Friday, 2 March 2012

More Vance than Vancian

Regarding Jeff's comments on this, I look at the evolution of my own magic system and think it's now actually more in the spirit of Vance's Dying Earth novels than the standard so-called "Vancian" system. I still believe that magic is the one part of the D&D rules as written (any edition) that most strongly needs a revamp, in the name of creativity and crazy fun.

* No multiple copies spells memorized ("Turjan pressed into his head ... four Magic Missiles, two Webs and a Fireball in a pear tree.."? I don't think so.) This removes the conflict between pre-memorization and creative use, especially as I'm being more generous with spell slots at 1st level. Perhaps a *different version* of, say, Magic Missile is one of the most prized magical treasures ... but this is as it should be.

* "Push your luck" effects. I am now letting casters try to cast spells above their level, making a difficult Mind save modified by their level vs. the spell's level and any Wisdom modifier (basically, 15 or more on d20). If they fail, they suffer a gnomish mishap. Basically, a more streamlined version of what the DCC RPG (remember that?) was going for. I might also allow the same risky mechanic for multiple castings of the same memorized spell. Magic is danger - not spray-on, EZ-bake sorcery!

This works for me, anyway, and I think my players appreciate it too.


  1. I'm in total agreement. I think your point 1 alone goes a long way in making the MU more interesting, versatile, and Vancian. Point 2 also seems fun, I had started thinking along the same lines, but I'm not sure about having mishaps vs. just failure.

  2. I particularly like the first suggestion. Also, I can't help but hear the post's title sang to the tune of White Zombie's "More Human than Human" in my head.

  3. I don't get all the knee-jerk hatred of Vancian casting. Take away the limitations/resource management and you get Tim the Enchanter...

    I very much like your idea about no duplicate spells memorized, and the (dangerous) option to try casting above your weight.

  4. I'm with you on number one. In my LL game you can cast the spell required you have the scroll (a non-consumable resource) but to cast the same spell more than once in the same period has the potential to turn your brain into mush.

    I do something similar for number two but I use an INT check for wizard spells and WIS for clerical spells above their level. Saving Throws make a lot more sense now that I think of it though.

  5. Red - I'm trying to rationalize more checks into saving throws in general - will post on that at some point. In this instance saves make it a lot riskier than roll-under stat checks would unless you penalize those steeply.

    1. I had been using roll-under stat checks for a while but when I switched to 3d6 rather than d20 that became impossible. I tried to apply Target 20 to ability checks but that has become rather cumbersome in it's place.

      I've actually been considering having Saving Throws replace ability checks entirely. It's a bit difficult to wrap my head around nor am I sure I'd still call them saving throws but I plan on posting about it in the near future.

    2. I like the saving throw mechanic because it is resistant to optimization. I do however try to limit it's use to second chances and avoidance. Nothing like "roll a save" to hit.

    3. RedHobbit, if you have not already read it, you may be interested in this post of mine:

      Why can't you use 3d6 for roll under checks? Some checks will be auto-success for high scores, but 18 can be ruled always a failure, and difficult situations can always involve a penalty.

    4. I did use 3d6 roll under for quite some time but with the nature of the bell curve any stat greater than 14 has an incredibly small chance of failure. While you expect someone with a high stat to succeed most of the time it had gotten to the point where calling for any kind of check in a tense situation was almost trivial. I gave penalties a shot too but that seems more like a band-aid to the underlying problem.

      That's a very well cited post your linking me to and there's a lot I'd like to look over. I'll take a look tomorrow with a fresh set of eyes.