Thursday, March 01, 2012

contra Vance

The standard D&D implementation of Vancian magic has at least two great things going for it, encouraging spellcasters to think strategically and creating adventure situations via spell scarcity.  So my question today is about the effects of alternate spell systems.

Q: What situations do you want to see in play that Vancian magic does not encourage?

I'll offer two answers to get the ball rolling:

A1: I'd love to see PC wizards collapse from exhaustion because they pushed themselves past the limits of their powers.
A2: I don't want players to not know exactly how many spells they'll be able to get off before they run dry.


  1. Anonymous12:37 PM

    More opportunities for creativity. Ie. why prepare Light instead of Sleep or Magic Missile?

    1. Because at low levels, Light is the superior offensive spell. Instead of a bit of wimpy damage, you can BLIND YOUR OPPONENT! :D

  2. A2: should that be a single negative?

    A3: I'd like first level wizards be able to do more than one magic thing in a day. (Without being more powerful overall.)

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I just blogged about special effects for memorized spells that may address your point A3 and stay within Vancian magic.

  3. A1: Unpredictability, something VM lacks.
    A2: Shape/Effect control.
    A3: Creation on the fly, as in Talislanta.

  4. Replies
    1. Anonymous11:11 PM

      Good call. This is the only desire that I haven't been able to fully satisfy with campaign-specific tweaks to the traditional D&D scheme. While Polymorph duels (Disney's SitS), TK battles (Willow), Rock'em Sock'em (Big Trouble in Little China) & Summoning contests (Yu Gi Oh) can each be handled nicely by relaxing duration, concentration and casting time rules, Power v. Power as in Deryni duels or Dark City just don't come off.

  5. A1: Varible spell powers, not of the "d6 damage" type, more like "spark to nuke"
    A2: Demonic attention to spell casters on fumbles
    A3: Persistant minor magic, so wizards can be lazy sods, and do all mundane tasks with magic

  6. this post + the comments have already pretty much hit all the answers for me

  7. Two concepts that I've been toying with a while and speak to both of your answers.

    1: Sorcerer: magic comes from blood. WotC fucked up by making Charisma their primary stat - it should be constitution. Spellcasting drains your HP/you need to make saves to cast. Possibility of a collapse due to "overcasting".

    2: Warlock: magic comes from pacts. This is the guy whose primary stat should be Charisma. They get magic from making deals with demons and spirits, bargaining stuff. Because of this you can't be sure how many spells you have (if the demon is going to answer your call, if he'll agree to the bargain, if he'll keep his end of the bargain...).

  8. Fighter: "We're all gonna die if you don't do something Magic-Boy!"

    MU: "All right, I'm only a freakin' evoker but I once read lightning bolt over my mentor's shoulder. Let's see if I can get this right..."


  9. Lasgunpacker: A1: Variable spell powers

    e.g. Chromatic Orb

    I also like how as the spell gets better, the component cost increases.

  10. There are a few things from Vance that I wish D&D better represented:

    1. Too many spells per day: According to The Dying Earth, the greatest wizards can only fit six spells into their heads. Of course, Vance's magi never struck me as physically inept (unlike the D&D wizard), so they aren't as entirely reliant on their magical abilities.

    2. Anyone can cast, but not everyone can do so reliably: Like Cugel using Iucounu's spellbook, spells should not be limited to MU. However, it is only those who dedicate themselves to the practice and study of magic who cast with little risk of the spell backfiring.

    3. Magic is more than spells: There is an involved craft of wizardry shown in the Dying Earth novels, with the creation of pocket dimensions and vat-grown clones. Rituals in later iterations of the game mimic this to a certain degree, but in earlier versions this is completely missing. Longer-term projects and experiments should be part of the MU's repetoire.

  11. In answer to Jeff's answers: how about this idea- casters can push beyond their limit, effectively casting more spells per day, but each spell costs hit points; to make it variable, treat each spell level as equal to one Hit Dice (type same as caster). So, to cast more 1st-level spells a magic-user burns up 1d4 hit points.

