Friday, July 7, 2017

Vancian-Lite Magic System

The mechanics of Vancian magic fit surprisingly well with OSR style adventuring and dungeon crawling. Preparing spells in advance and then having to expend them, losing resources, and rewarding player intelligence and creativity all give it a very OSR style vibe.

Peter Purplestripe, meme wizard. Just wait
untill he gets his second level spell slot.

However, the complexity of D&D's and LotFP magic system's turn off a lot of new players. I know that when I was getting into the hobby I avoided "rules heavy games like Dungeons and Dragons" and stuck to more lite rules games like FATE and simple homebrew rulesets. I put the above quote from myself in quotation marks above to highlight the joke. There are much heavier systems then D&D, it was just what I thought was heavy at the time.

So how do we rectify this difference? How do we fix having loads of spell levels and spell slots of different levels? How do we boil it down?

There are no spell levels. You have a single spell slot at first level, you get a second at second level, and you get another one every even level after. So 4, 6, 8, 10, etc. This makes it dirt easy to know exactly how many spells to give NPC or enemy Wizards, as you can just half their HD/level and add an extra spell slot from when they were a shitty apprentice at first level.

I'm still not sure what the inside of a spellbook should look like.
You can prepare any spell you'd like in a single exploration turn (usually 10 minutes) for each spell. Preparing spell requires a spellbook or spell aide. Once you cast a spell, that spell slot is empty and must be prepared again if you want to cast a new spell. There are no daily limits.

I really like this system because it removes the need for as most of the book keeping as possible while still keeping the flavor and mechanics intact. I personally give Magician characters advancement in spell power every odd level, to stagger their growth.

This also certainly helps with caster vs martial imbalance (despite not being a big problem in old school style games anyway) by making magic users not gain new spell slots AND improving spell powers AND higher level spell slots every time they advance.

The biggest issue of course is you're going to have to rewrite basically every single spell you want to use in your games to be level agnostic, AND write weaker spells that fit better with this system. Many newer rulesets are already writing level-less spells, this might be a nice way to use them.


  1. So you say "by making magic users not gain new spell slots AND improving spell powers AND higher level spell slots every time they advance." However you also say "I personally give Magician characters advancement in spell power every odd level". This seems like a very disengenuous fix. If anything, you're giving magicians more spell slots each at a higher spell power every time they advance. Further what is the point of giving magicians more spell slots as they level up if they can recharge a spell slot in 1 turn. You're still hamstringing the exploration of dungeon by anyone else who isn't a magician by their need to refill spell slots. If anything you're making their progress slower and slower because the magician has more spell slots to recharge. OSR is based on harsh resource management, and I can't see any character choosing to head further given the option of fully recharging all of their resources. If anything this exacerbates the issues of martial and caster disparity that you talked about because instead of a wizard having numerous spell slots of variable power they now have an infinite number of spell slots at maximal power. Further it keeps the focus on the magician characters who now have to be guarded by the other characters. I understand you wanna make this more intuitive for new players, but you shouldn't make a shit system of magic to do so.

    1. Hey that's some really good feedback! I really appreciate it. Personally I was somewhat worried if players decide to use a ton of time casting, preparing, redoing spells, but I was hoping wandering monster checks would punish and discourage that behavior.

      I also tried to mention in the post that spells were much less powerful; and spellpower is a numeric effect instead of a huge jump of power in other games like later D&D, but I should have made it more obvious. I hadn't gone into too much detail until I run by the spells and Wizard class writeups, I should have also made it more obvious it was my homebrew rules and not 'insert this system into generic D&D game', so I can see why those things would be an issue. Thanks.

    2. See with the mention of LotFP and DnD's magic systems I thought that it was implicit that it would use those spells in a level-agnostic format. Like a DnD wizard that would get a level-agnostic version of Sleep or Charm Monster that he could recharge every turn or that a LotFP magic user that would get a level-agnostic version of Web that he could recharge every turn. My original rant holds no merit with homebrewed spells adjusted to be less powerful.

    3. I have changed it to make it more clear, thank you.