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Thread: Vancian magic

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    Default Vancian magic

    Before 5e, I always stayed away from pure spellcasting classes. Why? Because I had no desire to have the Vancian system rear its ugly head. Think about it: you prepare whatever number of spells per day that your spell slots allow. That's fine, except it assumes you somehow know which spells you'd be needing that day. That causes two problems: 1) ending up stuck with a spell with no meaningful use at the moment, and 2) having the spell prepared, but having already used it when you really should have it still at hand.

    Now, I'm not saying that the Vancian system is bad per se, but I never really saw much incentive to play a Magic-User/Wizard unless I had another class with meaningful damage dealing that didn't rely on spell slots. I don't know now, what are your thoughts on Vancian magic.

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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    I dislike Vancian magic too
    (Though it did not prevent me from playing wizards, mostly because I like playing Int characters, it's just that they were badly optimised)

    It amplifies one of the thing I like the least about D&D, anticipation/preparation skills. I'm more the kind of person to play games where you choose a posteriori what you put in your backpack depending on what you need.

    But I understand that some peoples love this mini-game of trying to correctly anticipate what will happen, and being rewarded by having the good spell/equipment at the appropriate moment. It's just not for me.
    Last edited by MoiMagnus; 2020-12-21 at 03:56 AM.

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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    I dislike Vancian magic mostly for flavor reasons. Mechanically it's alright and I like the idea of having to try to anticipate what you might need, but from a worldbuilding perspective it just feels... unrealistic, I guess?

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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    Quote Originally Posted by Kishigane View Post
    That causes two problems: 1) ending up stuck with a spell with no meaningful use at the moment, and 2) having the spell prepared, but having already used it when you really should have it still at hand.
    These are the two big selling points of Vancian magic, and why I like it so much.

    For me, games exist to create interesting storytelling. A story where everyone always has the right tool for the job isn't that interesting. However, being in a situation that is unexpected and for which you haven't prepared creates very interesting stories. The most memorable moments in my D&D experiences as a magic user were when I had to somehow make the wrong spell work in the wrong situation or - even better - use my wits to survive because I had no usable spells.

    That's not to say you were always flat-footed. Old school D&D (from whence Vancian magic comes) centered much more on gathering intel. We would spend weeks in game researching, casting divinations, and generally preparing for any major adventure. Delve an ancient library to find the tome that reveals the true name of the Great Wyrm on top of Moradin's Mount. Find the only known survivor of a previous expedition who now lives as a hermit across the Sea of Dust. Contact extra planar creatures who witnessed that the Dread Faelord Xill burns at the touch of mithril blessed by a priest.

    Vancian magic creates serious limitations. Serious limitations pressure players to use more creativity and innovation in approaching an adventure.

    It becomes much more about the wits of the players and less about being able to apply HP damage to the enemy faster than they apply HP damage to you. The battle at the end is the resolution of the story, rather than the focus of it.

    But I'm a fuddy old man and have strange ideas of what is fun. I'll use what I like and you do the same. We'll both have fun throwing dice!
    Last edited by Democratus; 2020-12-21 at 04:31 PM.

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    So the thing about "Vancian" magic is that the at-the-table bookkeeping is really easy: you can literally prepare a stack of discrete tokens (index cards with descriptions work well) to represent your available spells and manage them as physical objects. Lots of people have pretty good intuition for pushing around physical objects.

    This works better if, at the scale where you prepare spells, you have fewer, more widely-applicable spells than when you have a wide array of specialized spells.

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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    I have always thought that Sorcerers are considered full spellcasters, so even in the core you have opportunity to play full spellcasters without preparing spells. Outside of core - Beguilers, Favourite souls, Spirit Shamans for weird half-and-half approach (also 9th level spells by the 17th level). So I am not sure why would you wait till 5e.

    In general I would prefer if Vancian magic would be a little more closer to Vance, obviating the problem with 1-hour adventuring day, but I suppose for system which tries (sometimes even successfully) strike the balance between classes and pace encounters as minutely as D&D it would make the game worse even if story would be better.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sreservoir View Post
    So the thing about "Vancian" magic is that the at-the-table bookkeeping is really easy: you can literally prepare a stack of discrete tokens (index cards with descriptions work well) to represent your available spells and manage them as physical objects. Lots of people have pretty good intuition for pushing around physical objects.