  12. Semi-related to variable spell powers, I like there to be Places of Power where doing certain magics is easier/more effective, which would make sense for necromancers setting up shop on the site of an ancient and terrible massacre, placing their towers close to ley line junctions, etc. because they have to if they want to pull off the really powerful stuff. This is easier to implement mechanically in a non-Vancian system.

  13. @Gregor Vuga: I like the Sorcerer idea. I've always thought magic should come at a risk. Remind me a little of the one page RPG Adventure

  14. I'd like a non-boring and non-game-grinding-to-a-halt way of using things like Sympathetic Magic.

    Aside: It's hard to distinguish between things that are the way they are because of Vancian magic, and things that are the way they are in D&D. A lot of these things (my own included) probably could be handled in a Vancian system but aren't handled in D&D's Vancian system.

  15. the situation where the fighters have to protect the wizard from attack while he draws his circles and completes his incantation for the "big spell"

  16. Jeff's A2 is exactly what you'd get with a daily allocation of spell points, combined with a to-hit type roll for spell success or failure. It's exactly what I'm aiming for in my own retro-ruleset... :-)

  17. Inept use of magic should be risky. Wizards should be able to do stuff outside the fire and forget formula like stuff Iucounu plans to do with the Sadlark's scales.

  18. What I would like is for Wizards to be able to do more "magic-y" things than just cast spells, whether its being able to light a torch with the wave of a hand or whistle up a wind or detect an upcoming ambush from the way the clouds are shaped.

  19. I implement something along the lines of Jeff's first bullet point in my hacky system -- there's an additional damage track called Sanity where if you mess up casting a spell, you take damage (certain creatures also deal Sanity damage) -- if a caster reaches 0 Sanity, they become possessed, either by a demon/devil/planar entity if they're an arcane caster or by an aspect of their deity if they're a cleric. Nobody's done it yet; I'm quite looking forward to it though.

  20. I'm planning to do something similar in my S&W variant. Here's the idea of fatigue checks, which has some ideas for how spellcasters use them:

  21. Randomness. Mystery. Danger. A sense that magic is bigger than us and that it can go horribly wrong.

  22. Microlite20 has magic users having the same hit dice as everyone else, and burning HP to cast spells. To me this connects magic directly to one's life force and opens up a lot of possibilities as to how to use magic. For example, an evil wizard might choose to use victims as the sources of his power, literally sacrificing a minion or captive to fire off a powerful spell. Equally a druid in a desperate situation might be able to cast by sapping the life from a plant instead of themselves.

    In fact, now that I think about this, I might see about integrating this idea into my Swords and Wizardry game, where a wizard or cleric could cast spells beyond their daily, but that each spell would consume HP. The only question is whether it should be a simple HP per spell level (after all 1 or 2 HP in S&W is worth a lot more than it is in 4e) or if it should be even more painful (2x spell level, or 1HD + spell level or even 1HD per level.

  23. I really wanted wizard's to be able to decide to go all out on one spell. Rather than a case of "I have one 3rd level, two 2nd levels and three 1st levels" , I wanted a wizard to be faced with situations where the caster might avoid casting any spells, to save it all for one gloriously overpowered big spell against the evil dragon/angry giant/enemy wizard. If that failed, then the wizard would look in despair and run in terror.

    For clerics. I didn't want them to be band-aid machines. I wanted to force them to actively do their gods work if they wanted to keep getting spells.

  24. I agree with pretty much everybody, and will simply reiterate that D&D spells have always felt too reliable to feel like magic to me. In most tales, magic always seems to have some risk, cost, and/or unpredictability. I also tend to see magic for humans a bit differently from magic for fantastical creatures to whom magic might come more naturally.

  25. counterspelling that is as easy and meaningful as it is in Magic the Gathering

  26. Magic Users should get to roll for all of their spells. The meat shields get to roll for each hit and fun/interesting things happen if they crit or fumble - why not the same thing for magic users?

    If the MU rolls well, the effect of the spell is enhanced in some manner, or he/she doesn't lose it, etc. If he fumbles his spell roll, then hilarity ensues (spiced with a bit of magical disaster).

