Friday, May 14, 2010

1978 Greyhawk Homebrew Spells

For my day job as an entomologist I often find myself collecting butterflies in strange and remote places around the world. Unlike most collectors, however, I do not favor fresh and pristine specimens. I prefer ragged individuals whose wear and markings tell a story about how old the butterfly is, if it has been attacked by birds or lizards, or if it's hosting some kind of interesting parasite.

I'm the same way about collecting books and manuscripts, including gaming material. I love finding old modules and rulebooks that have been well used and annotated by previous owners. Old scribblings can tell you a lot about how someone played the game long ago - what kind of narratives they dreamed up, what kind of monsters they contended with, and what kind of riches they enjoyed.

This is why I was very pleased to find some homebrew spells listed in  a copy of OD&D Supplement I: Greyhawk I bought off eBay a while back. Greyhawk was originally published in 1976, and the copy I have is a 9th printing from May 1978. Check out these penciled-in spells appended to the Page 20 magic user spell list:

Of particular interest are the "Noose of Flesh" and "Forlorn Incistment [sic]" spells. Anyone recognize these?

"The Noose of Flesh" is a spell originating from Michael Moorcock's The Vanishing Tower. It's a pretty nasty and powerful piece of magic that causes a circular wall of quivering pink flesh to grow from the ground, eventually folding over the target(s), crushing them. In the original book the sorceress Myshella uses the spell to destroy an entire army.

"The Charm of Forlorn Encystment" is a spell from Jack Vance's Eyes of the Overworld. This spell encapsulates its victims far below the surface of the earth, forever... Or at least until the reverse of the spell is cast. There was a post about homebrew use of this spell in AD&D at Mule Abides, where tavis discussed speculation it may have been the source of Gygax's Imprisonment spell.

So this marked up Greyhawk provides a pretty nice example of a typical player - not an author - exploiting pulp fiction for homebrew D&D in the 70s. This is something a lot of us probably do routinely these days - I certainly do - but it's cool to see direct evidence of Vance and Moorcock influence on a D&D player back in the day.

What I am DYING to know is, what in the world is that 9th level "White Puff Ball Spell"...? It must be pretty damn weird and cool!


  1. I bet it's the bubble thing from "The Prisoner."

  2. @spoppy: That's a good guess, but I'm thinking "Confining Evocation of Extraordinary Molestuous Beach Balls" might be more like a 2nd or 3rd level spell...

  3. I immediately thought of a puff-ball fungus, maybe it summons a dire one of those. All puffy and bally

  4. and it's cool that you're an entomologist. I've a friend who lectures on it at Plymouth University. I suppose it's inspired a lot of D&D stuff?

  5. Certainly the spell is referring to fungus, but what kind of massive mycological effects would be wrought by a 9th level spell? Everyone's brains turn into mushrooms? An army of puff ball fungus appears to fight at the behest of the wizard?

    Surprisingly I haven't had much insect action in my D&D games, although I'm preparing a Gamma World scenario that involves a floating castle containing a hive of mutant wasp women!

  6. From the Wikipedia article about Calvatia gigantea, the giant puffball:

    "Unlike most mushrooms, all the spores of the giant puffball are created inside the fruiting body; large specimens can easily contain several trillion spores."

    That's a lot of spores.

  7. I'm going to have to look for annotated copies the next time I'm at the used book store. Sounds like fun!

  8. Nobody recognized it? Cripes.

    If you're still reading old comments, the "White Puff Ball Spell" is from the Conan stories, consisting of a series of low white puffy clouds floating close to the ground that detonated like a fireball on contact with human flesh.

    Actually I think all three are from various entries in "Gods, Demigods & Heroes", with the Folorn Encystment spell coming from the Finnish mythos.