Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Old School

You walk now on sacred ground. Go lightly, and do not speak.
There’s magic out there older than books, older than bricks, older than bread. Magic so old it’s hardly magic anymore. Magic woven of golden savanna mornings when the apes looked up to the sky and named the sunlight itself. It is the magic of a master’s hands, the burning breast of the journeyman before his test, the tottering steps of the infant.

When you’re four years old and step into your grandmother’s kitchen, it is the old magic you feel.

Wizards hate talking about it: the old magic strips them of their star-spangled hats and gold-leaf diplomas and forces them to admit that there was a time before wizards, and that those poor unenlightened souls of the past weren’t so ignorant and superstitious after all, and that when wizards and all their universities have passed from the world the old magic will remain.

The old magic breathes and lives and burns in mankind – there is no one among Mother’s children, no matter how wretched or ignorant, who could not learn these arts. The wizards sneer and the moralizers wring their hands and the hateful spit bile, but the old magic lives.

The spells listed below are the most common expressions of the Humble Art. The majority of practitioners are ordinary common folk (making the old magic fairly unpopular with kings and tyrants), and they can be found in all but the most remote pickets of the world. Those who make a profession of the old magic go on to become hedge mages and witches.

Several of the following spells are less common or less popular in the modern era, and several more have been co-opted by mainstream magical traditions, but all are still known.

It is important to note that the old magic is significantly more hands-on than academic magic, and the lines between magic art and mundane craft can become blurred.

by Zdenek Burian

Spells of the Old Magic

Call upon the Folk

The Folk are always out there in the wild places: watching, waiting, listening. A man who shows the proper respect can call upon them for aid through the old magic, and they will answer.


The mind opens up, and there is a moment of awareness beyond what the senses can normally grasp. The spell can be amended to nearly any specialized end, but the old forms tend towards animals, evil, the Folk, people, place, poison and disease, time, and weather.


A spell to reveal enchantments and hidden names. In the basic form, it might reveal the components of a simple spell, or the common name of an unknown thing. If performed by a master, or by the aid of sympathetic components, it may reveal hidden identities or even true names.

Hunter’s Mark

Each hunter has a sign, used to mark a beast as sacrosanct. No hunter will touch a creature bearing another hunter’s Mark, for fear of a curse falling upon their interference. It is reserved for beasts deemed worthy adversaries, and is not to be wasted on simpler game.


The position of an item, person, place, or beast is burned into the mind as long as the spell remains. This art is dependent upon maintaining sympathy, and will not work at all without the appropriate components.


A boy is charged with a task and sent out. If he succeeds, his geas is fulfilled and his father welcomes him home. If he fails, a boy he remains. Some die before their task is done, and the mantle of manhood remains unclaimed.


One of the three most common spells in the world (the others being Produce Flame and Women’s Work), and friend to housewives, craftsmen, and busybodies. But, be warned: Mend a thing too much and it will stop mending right. Consequences are not meant to be dodged, no matter how well one can recover from an accident.

Purify Food and Water

Wizards love to decry this spell as simply boiling water and cooking meat. They are correct to a point: beyond that point the practitioner might draw out disease and poison, even rot and heavy metals. Doing so will result in dry meat, limp vegetables, and rotball sprites that must be dealt with, but the food is safe.

Produce Flame

Mother stole fire from the dragons and led us through the snows by its light. All it takes is a snap of the fingers or a soft breath into cupped hands.

Spare the Dying

One cannot delay death, but the pain of the dying might be lessened by a measure. The pain must go somewhere, however. Without release it becomes a poison worse than death.

Women’s Work

A collection of skills, spells, medicines, and clever tricks that form the basis of witchcraft. There are many parts to women’s work, but the four central pillars are easing birth, menstrual maintenance, contraceptives, and proconceptives.

by E. Irving Couse



Omens are notoriously difficult to wrangle at the best of times. Haruspicy and nephomancy are the most reliable methods (+10% chance of a relevant answer for every HD of the creature sacrificed or hour spent watching the sky)

Contact other Plane

There are worlds besides our own, invisible and overlapping like grease on water or a smell on the air. Like children tapping on the aquarium glass, we are, attempting to glean the fish in the dark water beyond.

Control Weather

A misnamed spell. Even with magic, weather can only be guided. This ritual requires at least a dozen practitioners and a ritual taking up at least a full day. Wizards have generally taken over most of modern meteorology, but the rain dances continue. It's a good excuse for a party, if nothing else.

Magic Circle

Runes traced in dirt, written in salt, or carved into mighty standing stones – boundaries are laid out, blocking who may enter and who may leave. Most common as a defense against evil spirits and malicious Folk, most useful around the places where the space between planes is rubbed thin. Some circles are never broken, and what remains inside them has lasted to this day.

Passing the Torch

A ritual a lifetime in making. This is the greatest power of mankind: not even the dragon lords considered that they might pass on their fire.


There are several languages still spoken and read whose alphabets had their beginnings in cloud-hieroglyphs. It is an essential skill for those living on the plains. Settlements will often have permanent cloud-signs above them, offering hospitality or warning.

Speak with Dead

The dead we have loved cannot speak, but for a few moments, they can listen. There is time left.

Weave Tale / Weave Song

The translation of reality into fiction into reality again. The creation of that which fills the mead halls, of what muses sing and bards dream. Old stories grow heavy, grow strong, pull life along in their wake. What is history, but a story? What is life, but a song?

Artist unknown

The Oldest Trick in the Book

For those wondering, the oldest trick in the Book is Gassy Lass, a cantrip that makes the target fart. The second oldest is Agharan’s Copper Spike, which is a method of keeping someone alive for several days after impaling them from anus-to-mouth on a copper spike.

The Book itself is doing quite well for itself, though it is about ready to outgrow its second library. It might have also recently eaten a graduate student.



  1. I've been reading "I Shall Wear Midnight" this week, so the Pratchett just spills out of my brain and onto the blog.

  2. So, the idea for how to use this in-game would be these are spells that are available even for non-wizards??

    1. I'm still working out exactly how they would work in game (this is right now more for a change of context over mechanics) - for now, (and if you are using 5e) this is the spell list for non-casters who have taken the 'Ritual Caster' or 'Magic Initiate' feats

    2. In that case, the list is in dire need of the addition of prestidigitation. It's the Swiss Army Knife of magic, the sort of thing no hedge - wizard should be without

  3. Replies
    1. I'd even say beautiful. Love the idea of the Humble Art.