Around 1977, I designed a pencil-and-paper game which I called (after some
deliberation, as all the best names were taken)
Spellbinder. Its premise was that two (or more) wizards were
placed together in an arena, where they battled it out using spells made by
stringing together series of (originally 5) basic gestures. I had been thinking
for some time about the similarity between generating spells and
programming computers, and this is what I finally designed in response. It bears a
superficial resemblance to certain aspects of the duelling system from
the Three Musketeers-era game En Garde!, which I
had played at the time, but these are coincidental; the two games are very
For the first version, I used a board. Wizards were able to walk around, spells being represented by counters that moved at different speeds depending on how many gestures were used to create them. Although this worked, the map was cluttered and the bookkeeping tiresome; I felt it would make for quicker and more exciting play if I abstracted out the positional information and concentrated on the fun part - "programming" spells on-the-fly from gestures.
This second version also worked, but the strategy aspect was now exposed as too shallow. I therefore allowed wizards to gesture with both hands instead of just one, and introduced an extra, two-handed gesture to enforce occasional reconciliation between the gesture streams. I printed the rules to this third version in my postal games magazine, Sauce of the Nile.
The game was warmly received, and several games were played successfully
by post. I negotiated for it to be published commercially by the same people
who did my programmed-adventure game The Solo Dungeon, but (sigh) they went
bankrupt before it happened. Unable to publish it myself (I was 17 and
penniless at the time), I pretty well had to give up on that idea.
Consequently, when one of my magazine's subscribers,
Many years later, I learned that people had programmed up Spellbinder to be played on computer. There were versions for email and head-to-head play. I was cited as its author, but was believed deceased (which, to the best of my knowledge, I am not). The game was also renamed each time it was rewritten, which is hardly surprising given the lousy title I gave it myself! I was nevertheless quite pleased to find that what I knew as Spellbinder was out there, living free, after all that time; it was like finding a long-lost friend.
five different versions of Spellbinder that I'm aware of:
A copy of the original rules as they were posted to rec.games.abstract is at:
A tool by Frederic J. Walter-Scheerer to help you discover what
gesture sequences are currently "on" is at:
None of these products are commercial, which is just as well: I retain full rights to the
game, and if any commercial incarnation appears then I want a royalty!
I have no objection to people implementing or running derivatives of the
Spellbinder so long as they make no money from it, though. Of course, if
you are interested in publishing the game commercially,
email me a proposal!
20th July :\webdes~1\ m.htm