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Thread: Vancian magic

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    Quote Originally Posted by Scots Dragon View Post
    But Dungeons & Dragons isn't actually for emulating specific popular works of fantasy. It has its own lore and concepts that are baked into the rules from the ground up even outside of the systems for magic, and it has its own set of worlds and settings which reflect the assumptions of those rules.
    Sure, it's not for that and it doesn't have to be. But the fact that Vancian magic isn't that good at emulating a lot of magic systems a player might be familiar with could still be considered a drawback. Probably not a very major one, but still.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Batcathat View Post
    Sure, it's not for that and it doesn't have to be. But the fact that Vancian magic isn't that good at emulating a lot of magic systems a player might be familiar with could still be considered a drawback. Probably not a very major one, but still.
    But it isn't meant to emulate those magic systems. Eroding core facets of D&D's identity just to appeal to a wider audience, when those elements are not in themselves morally objectionable in any way, really doesn't work as well as you might think it does.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Max_Killjoy View Post
    A game setting does need to be designed to be fun and functional to game in.

    But there's more to good worldbuilding than piling the "parts to game in" on a big pile.

    Farmland isn't there to be adventured in, primarily, but one assumes it's still there and part of the landscape -- just because adventurers don't go there often doesn't mean it doesn't or shouldn't or needn't exist.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MoiMagnus View Post
    The cost of playing another RPG is quite high. And I'm not talking about the monetary cost as it's not that high with all the cheap options available. It's more a cost in time to learn about other RPGs (find them, read the rules, and try them), plus a social cost of convincing other peoples to try another RPG, even assuming that you get a group of peoples with similar enough taste that you are all better served by the same RPG.
    I can't fault a bit of this statement, and agree with it completely, but this doesn't change the fact that the issue still isn't with Vancian magic but with people's expectations of it vis a vis square pegs and round holes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Batcathat View Post
    Sure, it's not for that and it doesn't have to be. But the fact that Vancian magic isn't that good at emulating a lot of magic systems a player might be familiar with could still be considered a drawback. Probably not a very major one, but still.
    Aside from what Scots Dragon has said, can you propose another existing magic system that does mirror these (variable, depending on author and world) systems better but doesn't have other balance or bookkeeping issues?

    Neither mana- (or other pool) or skill-based magic have really proven themselves to be particularly better in this regard, to choose two of the biggest 'competitors'.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FrogInATopHat View Post
    Aside from what Scots Dragon has said, can you propose another existing magic system that does mirror these (variable, depending on author and world) systems better but doesn't have other balance or bookkeeping issues?

    Neither mana- (or other pool) or skill-based magic have really proven themselves to be particularly better in this regard, to choose two of the biggest 'competitors'.
    Turns out that literary magic isn't designed to be limited by game balance and therefore doesn't have to be.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Max_Killjoy View Post
    A game setting does need to be designed to be fun and functional to game in.

    But there's more to good worldbuilding than piling the "parts to game in" on a big pile.

    Farmland isn't there to be adventured in, primarily, but one assumes it's still there and part of the landscape -- just because adventurers don't go there often doesn't mean it doesn't or shouldn't or needn't exist.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Scots Dragon View Post
    But it isn't meant to emulate those magic systems. Eroding core facets of D&D's identity just to appeal to a wider audience, when those elements are not in themselves morally objectionable in any way, really doesn't work as well as you might think it does.
    That's why I said that it "can be considered a drawback". It's obviously not an objective one, but the fact that Vancian magic doesn't work how a lot of people are used to magic working can cause issue with it. The feeling expressed by both myself and others that Vancian magic feels "unrealistic" is probably at least in part because of that.

    Quote Originally Posted by FrogInATopHat View Post
    Aside from what Scots Dragon has said, can you propose another existing magic system that does mirror these (variable, depending on author and world) systems better but doesn't have other balance or bookkeeping issues?

    Neither mana- (or other pool) or skill-based magic have really proven themselves to be particularly better in this regard, to choose two of the biggest 'competitors'.
    As already stated, the "fire and forget" aspect is very central to Vancian magic but very much not the case in a lot of other magic system. Hence, anything that doesn't include that is likely closer. There can still be any number of differences or similarities, of course, but I do think this is a big one.

    The degree of balance and book keeping obviously varies from system to system but it's not like Vancian magic is some sort of unbeatable bastion in either regard.

