Spell System

I started playing DnD in the late 70s and have not played any of the newer editions.  In the early days the rules recommended a spell book as a place for a magic user to store spells.  I DM’d often in those days and devised a system for the storage of spells that worked well.  I am submitting my old system so that you can consider it while designing DnD Next.  Feel free to tear to pieces... no pride here.


 Here are the main points outlining my spell system…



  1. A magic user’s/wizard’s spells are stored in a material object (typically a staff or ring but virtually anything could work).

  2. When a magic user/wizard reaches first level his/her trainer (master) awards him a staff (or other object) that will be used by the new wizard to store spells during his magic career.

  3. The master will place a new basic spell in the staff.  The spell, I call it a “Place Spell”, is used by the new wizard to store new spells in his staff.

  4. New spells are acquired by reading scrolls and tomes or by another wizard casting a spell on the staff concurrently with the new wizard casting the Place Spell. This is only possible once for each specific spell.  A staff can hold only a single instance of any specific spell.

  5. A wizard can store spells in his staff that are of a higher level than is the wizard. However, if the spell is of a higher level, the wizard doing the storing loses a HP for each level that the spell is greater than the wizard.  (Ex: A 4th Level wizard finds an 8th Level spell on a scroll.  The wizard casts Place Spell and then casts the scroll at his staff.  The staff captures the 8th Level spell.  The strain to the wizard caused by dealing with a higher-level magic, costs him 4 HPs).   His staff then contains the 8th Level spell but the wizard cannot access the spell again until he reaches the 8th Level. 

  6. Spells can be stolen in this manner if the new wizard is willing to risk the wrath of high-level spell directed at him while he casts the Place Spell.  During a spell attack against the wizard he can cast the Place Spell and then hold his staff up to the incoming spell.  The staff captures the spell and the only damage/effect done to the wizard is a loss of HPs for each level that the spell is higher than the wizard.

  7. The Place Spell could also be used to store a spell in most objects, such as a skull.  The wizard might place a fireball spell on a skull by using the Place Spell.  The skull is then placed as a trap, to release fireballs when disturbed.  This was useful for creating semi-permanent portals and such. 

  8. A wizard can continue to cast spells for as long as the sum of the cast spell’s levels are equal or less than his HPs.  Once this limit is reached the wizard loses HPs in the amount of the level of each spell cast beyond the limit.  (Ex:  If a wizard has 6 HP he could cast 6 x 1st Lvl spells, or 3 x 2nd Lvl spells etc. without any adverse effect.  But if he were to cast 7 x 1st Lvl spells he would lose 1 HP. (6 HPs) – (7 x 1st Lvl) = -1 HPs. 

Biggest issue right up front. Item save. Failed- Staff destroyed, wizard boinked. New butler in pointy hat for fighter. "Carry my broadsword geeves".
You got that right Brightmantle.

Using these rules a MU guarded their spell holding staff/ring/belt etc with their life.  If they lost it they were stuck with only the spells that they had learned for the day to reuse over and over again until they regained the staff or had a replacement created (which is possible if you have enough gold to coax a high level MU to make it for you).  Of course the replacement would not have all of the spells that were lost with the original.  
I'll just print this off now before all the naysayers pile in.

BTW, the complaint about being vulnerable to a failed item save?  Allready applies to the Spellbooks virtually every MU/Wizard carried....  As does theft, etc.  But at least you don't need to waterproof a staff!
I'll just print this off now before all the naysayers pile in.

BTW, the complaint about being vulnerable to a failed item save?  Allready applies to the Spellbooks virtually every MU/Wizard carried....  As does theft, etc.  But at least you don't need to waterproof a staff!

Yes but now most every book mage has both his Spell tome at home under lock and key and his traveling spellbook.
Yeah, my eyes glazed over by step 5.

Seems like a lot of bookkeeping/memorization for the player and a cheap workaround for the character. Lots of finicky math keeping track of what level each spell is compared to your HP and such forth. Lore-wise if all magic is just copy-pasting spells into and out of objects, then why do you need to bother studying any magic beyond the "place spell" spell?

The mechanics also don't work with the hit point bloat currently affecting DDN- a level 20 wizard with minimum 80HP would be able to cast eight level-9 spells every day! (compare this to the current limit of just ONE level-9 spell) If he sacrificed health to keep casting, he could use a total of 16 level-9 spells everyday! and that's not even taking healing into account!
"Ha! Rock beats scissors!" "Darn it! Rock is overpowered! I'm not playing this again until the next edition is released!" "C'mon, just one more." "Oh, all right..." "Wait, what is that?" "Its 'Dynamite' from the expanded rules." "Just because you can afford to buy every supplement that comes out..." "Hey, it's completely balanced! You're just a bad DM for not accommodating it."
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RPGs are getting more popular, and whenever something gets more popular, it inevitably changes, usually becoming more palatable to the masses. Nintendo is the perfect example. In the old days their games coined the term "Nintendo hard" to extend play time, but they knew their fans were dedicated enough to play anyway. Now they mostly make stuff a five year old can master. That's not necessarily bad, though. Most of those old Nintendo games were infuriating. Likewise, a lot of old RPGs were too complex and irritating for the average person to really get into. Rules light systems are going to get more popular as more people enter the hobby, simply because the new people aren't bound by nostalgia, and would rather play something easy and fun than something that takes a huge amount of effort to learn.
The mechanics themselves on spell storing are a bit clunky, and the change from spells/day to hit-point based casting has too long a list of problems to mention here (not that spells/day aren't problematic themselves).

That being said, I would very much like to see numerous mediums with which a Wizard can store their spells aside from tomes. The general idea you put forth here can do just that, which is pretty cool.

Yeah... I'm not sure the mechanics quite fit next. Possibly 1hd/level difference in range of what the wizard can cast instead of by wizard level? So if a wizard who can cast level 1 spells tries to "catch" a fireball he risks 2hd of damage (possibly knocking him out). This also gives high level mages a distinct strength over their lower level peers.
In other words, I dig it. :D A risky counter spell ability seems nifty. And as shin said, having spells stored in other forms is just cool. Thanks! I may tweak and use this idea at some point in the future.
"What's stupid is when people decide that X is true - even when it is demonstrable untrue or 100% against what we've said - and run around complaining about that. That's just a breakdown of basic human reasoning." -Mike Mearls
there was a dinosaur/humanoid hybrid from 2nd editon forgotten relams that use items with runes carved into it as a spell book. looked like a stegasaurus head creature
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