickly, there tends to be a too big jump at one point. Also, the descriptions almost always end up long or at least a bit confusing to keep track of the effects. I will have a few spells like that for sure. But in some ways I feel like making a scaling spell with a long description and having to track what it does at which level might often not be better than making that spell in to seperate short! descriptor (variant) ones. For instance if I were to modify Chomatic orb:

Chromatic Orb Green, 2rd level spell, does 1d4 poison dmg.
Chromatic Orb Blue, 3nd level spell, does 1d6 cold dmg.
Chromatic Orb Storm, 4th level spell, does 1d8 thunder dmg etc

The GM could still rule that the Wizard that has acquired any Chromatic orb will automatically (or easily) learn the other variants when he reaches that character/spell level.

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Microlite pure essence has a very trimmed down spell list.

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Thanks! I had kinda forgotten about Microlite due to me not liking the basic ability scores rules quite enough, but the spell list seem to be a perfect starting point (and even very viable to use as is) now that I am looking at it closer. :slight_smile:


This is interesting! I have not dove into Beyond the Wall except for very short glance, I will have to acquire it. Thank you. :slight_smile:

I tried my magic as well as entire RPG system yesterday (which to be fair is 80% the system Professor Dungeon Master uses, which in turn is based on bits of Index Card RPG, DCC, XDM, others and a few inventions of his own).

I played with 4 players, 2 newbies and 2 people who had played a little bit. As expected those who had played a little bit need 5 minutes to adjust and forget any 5e or other rules they kinda knew.

The magic system worked grand. It was such a relief to be able to adjudicate magic as I saw fit. The Wizard character of course was very inexperienced. As such he knew very few spells, I did allowed her to make and describe his own variants of them on the spot (player has a Desert themed Wizard and magic) and I simply adjudicate the effect, duration and damage on the spot. At one point he failed on very simple Identify spell which actually was fun and fit in with the game/moment (1st level Wizard trying to identify a ring imbued with Cleric magic) later he might manage it, or not.

I printed out the microlite spells, but ended up glancing at it only briefly, but I reckon I will alter it a bit, and end up having him learn/find spells from that list very slowly. Atm, as a freshly made character he knows a desert/sand themed variant of Burning hands as well as detect magic and identify, and he can try! pretty much any other common spell -within reason- but I set the DC very high. Other spells he will have to find, be taught or research.


I allow my wizard players to make their own spell lists. It makes the players much more interested in their character and what they can do. So good call with making the magic more freeform.


I like the idea of unpredictable magic but I also know the pain of seeing a player who can only cast spells (almost only) lose a turn because their one chance to do a cool thing fizzled. They turn less happy with the game especially if they are new to it so I like a way of making magic that is aware of both parts of that.


I see what you mean, but the good thing about the spell system I use is that it mimics an conventional attack roll,… so just like those roles there is a always a 5% chance that any spell will backfire badly. And freshly created, 1st level characters are much more like to simply miss an attempt with otherwise no other ill effects. Whether it is a spell or a an attack it can miss,… however! as soon as a character has cast a particular spell more often or goes up in level I allow them to get a much better chance of casting the spell. I will assign “easy” to their attempt = +3 or even Advantage, which is an even higher modifier. At times I will say, “no roll needed, your spell simply works!” (for instance when casting a very basic spell under 0 stress under no time pressure and not looking for a huge effect. In other words their chance of successfully casting a spell rapidly scales up if they do something smart/patient or simply as they level.