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Friday, August 9, 2013

Non-Vancian, Non-Spell Point

I hinted in the post on Vancian magic vs. spell-point magic that there are other possibilities for magic systems. Three possiblities, from what I can see. I'm going to be silly and call them Failure, Fatigue, and Fetishes.

"Failure" means, essentially a roll to cast spell system. There is no spell memorization or spell point cost. You can cast a spell as many times as you wish, but you have to roll for each time you cast the spell. There may also be an extremely undesirable fumble result. This may be a skill system, with one skill per spell, or it may be a unified roll, such as the Clerics Without Spells approach.

By "Fatigue", I don't mean a spell point system that labels spell points "fatigue", as in TFT/GURPS. I mean that you have a simple two or three-level system of physical conditions, like "normal", "tired", and "exhausted". Possibly, there's a "Failure"-like roll to see if a caster drops to a lower energy state. Spell casting becomes diminished or impossible at some energy levels.

"Fetish" is just my cute way of referring to a spell component system. Instead of spending abstract spell points, casters "spend" physical resources. Basically, it's a spell-point system where the spell point pool is your money, The simplest way to do this in D&D is to adopt the Holmes rule about magic scrolls and forget about spell memorization: spell casters cast spells by reading scrolls, and you can cast as many spells as you can carry or afford. Other options would be to use potions (which, I've heard, is how Arneson did it originally) or inherently magical materials. I based the alchemist/witch around this idea, and mixed it with X Without Spells for the necromancer.

As I said before, I find it odd that, even though each of these systems has been suggested in one way or another, anytime someone posts a vehement diatribe about Vancian magic, they always suggest spell points as the only viable option.


  1. I'm using a not Vancian system myself right now. Its a roll or get messed up variant mixed with a roll to cast lifted from Pars Fortuna.

  2. For my latest rules, I combine Vancian and Holmes scrolls. You get so many memorizations per day, and you do them straight out of whatever scrolls you own - no spellbooks. If you're in a bind, go ahead and rattle off a scroll: free spell, but now that scroll's gone. Hope you had a copy. Other notes: 1 random spell per level up, all the rest must be researched or collected. I'm still on the fence as to whether found scrolls must be translated (same cost as copying) or whether there should be some way to identify them easily (there's no Identify in my basic spell list) or whether Detect Magic should let you read them off, or whether it gets you an INT roll, or whatever.

    An interesting side effect is that it's relatively easy to rationalize memorization: Wizards are so smart they can create "virtual" scrolls inside their head, and cast those instead of casting real ink-and-vellum scrolls. I don't really care about "why EXACTLY do Wizards work this way" that kind of question, but if someone asks, that's the answer.

    1. Thank you! I credit Zenopus Archives for starting me down the "why use regular spell books at all?" path. The rest fell into place over time. Can't wait to playtest what I've got (the funkiest of which is a relatively unusual Cleric system: no Vancian casting for them! It's all about sacrifice!)

  3. Talislanta uses a combination Failure/Fatigue system, and to this day it's my favorite spellcasting system. You describe what you want the spell to do, set variables such as range and damage, apply the modifier to a roll. Every attempt to cast the spell past the first imposes another penalty to the roll.

  4. Microlite74 spends Hit Points to cast spells; which is a way of combining Spell points and Fatigue.

  5. That "Fatigue" system is still a spell point system. It's just that there are very few spell points, and you maybe get to make a roll to see if you don't expend them.

    There's another variation of that in Swordbearer, where the magician collects "nodes" of elemental power, can align some of those nodes to spells (either specific ones that the magician already knows, or allowing the node to randomly align to a spell, hoping thereby to learn a new one). The nodes are rated for size, which determines how powerful a spell it can be aligned to. It's also useful to keep nodes that aren't attuned, as (if the nodes are "chained" in a specific order) it increases the casting speed (initiative order) and the chance of using the spell without burning out the node. Also, the number of unaligned nodes affects the chance of successfully aligning nodes to spells.

    It's a complex but flavorful system that can't really be easily put into any of the common categories used to describe spell systems.