I read this post over at The Mule Abides about Starting Magic-User Spells, and for some reason that got me thinking about how higher level spells often seem to be improved versions of lower level spells. With a bit of mental flexibility, many spells almost feel like they belong in a progression. For example, consider a hypothetical discipline “gravity” with the following effects: floating disc, levitation, fly, telekinesis. Or a discipline “interposition” with the following effects: shield, protection from normal missiles, globe of invulnerability.
Extending this idea further, what if magic-users just had access to the discipline as a whole and never needed to learn (or prepare) individual spells? Higher level effects would just be harder to cast. Following the conventions of the 3 LBBs and B/X, there are six levels of effects (or spells) within each discipline. Spells are not learned; disciplines are determined at first level.
A magic-user gets one discipline, plus one additional discipline per point of intelligence bonus. All magic-users would get the metamagic discipline for free. Yes, this means that magic-users with a higher intelligence are more flexible, but we’re all playing 3d6 in order, no? A magic-user with an 18 intelligence is assumed to be a rare an wondrous occurrence. For example, a magic-user with an intelligence of 14 would have access to two spells, determined randomly (or selected, you cheater). It is not possible to switch disciplines after character creation.
The system I am envisioning for casting is similar to these variations of Vancian magic, but magic-users don’t need to prepare any spells beforehand. They may cast any spell which is of level less than or equal to half caster level (rounded up). For example, a 3rd level wizard may cast up to second level spells. When casting a spell, a magic-user must make a saving throw versus spells. Upon success, they may use spells from the discipline again in the same day. Upon failure (but not a roll of 1) the spell still goes off, but the magic-user may use no spells from that discipline again until they have had a good night’s sleep and studied magic books. If a 1 is rolled, the spell fails or backfires in some inconvenient manner (use the spell fumble system of your choice).
Higher level effects may be attempted, but at greater risk. The same procedure is used as above, but the saving throw takes a penalty equal to the spell level, and the save must succeed for the spell to go off. A roll of 20 is always considered a success. Also, the fumble range is extended by the level of the spell. So, if a 4th level magic-user (max spell level: 2) is attempting to cast a 5th level spell, they roll their saving throw with a -5 penalty and the spell backfires on rolls of 1 through 6. This same procedure will obtain until the caster reaches 9th level, when the save penalty disappears and the fumble range drops to 1. In other words, the progression is not linear (though the base save versus spells does improve at 6th level and 11th level); this is intended. You don’t get it, and don’t get it, and then it finally clicks.
Thus, magic-users may attempt any effect at any level, though doing something like conjuring an elemental or attempting telekinesis at first level will almost certainly result in disaster. This could also be done with an ability check and some DC math, but I prefer the simplicity of the traditional saving throw. If possible, I wanted to build this system entirely with traditional D&D spells, using the more iconic ones where possible. Here is an (incomplete, preliminary) example of how the disciplines might look:
|polymorph self, polymorph others
|transmute rock to mud
|contact higher plane
|animate dead, magic jar
|protection from evil
|prot. from evil 10′ radius
|protection from normal missiles
|knock, wizard lock
|invisibility 10′ radius
Spells that look like this are originally from OD&D.
Spells that look like this are originally from Holmes.
Spells that look like this are originally from B/X.
Spells that look like this are originally from AD&D.
SPELLS THAT LOOK LIKE THIS ARE ORIGINALLY FROM 2E.
Note that by “originally” I mean showed up in a major ruleset; they may have also appeared earlier in a periodical like The Dragon or Strategic Review; this is not intended as an historical treatise. That being said, any corrections are still welcome. Shield, magic missile, and ventriloquism were from Supplement I: Greyhawk, not the 3 LBBs. Merciful Shiva, but the spell list exploded in Second Edition!
This system seems to have several benefits:
- Familiar D&D spell effects
- Simple character generation
- No time spent selecting prepared spells
- Risk/reward trade-offs
- Genre flavor (apprentices overreaching their power, etc)
- Each discipline could be given to a player as a one-page handout
- No spells as treasure (at least not in the traditional manner)
- Scroll rules would need to be revised
- Potentially more powerful magic-users?
This almost ends up looking like a White Wolf power system (three circles in celerity allows you to do X, Y, and Z) but with traditional D&D effects. Such a system would work well for cleric spells too (for example: purify food and drink, create water, create food), though I’m not sure the flavor works unless you are merging the spell lists like Akrasia’s colors of magic system.
Okay, the data part of this post is not quite complete, but it is taking way too long to cross reference all the rule books, so I’m just going to go ahead and hit publish, and if I still care later I’ll come back and finish that part. In any case, the idea should be clear.