> Random Encounter
Spellcasting 101: Don't Try This At Home
the Harry Potter movie raking in bales of box
office cash as I write this, and the popularity of both the Harry
Potter books and the recent edition of D&D
driving some Satanic panic victims into fits of apoplexy, I thought I
might do a little demonstration for everyone.
than a few times, I've heard certain people claim that both Harry
Potter and D&D books contain
real spells that you can cast. Recently, in fact, I found a
site called Demonbuster
that has this to say about the Harry Potter series:
also tells us that we should never burn candles or wear cologne,
perfume or any clothing with a paisley print, so they must know what
they're talking about. Bold statements like those are never
made by crackpots, after all.
of the Christians who defend HP books claim that one could never learn
enough to truly practice magick or sorcery by reading them. That sort
of statement could only be made by someone who was comparatively
ignorant of sorcery. "
I'm going to settle this for everyone. I am going to take my Harry
Potter books and my Third Edition Dungeons
& Dragons Players Handbook and attempt to
cast the arcane spells contained within, all in the name of
science, and at great risk to my body and soul.
heard right. These claims of authentic, functional
magical abilities will be put to the test before your very
eyes. Do these spells really work? Will your kids
be able to cast them after a casual read? Will I survive
unscathed? Stay tuned to find out.
FIRST, THESE MESSAGES...
better take care of some business first, before I start flinging
fireballs around the room and changing everyone into eggplants,
especially since it's been a little while since I've updated the page:
First, thank you to everyone who wrote to tell me that I'm going to
hell for defending role-playing games the way that I do, after reading
my last Random Encounter
about how that has never happened before. I'm going to
assume, for everyone's benefit, that you were all kidding.
Thanks. Now please stop.
you haven't heard me mention it by now, I have been asked by the
fantastic people at EconoCon
to be a Guest of Honor at their convention, held on April
27th. I will be there with Jolly Blackburn (creator of
Knights of the Dinner Table and a scheming
identity pirate) and Stephen Kenson (author of GURPS
Spirits and The Enchanted for Changeling),
as well as other as-yet-unnamed guests. FUDGE gurus Steffan
O'Sullivan and Ann Dupuis will be there, and I've talked Jared Sorensen
into coming as well. So, if you're in the New Hampshire area
next April, stop by and join us for a whole lot of fun. That
web page again, in case you didn't click on it above: http://oz.plymouth.edu/~gaming/conVI.html
This past summer marked an anniversary of sorts for me - the 20th year
since that fateful day when I sat down to my first game of D&D.
It was 1981. Ronald Reagan was our brand new
president. Rick Springfield's "Jesse's Girl" was getting
overplayed on every radio in the nation. And a lot of the
people who read this page were either very young, or not even born yet.
years is a long time to hold on to a hobby - especially one that often
raises questioning eyebrows. But if I have any regret, it's
that I gave away my old copy of White Plume Mountain...
I loved that module!
well... enough nostalgia. Let's get on with the show, shall
KIDS, HERE'S WHAT YOU'VE BEEN WAITING FOR...
spells that you see the characters casting in the Harry
Potter series consist primarily of a few pseudo-Latin words
spoken loudly while waving your magic wand or pointing it at your
target. This should be a piece of cake - if there's one thing
I can do, it's speak pseudo-Latin while waving a stick around!
- Constructing The Wand
we'll need a wand. According to the books, wands are usually
made of a magical wood, with some sort of powerful item inside - like a
unicorn hair or phoenix feather. I'm not sure where to find a
phoenix or unicorn - in fact, I suspect that neither of them really
exist. But I could be wrong. After all, according
to Demonbuster, any kid who reads these books will be able to start
throwing spells around like there's no tomorrow. So a wand
can't be that hard to make.
Potter books tell us nothing about how to construct a wand,
so I will have to improvise. We have a border collie (no
horn), a parakeet with a very bad temper, and a yard full of
transplanted Christmas trees (and there's GOT to be some kind of magic
in THOSE). So for the purposes of our experiments, I will be
using an evergreen twig with some dog hairs and a parakeet feather
taped to it.
part wasn't easy. The parakeet got a few good bites in, and
the dog won't get anywhere near me now, but that's okay.** Any wizard
worth his salt can cast spells with a bandaged hand, and the dog would
only get in the way anyway. Now we have one official Harry
Potter wand, capable of performing all kinds of nasty
magical effects. Let's pick up one of the books and look for
a spell to cast.
ONE - Casting Spells From The Harry Potter Books
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, page
335 (hardcover). Harry makes his wand shine like a flashlight:
should come in handy the next time the power goes out.
