Truly Non-Vancian Magic

Credit where credit is due: the train of thought that inspired this bucket of madness left the station from this post from Crater Labs. Check that out, then come back here.  It may make more sense where I’m coming from.

First, a definition: Vancian magic is a form of magic based on the existence of spells that must be prepared in advance, for specific purposes, and that can be used a finite number of times.

This is a very handy formula for RPGs which include magic, and that is why D&D (and almost every other RPG on the market) uses it.  But it has limitations.

In order for any system to be (at least in my opinion) truly non-vancian, all of these criteria must be avoided. Otherwise you are still casting the same old spells but using mana points or something instead of casting X spells per day.  And really it isn’t the finite number of times things that I want to get rid of, it’s the advance preparation of specific applications of magic that I want to change.  Because who want to be the guy who can deal 10d6 fire damage to everything in a 40ft sphere, but who can’t get the freakin’ magical stairway to move because there isn’t a spell called “Elminster’s Escalator Energizer?”

So I have invented a framework that will allow this kind of spellcasting, and I present it to you here.  First, the basics, and I will hit you with a few classes later (as I get them finished).


One who has the ability to manipulate matter and energy outside of normal, rational human means (primarily through physical effort) is a Magic-user.  There are many ways that individuals come by this power, and many way that they might channel it.  It is an inborn talent, primarily, not one that can be learned.  In that way magic use is similar to the Force. Unlike the force, there is a wide range of uses that magic may be applied to.

The three most common types of magic user are the Arcanist, the Called One, and the Elementalist.

All of these casters have a “sixth sense” which allows them to manipulate cosmic energies on a small scale.  There is a constant stream of energy flowing through the material plane, and magic users are able, by ritual or by right, to reach out and grab a handful.  Their ability to control and divert the stream depends on their experience and their mental acuity.  Arcanists manipulate the flow of those energies through the material plane to produce effects on the material plane.  The Called contact their divine representative through this channel and together they channel the divine energy aspects to wreak weal or woe on those around them.  Elementalists harness the flow of energy directly and bring it into the material plane.

Arcanists are those who have a high intelligence, and can recognize patterns that others may not notice.  Through study and experimentation (as well as the natural talent required to manipulate super-natural energies), the arcanist can manipulate conditions both physical and metaphysical to harness the thaumaturgic energies of the cosmos.

Hedge-mages are a subset of arcanists that have studied the methods of the arcanists, but lack the insight to create new magical effects on their own.  They have the natural talent required to manipulate energies, but must do so through rigorous training in the harnessing rituals and can only produce limited effects.

The Called are those who have been chosen by a supernatural entity (commonly called a god) to perform some task on the Material Plane.  They receive power through an agent of this supernatural entity.  While pursuing the assigned mission, the power they are allotted is very great, and as a reward for devoted service, they Called are granted a portion of their power for the pursuit of their own personal ends.

The pious are a subordinate class to the Called, who are given knowledge of specific rituals to be performed at specific times for specific purposes.  They often oversee the worshippers of the gods, and assist in the celebration of holy days.  These rituals are often limited in scope, but not always.

The Elemetalists are the third most common form of higher caster.  They draw their power from the cosmos itself, combining the five elements in various ways to perform magical feats.  They possess genetic material which links them to the elements of the universe and allows their manipulation.

Spell Points and Magic Use

There are 8 factors that affect how many spell points a particular manifestation will cost.  These are duration, power, range, focus, casting time, preparation, familiarity, and number of casters.

The caster may choose to expend more SP than they currently have, but at severe personal risk.  There are two options to perform this act.  First, a caster may simply invest up to 1/4 their current HP worth of SP into any given spell.  After the spell is cast, the caster then takes 1d6 damage for each spell point gained in this way.  Second, the caster may inflict damage upon themselves immediately before casting by drawing blood, and for each point of damage inflicted, an extra 2 SP are gained.  Unused points are lost.

