This is the second, of a number of articles, that describe how to adopt an alternative magic system. It is a follow-up to yesterday’s article “Farewell to Vancian Magic“.

A Recap of Yesterday’s Post

In my previous post, I described how to use the Vancian magic system’s spell tables to develop a Spell Level system. In short, you add up the levels of all the daily spells that the wizard is allowed, under the Vancian system, and the result is the number of spell levels available to the wizard, per day, under the new system. I’ve reproduced the chart again here for clarity:


Converting Spell Levels to Spell Energy

The two systems are fundamentally the same with the primary difference being that the Spell Energy system introduces a randomizing element to spell casting. When a wizard casts a spell, she rolls a die (I’ll use 1d6 in our example) and multiplies the result by the level of the spell to determine how much energy is used to cast the spell. A six-sided die generates a number between one and six with 3.5 being the median value. Therefore, it is necessary to multiply the wizard’s spell levels (derived from the above chart) by 3.5 to determine the amount of spell energy required to enable the wizard to, on the average, cast the same number of spells per day.

What’s the Point?

So far that sounds like a lot of unnecessary work. That’s true. I do like the randomizing effect all by itself, but for the most part the result is the same. There are, however, four aspects of a Spell Energy system that I prefer over a Spell Level system:

  • It adds a little extra excitement.
  • There is a feeling of power associated with rolling a die.
  • It supports and reinforces the notion that magical energy is powerful and somewhat chaotic. Wizards may tap into that power but they are never able to fully control it.
  • Most importantly of all, it is possible for a wizard to attempt to cast a spell only to find that she doesn’t have enough spell energy left to do so.

The first three points add a nice flavor to spell casting that I enjoy. The last point is the core of the system. As an example, if a wizard has 16 points of spell energy left, and wants to cast a 3rd level spell (which on the average would cost 10.5 points), she may decide to play the odds and attempt the spell. If she rolls a six, the spell energy required for the casting would be 18 points (1d6 roll of six times the spell level of three). She is now in the position of having attempted to use more energy than she has. A creative DM may come up with all sorts of interesting outcomes for such an event. In my world, the caster suffers all of the following:

  • The spell fails.
  • The incantation needed to cast the spell is wiped from her memory (it may be relearned as normal).
  • She takes damage equal to the level of the spell plus the spell energy deficit (the difference between the amount of energy required and the amount of energy she has).
  • Her current spell energy is then reduced to zero.
  • She is knocked unconscious (Save ends, Save = 1d20 plus ½ class level + int bonus, DC = 20 + spell level).

A cautious player will never suffer any of these consequences while a more cavalier player will risk them often. In addition to introducing a little danger and strategy to spell-casting, this also reintroduces the necessity for maintaining a spell book. The character isn’t required to carry the spell book with her (as in the Vancian system) but, if it isn’t carried, the wizard may not relearn a lost spell until she and the book are reunited.

Alternate Method of Determining Spell Energy

A problem with this method, as presented so far, is that at lower levels the character almost never has enough spell energy to guarantee success. With this high level of risk, and the inability to only cast when guaranteed of success, this method can become frustrating. The intent is to add some excitement not to make it less fun. Therefore, we need to make an adjustment. There are a number of ways to approach this:

  • Add a static number as a base that guarantees that a minimum number of spells may be cast without risk.
  • Multiply the number of spell levels (from the table above) by 6 instead of 3.5 in order to guarantee that the number of spell levels found on that chart may always be cast safely. With this method, any 1d6 result below six effectively results in a bonus to spell casting ability.
  • Ignore the number of spell levels derived from the table and develop a new progression.

I went with the later method, based upon a triangular number progression with bonus energy given for high intelligence. My method actually deviates in a number of ways, that I plan to detail in tomorrow’s post, so I’ll hold off on any other specifics for now.


You’ve probably noticed that I have been saying wizard opposed to spell-caster. Everything presented here is intended exclusively for wizards. Clerics use divine spells provided to them by their deities. As such, I feel that they should be able to cast those spells without risk and be in full control of the divine energy involved. Therefore, I think a spell energy system is inappropriate for clerics. A spell level system (which is what I use for clerics) or a spell slot system, imo, makes much more sense for divine magic.