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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Materialistic Spell Points

I had an idea for a “materialistic” spell point system, meaning one where “spell points” are physical objects that magicians collect or create, then expend to cast a spell. It’s what I called a “fetish” system in a post on non-Vancian magic. I probably would not use this as my sole magic system, because I like Vancian magic just fine, but I’m serious considering tweaking this a bit and making it the default elven magic, to make them feel distinct.

The three important stats for magicians in this system are Intelligence, Level, and Max Spell Level, pretty much the same as in the standard Vancian system. Intelligence has only a minor effect on the study and preparation phase. Level limits the number of spells that can be cast. Max Spell Level equals half the magician’s level (round up) and affects which spells can be cast easily. Magicians must still learn spells, either by locating a spell book that describes them or researching a spell, but no longer need to memorize specific spells before an adventure.

Casting one spell requires using one spell ball. That’s not what they are actually called in the game world, but I’m imagining small (1-inch) balls of exotic ingredients infused with mana, and you know that’s what players would wind up calling them, with all the obvious jokes. I think I’ll call them “vril” or “vrillium” in my world, but you could call them “arcanic earth”, “magic bullets”, “mana orbs” or something else entirely.

Magicians prepare spell balls by mixing 100 gp of herbs and powders (per ball) into a sticky paste while channeling mana into the concoction, then rolling the substance into little balls and setting them out to dry. It takes one day to do this, although the actual mixing and infusing only takes half a day; the magician can do something else while the balls dry.

Instead of purchasing the ingredients, magicians can save money by gathering some or all of them. For each day spent gathering or preparing ingredients prior to the actual infusion process, roll 3d6 for the amount of materials (in gold pieces) that the magician has gathered, up to a maximum amount per day equal to the magician’s Intelligence. Ingredients may be especially rare in some regions (halve the effective Intelligence cap,) or more common in a few very special areas (double effective Intelligence.)

Channeling mana during the infusion process is something only magicians can do, and only for a while, although magicians get better at it with experience. A magician can only infuse 1 spell ball per level per day, and can only safely do that once per week; any more than that is physically taxing, requiring a Constitution check: 3d6 vs. Con for the second infusion session in a week, 3d6 vs. half Con for the third session and each additional session, with failure meaning the magician is in a drained, enfeebled state (half Move, two turns of rest every hour, other Con saves while enfeebled are at half effective Con.) Enfeeblement ends after one week of rest, but recovery time can be shortened with medical care (requires a Con roll once a day.)

To cast a spell, a magician holds up a spell ball and squeezes it in a fist while pointing or gesturing with the other hand and chanting the magic words. If the level of the spell being cast is equal to or less than the magician’s Max Spell Level, the spell ball crumbles as the arcane essence is released. Spells higher than Max Spell Level either can’t be cast, or use twice as many spell balls and require a spell check (3d6 + spell level vs. Intelligence.)

Optional Rule: If the spell level is equal to or less than half the magician’s Max Spell Level, roll 1d6 and add the spell level: on 6+, the spell takes effect but the ball remains intact, only expending a little bit of arcane essence. Additionally, you may rule that spells below 1/4th Max Spell Level never require a die roll, but are always “free” as long as the magician has at least one spell ball. Or, if that is too generous, make an unmodified 1d6 roll instead.
Even if you don’t use spells above 6th level (Men & Magic) or 9th level (Greyhawk, or AD&D,) Max Spell Level can be higher than that, for very high level wizards. A 15th level wizard has a Max Spell Level of 8, which means that the wizard could potentially cast endless spells of 4th level and below without running out of mana.
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  1. Are the gp spent on mana balls also converted to XP? It is just a different way to look at investment/spending of XP. You might even reduce the XP required to level since they have to invest XP in each spell.

    1. I did a short answer to your question on G+, but I should probably answer here, too, so that others can see the answer. And I'll try to be clearer. But it's probably going to go long, so I'll make a separate post.

  2. The optional rule you proposed where a high enough level wizard could cast spells for free got me thinking. At this point in the magic-user's career, they are almost mana themselves. It could lend one to a scenarios similar to a highlander type play where the casters would feed on each other, or use other arcanists as reservoirs of mana. Sort of like in the Dark Crystal how the skeksis extracted the fluid from the little pod people.

    I can see how this could get boring, or present a setting some would not enjoy. It was mainly a thought experiment. Again, thank you for sharing. I like this take on a magical mechanic.

  3. Is the spell ball consumed, or can it be re-used? In other worlds is it 100 gp every time a wizard casts a 1st level spell? How many GP do wizards start with isn't it possible a starting wizard would not have enough money for 1 spell ball?

    1. Spell balls are not always consumed if using the optional rule at the end of the post.

      Spell balls require 100 gp worth of ingredients, but M-Us do not necessarily have to *pay* 100 gp for a spell ball. They can gather ingredients themselves, steal them (or steal a spell ball,) ask for a loaner, and so on. It might be reasonable to give new M-U PCs one free spell ball.