Vancian Supplement + The Spell-Haunted Condition


  • The Vancian Supplement -- A collection of material dealing with the subject of Vancian Magic in D&D. Articles by Gygax and others, fiction by Jack Vance. Annotated by Gorgonmilk. 
  • Contents [so far]:
  • "Turjan of Miir" by Jack Vance (1950) 
  •  "Mazirian the Mage" by Jack Vance (1950)
  •  "The Dungeons & Dragons Magic System" by Gary Gygax (April 1976)
  • "Role-Playing: Realism vs. Game Logic; Spell Points, Vanity Press and Rip-offs" by Gary Gygax (July 1978)
  • "AD&D’s Magic System: How and Why It Works" by Gary Gygax (January 1980)
  • "Smoothing Out Some Snags In the AD&D® Spell Structure" by Leonard Lakofka (January 1980)
  • "Jack Vance & the D&D Game" by Gary Gygax (2001) 

  • SUGGEST MORE MATERIAL for the Vancian Supplement to Gorgonmilk BY COMMENTING BELOW or E-MAIL -- {CLICK} -- I am looking for articles (original or vintage), letters, manuscripts, new rules & insights. This is a completely open source electronic reference document that will belong to the entire RPG community.


Vancian magical theory suggests that a spell possesses a will of its own, even self-awareness. System dictates that by memorizing spells the magic-user transfers their essence from the physical world by reading a  book, scroll or carving into some non-physical storage space within his mind. The spell remains in the magic-user's mental annex until it is released through casting.

It is not unusual for magic-users to retain spells -- i.e. hold them in their minds -- for a number of hours  before they are jettisoned back into the material plane to produce their effects. But what happens when a spell remains lodged in the mental annex for longer periods?

A spell loses none of its arcane vitality in a magic-user's mind, regardless of how long it is stored there in reserve. But as time passes, the psychic "muscles" keeping the spell restrained in the annex become lax and eventually flaccid. This loosening of bonds allows the spell to partially escape into the material world, gradually infecting the magic-user's mind, then body, then environment. During this process the magic-user's mind is slowly subsumed by the spell(s)' will, ultimately leading to a kind of delirium-possession. Their bizarre behavior at this stage is classically manic and unpredictable. Some commit suicide in unaccountably gruesome ways, while others maintain a powerful sense of self-preservation while simultaneously having no regard for other living things. These unfortunate pariahs are termed "spell-haunted" when they are termed at all. It is taboo to speak of them in polite company. Few things fuel wizards' collective paranoia more than old yarns like the tale of old So-and-So who held a wish for forty-seven years and then one day ate each and every one of his wives, houris and consorts once he had roasted the sizzling fat off their bodies with arcane fire.

SUGGESTED RULES: While it is completely possible for a PC magic-user to develop the spell-haunted condition willfully or through gross error, normally this woe would apply only to NPCs. To test whether your campaign's assortment of suspect sorcerers has developed the condition:
  1. Any aged magic-user has a base 5% chance of being batshit crazy haunted by a spell. Or multiple spells if a "1" is rolled -- to determine how many roll 2d2 or flip two coins [heads=1 and tails =2].
  2. Add 1% to this base chance for each year the spell(s) were held in reserve. To determine randomly, roll 1d12, exploding on natural 12s.
  3. Add 5% for each spell level.
  4. Roll d%: Less than 30% of magic-users who are spell-haunted commit suicide.
  5. If barmy magic-user is a survivor roll d6: [1,2=secretly insane; 3-5=openly mad, 6=drooling vegetable].
Effects on the wizard's body and immediate environment should be determined on a case-by-case basis by the Referee. Classically spell-haunted magic-users take on sinister aspects -- noses and fingers become longer, craniums expand, skin becomes mottled or changes hue, eyes develop arcane cataracts that peer into the Ethereal Plane. Many other manifestations are possible. The local environment -- the magic-user's home or an area he would commonly frequent -- begins to lose its integrity after years of an addled magic-user's presence. Common effects include waves of psychic turbulence that warp an area's geometry -- small rooms become vast, echoing chambers, animals become miniaturized, trees become soft and transparent. Additionally spectral interlopers from the Ethereal may breach into the Material Plane and take up residence with an affected magic-user.

CURE: A rare subterranean fungus called ruccariot or Hagshadow -- long-stemmed and black as pitch, found near the edge of underground lakes and meres. Two Hagshadow caps are mashed into a pulp. This material is then filtered into a gray fluid that in turn is boiled down to its essential salt. The afflicted must be trepanned with a silver rod at the site of his pineal gland. Through this entry point the salt of Hagshadow is blown into the pineal gland by way of a bellows or somesuch device that achieves the same effect. Only one pinch is required. Too much salt will permanently lower the magic-user's INT score by 2d3. 

Recovery from this treatment will take a full year. During this time bedrest should be encouraged. Consumption of rabbit should be avoided.


  1. I don't know if it's what you're looking for, but I did make a list of spells intended to give a more Vancian flavour to the D&D magic-user. You're welcome to it if you want it.

    1. That's exactly the sort of stuff I'd like to include. Thanks, John!

    2. What name would you like me to accredit your document to?

    3. Use my Scribd handle, I suppose would be best.

  2. I was going to point to the same document.
    Thanks John for the compiled spell list!

  3. Looking forward to this...Great blog.

    1. Thanks, Paul. I expect to finish this project up by mid-March. Just waiting for a few more submissions.

  4. I will be looking for some things in the next day or two. . .

    1. That would be great, Cortney. Will hold an appendix for you.

  5. I haven't forgotten this G. I have a day off work tomorrow and intend on submitting the promised thing. :-)

    1. Excellent! The layout and edits are 90% complete as I write this.