    As a MU increases in level, the spell rolls for lower level spells should be easier, as he's worked with these lower level spells for a longer period of time.

  27. Magic item creation *is* the non vancian magic system in d&d. It was probably close to dave arneson's home campaign magic rules in his chainmail/FFC game.

  28. In the 2nd part of this post:
    I lay out my houserules. It pretty much covers what I thought was missing. It's also possible in my campaigns to find spellbooks that anyone can try to read and cast from, like the magic in HPL, with comparable benefits and risks.

  29. magical research (both inventing new spells/items and learning about quest hooks)
    taking desperate risks (ideally by inventing magic on the fly or having some extra bag of untried tricks up your sleeve)
    and exactly the sort of costly/unpredictable stuff everyone else agrees on.

    Sure, you could add these to the existing skeletal system fairly easily - they're really campaign flavour- but I'd like them to be hardwired into what everyone thinks an MU is.

  30. >Magic Users should get to roll for all of their spells. The meat shields get to roll for each hit and fun/interesting things
    >happen if they crit or fumble - why not the same thing for magic users?

    I don't know. This is one of the things that actually bothers me about 4e, you have certain limited use powers which you must roll to succeed with, and its spent regardless of whether you succeed or not. I hate that feeling of not only wasting a turn, but wasting a power as well. If magic is your only weapon, and once it's used it's gone, then it better be reliable.

  31. Anonymous7:29 PM

    I'm really quite happy with vancian magic as is. I love the literary origins, the quirks and uniqueness. Wouldn't change a thing.

    I lot of these ideas are making me cringe but I liked the one for MtG style counterspells. I immediately made one for my campaign! I don't know if it'll see play though; considering how much it would deform gameplay if it was unbalanced...I'm hesitant.

  32. I have considered the 'roll a d20 to cast' thing before. I decided I didn't like it because for me, one of the big things that makes playing a mage different than playing a fighter is that fact. Fighter: lots of attacks, but they might not hit. Wizard: not many attacks, but they always 'hit.'

  33. Anonymous7:55 PM

    I think almost all of these can be represented by altering spell descriptions / lists.

    Magical butlers: Semipermenancy on Unseen Servant.

    Foul pacts: Make up a table for demon-related entrapment spells and have them be the source for new spells and spell components.

    Magical work like vat clones: New spells.

    Fighters protect wizard while he builds up a big spell: long casting times.
    Wizard towers on ley lines: required for magic item creation / as material component for high level spells.

    Casting beyond memorized spells: allow it for any spell you had memorized today, save vs. death magic or drop to 1 HP and -1 to all saves per time you overcast (for the rest of the day).

    Spells beyond your ability: go ahead and memorize it, but when you cast it roll save vs. death magic. Fail = wild magic surge instead of spell going off, knocked out at 0 HP, lose all other memorized spells, and -1 to saves today. Success and you get the spell off but you're at 1 HP and -1 to all saves.

    Spellcasting crit/fumble: It's already in the game with wild magic. Implement as desired to get the right chance.

    Wizard not knowing the limits of his power: This one unfortunately is completely at odds with advance preparation of spells and each spell equalling one casting. If you memorized a spell buffet of 1-6 different spells, but you could cast each one several times, you're straying away from Vancian principles.

  34. I don't want players to not know

    Is there an extra negative in there or am I misunderstanding you? Not really in favor of this if it requires referee bookkeeping.

    In answer to the actual question...

    Maybe you could save vs spells every time you cast a spell to keep the spell prepared after casting. Penalty to the save equal to spell level (so it doesn't get absurdly easy once you get to high levels). Damn, now that I think about it, that's a pretty sweet idea. Low-level spells become closer to at-will powers as you rise in level. Also adds uncertainty and maybe even some level of danger (fumble the save and bad stuff could happen in some circumstances). No extra bookkeeping required.

    More spells like LotFP summon.

    More spells like the ones at this link you posted recently:

    Encouraging low level magic item creation like scrolls and potions. For example, Holmes scroll creation.

    I like the idea of casting above your level at risk. Not sure exactly how this might work since spells are also possessions.

