Wednesday, June 20, 2012

OSR Blasphemies: Saying No to Old-Fashioned Vancian Magic

I suppose I'm about to commit a mortal OSR sin by stating that I'm not really into Vancian magic anymore. At least, I'm not into Vancian magic "rules as written" as portrayed in most editions of D&D (except 4th Edition with its at-will powers, I suppose).

I just don't like the "fire and forget" thing anymore. I know, you're going to call me a D&D Nancy-boy and tell me I can't hang. You're going to tell me that I'm missing the point of D&D, especially OD&D/Basic D&D, where resource management is king, and where limited spells per day at low levels means players have to flex their creative muscles in order to survive.

But to hell with all that. I don't care. My current self wants something new. My old self might have been OK with it. Back in the day, I remember a lot of player decisions to camp for the rest of the day/night so the casters could recharge ("Ok, speed up time, Mr. GM! Is it morning yet? What, what do you mean there was random encounter while we were asleep?!"). It was crazy how many days would pass in a single session because the magic users and clerics needed to rememorize spells.

Hey, here's my cure for the "15 minute work day": no more old-fashioned Vancian magic.

Gimme the Adventurer Conqueror King system for casting spells with its "spell repertoire," for the love of God. Or even better than that, gimme the system from Myth & Magic!

In my current Labyrinth Lord campaign, I'm borrowing from the Myth & Magic system (what I think is supposed to be a sorta-clone of 2E D&D). The following is an OPTIONAL rule from Myth & Magic (so no, kids, you are not forced to use it if you want good old fashioned Vancian action):

Spell Rememorization [Optional]: Once a memorized spell is cast and a slot opens up, the wizard may attempt to fill the slot if he has his spellbook and ample time to study. An Intelligence check is rolled against an Exceptional (TC 20) task. Success indicates a new memorized spell. Failure removes the chance to fill that spell slot until the next day. The wizard is required to have absolute silence while he studies for a continuous, uninterrupted 10 minutes per spell level. Any interruption, whether it be from loud noises or physical harm, removes the chance to rememorize the spell slot.

In place of the d20 INT check, I have my LL players roll under the INT score (modified by the level of the spell to be rememorized; so a wizard with INT of 17 rememorizing a 2nd level spell would have to roll under a 15).

Oh, or even better than Myth & Magic is the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG system, right? Well, not sure it's better, but just different... different in a much more risky spell casting sense. But I like that riskiness! It adds some spice to things, eh?! Bottom line: you don't automatically lose the spell for the rest of the day. Sounds good to me, risk or no risk.

As much as I ragged on DCC in the past, I think it's system is the most attractive to me right now.

I guess the "second generation" retroclones (I don't want to argue about whether or not DCC RPG is a retroclone or not, please) fit into the style of play that I want these days. I guess I'm not an OSR purist after all. And that's not because I've been brainwashed by playing modern-era D&D, which I haven't done at all, ever! Hell, I've only returned to roleplaying within the last couple years and I've been playing C&C, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and now Labyrinth Lord!

I guess what I have been doing is reading other games, and fondly wishing for something more than old Vancian magic. Damn that reading nonsense! Dad always told me it would get me into trouble.

I want my casters to have the flexibility of spell casting more often in a day, and I don't care who disagrees! 'Nuff said.


  1. You might give Wizards' World a spin, it uses spell points and is reminiscent of AD&D 1e.

  2. In reality what you're using currently is still a take on Vancian, just not D&D canon Vancian. You still have Vance's basic "fire & forget" but with quick replacement. I don't think that when Vance wrote this magic style originally,that the intent was far off of this. I don't think that he states anywhere that you could not replace a used spell immediately.

  3. @R.J.: Agreed, my house rule is not really that far off from canonical Vancian magic. It's just a bit of a tweak, and again I can't take credit for it...that goes to the makers of Myth & Magic. And I agree that Vance doesn't strictly potray magic in his Dying Earth stories as being restricted in the way D&D potrays it.

    @Dan: Hmm, I'll check it out, but I'm not sure I really like spell points, as much as I don't like pure D&D Vancian magic.

  4. You're definitely not the only old schooler who's less than enthused about Vancian fire-and-forget. It just doesn't have the feel I want when I think of magic and wizardry. I've been pondering an alternate system based entirely on material components for the resource management aspect, and one using hit points as spell points.

  5. If you want a reasonable HP as SP, check out Green Ronin's (OP) Psychic's Handbook. Yes, it was D20, but it was very different. It went on a feat/skill system, that could just be adapted over to a Vancian Looking spell list. Use the spells you already have, assign an HP toll. Or, dig more into the book itself and figure out how to achieve what they did level based rather than feat/skill based to make it fit an OSR game.

  6. Again Drance, not the only one. I think as far as magic systems go it is my least favorite. But one of the easiest to use. Being a GURPS dude I like a light version of it.

  7. I like the traditional D&D take on Vancian casting, myself. But, the insane DCC casting system has me itching to run the game! :)

  8. one day I will write my modular magic system which lets you bolt on your own elements from all these sources you cite + ars magica, nephilim, CoC and RQ. Then players can pick their own crazy.


    The system I set up has spell users roll to activate a spell. The spell descriptions have also been changed.