Duration:

By default, passive spell effects last for 1 minute, and aggressive spell effects act instantaneously and then dissipate.  Extending a spell for longer than the base duration will cost a number of spell points based on the table below (units are 1 minute for passive spells, 1 round for active spells)

Units: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Points 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34 55

In addition, active spells will cost the number of spell points devoted to increasing their power each round/minute they are active.

Focus Elements:

Rude Fine white sand, poured out as spell cast Extends spell duration 1 unit
Adequate Quartz crystal on a fine silver chain Doubles SP used to extend spell duration
Superb Perfectly spherical polished moonstone Triple  SP used to extend spell duration
Sublime Polished sunstone Quadruple SP used to extend spell duration

Power:

Spells which cause damage to opponents start at a base of 1d4 damage for HP damage, or 1 point when influencing abilities.  Those which cure damage or augment abilities begin at 1d6 HP or 2 points of ability scores.  Increasing these values costs 1 point per die type or ability point.

The base saving throw for spells is 10 + Ability Modifier + Spell Points/3.  Increasing the save for a particular manifestation costs 1 spell point per point of save.  Decreasing the saving throw reduces the spell points required to cast the spell by one per point of save.  You cannot decrease the saving throw DC to less than 10 in this way and still save point costs.

Focus Elements:

Rude chunk of granite increases damage by 1 die category
Adequate guano and charcoal dust increases damage by 2 die categories
Superb Jade bladed dagger adds 3 to save
Sublime 12 sided polished crystal deals 4 points of ability damage

Range:

The default range of a spell is touch or personal.  Increasing the range costs the points indicated per range increment.

Close is 25 feet plus 5 feet per two caster levels.  (1)

Medium is 100 feet + 10 feet per caster level.  (1)

Long range is 400 feet + 40 feet per caster level.  (2)

Local range is 1600 feet + 160 feet per caster level.  (3)

Regional is 1 mile + 1/10 mile per caster level.  (5)

Baronial range is 4 miles + 1/2 mile per caster level (8)

County range is 16 miles + 1 1/2 miles per caster level (13)

Duchy range is 64 miles + 6 1/2 miles per caster level (21)

Country range is 256 miles + 25 miles per caster level (34)

Empirical range is 1024 miles + 100 miles per caster level (55)

Continental range is 4096 miles + 400 miles per caster level (89)

Focus elements:

Rude 3 flight feathers 1 free range increment
Adequate preserved whole wing 2 free range increments
Superb 2 polished crystal lenses 3 free range increments
Sublime Gold spyglass with diamond lenses 4 free range increments

 Focus:

Casting spells requires concentration.  Utilizing different focusing techniques can make spellcasting less taxing on the caster.  It is assumed that all spells are cast with verbal and somatic components. Focusing energies through these mental foci are a basic technique that may be eschewed.  Forgoing the verbal component will increase the spell point cost by 2, and forgoing the somatic component will also increase the spell point cost by 2.

Channeling spell power from the flow into the material plane can often be facilitated by using a properly aligned material focus.  Using a focus reduces the number of spell points required to enact the spell.  There are two kinds of focus:  Seed foci, and Effect foci.

Seed foci are related to the school of the spell being cast, and come in 4 qualities: Rude, Adequate, Superb, and Sublime.  Each school has it’s own focus material, and each level of quality is increasingly rare.

Quality Reduction Max SP Break Chance
Rude 20% 10 90%
Adequate 40% 20 75%
Superb 60% 30 60%
Sublime 80% 40 45%

Reduction:  Percentage of spell points that using the focus reduces the spell cost by.

Max SP:  The maximum spell points of magic that the focus can be used to channel at one time (after the focus reduction).  Channeling more than this number of spell points (after the reduction) will risk breaking the focus.