    A good counterspell mechanic as gdbackus suggested would be nice.

    Nothing, please, like at-will light or laser beam.

    1. I guess more interesting Vancian spells doesn't really fit the brief, so you can ignore those two suggestions. That's what I get for answering quickly without thinking.


    2. I wrote up my "save to retain spells" idea in more detail here:

      By the way, nice Flight of Dragons banner. It was one of my favorite movies as an 80s kid. I kind of miss the dinosaur though.

  35. A1. Don't know what he's packing - One of the complaints I always had about spellcasters is that almost no game I was in progressed long enough or fast enough for the characters to use any spells above 2nd level. Man I coveted those high level spells. The dream wasn't so much cleaning out dungeon after dungeon with a steady steam of fireballs, but just occasionally using something like Wraithform or reverse gravity to overcome a problem seemed neat.

    On the other hand when I got characters of high enough level to cast those spells, I had such a smorgasboard to choose from that they seemed less a cool tool to figure out every possible use for, and more of just one specialized wrench among many. So maybe the ability to cast a couple powerful spells repeatedly at low levels would be interesting.

    A2. Eye of Newt - The standard Vance system has some spells requiring components, but they're almost an afterthought compared to limitation through spell slots. Some folks don't use components, others just use expensive components as an extra limit certain powerful spells.

    But I'm more interested in having component limitations used *instead* of spell slots. Still makes for resource management, but feels more organic and might make for personal quests as folks set out to gather what they can't find at the local elven market. Though as the earlier spell component discussion indicated this can be a pain to track.

    3E had this as incantations. Wasn't entirely satisfied with the mechanism, but it was an interesting start.

    A3. Improvising - Maybe not specifically the Vancian aspect of the system, but each spell is written pretty immutably and requires extensive research and cost to make a new version. Would be interesting if you could make a few modifications on the fly with a little thought: If you can't find the right component how about a substitution? Maybe if troll warts aren't available, then the healing potion will function using shambling mound clippings, but requires the application of shocking grasp to work.

    A4. Painful decisions on the fly - Normal Vancian has casters make painful decisions about what to cast when memorizing spells. In order to get a little more flexible at high levels the caster just gets lots of slots to fill.

    Typically spell points convert all those spells into an equal number of points making the caster super-flexible and super-powerful (geometric increase in points). I think the flexibility of spell points could still make things interesting if they just increased at a slower liner rate. Still tough choices, but more flexible.

    A5. Trivial magic - Like the idea of a magician being able to do some minor things most of the time, just to show they're magical. Nothing that would put a mundane out of work or cause more damage than a good hard slap (at least without a lot of setup). Maybe some prestidigitation, other cantrips, minor divinations and such. Help make low levelers still feel magical even after they've blown their single spell for the day.

  36. Thanks foe sharing the desing and idea of the gaming.

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  37. A lot of this is addressed in the imminent DCCRPG. You roll a d20 and only lose the spell if you fail.

    The feature/bug is that each spell is a random table unto itself.

    Oh, and spell fumbles are brutal.

  38. I like the otherworldly intrigue of demonologists. Demons become NPCs in their own right, with their own culture and inner conflicts. When worldly politics and Hellish politics intermingle, life becomes very interesting indeed for the demonologist.

  39. Exactly - I always knew I wasn't going to be happy with pre-memorization of optimized spells, that gets in the way of creative use. More and more I am seeing the fun, too, in allowing spellcasters to push the limit, reach for things beyond their grasp with a chance of failure and indeed catastrophe. In my current system I allow one casting of each different spell known per day, up to a certain total limit, and I'm considering letting people try to double-cast or cast higher-level spells than they're entitled to, but requiring a save and a potentially disastrous failure effect.

  40. Anonymous3:30 AM

    Using hit points as a source of mana simply turns clerics (or other healers) into mana batteries. Even worse, healing potions become an easy way for Magic Users to sustain lengthy battles. Most groups have house rules, but mana as hit points would seem to be a pretty radical change.


