Last time we got together I went into some of the various demihuman races that are offered in D&D for players to choose from, and also how I always tend to lean towards playing humans no matter how I might try otherwise. Well one thing led to another and I got going on all of the many classes that one can take on too, and how the first one that I ever played still holds up as my favorite even today, that being the wonderous wizard. There’s just something about being able to fling fire or lightning from your fingertips that puts all of the other classes to shame for me, and I adore the image of a grizzled old fellow pouring over tomes of forbidden lore in search of secrets, not to mention all of the specialty magic users that come with the territory for added variation. But as much as I love wizards in D&D there’s one thing that never felt quite right to me, and that’s the way the game has approached the magic system over the years.
See, D&D has always used a very Vancian system of magic, based on the author Jack Vance’s writings in his Dying Earth series and how its wizards function. Magic users memorize a certain number of spells per level per day, cast them, and then the magic is wiped from their memory and the process starts all over again. To me, this has always been an extremely limiting annoyance, not to mention almost totally impractical when you really think about it. It kind of ensures that many wizards will quickly become overly predictable and copies of each other as they progress, with each having the same spell list across the board during gameplay, especially during the lower levels. Another thing, if played by the book, is it pretty much means they’re always going to be laden down with a lot of crap and damn near broke all the time, with them needing to lug around heavy and awkward spells books and shell out all their hard earned gold on spell components or otherwise become virtually useless. Come to think of it, I’ve never actually played in a game that’s really required me to ever keep track of my spell ingredients, so why even bother using this system at all I ask you? There has to be a better alternative out there, so let’s see if we can find one.
Thankfully, I’m apparently not the only one who feels the way that I’ve expressed above, as even TSR themselves released a Player’s Option: Spells and Magic supplement way back in the day to address this very issue. While the book did introduce some fun new spells and a magic point system rather than a spell slot mechanic, it unfortunately fell flat with me as well, as your character was still required to spend his magic points to memorize spells in advance and continue to lug his books and ingredients with him. In the end, I was still left searching for a better system, and then I remembered an old school D&D clone that I had played years ago, and I think I found my answer.
I can’t recall exactly what the name of the game was, but it was put together by a group from Chicago and was a spinoff of Swords and Wizardry and the retro style White Box system that I’ve discussed before. The magic rules were handled very differently in this game, but I liked them so much that I started using them in all my D&D style games and found they worked so much better for my tastes and what I was going for.
It this system a wizard may cast any spell he can find and learn regardless of his or the spell’s level, so it’s possible to have a second level magic user fling a third or even fourth level spell if he’s capable of it. A character has a number of magic points to spend per day equal to his hit points plus his intelligence and constitution modifiers, increasing every level by the same amount as his health. Just pick your spell, spend a number of magic points equal to twice the spells level plus one, and the spell takes effect just like normal. There’s no need to memorize spells in advance or carry around books or ingredients, making magic users really flexible and unpredictable, and a whole lot of fun for the players and DM alike.
Needless to say, that I really love the way this system works, and I usually always use it when I run anything from third edition on back or something with a retro flavor like White Box or Castles and Crusaders. It really keeps the players on their toes when they come across even the lowest level enemy wizards, never sure if they’re going to get burning hands or have a disintegration spell whipped out to reduce one of them the dust. I find that it can be a blast in terms of roleplaying and constructing a story too, giving me the chance to come up with unique magic items or places in the environment that add or boost a character’s magic points, which can make for interesting adventures in and of themselves. If you’re a fifth edition player, I haven’t actually tried it yet with the new rules to see how it flows, but then again, I haven’t run any fifth since getting the books but plans are in the works. If you’re going back to fourth then I’m sorry to say that you’re on your own here, as I’ve never played more than a few scenarios of that edition and have no idea how the rules work beyond that, nor do I intend to learn. If you want to try out what I’m talking about for yourselves I’ll summarize how to do everything below, so drop me a line and let me know how you like them if you do, and if you think anything isn’t working quite right I can do some tinkering and post an update. As always, happy gaming and enjoy, gang. And remember, there’s never a bad time for a fireball.
Optional Magic Rules
The following rules were written by a gaming group from Chicago that I can’t recall the name of. I take no credit in their creation whatsoever but enjoy implementing them in my games none the less. Where anything is unclear just use common sense to come to an agreement, as house rules are fun so don’t shy away from them. Where things weren’t quite clear in my memory I’ve elaborated with my own tastes and preferences.
-A wizard may attempt to learn and cast any spell regardless of his or the spell’s level, so it is possible for a second level wizard to cast a fifth level spell as long as he can pay the cost in magic points (see below).
-Wizards may know any number of spells and require no spell components to cast them, drawing from their own reserve of magical energy or the environment around them for power. A wizard will still need to have a spell book to contain his master list of spells, periodically studying it to refresh his skills, typically one or two days a month. A spell takes up a number of pages in his book equal to its level plus one, and an average spell book contains one hundred pages.
-To acquire new spells, wizards must find them either on scrolls or copy them from other books, rolling to learn them just as described in the magic section of the Player’s Handbook or the system being used, they do not receive them automatically upon level progression. Saving throws or casting times, if applicable, are unaffected.
-To cast a spell a character must be able to speak clearly and motion with their hands freely, paying a number of magic points equal to twice the spell’s level plus one. For example, a third level spell would cost seven magic points to cast, (3×2)+1=7. To calculate a character’s magic points, follow the formula below, increasing the number available each level of experience equal to the number of hit points gained upon advancement.
-Magic points = Character’s hit points + intelligence modifier +constitution modifier (yes, add it in a second time after calculating the character’s initial hit points).
-Once all magic points are spent a character is considered to be out of magic and can no longer cast spells and must rest. After resting, ie sleeping or taking part in no strenuous activity, for no less than six hours all magic points are regained. Use your own judgement on how many points are regained if the character’s rest is interrupted.
-If times call for desperate measures a wizard may still cast spells if his magic points are expended, but it is very risky for him to do so as it could cost him his life. A character may begin spending their own hit points just as if they were magic points, effectively sacrificing their own wellbeing to cast spells. If a character reaches zero or fewer hit points in this fashion they immediately fall unconscious, following all the rules for dying in the rulebook of the system being played. Hit points expended in this fashion recover in the normal way that hit points are regained.
-Favored spells. As characters progress, they begin to become more knowledgeable and familiar with the way some of their spells works, choosing their favorites and being able to cast them easier than others. Every four levels at 4,8,12,16, and 20, a wizard may pick a number of favored spells equal to his intelligence modifier. A character is considered to be so versed in these spells that he will never forget them regardless of if he studies his spell book or not, and he may cast them at a reduced magic point cost of the spell’s plus one. So, a favored third level spell would only cost four magic points to cast. 3+1=4. No spell may be selected as favored more than once.
-Don’t be afraid to use this system for clerics or sorcerers too, substituting in wisdom or charisma modifiers instead of intelligence for each of them respectively. I hope this gets you thinking and trying some new things with your own D&D or old school games, so get a group together and give it a whirl.