    This works better if, at the scale where you prepare spells, you have fewer, more widely-applicable spells than when you have a wide array of specialized spells.
    When I was part of a 3.5e campaign back in the day, the way we kept track of it was that we'd have our spell list with all the spells prepared that day and then just cross out them as they're cast. My DM demanded it be in pen so there's no cheating.

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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    While I prefer spontanious casters instead of prepared, I have never had a problem understanding the in-universe method of prepared spells.
    Preparing spells involves creating a knot of magical energy. The act of preparing spells is a series of rituals, some to gather the energy, and others to create the proper knot. This is why in the early editions, preparing spells took 10 minutes per spell level. It was occasionally described as casting all of the spell except the last bit, which to me is oversimplifying it.
    When the spell is cast, the knot is undone and the magic is released.
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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    I used to hate it. Then I tried home brewing some games and then really got what it brought to the table. I am not saying it's perfect or right for everyone but it does have some decent features.

    1) it makes for robust balance. If you design an overpowered 4th level spell then that caster that takes it gets a power boost limited by 4th level spell slots (or higher if it's really out of scale). If you use a pool of points that can be spent on any level spell then the whole magical resource could be efficiently poured into those 4th level spells. Making the actual spells be prepared in advance makes it even more robust - if they are at all situational then you are less likely to guess the exact number of each type you need.

    2) it limits the power of casters which lets it be balanced somewhat by them doing more wondrous things. Any spell, any time is really very, very powerful. A tighter system allows more powerful spells (theoretically) whilst maintaining balance.

    3) it keeps characters somewhat thematic. One of my peeves about d&d 5th edition is that it is too easy to be the best at something - you just take the spell that is the best at that. Want to be good at blasting you learn the fireball spell - forcing more of a commitment from a caster than one spell prepared is good. I find this a bigger deal with respect to rogues - preparing spells like spider climb, invisibility, or knock just in case you need them is not that hard. If it cost a committed spell slot as well then it makes it harder for some classes to step on the toes of other classes.

    So yeah, Vancian casting is weird. It looks ungainly but it actually kind of works pretty well (although not saying games that use it are not screwed up by other factors).

    I kind of liked a lot that d&d in 3rd edition used. Vancian casting but allowing for spontaneous casting for selected spells made for some more thematic characters, add in that the same spell was of a different level for different classes and it felt like there was a structure in place to stop any one character doing everything.

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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    Quote Originally Posted by sreservoir View Post
    This works better if, at the scale where you prepare spells, you have fewer, more widely-applicable spells than when you have a wide array of specialized spells.
    I'd agree with this. It also breaks my suspension of disbelief less when it's closer to the system Vance actually used in the stories that featured such magic: spells are spells, you can prepare a small number of spells, and doing so takes a good chunk of time so wizards do it in their libraries. I remember there being other quirks like some wizards who prepared all their spells had more difficulty than if they had less, and you could fail at casting a prepared spell bit it was rare among trained wizards.

    That said, I don't overly like vancoan magic, I much prefer limitation via spell points, and even more prefer limitation via ritual or material components. I actually like mucking around with candles, varies animal parts and products, and other weird things, as long as it's the primary way of limiting magic (which makes wizards powered by money, which helps justify spellcasting as a trade). It is, however, a pain to balance, beyond 'this spell takes too long to cast in combat'.

    But summoning a demon should take a warded circle. Ideally made out of silver, and on a floor the demon can't just burn in an attempt to get past the ward. And big demons take the sacrifice of living creatures. Although the little spirits who do most magic are fine with other offerings.
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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    Yuck!!!

    I hate Vancian Magic!

    Give me a magic system where the caster is limited by some other means. Have a reality backlash, or have the caster suffer massive fatigue, or have their soul corrupted by dark forces, or something along those lines. Vancian Magic seems so silly and artificial to me. I don't really know why, but it's one of the dumbest ways to do magic in my opinion. There are so many other ways to limit a casters power that are both more interesting and more useful. Vancian Magic needs to be cancelled!

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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    I tried to quote people, but it was just too ungainly. Hopefully y'all can follow what I'm saying.