Break Chance: If the Max SP is exceeded, this is the chance that the focus will be ruined by channeling the spell.  Sorry

Effect foci relate to each of the spell effects, and also come in 4 qualities: Rude, Adequate, Superb, and Sublime.  Each effect has a different focus requirement, and allows a “free” extension of the particular aspect of the focus.

Only one focus may be used for each round of casting time.

While there are foci listed under each effect, these are guidelines, and other objects/materials may be used as foci at the DM’s discretion.  Foci serve as elements to aid the mind of the mage as much as tap the thaumflow.

Casting Time:

Base casting time is considered to be 1 full round, to gather the energies of the thaumflow and direct it into useful effect.  Reducing the amount of time to cast to a single action doubles the spell point cost of the spell.  On the other hand, extending the amount of time it takes to cast the spell will decrease the number of points required to cast the spell.  For each full round the casting is extended by, it will cost two fewer spell points, to a minimum of 3 spell points per casting.  If the casting gets interrupted at any point during an extended casting time, the caster may choose to release the spell in it’s incomplete form (effects adjucated by the DM), or lose the spell and invested SP.

Preparation:

A caster may prepare beforehand any number of spells by recording them in a specially prepared book, much like a standard wizard’s spellbook.  The spell point cost for these spells is 3/4 what it is normally, and is spent (all except 1 point) at the time of preparation (usually just after waking, though it may be at any time of day, as long as an hour is taken to prepare).  Thereafter, the caster is able to spend the final point and cast the spell as a standard action.  One focus may be used for each prepared spell.

Familiarity:

Most casters find themselves falling into patterns of utilizing the same effects over and over again.  The mental effort of calling these effects into existence becomes less and less with increased practice, much like muscle memory aids in physical tasks over time.  The reduction in spell point costs is given on the chart below:

Number of previous castings: 1 2 4 8 16 32 64 128
Total reduction in SP costs: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Max time frame: 1 hour 4 hours 16 hr. 2.5 day 10 day 42 days 6 mo. 2 year

Number of previous castings: the number of times you have cast the exact same manifestation (whether successful or not) in the given time period.

Total reduction in SP costs:  the number of SP you may reduce the cost by if you have cast the same spell the requisite number of times in the given time period.

Max time frame:  The length of time that the given spell effect has an impact on your mental pathways.  With more use, a spell makes more permanent pathways, but after time those paths fade as the mind of the caster learns and grows.

Number of Casters:

Any number of casters of the same training may join together to cast more powerful spells.  The combined spell points of all casters may be used to power the spell.  Default casting time is one minute per caster involved, to allow each to synchronize their mind with the other caster’s minds.  The mind of a caster is necessarily unique, and to coordinate the energies of multiple minds is a sensitive and time consuming effort.  Reducing the casting time may be done, however, by increasing the cost of the spell by 10% for each minute the casting time is reduced by.  Casting time cannot be reduced to below one minute for a multi-caster spell.

Focus Elements:

Rude Chalked/drawn circle with lines equally spaced connecting the positions of all casters 10% reduction of SP Requirement or lower time reduction to 5% per minute
Adequate Nonpermanent physical circle connecting all casters 20% reduction of SP requirement or lower time reduction to 3% per minute
Superb Permanent physical of base material (wood, iron, water filled trench, etc.) circle connecting all casters 30% reduction of SP req. and lower time reduction cost to 5% per minute
Sublime Permanent physical circle of precious materials (silver, gold, gemstones, etc.) connecting all casters 40% reduction of SP req. and lower time reduction cost to 3% per minute

Regarding the reduction of SP costs: Whole points are deducted first, and then percentages applied to the resultant number, in order from greatest to least.

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Categories: Discussion, Rules | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Truly Non-Vancian Magic

  1. Pingback: Non-Vancian Class: Arcanist | The Greenbeard Codex

  2. Pingback: Non-Vancian Class: Called One | The Greenbeard Codex

  3. Pingback: Non-Vancian Class: Elementalist | The Greenbeard Codex

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