  41. I have been playing around with the thought of a system similar to the damage system used in Mutants & Masterminds. As you cast spells, you accumulate more and more "spell fatigue" with a check required with each spell casting. The higher the level of spell, the more difficult to cast, and the more likely one will be physically fatigued, exhausted, stunned, or even fall unconscious as a result.
    Spell Fatigue is cumulative, but disappears over time, encouraging moderation but still allowing someone to go all out. Even a 20th-level caster would quickly be fatigued after several 9th-level spells (d20+ caster level check against DC24, then DC33, then DC42, and so on; with failure resulting in cumulative physical fatigue; failure by 5 or more cumulative physical exhaustion; 10 or more being stunned; and failure by 15 or more resulting in unconsciousness (then being exhausted after waking)
    The only problem I am running into is scaling, so as to prevent high level casters (assuming a bonus of some sort is given based solely on level) from being able to pull out a dozen or more low-level spells without any immediate consequences. (E.g. magic missile, DC16, magic missile DC17, magic missile DC18...)

  42. re pushing for extra power at the cost of risk, I've been thinking about this for the fighter too: allowing extra attacks right from level 1 but with a hefty to hit penalty and increased chance of fumble, and then eroding those penalties as you increase in level, so that the day you qualify for 2 attacks per round you can push for 3.

    I haven't playtested it, but it seems likely to me that every player will always take the extra risk because combat is always desperate. That might be true of risky spellcasting boosts too.

  43. Although I can imagine things in play that'd be cool which aren't encouraged by the system, I like it as is, and wouldn't change it too much at all... have to chime in in favor of Vancian.

  44. @gdbackus
    Re: Your wish for better counterspelling.

    I created bare-bones elementalist variants for the last 3.x game i ran that did this very well. Every wizard picked an element or they chose to be balanced. Every spell you cast got that descriptor and whatever visual effects to make it work. (Fireball = Freezeball = Acidball = Lightningball, etc.) (Balanced meant picking the descriptor when you learned the spell and always striving for close to equal numbers of each type. Sorcerers could not be balanced.)

    Any spell of equal level could be used to counter a spell of opposite descriptor.
    Any spell of higher level could be used to take control of of a spell of same descriptor.

    Wizard vs. Wizard battles got a lot more interesting.

  45. The magic system I use for my D&D-But-Not game consists of Vancian magic you can screw with. Very much based on my excuses for why Vancian magic works the way it does, we've been able to add the following key adjustment...

    A wizard can modify the nature and specifics of any spell using their skill/knowledge of how magic spells functions. However, since you are violating the 'design specs' of the spell, it can be difficult to cast if you change it too much, resulting in a back fire that can harm you, your allies, the surrounding area or do something largely unexpected as a result.

    Magic is also somewhat tiring to use if many spells are cast back to back to back.

  46. In 0e there are some basic counterspell rules. As I recall them, any magic-user can attempt to counterspell any magic spell being cast. Their success is a percentage chance modified by the relative level of the caster and counterspeller.

    As far as I can tell, they were dropped with AD&D, Holmes, and Moldvay Basic, and never really returned.

  47. I enjoy a magic system where the caster has several axes (plural of axis, not axe ^_^) on which to adjust the difficulty v. parameters of a spell. Like with some of the options in GURPS Magic. Casting without incantation is hard; with incantation is medium; yelling an incantation makes it easy. No movement is hard; gestures, medium; both hands and both feet, easy. &c.

    That said, when I play D&D I really like the reliability of magic. I don’t know what legends the rest of you are reading, but in the ones I read the magicians almost never fail to cast a spell. It’s only the people who push beyond their capability that the bad stuff happens.

    The stuff I plan to add to Vancesque magic in my next campaign are: At-will cantrips. Some “overcasting” method—you can cast beyond your daily limits but at a price. (And there are several good ideas above that I’ll be looking at for that one.) And somewhere (1e?) there were rules for casting spells of higher level than you normally can from scrolls with a chance of failure. I want to take a new look at that too. Oh, and of course, the old “Color of magic” article from Dragon.

    1. There's a chance of failure to casting higher level spells from scrolls? I thought you could just do it, if you had the scroll. At least, that's how I've always played. I usually phrase the trade-off as do you want to cast the spell now but have it lost or save it for when you are high enough level to transcribe it into your spell book for multiple uses?