    Casters could be converted from Vancian magic in 2e in Spells & Magic (although the side effects in the various casting systems, like fatigue and insanity, were often painful), in 3e in Unearthed Arcana, on top of all the classes like Spell Dancer or Sorcerer (or "casters" like psions) that don't prepare spells at all. So one has never really been *forced* to play a Vancian caster.

    The "guess what spells you'll need today" minigame isn't exactly my favorite. But the "have contingency plans" minigame is. Scrolls, potions, wands, "search" spells (Anyspell, Nahal's Reckless Dwoemer), even straight up running away and coming back tomorrow, and especially Divinations / gathering intel are all tools that separate the 'leet parties from the noobs. I think that that bit of characterization is valuable.

    But Vancian casting certainly is not for those who want to fairly consistently give the "right" answer. Failing most of the time (like ) just isn't fun for most people - we're trained in school from a young age that a 20% is failing, and failing bad.

    The idea that different slots allows for less impact from less attention to balance is… interesting. I think several videogames do something similar with certain item slots being "stronger" than others, or certain otherwise broken combos being impossible because they take the same slot.

    I personally prefer my "how do I make *this* work?" minigame to occur at the "random party members" level rather than the "random spells remaining" level, but shrug. To each their own.

    All in all, despite its ease of use at the table, I'm not really a big fan of Vancian casting. It's a sacred cow that I'd happily see relegated to a single obscure non-core class in 6e.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Democratus View Post
    For me, games exist to create interesting storytelling. A story where everyone always has the right tool for the job isn't that interesting. However, being in a situation that is unexpected and for which you haven't prepared creates very interesting stories.
    Though the same could also be achieved by not having very specific spells that solve a problem if you prepared them but are mostly useless otherwise.
    I agree that "always having the right tool" can be boring, but I prefer when the "right tool" never existed in the first place than when it existed but you just happened to not choose it this specific day.
    Last edited by MoiMagnus; 2020-12-22 at 08:00 AM.

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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    Your main negative point in your first post is actually why I like it. Well implemented, the Vancian system rewards tactical decisionmaking and forethought, which should be the strong points of an intelligence-based academic caster. Huge flavour win for me. Any system that just has a magic point meter better have something else flavourful to compensate for its mechanical blandess for me to consider it. Looking at you, psionics.

    Also, that feeling of "HAH! I've prepared Nystul's Rearranger of Beryllium Crystals today and it's the only spell that solves this situation" is awesome. D&D rarely delivers on it, though.
    Last edited by Eldan; 2020-12-22 at 08:03 AM.
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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    Quote Originally Posted by MoiMagnus View Post
    Though the same could also be achieved by not having very specific spells that solve a problem if you prepared them but are mostly useless otherwise.
    I agree that "always having the right tool" can be boring, but I prefer when the "right tool" never existed in the first place than when it existed but you just happened to not choose it this specific day.
    Sounds like you have an issue with the spells, not the means of memorizing them.

    Basic D&D (we play Old School Essentials version) has only 12 1st level Magic-User spells: Charm Person, Detect magic, Floating Disc, Hold Portal, Light, Magic Missile, Prot. from Evil, Read Languages, Read Magic, Shield, Sleep, and Ventriloquism.

    Some of them have extremely limited usefulness (read magic, prot. from evil) but most of them are quite flexible. And figuring out when to apply a creative use of a spell, because it's what you have memorized, is great fun. Also fun is having no spell that is useful so you fall back to your wits - the primary tool of adventurers and explorers in good storytelling.

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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    I dropped it for a variation of Pathfinder's Spell Points system. It gives casters more utility but also keeps casting from becoming overwhelming.

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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    I like Vancian magic, and as I got into D&D during 3.5 I never had a problem with understanding it either. Maybe because I had read fantasy novels already to understand the concept that "magic has its rules", and it just made sense to me that this is how magic works in this world.

    Like others here, I enjoy the flavour of an Intelligence-based magician having to plan and strategize their preparations. I also enjoy the preparation-game for the entire party in terms of potions, wands, scrolls, one-use magic items like Quaal's Feather Tokens.

    On a game-level, I find that Vancian casting is a good way of balancing out the power of casters to that of non-casters, as they're limited to how often they can do "that really cool thing". And I actually would prefer it without the bonus spells from high casting stat.