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    It's a good thing, for those who feel that Vancian does not represent the type of magic they want to emulate that, starting at least as far back as 2e, D&D has had alternate casting systems, either replacing Vancian magic on primary casters, or providing alternate mayhap classes with different mechanics.
    Last edited by Quertus; 2020-12-27 at 03:36 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Batcathat View Post
    That's why I said that it "can be considered a drawback". It's obviously not an objective one, but the fact that Vancian magic doesn't work how a lot of people are used to magic working can cause issue with it. The feeling expressed by both myself and others that Vancian magic feels "unrealistic" is probably at least in part because of that.
    I can mention a few problems with making magic that feels 'realistic'.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Max_Killjoy View Post
    A game setting does need to be designed to be fun and functional to game in.

    But there's more to good worldbuilding than piling the "parts to game in" on a big pile.

    Farmland isn't there to be adventured in, primarily, but one assumes it's still there and part of the landscape -- just because adventurers don't go there often doesn't mean it doesn't or shouldn't or needn't exist.

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    I would say that a rough approximation of Dresden Files magic can be achieved with “magic point” systems. Just call it “will.” A system for preparing spells and storing will in items would fill it out.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Segev View Post
    I would say that a rough approximation of Dresden Files magic can be achieved with “magic point” systems. Just call it “will.” A system for preparing spells and storing will in items would fill it out.
    There's literally a Dresden Files RPG.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Max_Killjoy View Post
    A game setting does need to be designed to be fun and functional to game in.

    But there's more to good worldbuilding than piling the "parts to game in" on a big pile.

    Farmland isn't there to be adventured in, primarily, but one assumes it's still there and part of the landscape -- just because adventurers don't go there often doesn't mean it doesn't or shouldn't or needn't exist.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Scots Dragon View Post
    There's literally a Dresden Files RPG.
    I'm aware. It uses FATE. I'm not sure how well-suited that system is for Dresden Files magic, but it's there.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Scots Dragon View Post
    I can mention a few problems with making magic that feels 'realistic'.
    Perhaps 'realistic' isn't the right word, but there's something to be said for making it true to fantasy fiction
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bohandas View Post
    Perhaps 'realistic' isn't the right word, but there's something to be said for making it true to fantasy fiction
    To which fantasy fiction? You'll never get a single system that handles anything like a measurable fraction of the magic systems out there. In large part because most of the fantasy fiction ones are, for lack of a better term, squishy. They're never defined in anything like enough detail to say how they work. Nor are they even defined enough to be internally consistent. They're basically authorial fiat. Which works just fine (contra the hard-magic types) in most fiction. But doesn't work very well at the game level.

    Media and games are very different and have very different needs. Trying to emulate one in the other almost universally produces garbage. And trying to emulate multiple of them means you either have mechanics that are completely abstracted (which sucks) or the system is a mess (which also sucks).

    D&D falls short to the degree that people try to make it emulate things outside its zone of acceptable approximation. Which really isn't all that big. And contrary to what many people think, the developers (of 5e at least) know this and aren't marketing it as a genre emulator. It's its own thing. D&D does D&D. Expecting it to do other stuff is like expecting a pitchfork to help you eat soup. I mean, you can try, but don't blame the pitchfork when it goes wrong.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bohandas View Post
    Perhaps 'realistic' isn't the right word, but there's something to be said for making it true to fantasy fiction
    The problem is that there is no common ground for what magic is and how it works in fantasy fiction: Vance is not Harry Potter is not Earthsea is not Mistborn is not LotR and so on. There can be some similarities (for example, magic is based around saying the right words in both Earthsea and Harry Potter), but there are also heaps of differences that makes it impossible to define Fantasy Fiction Magic as anything beyond "depends on the specific piece of fiction".

    You either use a vague and generic mana/spell point system, which feels very videogame-y to a lot of people, or you end up coming closer to certain magic systems than others anyway, in which case I'm perfectly fine with Vancian magic since it is one of the most distinctive elements of D&D over other fantasy roleplaying games.

    Has as been said above, a lot of the magic in fantasy stories is also obviously not made with "balance" in mind, and so would map awfully to a game - Vancian magic has the benefit of having a very strict restriction for its users in that they have a limit of spells they can cast each day, forcing them to carefully consider their options and when and how to spend their slots - in theory, at least, since 3rd and 5th edition make that concern trivial as you advance in level, and 5e even has infinite cantrips.



