Narrative Spell Casting Costs and Taboos



FIREBALL costs: we all know this classic spell of elemental destruction. It’s been the devil’s right hand of most every battle mage for 40 years now, but though it’s been great for chewing through tightly knit bands of baddies, the destruction meted out by this spell has always been muted. This may be more mechanical than narrative, but I think one of the simplest ways to increase the cost of this spell is make it destroy loot. Another obvious cost would be the extreme fear that a fire wizard would strike in the hearts of people for whom fire poses a very real threat to the existence of entire cites. You could expect the regulations encountered by such people would be draconian in the extreme.
Another great cost for such a high energy spell would be body heat. After casting this spell, the caster is cold all the time - like without fire near or a coat on, could freeze to death in summertime. That, or they need to be in contact with some store of energy, such as turning a woodpile into ashes, or turning a great sack of coal into dust. You have to be careful with that sort of thing, though. Players will try to weaponize the cost, if they can inflict it upon others.

FIREBALL taboos: I’d say places of desolation, or the metaphysical desolation of the caster, would be incompatible with such an energetic and resource hungry spell. A depressed wizard is unlikely to be able to muster the energy for an explosion. It may be also that a supremely cold place would at the least be difficult to summon a fireball into. Again, the fiction of the origin of the fire becomes very important in explaining what sort of place may be hard to cast in. If the caster is opening a portal to the plane of fire, or the surface of the sun, or what have you, then places planarly locked would block the spell, but if it is through accessing deep seated rage, or using the stored chemical energy in wood, different circumstances explain the taboo.


FIRE MISSILE costs: Very similar themes and thematic costs to FIREBALL. THe way that I would say that this spell is different in that it is target specific, which makes it reflective of a more personal grievance. If FIREBALL is about burning it all down, FIRE MISSILE is about burning you down. If the magic is born out of a hunger for vengeance, then it could be that the caster becomes incurably hungry, always eating, but never full. If it is anger over injustice, it could be that the caster is unable to commit any crime, even if they do not know the law.

FIRE MISSILE taboos: since it is a more personal spell, it could be that the spell is unable to be cast on someone that you don’t have some sort of grievance against. If you wanted to get really basic, you could say that you can’t cast the spell on a target already carrying fire. Why is that? I don’t know; it just sounded good.


GROWTH RAY costs: so what if to make things literally big, you have to give up being figuratively big? The caster remains meek, uninfluential, even unmemorable? Or maybe they have to literally give up physical size to make other things large? Casting could also cost a component, like an enchanted acorn, which consumes all the growth contained in it to impart the growth on something else.

GROWTH RAY taboos: I would think the larger something is, the harder it becomes to make it bigger. The other component is whether or not the caster can make just a part of something grow: just one wheel on a cart, or just one arm of a target. Since all things are essentially a collection of smaller things, this can become a logical mine field. There’s no right answer, but it bears discussing with the player, and being consistent.


HAMMER STONE costs: this spell bestows the gifts of mass and work, so it could be the mage is constantly lifting things up - putting stones, logs, or barrels on higher and higher shelves, and after each cast, all these objects end up on the ground again. Or perhaps the mage moves as if always weighted down - always carrying this tremendous weight, which through the auspices of the spell may occasionally be inflicted up others.

HAMMER STONE taboos: I would say using the spell as a means of generating power, like casting it over an engineered arm attached to a turbine or other mechanism to capture the energy of the fall would be anathema to the spirit of the spell. I assume in such a case that the stone would appear higher than expected, and destroy the apparatus. I would also think that any concerted effort to use the spell as a resource for construction materials would lead to some unforeseen problem with the material nature of the stone, and/or some terrible accident in which the mage is either crushed by the very stones that they summoned, or falls off of them to their demise.


IDENTIFY costs: much like the modern condition in which we find ourselves in, the price of immediately accessible knowledge could be an utter lack of privacy or secrets of our own. To access universal knowledge, the mage must make everything about themselves known. Alternatively, they could live in a state of constant study, paying for the knowledge they gain magically with excess knowledge which they don’t need, but which puts in the requisite work of learning; they could be constantly memorizing almanacs, growing records, and census data. Conversely, it could be that magical knowledge has left them otherwise ignorant, and their non-magical knowledge is woefully backward, out of date, or inaccurate.