"Lumos!" he whispered.
wandlight showed him the trunk of a thick tree..." *
Method: This should be simple; say the word and
wave the wand. What could be easier?
My results went something like this:
That's odd. I did everything the book told me to.
Maybe I need more dog hair. Or an easier spell.
Let's try the first book instead. I probably shouldn't have
tried something from the third volume, since Harry was a third year at
Hogwarts in that one.
(wave wave wave)
Spell Name: Body-Bind
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone,
Method: This one seems a lot more powerful than the old
instant-flashlight trick. Still, Hermione is a first year
when she casts this, so it should be no problem whatsoever. I
can see where this spell would be very handy when the kids are getting
rowdy at the supermarket. Rather than risk one of them
getting hurt on the hard tile floor and possibly run over by a shopping
cart, I think I'll cast this one on Paula in the living room, where the
carpet will gently cushion her fall. We'll have a good laugh
over it afterwards, once I figure out how to undo the spell (hopefully,
they cover that in Goblet of Fire somewhere...)
raised her wand.
Totalus!" she cried, pointing it at Neville.
arms snapped to his sides. His legs sprang
together. His whole body rigid, he swayed where he stood and
then fell flat on his face, stiff as a board." *
didn't bind. In fact, she snatched my magic wand away and
told me to take the trash out.
really don't get it. I did everything that the characters in the book
did, as closely as I could - I waved my wand, said the magic words, and
nothing happened at all.
crap. This must mean I'm a muggle.
TWO - Casting Spells From a Dungeons & Dragons
good old D&D... where ANYONE can be a
magic-user - muggle or not - as long as they meet the Intelligence
spells contained in the Player's Handbook consist
of a block of statistical information - the time it takes to cast the
spell, the duration of the spell's effect, and what components are
required to cast it. The components can be verbal, somatic,
and/or material, in any combination - but it is rarely supplied to the
reader what the exact "magic words" of the verbal component are, how
you should gesticulate to perform the somatic component, or in what way
the material components are used.
would suggest that this means that these spells aren't really meant to
be cast by real people, and that they're just make-believe.
But we know better, because we're not "comparatively ignorant of
sorcery" like most people, right?
this should be easy. Let's pick something simple, a nice
First Level spell...
Spell Name: Hold Portal
Effect: Turning to page 214 of the Third Edition Handbook,
we find that Hold Portal will hold closed a door of up to 20 square
feet per level. Since I've been playing D&D
for 20 years now, I've got to be at least 20th level, right?
So I should be able to hold a door that is 400 square feet in size. Man,
oh man... the pranks I could pull with that kind of power...
the spell description says that "the magic holds the portal fast, just
as if it were securely closed and normally locked."* That
should easily keep my two daughters from running out of the playroom
every two minutes to bother me as I write this.
Method: The book tells me that the only thing we need to cast
this spell is a verbal component... but it doesn't tell me what that
magic word is. Still, a 20th level mage like myself should
know all of this by now. I'll just shout a few lock-related magical
power words at the playroom door.
Failure. The results went something like this:
I know what's wrong. Aylish must know the counterspell!
"Daddy, can we have something to drink?"
Let's try again:
"DADDY! Nolah's pulling my hair! Tell her to stop!"
Spell Name: Feather
Required: Verbal only
Effect: Feather Fall's purpose is to decrease the speed of a
falling object - very useful if you find yourself a sudden
victim of gravity.
Method: To test this, I will climb onto
the roof of our garage, leap off, and shout the verbal component -
which I suspect in this case may be "Mary Poppins." If the
spell works, I should float to the ground like the suggested feather.
Attempt failed. Children traumatized; oldest daughter
resorted to poking daddy with a stick to determine signs of
life. Driveway is very hard. Ow.
Spell Name: Spider
Required: Verbal, somatic, and material.
Effect: Spider Climb allows the
caster to climb walls and ceilings like... well... a spider.
Method: I will attempt to climb back onto the roof of the
garage, and possibly give Feather Fall another go
once I'm up there. As usual, no verbal component is supplied,
so we will be using the word "McFarlane" (and if you don't know why,
then you're not enough of a geek). The material components
are the hardest to swallow - literally. In order to
successfully cast this spell, I must eat a live spider and a drop of
bitumen (an asphalt). Ack. Oh well, it's all in the
name of science...
Driveway is still hard. Ow,
ow. And for the record, live spiders taste horrible... but
after the last two experiments, I've begun to acquire a taste for
Name: Burning Hands
Required: Verbal and Somatic
Subject: A stuffed dragon that is in no way connected with
the Disney Corporation.
Effect: The effect of a Burning Hands spell is a sheet of
flame that shoots forth from the fingertips in a fan-like spray.
