Simplified spell progression

The rule:

  • 1 spell per magic-user level
  • No more than 2 spells per spell level
  • Spell competency = level / 2 round up
  • Progression stops once there are 2 slots per spell level
Thus you get a progression that looks like this:
Adjusted Magic-User Spell Progression
Class level 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th
2 1
2 2
2 2 1
2 2 2
2 2 2 1
2 2 2 2
2 2 2 2 1
2 2 2 2 2
2 2 2 2 2 1
2 2 2 2 2 2


  1. Easy to remember
  2. Compatible with the standard magic-user class
  3. Approximates traditional gameplay at low levels
  4. Only starts to diverge at 4th level
  5. Scales back at high levels
  6. Never more than 12 prepared spells assuming B/X
  7. Exactly one new spell slot gained per level
  1. ?

Unless you already hate the traditional Vancian spell system, I don’t see how this isn’t an improvement.

This would also work for spells of up to 9th level (Supplement I: Greyhawk/AD&D style), if that’s the way you roll (just add three columns, and extrapolate to 18th level).

Addendum: this actually works reasonably well for clerics, too. Just round down rather than up for spell competency, and stop at the highest leve of cleric spells. So first level clerics still wouldn’t get a spell. Access to the highest level cleric spells would be pushed back slightly.

16 thoughts on “Simplified spell progression

  1. John


    1. Fewer spell slots per level means more pressure on the player to prepare only the most broadly useful spells, with no room for oddballs. Meaning less opportunity for creative casting.
    1b. This is especially true if, like me, you only allow 1 of each spell to be memorised at a time, since it mostly cancels out the diversifying effect that would otherwise have.

    2. Fewer spells also means the player contributes less and feels less useful.

    3. Not such a big deal, but it’s kind of a bummer when the evil enemy wizard runs out of offensive spells a few rounds into the fight and resorts to tossing rocks.

    1. Brendan

      1. Interesting. I suppose you mean the use of lower level spells by higher level characters? Because the progression for the first 4 or so levels is pretty much identical. This is also mitigated by scroll creation (though the rules for creation of scrolls vary by edition).

      I fully admit that I feel like I don’t really “get” higher level play.

      2. I don’t think fewer spells means that a player contributes less. Otherwise, the resource management aspect of the class would be inherently bad, no?

      3. NPCs don’t need to follow these (or any) rules, as long as you fix their capabilities beforehand.

      It seems that people often focus on spells as the magic-user’s thing, rather than use of magic items. I can sort of understand this, as spells are more hard coded into the player facing rules (and many magic items must be placed by the referee and may or may not be found), but I still think that the magic-user is just as much the “magic item class” as it is the “spell class” (and this fits the supporting literature and mythology better, as many wizards derive their powers from magic items rather than “spells”).

      I’m curious, what do you consider to be examples of oddball spells?

  2. Ynas Midgard

    In actuality, it’s relevant only if you use oddball-spells in the first place; 3LBB-only games don’t have such things.

    Anyway, I will think about it, I am way too tired to contribute to this.

    1. Ynas Midgard

      It didn’t come up as many times as I wanted to, but we tried this method and I am very much pleased with it. Used for NPC spellcasters as well, it made spell-casting opponents much simpler to prepare.

  3. Gus L

    I think this is fine if the rules for makign wizards combat viable are there. I feel guilty if I don’t have sleep, web etc. memorized for the party. They’re protecting my fragile self so I can pull out the artillery. Sure I’d love to have spider climb, read magic and levitate but without the ability to contribute in combat I think the wizard will forego those utility spells. I also think there should be a first level spell that finds hidden object/doors, or maybe a second level one.

    Now if wizards can make wands (your wand rules deserve codification) and scrolls without too much trouble/cost then this is great. If you can zap them orcs at 3rd level that slot for magic missile is getting filled with something cool.

