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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Alternative to Vancian magic

When I grew up playing D&D, the only magic system I knew of was the Vancian system - which is the "fire-n-forget" method presented in OD&D, and subsequent editions.

At the time. I didn't know it had a name, and didn't care if it was right or wrong. Only being 10 at the time, there wasn't much need for me to ponder if this style of magic made sense to me. Now that I am considerably older than 10, I can safely say that I do not favor the Vancian style of magic.

I have always found the system to be very limiting in the following ways;
  • Players had to memorize their spells in advance, and could not react to the situation at hand
  • Characters - who presumably spent their entire life studying this art - would all of a sudden "forget" the spells they just cast, after spending all day memorizing them
  • All casters knew the same spells - and gained them at the same progression

Having been an avid reader of the Conan series of books throughout my young to adult life, I was gradually conditioned to view magic as something that took great force of will, and could leave the caster fatigued from great exertion. The spells were powerful, and created to meet the needs of the given situation.

This is the style of magic that I want to incorporate into my games - the caster had control over their discipline, and created what they wanted, when they wanted.  I found this with the Talislanta RPG.

The Talislanta rules were some that I passed over many times when I was looking for something new, and different. I just happened upon a website which had all of the editions in PDF format, so I decided to download them, just to add to my collection.

After reading through the various editions, as well as the D20 version, I found that the magic system presented, mirrored exactly what I was looking for. You could make up spells on the fly, determine the spell level, and then come up with a target number that you had to achieve in order to cast the spell.  It even had a D20 method of determining if the spell was successful, which played right in to the mechanics of Basic Fantasy rules - which have the ascending armor class, and 3.0 BAB.

Here is an overview of how the system works;

There are 11 Orders of Magic - specialty classes, if you will; each with an key associated attribute (STR, DEX....), which modifies the spell Mode casting attempt - explained later.

The 11 Orders

Cartomancy DEX
Cryptomancy INT
Crystalomancy WIS
Elementalism  STR
Invocation WIS
Mysticism WIS
Natural Magic WIS
Necromancy INT
Shaminism CHA
Witchcraft CHA
Wizardry INT

Orders provide Advantages, as well as Limitations. This is explained further in the Talislanta D20 version of the rules.

In addition to the Orders - there are eleven Modes of magic; which is a general type of spell effect. Not all Orders (Specialties) have access to all Modes (Spell Effects) - and some Orders have +'s or -'s when using certain Modes.

The 12 Modes


And some Modes have opposites, such as; Summon*Dismissal &  Reveal*Conceal

Within each Mode, there are guidelines, and design costs for creating your spell.  The point system is pretty straight forward, and is geared for creating spells on the fly, although the rules do suggest creating some commonly used spells before-hand. There are even rules for modifying previously created spells at the time of casting, so as to enhance range, radius, needed.

It took me a couple of reads between the D20, and 4th edition before it clicked - but this is really an easy system.  An example of it is below.

Example Character

Say you have a 1st level character, with a STR of 16, who wishes to be an Elementalist; Air - aka Aeromancer.  Elementalist is the particular Order (Specialty)of magic chosen, which is further narrowed down to Air. This Order has the following Modes (Spell effects) available to it;


Which means that he can only cast spells with the Modes listed above, with that particular Order

As a bonus, each spell with the following Modes, receive a modifier

Conjure +3
Move +3, because of the Elemental Air

There are no penalties to use other available Modes, they may only summon an appropriate Elemental type, and the chosen element can be transmuted through its various forms; i.e,  air transformed in to fog, toxic gases...etc...basically the practitioner has complete control over his Order - he owns it.

Example Spell

On the Wings of Eagles (Fly)
Mode: Move
Casting Time: 1 round, +0 standard casting time

Area: Self +0, standard area
Duration: 5 rounds +0, standard duration
Saving Throw:N/A
Weight: up to 250 lbs +10 to target#
Speed: 30ft/round, +0, standard speed
Total Casting Target#: Base 10 + 10 for weight = 20.

To cast this spell, our 1st level Aeromancer has to roll a 20 (target number), on a D20.  Pretty impossible, right!  However, Aeromancers gain a +3 to Move Mode spells - which is added to their die roll.  As Elementalist also add their STR modifiers to their casting attempt, our caster gets to add +2 to the roll as well, for having a STR of 16. Additionally, the character decided to add their 1 magic point (1 pt, gained at each level of advancement) to the Move Mode at character creation, so another +1 is added to the die roll.

All in all, there is a total of +6 added to the die roll.
+3 for Move Mode bonus for Aeromancy
+2 for STR 16
+1 for Move Mode advancement, added at 1st level

The target number is 20, so with all of the modifiers, our character needs to now roll a 14 or better to succeed.  Not easy, but not out of the range for our 1st level character - particularly as the Fly spell is a 3rd level spell in Basic Fantasy, and you need to be 5th level before you can cast it.