    I wasn't a huge fan of D&D 5'e way of doing casting as I found it needlessly clunky when it came to spell slots and preparation, but it's... ok, I guess.
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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    Broadly speaking, you have three styles of magic systems in use these days.

    Skill-based

    Magic is a skill, you roll for it like you do for any other of that type. In DnD, this would mean rolling attack for XdX damage with something like Warlock's magic weapon and fluffing it as magic missile.

    Some settings, like Avatar the Last Airbender or Harry Potter lend themselves well to it, the general drawback is that magic is usually too shiny to pass it up and not have it at all.

    A drawback is that you have no room to properly implement large, awe-inspiring magic easily, because once you can spam Avada Kedavra/Avatar State/that thing Iroh did to Ba Sing Se walls, that's all you'll use. You can assign penalties for targeting more people or increasing damage, but that tends to get unweildy quickly.

    Mana pool

    The advantages are it's simple to implement, relatively simple to tweak balance (just adjust spell cost) and fairly easy to bookkeep at the table - what you need is a column of numbers going 1 to N at the edge of your character sheet and a paperclip to slide up and down it.

    Unfortunately, this is just about the worst system for in-game feel. You can perhaps prevent someone from dumping all their mana into one spell by implementing throughput limits, but that's not the worst of it.

    The worst effect by far is that you will practically never see the cool, large spells, because people will keep to their low-cost, efficient staples.

    Pseudo-Vancian

    These are spell slots, or daily/encounter powers, basically any system that tells you "you can use this specific spell X times in this timespan".

    Disadvantage is clunky bookkeeping, but that's not too bad. What is really, really awful is the required system mastery - it's entirely too possible to make yourself absolutely useless unless you build your character right. You can mitigate this by giving everyone all the spells, or assigning categories to them, but I've not seen that done too often. It's also possible for you to trick yourself, if you assumed the DM was giving you a murder mystery, but it turned out to be a battle gainst a cult in a creepy mansion, you may be up the **** creek without a paddle.




    DnD, especially 5e, as is often the case, doesn't really know which one it wants to use. Some abilities are per day, some are spell slots, sorcerers use mana pool and pseudo-vancian, cantrips are effectively skill-based and so on.

    What I'm saying, I guess, is that we really need to define our terms before we start discussing this, because this way, everyone is talking about something slightly different and calling it vancian.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Democratus View Post
    Sounds like you have an issue with the spells, not the means of memorizing them.
    You can't really consider the rigidity of the spell memorisation system without the rigidity of the spells themselves.
    If all the spells were wish-like, the Vancian system would lose its purposes. And if the Vancian system was completely removed (like you can cast at any moment any spell of the full spell list, if you have the level, no spell known or spell prepared), then the current list of spells would not make a lot of senses.

    Almost all my problems with D&D come from the designer trying to give an importance to part of the games I don't enjoy (or even decrease my enjoyment), while still remaining near enough to something I enjoy for me to continue caring about this game (and even more since 5e compared to 3e goes into the direction of my preferences). Vancian magic is not the cause of my problems, but more a symptom of a design philosophy I don't adhere to.

    Note: IMO, one of the best ideas of 5e spells was the "can be cast at higher level" system, and I still think they didn't go far enough with it ("charm person" and "charm monster" should have been the same spell cast at different levels, same for the "hold person/monster", the resurrections spells, etc)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kishigane View Post
    I don't know now, what are your thoughts on Vancian magic.
    Thematically, I find Gary Gygax's notion that everyone would want to emulate Jack Vance's Dying Earth series rather silly(don't get me wrong, they are a good series of books and I recommend them to everyone, but it is a bit like making a generic sci fi pastiche game and insisting that interplanetary travel follow the rules of Larry Niven's Known Space novels). Rather enlightening, he had people suggesting this change from roughly the very beginning (The reason he added psionics to D&D--to quiet down the people agitating for a spellpoint system), including people like Dr. J. Eric Holmes who did the 1977 basic set. I guess in his mind this was an absolutely integral part of what the game of D&D is and how it ought to be played. Fortunately for those of us not wanting that thematic interpretation, it is easy enough to re-imagine the system as just basic spell-preparation -- "spells are complex things and I need to prepare (short shelf-lived) reagents and practice finger movements and make sure I remember that Barada comes after Klaatu and before Nikto (without accidentally casting the spell while doing this preparation) and yes I theoretically 'know' all those spells in my spellbook, but right here and right now I am prepared to cast this, this, and this spell but not this other one because I only have so much bandwidth, kiddo, I'm doing the best I can! I'll resummon your pet (my familiar) tomorrow, but today Daddy has to vanquish to forces of darkness."