    Interestingly, the only non-D&D videogames which I recall using Vancian magic are Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 (Demon's Souls and DS3 use a hybrid system of "attunement slots" in which you must prepare spells, but then casting them using mana points which can be recovered by using certain consumables), so I wonder if fans of that series would find Vancian magic easier to grok. I certainly cracked a smile when I realised I was preparing spells at a bonfire the first time I played Dark Souls.
    Last edited by Silly Name; 2020-12-27 at 07:24 PM.

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    Dresden files magic does not actually need words. it needs the casters will and intent, words just make it easier for the magic to work, there are several instances in the stories where dresden cast spells without using any words, tools, or potions, it is just harder.
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    Quote Originally Posted by vasilidor View Post
    Dresden files magic does not actually need words. it needs the casters will and intent, words just make it easier for the magic to work, there are several instances in the stories where dresden cast spells without using any words, tools, or potions, it is just harder.
    Hence why I said it could be done with a magic point system where "will" is the "mana." It costs more will to do it without components. Components make it easier, and preparing ahead of time can let you store will in pre-prepped spells that will not cost much when you finally use them.

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    Quote Originally Posted by vasilidor View Post
    Dresden files magic does not actually need words. it needs the casters will and intent, words just make it easier for the magic to work, there are several instances in the stories where dresden cast spells without using any words, tools, or potions, it is just harder.
    That… makes Dresden sound like Mage to me. People have complained (in this thread?) that the Dresden RPG didn't feel like Dresden magic. Has anyone tried WoD Mage to see if it was a better fit?

    Quote Originally Posted by Silly Name View Post
    The problem is that there is no common ground for what magic is and how it works in fantasy fiction: Vance is not Harry Potter is not Earthsea is not Mistborn is not LotR and so on. There can be some similarities (for example, magic is based around saying the right words in both Earthsea and Harry Potter), but there are also heaps of differences that makes it impossible to define Fantasy Fiction Magic as anything beyond "depends on the specific piece of fiction".

    You either use a vague and generic mana/spell point system, which feels very videogame-y to a lot of people, or you end up coming closer to certain magic systems than others anyway,
    If all magic in a system involved <insert rules for and/or description of random sport here>, I'd hope we could all agree that that wouldn't feel right for *any* of those magic systems.

    Also, at least 2e and 3e have *multiple* magic systems, not just Vancian. So it's not like you can't play a "more accurate than Vancian" expy in D&D.

    Quote Originally Posted by Silly Name View Post
    in which case I'm perfectly fine with Vancian magic since it is one of the most distinctive elements of D&D over other fantasy roleplaying games.
    Agreed - D&D should emulate D&D. Unlike 4e.

    Quote Originally Posted by Silly Name View Post
    Has as been said above, a lot of the magic in fantasy stories is also obviously not made with "balance" in mind, and so would map awfully to a game
    Magic doesn't have to be balanced for an RPG. Ars Magica is just the obvious example, but ShadowRun, D&D, and even WoD have some rather unbalanced magic, and are still playable (and, with the possible exception of ShadowRun, enjoyable) games.

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    I love Vancian magic (at least in a D&D context). Mechanically, it provides several playstyle and balance benefits, and a level of interesting resource management, that you can't easily get with many other simpler and blander systems. Flavor-wise, far from all the complaints that Vancian is "unrealistic," I in fact think that Vancian is the most realistic of all the proposed alternative magic systems out there, if by "realistic" you mean "most closely resembles historical magical practices."

    For the kind of gameplay D&D tries to deliver and the metaphysics underpinning its implicit setting, I don't think there's a better system to use than Vancian. Which isn't to say it's the only good choice--psionics and meldshaping and so forth can exist alongside it just fine--but Vancian is really the central pillar against which the others exist and are compared.

    I've waxed eloquent on the benefits of Vancian before, so I'll just quote myself here instead of rambling on further:

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    Quote Originally Posted by PairO'Dice Lost View Post
    But seriously, there are a bunch of things Vancian does better than other casting system.
    • Preparing a few dozen spells in discrete slots gives you access to a wide variety of effects without the massive option paralysis of "You know a hundred spells, here's your mana bar, go."
    • Discrete slots help with balance and limit nova potential because they aren't completely fungible, or really fungible at all except under certain circumstances.
    • Being able to prepare a spell loadout for a specific scenario incentivizes researching enemies and planning ahead in a way systems with a fixed repertoire of capabilities do not.
    • Being able to prepare separate "adventuring" and "downtime" loadouts let you play a utility-focused caster without "letting the team down" in combat, or vice versa.
    • Lots of niche spell effects often only get used in a Vancian setup because you can prep them when needed and ignore them otherwise, something that doesn't happen in a fixed-repertoire system (the classic wizard vs. sorcerer spell selection problem).
    • Adding spells to Vancian casters is usually easier than other systems, because a single spell doesn't steal conceptual space from existing options, doesn't combinatorially explode with other spell seeds, doesn't break any sort of symmetry in a fixed power setup, etc.
    • Build-your-own-spell systems usually neglect the more interesting spells that are hard to procedurally generate from a set of seeds, as shown in 3e's own Epic Spellcasting system.
    • And so on.
    Quote Originally Posted by PairO'Dice Lost View Post
    Regarding how well Vancian represents magic, as one or two people mentioned upthread spell preparation involves performing a little ritual for every spell you want to cast and then storing it away for later, which has quite a bit more historical influence than most systems. In Goetic magic, you pull out your musty old tome, inscribe a mystical diagram on the floor, wave your arms in mystic gestures, chant for an hour and ten minutes, call out "Demon, come forth!" and poof, a minor demon from the Lesser Key of Solomon appears in your magic circle.

    In D&D magic, you pull out your spellbook, inscribe a mystical diagram on the floor, wave your arms in mystic gestures, chant for an hour--then magically lock the current state of the ritual away in your mind instead of finishing it immediately. When you want to complete it, most likely after buffing yourself, double-checking the dimensional anchor, etc., you wave your arms in mystic gestures, chant for ten minutes, call out "Demon, come forth!" and poof, a CR 6 or lower demon from the Monster Manual appears in your magic circle.

    Not only is the general flavor pretty much the same, going from "perform a big fancy ritual" to "perform most of a big fancy ritual and save the last bit to be triggered later" is probably the best extrapolation of traditional European hermetic magic, Mesoamerican sacrificial magic, or the like to get you combat-time spells; the concept of nebulous "magical energy" that a person just has and uses to "do stuff with magic" is a very modern one, comparatively, and doing things like negotiating during combat with previously-bound spirits to help you would be too slow.

    Regarding how D&D magic works, it does essentially work on a very classical and mythological True Names/Language of Magic concept, though it isn't explicitly called out as such aside from truenaming. The vast majority of spells have verbal components, spoken in a tongue belonging to ancient and powerful magical beings, and there's an entire class for people who can talk and sing so well that magic happens (and the bard was was, incidentally, the first example of a prestige or advanced class back in 1e, basically being better magic-users than the Magic-User). You need to know creatures' names to call them specifically with planar binding and similar spells, and most magic items have magic words that make them function. Power Word spells pack the most amount of power into the smallest space (in AD&D, they were very powerful spells given the lower overall monster HP and had ridiculously fast casting times, and even in 3e they're no-save spells with proportionally powerful effects) and are explicitly words with inherent magical power. Other examples of words-as-magic abound: glyphs, sigils, runes, symbols, etc., and of course wizards and archivists write down magic spells in their spellbooks and prayerbooks--magic spells made of words which themselves are magical and can't be understood by the uninitiated; scrolls, likewise, are literally written-down magic.
    Quote Originally Posted by PairO'Dice Lost View Post
    The point I was trying to get at in the original post, and perhaps could have expanded on here, was that when it comes to magical aesthetics there's a pretty big spectrum between magic as actually practiced (specifically in the pseudo-Medieval-to-pseudo-Renaissance period that the rest of D&D's aesthetic is largely based on) on the one end, and magic as viewed in more modern fantasy works on the other.

    Magic-as-actually-practiced was, essentially, one part mysticism and one part science. There were fancy diagrams and chanting, there were textbooks full of alchemical formulas and reagents, there were lists of demons and procedures for bargaining with them, there was a whole lot of ritual around the whole thing, and most importantly magic was a process of channeling that which was outside the magic-user (spirits or demons or angels or even gods themselves) to some useful end. To those workers of magic, magic wasn't some special separate something, it was merely another part of an integrated worldview that held everything from prayer to physics as being part of a cohesive whole; Newton famously worked on a variety of alchemical and occult studies with just as much rigor and interest as his more "real" studies on optics and gravity. And in general, if you follow a particular procedure successfully, you get a certain magical result, just like following a chemical formula or computer program (though obviously they didn't think of things in those terms at the time).