IDENTIFY taboos: I think there should be subjects specific to the caster or their school of magic which cannot be resolved through magical knowledge. Maybe it is knowledge of a certain kind of magic and their casters, or perhaps it is knowledge of a primordial people and their artifacts. Or, perhaps the spell cannot provide information that is not written down somewhere, thus making it difficult, but not entirely impossible, to obfuscate the knowledge of a particular object.

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ILLUSORY SELF costs: the most obvious cost would be that the mage experiences a fractured identity, each with distinct personalities. When the illusion is cast, then the clone takes on the personality traits of just one of the mage’s identities - probably the less honest, more outward facing “mask” identity. The other idea would be that copying a person in all their detail is hard, and so the mage dresses in a very bland, non-descript way, and behaves with very little affect, perhaps even trying to speak monotone, and without affect. They may be do dull, so plain, so unremarkable, as to seem in fact deeply weird or disturbing.

ILLUSORY SELF taboos: any state of imposed honesty might make it impossible to create this massless double - such as the temple of a god of knowledge/truth/revelation. Also, psychic attacks which undermine a person’s sense of self, after all, if you have no self, how can you copy it? On the other hand, perhaps it is the caster who realizes the self is an illusion who is able to copy it so easily?


LEVITATION costs: It’s right in the title: levity. The cost of floating is maintaining a carefree attitude, and light-hearted frivolity. The caster may be full of humor, but not mean barbs and jibes, but good-humored giggles. This may mean literally giving their worries away, that manifest as small stones that hold them down. Just remember, to make things float, lighten up.

LEVITATION taboos: I would think the emotional weight of an object would make it “heavier” rather than the literal weight, so an executioner’s axe might be immovable, but a giant boulder is not problem.


LIGHTNING BOLT costs: there are some personality traits that might fit: being “stormy”, “charged” or “lit up”, but I don’t think any of those are as fun as this: you can only cast it as many times as you’ve been struck by lightning. Then you get these thunder mages living in the high desert wearing lightning rods, all in the hopes that that they can harness the power for the sky.

LIGHTNING BOLT taboos: a place that never has storms would seem to me to be unable to have lightning bolts, except deep in the earth. All lightening is trying to get down into the earth, so underground in some ways is lightnings “home”.


MAGIC EYE costs: lose one real eye, obvs, but what could we do that’s a little more subtle? Maybe the mage can’t pick up on social cues without using the magic eye? Or they’re color blind, or face blind. It could also be that they have no visual imagination - this might be hard to RP, but it’s a neat idea. They could just have very severe myopia. That could be fun to play.

MAGE EYE taboos: so, we all have blind spots, right? I like the idea that the magic eye has trouble seeing things related to the caster’s metaphorical blind spots. Maybe the magic eye can’t see people the mage loves, or even worse, the eye can’t see people at whom the mage is angry. Basically, the magic eye has trouble showing clearly an image regarding things which compromise the caster’s own judgement.


MENDER costs: Cost could be being someone resistant to conflict, a person constantly making compromises and attempting to repair relationships. The other way would be someone who is fastidious about their things, constantly caring for them, maybe to an obsessive level. Another angle is the idea that the magic requires knowledge of the thing, so it could be a person constantly knitting, sewing, studying architecture and metallurgy - a constant student of made things.

MENDER taboos: the identity of the person who broke a thing could matter to whether or not it can be repaired. Perhaps, if the creator themself breaks the thing that they made, it cannot be repaired, or if a thing is broken as a matter of a legal proceeding it cannot be repaired. Related to the above, it could be that the mage cannot repair a thing that they do not understand the construction of, or the construction becomes flawed. It could also be that things not made by mortal hands simply cannot be repaired by these means.


MIND TRAP costs: Since the description of the spell says it’s a trap of “endless looping thoughts”, then the cost could be the mage being OCD, and consumed themselves with endless looping thoughts, thereby inflicting their affliction onto other. You could also take the “trap” part of the title as an indication that the mage is constantly trying to entrap people, and so play them as a bit of a pedant, calling others out for escaping the rules, etc. The final way I thought of this was as a trickster. The spell feels a little off brand, as I think of a trickster as someone using their knowledge to get someone to do the thing that they want them to do, rather than preventing them from acting, but it’s an interpretation, and if it works for you, that’s great.

MIND TRAP taboos: certainly there are foes with no “minds” at least in our understanding of the word, to trap. Past that, I feel like a number of supernatural beings would just be able to function through the effects of such a spell - extra-planar creatures or super powerful intellects, and maybe even fey, depending on how you think about them. Maybe in some places, though I feel like many places of worship would be easier rather than harder.