    Mechanically, I find Vancian magic to honestly work really well in a game, if you are using it as an integral balancing mechanism to incredibly powerful effects (i.e. if this constraint was not here, magic would be too powerful, relative to the rest of the system/other play options). Early D&D* was full of things like that: spells could completely obviate certain challenges (or even significant portions of an adventure), but only if you had the right spell at the right time; likewise spells in general were powerful, but you didn't chose those with which you started, and finding a key spell was like finding the perfect magic item; and magic items were likewise game-changing, but you never assumed you could buy them and thus it was up to the hands of fate if you got them (also, if you fire-balled the opposition to defeat them, you might have just destroyed their magic items or spellbooks).
    *roughly oD&D with supplement I (when magic users stopped knowing all the spells on the spell list and instead had to start finding them and learning them) through late 1e or so, and most of the basic/classic line.

    Once D&D moved towards being a little more expansive (as Democratus points out, the system really works best when the total number of spells is fairly small); a little more regular (fewer spikes and valleys in capability); and with more focus on player choice, intra-party balance, and part-challenge balance, Vancian casting really became a lot less capable in delivering that kind of useful constraint (it was an outlier still trying to do the same job in a system that had changed around it). 3e is really the place where it is unclear if it was serving a purpose, and I often wondered why it was kept as is -- they did make 3+ alternatives, if you include psionics, sorcerers (but man did the developers apparently hate sorcerers, whew!), warlocks, and all the extra alternate magic systems like Incarnums and so on.

    Overall, I think Vancian magic serves an interesting purpose, and works best when that purpose is a major component of how the game works. When that's not the case, I'd rather have a more open system (spell points, 5e's pseudo-Vancian, 4e's AEDU setup, or heck make a cast-at-will system and then balance the power of spells with that in mind).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Martin Greywolf View Post
    Skill-based

    Magic is a skill, you roll for it like you do for any other of that type. In DnD, this would mean rolling attack for XdX damage with something like Warlock's magic weapon and fluffing it as magic missile.

    Some settings, like Avatar the Last Airbender or Harry Potter lend themselves well to it, the general drawback is that magic is usually too shiny to pass it up and not have it at all.

    A drawback is that you have no room to properly implement large, awe-inspiring magic easily, because once you can spam Avada Kedavra/Avatar State/that thing Iroh did to Ba Sing Se walls, that's all you'll use. You can assign penalties for targeting more people or increasing damage, but that tends to get unweildy quickly.
    I want to zoom in on this version, because it really is my favourite way to do magic. I'll agree that generally it is better to have magic, but it's not always true in such systems especially if magic isn't too versatile and comes with downsides. It's incredibly hard to do but possible.

    The other thing that helps is to make 'epic' spells something that can't be pulled off without work. I'm not saying 'the PCs should never be able to cast them', It really does help here to have a game focused on the street level rather than the cosmic spheres of play, where 'call nuclear fire' requiring a thousand silvers in exotic ingredients and a three hour ritual won't break suspension of disbelief.

    As a side note, D&D with skill-based magic would be horrible. I'm sure in 5e you could do something fun with saving throws and exhaustion, if I was designing it from the ground up I might see if I could find a way to fit all six stats in somehow, but it would be horrible difficult to balance so that it was both fun and not overly powerful.

