This is the fourth, 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.

In a Vancian magic system, each morning (following a restful night’s sleep) wizards meditate and study in order to prepare their daily spells while clerics pray to their deity. In the other magic systems I’ve discussed so far, there is no need to prepare individual spells so “meditation and study” isn’t specifically indicated. Whether or not wizards must meditate, or clerics pray, or some other ritual entirely is required, is then entirely up to each individual DM. Either way, the spellcasters then receive their replenishment of spells for the day.

Is This The Best Way?

Imagine that the party has just arrived near the entrance to a subterranean lair. The wizard and cleric have both used up half their day’s spells getting there. As the upcoming battle is expected to take everything they’ve got, the party thinks it would be wise to wait till everyone is at full before heading in. Unfortunately, it is only ten o’clock in the morning. The party sets up camp nearby and twiddles their thumbs till dark. They then get a good night’s sleep. In the morning, the cleric and wizard perform their morning rituals and, viola, they both have a full allotment of spells once again.

Is this the way you want such a scenario to unfold? Is there anything that you would change? What would make it more enjoyable?

Looking At Options

The best way I’ve found to approach options is to brainstorm. Write down whatever idea comes to mind, however silly or impractical it may be, and attempt to develop it. Many of the ideas generated in this way won’t lead to anything but they may inadvertently put you on to a related idea that you hadn’t thought of before. So let’s start some brainstorming!

First off, we have to address limits. There are limits on how many spells a spellcaster may cast each day in order to maintain balance. I’ve never tried throwing out the limits so I’m not entirely sure what problems might arise. It might be worth trying just to see what happens. In that case, spellcasters would be able to cast any spell they know without ever having to worry about recharging in any way.

A second option would be to use a different type of limit. Perhaps instead of an allotment of spells per day, you could use an allotment of spells per encounter. A spellcaster may use up all her spells during an encounter but, after a short rest afterwards, she would once again be at full and ready to move on to the next challenge. I haven’t tried this either but I actually find it quite interesting. I think it might work out well.

Another option would be to use a continually recharging mana system. For instance, when a spell caster casts a spell it uses 5% of her mana per spell level and, at the beginning of each turn, she regains 1% mana. That would allow a caster to cast 1st level spells virtually non-stop, but if she were to cast higher level spells she would run out after a few rounds and have to wait to recharge before casting anything else. It might be possible to incorporate such a system but I suspect all the calculator work would become annoying very quickly. This method would work far better in a computer-controlled environment. If you are playing online via a virtual tabletop (such as Map Tools), this shouldn’t be too hard to implement.

Alternatively, the caster could regain a portion of her mana (spell points, spell slots, energy, or whatever) each hour throughout the day, instead of all at once in the morning. This could probably work fairly well. In the example above, the party would merely wait a few hours for the spellcasters to recharge instead of wasting an entire day and night.

A totally different method would be a saving throw type of approach. Completely throw out mana, energy, spell levels, etc. Let spellcasters cast whatever spell they know. But when they cast higher level spells, they may have to wait one or more rounds before they can cast another spell. This would simulate the caster having to recharge between each spell to a varying degree as determined by spell level. To implement this, the caster would roll 1d20 at the beginning of the round (after having cast a spell the previous round) with a DC equal to the level of the spell previously cast. If failed, the caster would not be able to cast any spells that round and must try again on subsequent rounds until she succeeds. You could modify this by setting the DC equal to twice the spell level (or more) and then dropping it by one each subsequent attempt. That would impose an automatic inability to cast any spell for one or more rounds after casting a high level spell.

A deviation on the last would be automatic penalty rounds (where the caster may not cast spells) after casting a spell. A severe application could impose one penalty round per level of spell cast (when you cast a 5th level spell, you cannot cast another spell for five rounds). A far less severe version would be one penalty round per four spell levels, starting at 5th level (1st-4th level spells would have no penalty, 5th-8th would have one penalty round, 9th-12th would have two penalty rounds, etc).

As intriguing as all these options are, I honestly don’t think that anything I’ve come up with here would gain enough to outweigh the effort involved to implement them. Not to mention that some of them just aren’t very practical.

My Suggestion

In my game, clerics are given their spellcasting powers directly from their deity. The deity decides when and how to impart this power. Evil gods replenish their clerics’ spell levels at dusk while all other deities do this at dawn. In order to receive this benefit, the cleric must pray to the deity each day and request this boon. This system makes sense to me and has worked quite well.

Wizards, on the other hand, simply use various incantations and rituals to access the magical energy that is around them and manipulate that energy as needed. Manipulating magical energy is tiring. The wizard requires restful sleep in order to replenish her body’s ability to channel that energy. Upon waking, wizards (in my world) are not required to meditate, study, or perform any sort of ritual to regain their spells. It is the recuperative power of a good night’s sleep that replenishes the wizard.

As such, it does not make sense for the wizard to suddenly regain her mana, all at once, at a set time in the morning. Instead, wizards regain a certain amount of spell energy at the end of each hour of uninterrupted sleep. That way, if the wizard is out of energy before she sleeps, and then is attacked in the middle of the night, she will have regained some of her energy. If you use spell slots or spell levels, this will work as well. A wizard may gain these benefits from an extended rest (uninterrupted sleep, lasting up to ten hours), once per day.

Clearly, my method doesn’t have any impact on the situation in the example described above. It works slightly better for us than the standard method but otherwise is basically the same. It is, however, important to evaluate things like this to see if the current method is the best way of handling things. Often times, it is idle brainstorming that comes up with the best ideas.