D&D Doesn't Use Vancian Magic

On a whim I picked up Appendix N, a purchase that I've been questioning, borderline regretting since the first chapter on Jack Vance in which the author gets a number of things wrong, including the notion that people don't "get" (pseudo-)Vancian magic simply because they never read The Dying Earth.

Magic in The Dying Earth does make sense, and can be very easily explained without requiring you to read any of the books, it's just that Dungeons & Dragons magic deviates from The Dying Earth such that it no longer makes sense.

Basically, in The Dying Earth a wizard picks the spells he wants, and after an unspecified amount of time (The Dying Earth role-playing game requires 20-60 minutes, but I don't remember any mention of time in the actual stored) they're stored in your head and ready to go.

While conceptually a fire-and-forget model, going off the books it sounds less like you're literally memorizing-and-forgetting spells, and more like you're cramming the spells into your head and releasing them at a later time:

Maziriam made a selection from his books and with great effort forced five spells upon his brain: Phandaal's Gyrator, Felojun's Second Hypnotic Spell, The Excellent Prismatic Spray, The Charm of Untiring Nourishment, and the Spell of the Omnipotent Sphere. This accomplished, Maziriam drank wine and retired to his couch.

They also might be alive or intelligent to some degree:

Turjan found a musty portfolio, turned the heavy pages to the spell the Sage had shown him, the Call to the Violet Cloud. He stared down at the characters and they burned with an urgent power, pressing off the page as if frantic to leave the dark solitude of the book.

A key difference from Dungeons & Dragons is that wizards in The Dying Earth have a universal head space. It's not oddly compartmentalized into leveled slots. You don't have some first level slots that can only hold 1st-level spells, and you don't have 2nd-level slots that can hold 1st- or 2nd-level spells, but if you fill it with a 1st-level spell the rest of the space is wasted (just as if you used a whopping 9th-level slot).

Another key difference is that overall the magic is prep-and-release: the closest thing I could find to "at-will" magic is cantraps (yes, cantraps) from The Dying Earth role-playing game, though I don't recall them in the stories. If you play 4th Edition you could drop cantrips and at-wills, and treat everything as an encounter spell (since it seems like you can just keep cramming more spells in your head over the course of the day): you'd just need to bump up how long it takes you to re-prep them, adjust how many can be stored at a time, and/or modify their effects to account for the frequency change.

If you play 5th Edition, also drop cantrips and let wizards re-prep their spells--not slots, but actual spells--during a short rest, though you'd still need to overhaul what spells do and probably adjust how many you can store at once. Treating them as rituals would also work (for both 4th and 5th Edition), since you can cast them right out of your spellbook if you have the time.

We've already designed a "vancomancer" for Dungeon World: you get 1 spell slot per level, there are simple spells (1 slot) and complex spells (2 slots), because that's how it worked in The Dying Earth role-playing game, and when you cast a spell it's always released, but you can keep prepping spells throughout the day so long as you have the time and spell available.

If I were to make a vancomancer for FrankenFourth or Dungeons & Delvers (and I'm debating whether the default wizard should use this), it'd basically be the same: you have x slots (probably 1/wizard level, or maybe based on your Intelligence+wizard level), and you can fill your head with any spells you want so long as you don't exceed this total

I could see more powerful spells taking up more than one slot, and maybe even make a spell do more if you let it eat up more space. So, instead of something like fireball dealing 1d6 damage/level, it'd deal 1d6 damage per slot it uses up. There'd also be a way to try and "simplify" a spell (reducing the number of slots it needs), casting a spell right out of the spellbook, and casting a spell more quickly (chance that it doesn't work, is easier to resist, and/or causes some random effect).

You can reload your spells with enough time, maybe something like 10 minutes per slot, or just reload however many you want during a short rest. Because of this the overall effects of spells probably wouldn't be like what you see in other D&D games.

I also wouldn't base saving throws on the number of slots a spell requires (i.e. how 3rd Edition based spell saves on the spell's level), so even simple spells could have some use at later levels. Though, your wizard level would boost the save Difficulty: currently it's +1 every five levels so long as you have a focus (though the overall math doesn't scale quickly so it's not like you're completely crippled without one).

If you're curious about FrankenFourth and/or Dungeons & Delvers, you can find public alpha documents here and here respectively.

The Rogue is our latest alternate-addition to the Dungeon World core class roster. If you want something different and/or more flexible than the thief, be sure to check it out!

Just released our second adventure for A Sundered World, The Golden Spiral. If a snail-themed dungeon crawl is your oddly-specific thing, check it out!

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).

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