    Conversely there are games like Fantasy Age which might have been better off just dropping the idea of spellcasting resources and going entirely skill-based. Because while it's not fun to have an enemy save versus your one Sleep spell for the day it's even worse to be spending MP to be doing equal damage to a warrior with a longsword. Not even the utility spells make it worthwhile, there's nothing to make the Rogue completely useless and most Arcana are focused on combat anyway.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zelphas View Post
    So here I am, trapped in my laboratory, trying to create a Mechabeast that's powerful enough to take down the howling horde outside my door, but also won't join them once it realizes what I've done...twentieth time's the charm, right?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Martin Greywolf View Post
    Mana pool

    The advantages are it's simple to implement, relatively simple to tweak balance (just adjust spell cost) and fairly easy to bookkeep at the table - what you need is a column of numbers going 1 to N at the edge of your character sheet and a paperclip to slide up and down it.

    Unfortunately, this is just about the worst system for in-game feel. You can perhaps prevent someone from dumping all their mana into one spell by implementing throughput limits, but that's not the worst of it.

    The worst effect by far is that you will practically never see the cool, large spells, because people will keep to their low-cost, efficient staples.
    That… is more my experience with "skill-based" than with mana systems, actually.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Martin Greywolf View Post

    Mana pool

    The worst effect by far is that you will practically never see the cool, large spells, because people will keep to their low-cost, efficient staples.
    We passed a lot of time on trying to get rid of this problem in one of our homebrew, and we found a solution that worked quite well:
    [For context, in this homebrew, character are full HP at the beginning of each combat, as lasting injuries are taken care of by another resource. And death occurs when you reach the negative of your max HP]
    The first time of each combat that the character gets under half of their max HP they lose 10% of their remaining mana/stamina. Same for the first time of the combat they gets under 0 HP, under negative half of their max HP, and the first time they die of the combat (dying multiple times per combat only happening at epic levels).

    This slightly punishes "trying to avoid spending mana/stamina" (as the less mana/stamina you spend, the more you lose when taking damages) and reward casting bigger spells / using bigger martial feats to reduce the length of the encounter.

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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    Quote Originally Posted by Batcathat View Post
    I dislike Vancian magic mostly for flavor reasons. Mechanically it's alright and I like the idea of having to try to anticipate what you might need, but from a worldbuilding perspective it just feels... unrealistic, I guess?
    I agree. It's too weird and idiosyncratic and it makes it difficult if not impossible to emulate any kind of fantasy that isn't dying earth. Dying Earth is the only thing that uses it, and it's radically different from the systems of magic in all other fantasy which are all pretty much the same: you say the words, you make the gestures, and something happens and they're all the same except for how long it takes and how complicated the ritual is.

    It's kind of like how hobbits absolutely can't fit in to anything that isn't by Tolkien
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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    The Vancian Magic in D&D is also different to that in Dying Earth. In DE there weren't any greater or lesser spells, even powerful wizards could only memorize a handful, they could go won't, and each was powerful.


    I'll also note that I like the Vancian-ish Magic in Unknown Armies, but that's because a) you charge up by doing stuff, b) the level of the charge is loosely related to the difficulty, time investment, or in one case likelihood to survive, c) there's no strict limit on the charges you can hold, d) trading down is of questionable value but gives a good handful of charges while trading up impossible, and e) it's more like managing three pills of MP. (Oh, and f) a charge is a vague but in-universe thing.) But that's less 'memorising spells' more 'doing crazy things to charge up'.
    Last edited by Anonymouswizard; 2020-12-23 at 06:31 AM.

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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    Thing is, I don't just want the effects of magic to be flavourful, though I put a lot of stock on that. I also want it to be mechanically flavourful and interesting. I want there to be decisions involved in casting magic, and to have different kinds of magic that show the caster's ddifferent approaches. "I wave my hand, roll a skill point and spend 10 mana points and magic happens" is boring.
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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    In regards to 3.5 / pathfinder,

    I loathe Vancian casting. I've avoided it as best i can with spell points and so on. Mechanically, it tries to impose some wonky nebulous limit to how much you can cast. Which is fine, but mana/spell-points do the same with more versatility.

    I'm not saying that wizards should be able to cast EVERY spell they know on the fly (like a sorcerer), i do think they should have to pick a roster of spells at the start of the day. But within those spells, they use mana (or whatever) to delegate casting.

    Even in universe it's silly to think that a 20th level wizard would be like,

    "Sorry, guys. I don't have enough power to cast grease. I only have enough power to cast glitterdust, wrack, black tentacles, baleful polymorph, circle of death, plane shift, Maze, and fist of crushing goddamn spite. But not enough juice to eek out another casting of grease."