  4. Anathemata

    I think this progression makes more sense if it can be assumed that wizards have access to powerful ritual magic (like 3e incantations or Carcosan summoning) that takes a long time to cast, or if they can use strong magic items (such as special weapons only for warrior-wizards) at higher levels. With that said, I am a big fan of de-powering the wizard and like this approach. But I know some people think the point of the wizard is ‘high risk, high reward’, since they get ‘unlimited cosmic power’ at high levels in return for being uber-squishy at the start.

  5. John

    1. I’m mostly interested in levels 3-6. The difference starts at 3rd level, with only two 1st level spells as opposed to three, and hits hardest at 4th level and above, with only half as many 1st level spells, plus the loss of 2nd and 3rd level spells as you move into 7th-9th level, which for me is what constitutes “high level play”. But that 50% reduction in 1st level spells at the mid-level range is something I would definitely feel.

    2. I don’t follow. If the resources being managed didn’t allow you to make greater contributions to the game, they wouldn’t be valuable resources and wouldn’t be much fun to manage. I mean greater contributions in the sense of more effective, more potent, not in the sense of player participation. A magic-user without spells is far from useless, but undeniably contributes less to the party’s success than a fighter, all else being equal. Magic-users make the trade-off of being extra useful on certain occasions in exchange for being less useful on others.

    Oddball spells from OD&D might include Light, Ventriloquism, Levitate, or Magic Mouth – typically any non-combat spell that doesn’t have a use that’s both immediately obvious and broadly applicable. To be honest it’s less about the specific spells and more about the choices the player has to make. I’ll show you what I mean with an example.

    Suppose I’m a 4th level magic-user in my own game, and I’ve gathered eight 1st level spells. Rolling randomly on my spell charts just now, I got two obviously desirable spells – the Charm of Appersonation a.k.a. Charm Person, and the Kaleidoscopic Spray which is roughly equivalent to Sleep. Knowing that I’m going into danger, I’d be a fool not to take at least one, and tactically speaking it would really be sensible to take both.
    Now, however, I’ve got two spell slots left. None of the other spells I rolled are exactly tier one – translated, I got Feather Fall, Dancing Lights, a spell that repels liquid, Spider Climb, a spell that makes things slippery, and a spell that detects secret doors. I don’t know what obstacles I’m going to face so I have no way of knowing which of these spells will be most useful. Having made my best guess, I then have to be on the lookout for ways to make best use of the tools I’ve got. That means thinking creatively, using spells in unorthodox ways, setting things up to play to my advantages, and other fun stuff. It’s my favourite part of playing a magic-user.

    1. John

      (As Ynas says, if you’re playing LBB-only, it’s a not really an issue. I was thinking of my own experiences, which always involve a smorgasboard of spells.)

    2. Brendan


      Considering this more, I do think the concern about the diversity of effects is warranted. That is a good point. Scrolls and magic items might be enough, but it definitely needs some play testing.

  6. Zenopus Archives

    I toyed with something similar for a Holmes expansion, but decided it nerfed the M-U too much at higher levels compared to the original. I think it would be fine if your players agreed, or didn’t know differently

    And wrt to “only starts to diverge at 4th level”, in OD&D the M-U gets “3 1” at 3rd level, so there this diverges earlier.

  7. Hamel™

    IMHO there are some ways to turn Cons into Pros (or at least into lesser Cons).

    1. Make spells stronger: they’re less than usual but they kick ass way better (Light lasts longer and with a higher raius, etc.).

    2. Spells with dice effects (like Sleep or Fire Ball) are kept in memory when more than half of the dice rolled hit the top value.

    3. Allow casters to have a single Signature Spell they can X/day (where X means 1 each 3 levels).

    1. Brendan


      Power is not really something I’m all that worried about, but all those ideas you laid out seem like reasonable hacks to me, though tracking the X per day on top of normal spell slots might be a bit fiddly.

      One of my favorite personal variations is allowing magic-users to save versus spells (modified by spell level cast) to retain a spell after it is cast. A benefit of this approach is that it is easily applied to all spells without one-off rulings being necessary, and makes magic closer to at-will for higher level casters without totally removing the resource management aspect. I think it would also fit well with the progression discussed above. I have a full post about the house rule here:


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