D&D without vancian magic and the huge spell list that goes with it doesn’t feel at all like the game I grew up with. And I’m not talking about 4th-edition style vancian magic, that’s a fraud. I’m talking about a wizard that has 10-20 spells to pick every day and try to make the best out of these.
I know a lot of you guys hate this idea but I think that a lot of your grudges with vancian magic aren’t tied to vancian magic at all but to how it was implemented in the former editions.
I’ll start this thread by revisiting a few of the things I heard on vancian magic.
Myth n°1: vancian magic is the 5-minute work day
I think the biggest problem with the older editions is that a cleric’s mace swing or the wizard’s crossbow is so unbelievably inferior to spells that casters need to use a spell every round to be useful.
So yes, I’m saying it, the 5 minute work day problem is not a vancian magic problem but a lame at-will attack problem. I know for a fact that, as the DM, if you give your party cleric a cool mace that actually does damage and the wizard a nice wand or staff, you get your 5 encounters a day without forcing your players to go on.
The only situation where the 5 minute work day problem occurred I my games is when you need to use your spells for out-of-combat stuff (you know, when 5 out of your 10 spells are invisibility). Good thing we’re going to have rituals to fix this.
Myth n°2: vancian magic is the wizard going nova
Is attacking every round with an at-will attack “going nova”?
You might be tempted to argue that you can burn all your higher level spells, but let’s be honest here, your damaging spells scale with level and “deep slumber” pretty much has the same effect “finger of death” has, so you have a little nova effect but it’s really not so bad that your best option is always to use your higher level spells.
People argue that it’s not fair for the wizard to be able to choose when to use his cool toys. I believe they are wrong, the wizard is not choosing when to use them; he has his cool toys all day long because those are his basic attack. The real question is why fighters were so incredibly boring in the earlier editions.
Myth n°3: vancian magic is quadratic wizard, linear fighter
Fact n°1: Too many spells gives casters too much versatility.
Fact n°2: The caster vs. non caster balance was a total fail in the previous editions (especially 3rd edition).
So that’s it for how I think vancian magic should fit in the whole system. Now I’ll talk about daily powers and encounter powers.
I don’t want dailies as implemented in 4th edition. It’s just too swingy. You want your hard fights to be challenging; you want your players to actually experience the fear of losing. To achieve this with daily powers, you pretty much have to make a wild guess on how many daily powers your players will have by the time they get to the hard fight. If the PCs make it to the boss with too many dailies, the fight is trivial and boring, if the PCs don’t have enough of them and you actually wanted to challenge the PCs, they’ll probably die.
I don’t want encounter powers as a damage scaling mechanism. An encounter power shouldn’t deal more damage than your at-will attacks. Encounter powers should either be a tactical move or a cool cinematic move, depending on whether you want tactical combat like in 4th edition or more cinematic like in the previous editions. I see a potential option paralysis if encounter or daily powers deal more damage. Two things can make the difference in a battle: taking out your first opponent as quickly as possible and using your tactical moves at the right moment. In the first case, you want to use your most damaging attacks at the beginning of the fight; in the second, you want to delay until the right moment. These two options are incompatible and that’s why I think it can lead to option paralysis.
Anyways, with all of this in mind, this is what I would do:
- Get rid of encounter powers and daily spells that deal extra damage. Each class starts with an at-will attack that is boring and only does damage. All of these at-will attacks are roughly equivalent. This attack scales with level.
- Each class gets a limited amount of cool moves to use in combat. If a wizard or cleric gets vancian spells then the fighter gets encounter powers that do cool things. If you assume that 5 encounters per day is normal, then for every encounter power a fighter has, your wizard or cleric should have 3 to 5 spell slots. The exact exchange rate really depends on how much you value the extra versatility. The whole trick to make things balanced here is to have encounter powers roughly as efficient as vancian spells.
- If a wizard or cleric has a spell that deals damage, the damage should be roughly equivalent to an at-will attack. Magic Missile with no attack roll would make a great spell because it’s reliable. Fireball that does 20%-50% less damage than an at-will attack would also be fine because of the AOE and the save half part. Get rid of all the rays and turn them into other at-will attack forms. Spells need to scale with level.
- If a wizard can cast sleep, then by the time the wizard gets his 3rd spell slot, the fighter should be able to use an encounter power that has the same effect as sleep. It might be more than 3rd spell slot depending on what else the fighter has. You might also decide that some classes should be better at applying some effects than others. For instance, maybe immobilized or slowed is the fighter’s business, weakened is the rogue’s business and unconscious is the wizard’s business.
- Casters need to lose access to their lower level spell slots as they gain the higher level ones. We want to restrict a caster’s versatility a bit.
- Combat spells that mimic and out of combat utility spell should have shorter durations. Invisibility or Fly might have a duration of 1 minute making it nearly useless outside of combat.
And that’s about all I can think of. The trick here is to give non casters a believable mechanism that gives them cool moves once in a while. Once you do that, vancian magic really isn’t that bad. It’s just added versatility.
This is an example of what such a mechanism could look like:
At level 1, a wizard can cast Sleep once per day. At level 1, a fighter can combine the effects of an attack and a bull rush once per encounter using that fatigue point.
At 3rd level, the wizard can cast 3 spells per day including a Sleep. The rogue can select a new maneuver “Knockout” that costs 3 fatigue points and allows the rogue to knock out an opponent using a sap.
At 13th level, a wizard can cast 3 spells of level 6 or higher, including Disintegrate. The fighter can select a new maneuver “Decapitating Strike” that costs 13 fatigue points and allows the fighter to make an attack that potentially can kill his opponent.
This is just a quick and dirty example but you get the overall idea. Maybe 1 fatigue per level is no good. Maybe it should be something similar to what you have with 3.5 psionics except that you divide the daily power points by 5 to obtain your power points per encounter. I really don’t care to be honest, as long as the fighters and rogues are fun to play too.
Anyways, I hope I managed to convince the vancian haters that it doesn't have to be broken.