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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    Quote Originally Posted by Bohandas View Post
    in all other fantasy which are all pretty much the same: you say the words, you make the gestures, and something happens and they're all the same except for how long it takes and how complicated the ritual is.
    There are at least two ends of a spectrum: one where words and gestures and possibly symbols are everything, they hold power over reality, and one where it's will of the mage is actually doing the work, and words and whatnot are merely props and powerful or well-trained mages can dispense with them. Neither of them is necessary limited to prepackaged effects, but in both variants there are systems where only prepackaged effects are used normally.

    And this is also very crude distinction. Bujold has a Wealdian shaman say something along the lines "I go into trance and turn into a wolf and then I see both of their souls and I harry them and hunt them till they are superimposed on each other (and that establishes a link between their souls)". In theory you can say it's still will of the mage doing the work with a prop of the shamanic trance, but it's definitely has very little with pointing finger and saying "let that building be burned".

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Murikumo View Post
    "Sorry, guys. I don't have enough power to cast grease. I only have enough power to cast glitterdust, wrack, black tentacles, baleful polymorph, circle of death, plane shift, Maze, and fist of crushing goddamn spite. But not enough juice to eek out another casting of grease."
    It's precisely because Vancian magic does not use a metaphor of juice (power, fatigue, etc). It may be not to your liking and specific D&D implementation of Vancian is not to my liking (though Vancian in general is nice), but that's exactly why they were trying to do.

    You know, a lot of the early FPS used "armor" as an additional health bar. Sometimes it was just a logistical hindrance (you are down to 60 HP and then find some armour items, and though your armour goes to 100 your health remains 60) sometimes it was more elaborate (health started depleting even before your armour is 0, and enemy weapons can deplete health and armour in different proportions). It is mostly abandoned now, and generally it was not a good idea, but as long as you notice an armour bar it's exactly what you should expect (and space 4X games still often have 3-4 health bars - shields, armour, structure, with shields and armour both reducing damage and acting as a health bar, and some weapons bypass them or at least more effective against one than against the other and it works quite ok in 4X).
    Last edited by Saint-Just; 2020-12-23 at 10:37 AM.

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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    Quote Originally Posted by Eldan View Post
    Thing is, I don't just want the effects of magic to be flavourful, though I put a lot of stock on that. I also want it to be mechanically flavourful and interesting. I want there to be decisions involved in casting magic, and to have different kinds of magic that show the caster's ddifferent approaches. "I wave my hand, roll a skill point and spend 10 mana points and magic happens" is boring.
    I think that might be one reason that Vancian casting sticks around -- the alternatives often aren't clearly better, and if they are better, they are often relatively hard to pull off in a TTRPG. Something like Ultima or Mistborn where magic is powered by scarce reagents is flavorful, but in those games/books they always have a way to make the reagents just scarce enough to make things suspenseful/magic be limited in a way that would be hard to pull off in a game (especially if the rest of the party didn't want all of adventuring to be wizard fetch-quests and the DM didn't want every boss-encounter to simply be a big-spending npva-casting event). Spell points aren't really that interesting (lots of people love various versions of D&D psionics, but usually there's some strong flavor reasons to go along with the 'spell'point system). Magic-has-a-cost systems like CoC, Symbaroum, or White Wolf's various Mage: the ____ games are often a balance nightmare (or are balanced by consequences so steep you never toe the line, making them something of a paper tiger). Not sure where I'm going with this except that I can see the conundrum.

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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Murikumo View Post
    "Sorry, guys. I don't have enough power to cast grease. I only have enough power to cast glitterdust, wrack, black tentacles, baleful polymorph, circle of death, plane shift, Maze, and fist of crushing goddamn spite. But not enough juice to eek out another casting of grease."
    The original explanation for this isn't "I'm too tired," but rather, "I don't have that spell sitting in my head, ready to be cast."

    My own variation on it that I like to use is, "I didn't prepare that this morning. So I could do the gestures and say the words all day, but nothing would respond, for the same reason that you could dip your ladle into a mixing bowl and dollop whatever you scoop out over the griddle, but if you didn't actually take the time to mix up pancake batter in the mixing bowl before you do that, you won't wind up with any pancakes."

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