    2. I tracked down the “using a scroll of a spell above your level” thing in the 1e DMG. Basically 5% per level shy of the level you’d normally need to be to cast the spell. There’s also a chance that instead of just failing, it’ll have reverse or otherwise bad effect.

    3. Thanks for the sleuth work.

  48. Anonannoyed4:30 AM

    DMs: If you want the wizards collapsing from exhaustion, unsure of their next spell, or being possessed by your Warhammer 40k paint project of the week, please by all means ROLEPLAY YOUR NPC SPELLCASTERS THAT WAY. DMs Please. Stop foisting these half-assed punishment systems on players of the game. Sure, it'd be fine if you had it as an option so the local spotlight hog can pretend to be the prettiest flower, but honestly it seems to me that every DM who's read a Conan story at some points puts on his Sadist hat and entirely replaces the perfectly workable system with a finnicky fiddly book-keeping nightmare with a worse risk/reward ratio than your average carny booth... and then wonders why nobody but the kissass spotlight grabber wants to play wizards any more. It's hardly ever fun, and the fun only comes when you tack on a silly chaos wild magic table. One and a half sessions later, after the DM has fudged up the best rolls, it's on to "You cast what? Lets see how much power (rattle) Hmm. (rattle) A 6, and 9, and four 3s. That's... oh, we already did this result. Everyone is coated in blood and has to make opposed SLAP vs. STICK rolls or fall down. Everyone is -10 on BLA, and you lose 16 MEH. Hardy har."


    Off the topic:

    I don't know why we call it Vancian. It's Gary Gygax's interpretation of magic from The Dying Earth, colored by his other influences and mutated by necessities of game design.

    A better label: Gygaxian Magic. That way there's no need to justify its place in D&D as editions go forward. Could there be a more obvious answer to the question, "is there a place for Gygaxian magic in D&D?"

    1. That's for coming around just to bring down the room, Anonahole.

    2. Of course, Gygax did spell points in Lejendary Adventures. (Though I think it had one of his crazy “I don’t want you to get LA confused with AD&D” names for it. Yeah, “Activation Energy Points”.) I don’t remember how Mythus did it.

      I like “Vancesque” because (1) it suggests not exactly like Vance’s and (2) I abhor the “-ian” suffix, which is a misunderstanding of “-an” (-anus, -a, -um) applied to roots that happen to end in “-i”. I mean, sure, the origin of a linguistic practice doesn’t really matter as much as it’s use, but since I’ve learned this kind of trivia, I might as well do something with it. ^_^

      Back to Jeff’s question, here’s another thing Vancesque D&D magic doesn’t do: The scene from the Gray Mouser’s origin story in which he manages to work some magic. Or the scene from Willow where he keeps trying the spell and doesn’t get it quite right.

      You could maybe pull off the latter with something like the Sovereign Stone magic system.

    3. Anonahole3:59 PM

      Your house man. Delete it if you don't like it. Props for allowing anon comments though.

    4. Mythus used spell points too, called "Heka". However the most interesting part of the mythus magic system IMO was the different grades of just how easy it was for you to recall and cast spells from your repertoire. Some spells you'd totally groked and could rattle off at a moments notice, others you sort of knew and it would take you a while longer to um and ah your way through and finally some spells you had read but had to pretty much go to your library to remind your self of some of the fiddly bits. This influenced casting time and ease of casting which made life very interesting.

      Which brings me to my house rule.

      I use the Vancian/Gygaxian base rules to define just how many spells and of what level a MU can recall at any time but I use spell points for actual casting. So at low level the MU might be able to memorize a single spell but can cast it a few times a day. At high levels he might spam his repertoire of low level spells all day, or get off a few high level spells instead.

  49. Enormous conversation! Clearly Jeff, you've touched on a topic with which a lot of people really aren't satisfied.

    I linked (I know, links suck, but it was long) above what I do now in Nicodemus. I thought I would also share what I did in my old games.