This makes me think of the way spells work in Mausritter. Each spell is tied to a specific object in the world. Think spell stones or runes inscribed on some bark. There are 3 charges in the object, and you can spend one or all of them to cast the spell, with varying effects. You get more power by spending more charges, but the chance of a misfire is higher. When you run out of charges you can’t cast the spell again until you recharge it.

Recharging spells is where it really stood out to me and made me want to immediately put a recharge system in my game. The recharge conditions are specific little narrative things your character has to do with the spell to recharge it. So to recharge a fireball stone, you have to let it sit in a fire for three nights. In order to recharge the blindness spell, you have to keep your eyes closed for three days, etc. It’s such a cool little way to add flavor to the world. Having the narrative cost happen as a way to recharge the spell, instead of being required to cast it, is a good middle ground for the player.


Ooo, there’s a lot of flexibility in that system! That would be really fun to play with.


SHRINK RAY costs: A doll house and collection of miniatures. Perhaps always being domineering, or taking up more space than necessary - forcing others into smaller spaces. Or maybe you have to refine Brownie blood to feed the spell, or live in a tower in which everything is oversized. Maybe if a shrunk target can do something to unshrink themselves, the mage then gets shrunk?

SHRINK RAY taboos: There’s a limit - you can’t shrink an already tiny thing. Or you cannot shrink a small person who believes that they are mighty. Maybe a thing cannot shrink to a size too small to cause an unshrinked thing to fail (like shrinking the key stone in an arch to cause it to collapse. There’s a lot here; just recommend remembering that it’s magic, not science.


SONG OF THE MOUNTAIN costs: Song of the Mountain makes me think of Orpheus making the Furies weep with his song, but in that story the price for moving the immutable was dear. This spell actually seems to create the opening for more social interaction. The immediate effect seems to be utter fascination with the song, but the way I read it, after it ends, those who have heard it are so moved that they are willing to treat with those originally thought to be their enemies. So what is the price of such persuasive power? One might assume that it would be a dedication to music, singing all the time to make music so beautiful - but this is magic! Song is this mage’s power, and they can’t be releasing that power willy-nilly, any more than a warrior could swing their axe around in a crowded room. No, I’d say the price is that the mage cannot sing unless they are invoking this powerful magic, a magic that fundamentally changes the relationships between people.

It could also simply be that each casting requires some period of silence from the caster.

SONG OF THE MOUNTAIN taboos: I’m imagining a special forest filled with magical mockingbirds, in which if you use this spell suddenly the entire forest is under its sway. Perhaps for this reason, or reasons like it, there are kinds of people - minstrels or carolers, to whom the mage mustn’t sing the song, last it be copied by those who do not understand it’s power, and may sing it improperly, or incompletely. What could happen, then?


THE HIDDEN costs: What is the cost of being hidden - being unseen? Is it being quiet, being ignored, being drab? Or does it mean attracting as much attention as possible to yourself when not hidden by magic? Does the mage live into the themes of the spell, or do they pay for the spell with the opposite? I think each works equally well depending on your style. Though, for what it’s worth, my experience suggests that playing a big bombastic character is more fun at the table. Quiet characters are full of pathos and drama, but they are less fun to play.

THE HIDDEN taboos: certainly there would be some people or somethings that refuse to obfuscated. Believers who have taken vows of honesty; making the true heir to the throne of a kingdom impossible to make invisible has some fun narrative implications. There would also be something to saying that the spell doesn’t work on someone who has an important piece of new or information to share with the world.


TRANSLOCATE costs: my immediate thought would be that to translocate with a target, the mage would need something that belongs to the target; this could be a literal object -a strand og hair, an old sock, etc. or a metahporical object - the target’s friendship, love, or ire. This does lower the utility of the spell. The other idea would e that the mage must know the target’s name, or some other piece of particular information.

TRANSLOCATE taboos: it’s easy to say in a particular place, dimensional displacement is warded against, which is fine - if a little utilitarian. But what if there were certain circumstances which made swapping places with someone else impossible, like an individual whose experience is so different from the mage’s that they cannot be swapped - people from different classes, or entirely different cultures. Perhaps the mage cannot swap with someone who cannot read, or someone whose philosophical alignment is diametrically opposed to the mage’s. Conversely, perhaps if someone is so similar - another mage taught magic by the same person, or from the same source, is too similar for the spell to recognize as different beings.