Continuing Example

Now, if the character were 3rd level, and decided at each level to place their +1 skill point in Move Mode, they would the following modifiers;

+3 for Move Mode bonus for Aeromancy
+2 for STR 16
+3 for Move Mode advancement; +1 added at 1st, 2nd, and 3rd level

This is a +8 total mod, which means that he would have to roll a 12 or better on a D20, to be able to cast this spell. This is a 60% chance to Fly at 3rd level.

This process may seem complicated at first, but after a few passes over the chapter it has become really easy to grasp. Plus, the books do a better job of explaining the process than I do.

I feel this type of magic system really opens up the possibilities in play, as the only limitation to what can be is your imagination. Knowing the Modes, and how, and when to use them, makes a spell caster truly adaptable, and formidable.   While they can become power-beasts as they advance in level - a fatigue rule, as well as their generally low hit points, still means that they have to be cautious.

Adapting for OSR Rules

  • At Character creation, the Order(s) is/are chosen. (Up to the GM on how many Orders to allow, and when)
  • At 1st level, and each level thereafter, full class spell casters gain 1 spell point to permanently assign to a specific spell Mode. This will act as a bonus to the caster's die roll to hit the casting target #. This may seem like a powerful option, but consider that many spell casters will have multiples Modes. You could enhance one, or two Modes all the way up, but you would really stink in the other Modes - which you just might need one day.  This does allow some variation between characters with the same Orders, as not all users will take advantage of all Modes, and not everyone will have the same mastery.
  • Dual class characters receive 1 point at first level, and every odd level after that - 3rd, 5th, 7th..
  • Governing Attributes (Determined by Order) +/- are added to the caster's die roll
  • Base casting target # is 10 + and spell design points.

  • Fatigue

    Casting spells is fatiguing, so each spell cast, beyond the first, whether successful or not, has a cumulative -1 modifier added to the die roll.  This adds some limitations to what a caster can do - and keeps some checks and balances to the game.

    The GM determines how quickly fatigue is recovered - generally 1 point negative modifier goes away with each hour of rest; 

    Example, if a caster cast 3 successive spells, they now have a -3 modifier to any other spells cast within the next hour.  If 1 hour goes by without casting a spell, the spell modifier is now -2. If two additional hours go by,  the spell modifier is back to 0.

    Multiple Orders

    If multiple Orders are allowed, the character may find that they have duplicate Modes available between the chosen Orders. Even though the Modes are the same in function, they are not considered the same when assigning spell points, as they are from different Schools.  

    Example; The Aeromancer above, decides at a later date to learn the Pyromancy Order under Elementalism, which also has the Move Mode. Any points the Aeromancer has already assigned in the Move Mode under Aeromancy, do not apply to the Move Mode for Pyromancy.  Spell points gained at later levels will have to be assigned to a particular Mode, for a particular Order.  

    This helps limit the power a Magic User can gain. I role playing terms, is attributed to the the Magic User splitting their focus, and no longer specializing in a given field magic.

    This was a long entry, but I hope someone can find some use from it.  Again, for a better idea of how this works, please download a copy of the rules from the Talislanta website.


    Friday, July 19, 2013


    Yes, I am back from the dead - and this blog is still alive and kicking!....ok, maybe whimpering, and struggling...but back none-the-less.

    After a long hiatus from the RPG world, I am back, and eager to jump right back in to things.

    I guess I will start off with what I have been reading, and what I have been doing with it;

    • Fantasy Craft
    • Talislanta - D20, and previous editions
    • Adventurer, Conqueror, Kings
    • Myth & Magic
    • HackMaster
    • GURPS
    • Adventures Dark and Deep
    • Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers
    • Bare Bones Fantasy
    • Basic Fantasy
    • Basic Roleplaying
    • D&D Rules Cyclopedia
    • Dangers & Dweomers
    • Dark Dungeons
    • Dungeon Crawl Classics
    • Dungeonslayers
    • Elric!
    • Labyrinth Lord
    • Mazes & Minotaurs
    • Monsters & Magic
    • RuneQuest
    • Swords & Sorcery
    Just to name a few......

    I have to say that I really like RPGs.  Even though they all have something great to offer, I think I am still settled with Labyrinth Lord, or Basic Fantasy..but truth be told, I have found enough nuggets of gold in everything I have read, that I will take what I like, and roll it all in to one rule.

    Here are some of the pieces I have decided on;

    1. Ascending armor class - cause it makes more sense to me. Not sure which one I pulled this from.
    2. Hit points (still working it out, but almost done)
    3. Magic will be spontaneous casting, and will be powered by spell points. No Vancian Magic. The Talislanta magic system, and Fantasy Craft is what I am reviewing now for inspiration. 
    4. Poison saves
    5. Weapon Mastery, and special benefits. This is from D&D Cyclopedia
     There are some other pieces floating around, but I am still banging them about. I think everything will start to come together when it is actually codified. Some things are great in theory, but stink in application.

    More to come