This is the third, of a number of articles, that describe how to adopt an alternative magic system. As each article assumes that you are familiar with what has come before it, you may wish to start with “Farewell to Vancian Magic“, the first article in the series.
Currently, wizards and clerics are able to cast first level spells at first level of experience. From there, they gain access to each progressively higher level of spell every two experience levels. So at 3rd, 5th, and 7th level, spellcasters gain access to 2nd, 3rd, and 4th level spells respectively.
This really is unnecessarily complicated. For those of us who grew up with this system, it may seem perfectly normal. But for new players, who are already confused (and probably annoyed) at the way the term “level” is used to mean all sorts of different things based on context, this is just one more thing that doesn’t seem to make sense.
So let’s fix it! From now on, 2nd level spellcasters can cast 2nd level spells, 3rd level spellcasters can cast 3rd level spells and so on. It just makes the whole system more intuitive.
Double the Spell Levels
Now that doesn’t mean that 9th level wizards should have access to wish spells. To make this work, we also have to adjust the levels of the spells. Fortunately, that’s extremely easy. Start off by simply doubling the level of all the spells. That makes wish an 18th level spell that wizards gain at 18th level. But that means we don’t have any spells at the odd numbered levels.
You could actually leave it like that if you wanted and it would work just fine. Or you could then reduce all the spells by one level so that instead there were no spells at the even numbered levels. That would have the benefit of having 1st level spells for new spellcasters. After all, the original system only gives new spells at every odd experience level. However, I would not recommend either method. It’s more satisfying for players to gain access to new spells every level, so let’s design for that.
Split The Lists To Fill In The Gaps
Go through the list of 2nd level spells (the 1st level spells whose level we doubled). Separate those spells into two lists. Adjust the level of all the spells in one list making them 1st level spells while leaving the others alone as 2nd level spells. Do the same for the 4th level spells, making half of them 3rd level. Continue this process through the remaining spells. Use whatever criteria you like but do your best to split each list fairly evenly so that there will be a similar number of spells at each level. Also, you want to do this for both arcane and divine spells.
Now we’ve done what we intended to do. Wizards and clerics may each cast spells of their own level. Simple and easy. However, we aren’t finished yet.
Adjusting Spell Cost
Regardless as to what system you use (Vancian, spell levels, spell slots, or spell energy), there is some cost associated to casting a spell. If the levels of all the spells change, the cost also changes. Therefore we have to make some adjustments so that the spellcaster’s relative power remains the same.
If all we did was double the level of all the spells, then our task would be much simpler. But we also split each level in half and dropped the level of one of those halves by one. Doing so removed the linear relationship so we need to delve a little deeper. If you are using a standard Vancian system or a Spell Slot system (which for this purpose is the same thing), then double the level of each of the memorizable spells (or spell slots) and then adjust half of them down by one level. I did this for you in the chart below. Where there were an odd number of spell slots to be split in half, the extra was assigned to the lower level. If you are using a Spell Level system, it is necessary to do the shuffling described for the other two systems, followed by adding up all the spell levels. These are listed in the chart below as well:
|Caster Level||Spell Levels||1||2||3||4||5||6||7||8||9||10||11||12||13||14||15||16||17||18|
Note that spellcasters retain the exact same amount of power that they held before. They can cast the same spells, no more no less. All we have done is change the level of the spells and adjust the resources needed to cast those spells accordingly, in order to maintain the same power balance.
Minimum Intelligence For Spell Casting
Most groups seem to be unaware of (or ignore) this rule, but the rules state that there is a minimum intelligence required to cast each level of spell (specifics change by edition so I used a version that ties 18 int to level 9 spells):
Since we changed the level of the spells, we also need to adjust the minimum intelligence requirements to cast each level of spell. That’s easy enough, just stretch each requirement out so that it covers a span of two spell levels:
That’s one way to go. As usual, I have an alternative. :)
Restricting High Level Spells
On various forums, D&D gets a lot of flak about being too caster-oriented at high levels. Most of the complaints revolve around the higher level spells being too powerful. I have to agree with that in many cases. My approach was to rewrite the spells I thought were too powerful. What many others have done is something a bit more radical. Inspired by E6, they have simply thrown out all spells above 6th level. That certainly takes care of the problem but it’s a bit of a sledgehammer approach.
Instead, I would go back to the original table and, opposed to stretching it out, extend it:
With this change, characters with 18 intelligence can cast spells up to 9th level (what used to be 5th level spells). Characters with extremely high intelligence can cast spells that are perhaps a few levels higher. But no character should have enough intelligence to cast the highest level spells.
The spells aren’t gone though. Certain NPCs, high level monsters, etc, will still have access to those spells.
This method appeals to me as it simply puts the higher level spells out of reach instead of arbitrarily saying that they are unavailable.
Newer editions allow characters to gain one additional ability point every four levels and have added magical items with higher int bonuses. If you run such a game, you will probably want to make some modifications. First, you could adjust the requirements, starting at a minimum intelligence of 13 (for instance) to cast a 1st level spell and go up normally from there. You could alter the progression at higher levels so that the minimum starts going up by two (or more) instead of maintaining a linear progression. You could also dictate that the minimum intelligence requirement must be attained through innate intelligence (not enhanced by magical items or spells).
While it’s true that my sole motivation was to match up the class level with the spell level, this change does yield an additional benefit. With more spell levels available, it is possible to more precisely place a spell at the level to which it belongs. With a single spell this isn’t really an issue. But with a series of related spells, this helps a lot.
Take the Bigby’s Hand spells. There are five spells, each duplicating the effects of the preceding spell while adding an additional effect at each step. Each spell clearly becomes more powerful as they progress, but I have never felt that Bigby’s Crushing Fist was four levels more powerful than Bigby’s Interposing Hand. With the doubling of available spell levels, the various Bigby’s Hand spells can now increase by the equivalent of half spell levels (in the unaltered spell level system). This, imo, much more accurately represents the difference in spell levels between the various spells.