Method: The spell description tells us that the somatic
component is performed by holding the hands outward, palms down,
fingers spread, with both thumbs touching. No word is given
on the verbal component, but in the Big Dragon Battle Scene of the Dungeons
& Dragons movie, Profion seems to shout "fire" as a
verbal component. This seems a little too obvious, so I will
be using the phrase "Disco Inferno" instead.
Nothing. Good thing, too... my kids love that dragon.
Spell Name: Change
Required: Verbal, somatic
Subject: Self (as if this wasn't obvious)
Method: The Change Self spell allows the
caster to alter his appearance in any way he chooses. Using
this spell, I will be altering my appearance to resemble rakishly
handsome film and television star Bruce Campbell.
For the verbal and somatic components of the spell, I'll sing a verse
of "Karma Chameleon" while voguing. But you probably didn't
want that mental picture.
Name: Animate Rope
Required: Verbal and somatic
Effect: This spell causes any piece of rope to move about
under the wizard's control. Once cast, the rope can be used
to entangle, bind, or trip an opponent, creature, or annoying
neighbor's kid that keeps throwing dirt clods into your yard while
you're trying to concentrate on spell casting.
Subject: One length of rope.
Method: Cast spell, throw rope over the fence,
command rope to tie up the kid, then feed him some dirt
clods. Wait, the dirt-clod-feeding step isn't really part of
the spell. Scratch that.
No moving rope. Where did I leave the
receipt for this blasted book?
Spell Name: Charm
Required: Verbal and somatic
Effect: A Charm Person spell convinces the subject that you
are a friend, no matter what your prior relationship may be.
Subject: Random passerby.
Method: Choosing a random passerby, I will ask a simple
question: "Would you like to be my friend?", while holding both arms
out for a hug. This will act as the verbal and somatic
components of the spell. A positive response should signify
that the spell is a success.
My target, a female, appeared to have a
counterspell of some sort, with a material component that looked like a
small red can. The resulting gas cloud was both painful and
blinding. My spell appears to have failed, but hers seems to
have been very successful. I wonder what level she is?
Spell Name: Mount
Required: Verbal, somatic, and material
Effect: The Mount spell summons a horse, complete with
saddle, bit, and bridle, that is friendly and willing to act as your
steed for two hours per level of the caster. That should give
me free rides for almost two whole days!
Subject: Self, I guess...
Method: The material component is a bit of horse hair, and
for a combination verbal/somatic component, I will be shouting "Hi Ho
Silver!" and making pretend horsey-riding motions.
Waited two and a half hours. No
horse. Police drove me home.
Name: Mage Armor
Required: Verbal, somatic, and focus (a material component
that is not consumed in the casting of the spell)
Effect: Mage Armor protects the subject
with a force field that is capable of improving the target's resistance
to incoming attacks.
Method: An assistant will attempt to hit me with a weapon (a
rusty old pipe wrench was chosen for both heft and visual
effect). If properly cast, the blow will be deflected by the
magical force field. The focus for this spell is a small
piece of cured leather - my battered wallet should do the trick - and
for the somatic and verbal, I will be clenching my fists and shouting
"Sticks and Stones!"
Failed. Ouch. And I can't find my wallet now.
Name: Cause Fear
Required: Verbal and somatic
Effect: Cause Fear does just that - incites fear in the
people and creatures around you.
Method: I never really got around to casting this spell
...the simple act of walking around wearing a wizard's cap and carrying
a tree branch with dog hair taped to it appears to have the same effect
as casting a Cause Fear spell. Therefore, my research into
this particular spell is inconclusive, since I never cast it in the
Harry Potter and Dungeons
& Dragons books paint vivid pictures of wizards and
witches throwing spells around in great doses of fantasy fun - but do
not supply enough information to show you how to do it yourself, any
more than reading Zane Grey can show you how to be the fastest gun in
who disagrees is welcome to jump off of the roof of my
garage. I'll leave the ladder out for you.
* Information taken from the Dungeons
& Dragons Player's Handbook and J.K. Rowling's Harry
Potter series is the property of the respective publishers
** The author wishes it to be very
clear that neither of his beloved pets were harmed in the preparation
of his official Harry Potter wand. It was molting season for
the parakeet, and the dog needed a bit of a trim anyway.
|Extra special thanks to Henry Peel (photos), James
Peel (pipe wrench wielder & idea consultant), the whole Peel
family (for letting us borrow their wonderful home), and the neighbors
of the Peel family (for not calling the police).
The fun doesn't stop
here! Be sure to read The Magic
Mailbag, a collection of the best of the email responses to Spellcasting