    I used spell points. When you got to zero you were pretty wiped out, but you could keep going and use hit points 1for1 as spell points. Any hit points used that way could not be healed magically. If you cast a spell that used more points than your remaining hit points, you could literally kill yourself casting it.

    Your spell points were equal to the average of int and wis, plus your con. Then you got 1d6 when you made a level.

    Spells cost their additive cumulative level to cast. lvl1-1, lvl2-3, lvl3-6, lvl4-10, lvl5-15, lvl6-21. Obviously, even a 1st level wiz can cast a lot of 1st lvl spells. In my game, this always worked really well, as there were ALWAYS lots of challenges (not just fighting) that needed the use of magic. Clearly, it might not work for a game where most challenges don't need magic. In that case I would probably add an appropriate number directly to those above.

    e.g. lvl1-11, lvl2-13, lvl3-16, etc.

  50. I have to say, and this is just my opinion, because I know it is popular and common (and if a dm rolls this way, that’s absolutely fine with me), but one of my least favorite ideas is the prohibition on multiple copies of a spell memorized. In a situation where 3 copies of Spell X is the way to go, then so be it, imo. If readying for other situations/obstacles/objectives, then prepare otherwise.

    Also, somehow I feel that some of the changes to magic start to blur class approaches we're all familar with, and which I think are a strength of D&D: F (force/combat); MU (intellect/pre-planning); Cl (fortitude/faith/healing); Th (detection/manipulation/stealth/deception). Maybe the MU is being taken more into the realm of the fighting man.

    Having said that I don’t really like to tinker too much with the traditional D&D magic, there’s one idea I kind of like, but nobody else ever seems to, the concept doesn’t seem to grab people. It is to have casters extend themselves, but at the time of ‘memorization,’ vs., casting. Extra spell(s) are memorizable, but at a risk. Possibly temporary insanity? Maybe 6 weeks of no adventuring and then another 6 weeks where earned experience is reduced by 25%. I dunno. Never worked out details or actually tried it.

  51. I know I'm late to this party, but here goes:

    First of all, I have at least some interest in Jeff's A1 and A2 answers above. (Not knowing how many spells you've got until you're done and overcasting until you damage yourself).

    The other situations in magic I'd like to see might be workable in Vancian magic. However, traditional D&D's magic has always been a bit iffy on:

    * Creating spellcasters who have limited types of magic from which they can cast their spells. (I'm thinking here of a hard limit, rather than just a preference.) This isn't a hard fix, but it really does change some of the Dying Earth assumptions of wizardly magic (seeking out new spells rather than just learning them and so forth). Doing this without a whole lot of work (making a zillion spell lists) is really the tough part.

    * Magic that doesn't always do what you want it to. This can be handled within a Vancian framework but usually isn't in D&D.

    * Having magic that feels less technological. I suppose this is hard to put into words, but when spell descriptions tell you exactly what the effects are, the mystery of magic suffers.

    * (Related to the last one.) Having vague and unknown upper limits to what magic can do. This isn't really possible with a codified spell list like D&D has. It might even be necessary to make some magical effects that require things other than the standard trifecta: have the right MU level, seek out and learn the spell, cast the spell. Some of the incantation magic introduced as optional rules in later editions can do a little of this, but it could just be seen as shifting the goalpost without making things vague as I'd kind of like.

    Of course some of this can be done to one extent or the other within a D&D type spellcasting system, but as you add these items, the Vancian feel doesn't stay as strong.

    OK done.

  52. Another related idea for those that like magic-users to have an unknown limit:

    Prepare/cast spells reliably as normal.

    Any unprepared spell that the magic-user is familiar with (i.e., has in their spell book) may be cast but requires an action and a successful save vs. spells. Failure and the action is wasted, fumble and bad stuff happens.

    Any spell that the magic-user has witnessed may also be cast (for example, if the PC magic-user has seen an enemy spell caster use fireball). This uses the same rules as casting unprepared spells, but penalty to the save equal to spell level. Maybe the fumble range is extended to match the level of the spell also. Thus, casting an unfamiliar third level spell would fumble on a roll of 1, 2, or 3.