    Then you have magic-as-seen-in-popular fantasy, where magic is much more of an idiosyncratic individual thing. Magic works by willpower/emotion/etc., often with some sort of focus like a wand or gem or something, but any words/gestures/foci are largely mnemonic aids and/or emotional props like Dumbo's feather, and the more powerful magic-users can go without them entirely. Magic comes entirely from the user, either via some sort of internal reservoir of magical energy or via an innate gift or talent that lets you tap into some external energy source that only people born with wizard blood or whatever can access. Magic is generally a thing rather than a process, where there's a sharp divide between "things that have magic in them" and "things that don't have magic in them," and you can magic at things all you want in whatever way you want until your internal magical battery runs dry.

    Both approaches to magic can be used well in fiction, and many works use some blend of the two, including D&D (things like antimagic field being able to "turn off" magic in an area or spell levels being fungible for spontaneous casting is a strictly New Magic thing), or have the two kinds of systems side-by-side in-setting (LotR has Old Magic human sorcery and Maiar wizardry with chants and staffs and all next to New Magic rings of power and elven magic with feelings and willpower and all, Dresden Files wizards can do both New Magic quick'n'dirty Evocation and Old Magic incense'n'candles Thaumaturgy, and so on). Neither is inherently better than the other, it all depends on what fits your setting best.

    But the context of my original post, and Anonymouswizard's post that I responded to, was that a lot of people object to Vancian magic on the grounds that "it doesn't make sense that magic would work like that" or "it doesn't feel magical" or whatever, and everyone and their brother who homebrews up a new magic system (for D&D or any other RPG) almost exclusively takes the "mana bar + magic skill(s), done" approach. It's assumed, for some reason, that this is how magic "really works" or is "supposed to work" and Vancian's idea of performing little rituals to call on extraplanar energy is nonsensical, when in fact for hundreds if not thousands of years that's exactly how people viewed it as working--heck, the flavor of Eberron's magewrights and adepts, where a blacksmith knows one specific ritual to make his swords better and a midwife knows one specific ritual to heal a mother in labor and so on, is much closer to how people actually practiced folk magic in ye olden days, and Eberron is the least Medieval published setting out there aesthetically.

    So while I have no idea whether Vance actually researched or inspired by real-world magical traditions or whether he started with the magic-as-misunderstood-technology-and-sapient-mathematics premise and just worked backward from there (the same way 40K's techpriests and other post-apocalyptic settings turn maintenance rituals into religious rites because the characters are going through everything by rote), and I know that Gygax and Arneson retrofit Vancian flavor onto their mechanics rather than coming up with something flavor-first, the point is that if you were trying to come up with a system that looks and feels a lot like how magic did historically, it would turn out a heck of a lot closer to Vancian magic than any of the common alternatives people like to replace it with, and the idea that a magic system "making sense" or "feeling magical" has to mean just thinking really really hard to make things happen or gauging how much magical oomph to shove into a given magical effect is purely a product of fantasy literature from the last 50 years or so.
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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    Regarding how well Vancian represents magic, as one or two people mentioned upthread spell preparation involves performing a little ritual for every spell you want to cast and then storing it away for later, which has quite a bit more historical influence than most systems. In Goetic magic, you pull out your musty old tome, inscribe a mystical diagram on the floor, wave your arms in mystic gestures, chant for an hour and ten minutes, call out "Demon, come forth!" and poof, a minor demon from the Lesser Key of Solomon appears in your magic circle.
    This is the exactly the part that vancian magic gets wrong. In vancian magic you you pull out your musty old tome, inscribe a mystical diagram on the floor, wave your arms in mystic gestures, chant for an hour and ten minutes, then leave the house, pick up breakfast, go to work, finish work, drive home, get caught in traffic, get annoyed, remember the spell, call out "Demon, come forth!" and poof, a minor demon appears.

    Do you not see how that's different?
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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    Quote Originally Posted by PairO'Dice Lost View Post
    I love Vancian magic (at least in a D&D context). Mechanically, it provides several playstyle and balance benefits, and a level of interesting resource management, that you can't easily get with many other simpler and blander systems. Flavor-wise, far from all the complaints that Vancian is "unrealistic," I in fact think that Vancian is the most realistic of all the proposed alternative magic systems out there, if by "realistic" you mean "most closely resembles historical magical practices."

    For the kind of gameplay D&D tries to deliver and the metaphysics underpinning its implicit setting, I don't think there's a better system to use than Vancian. Which isn't to say it's the only good choice--psionics and meldshaping and so forth can exist alongside it just fine--but Vancian is really the central pillar against which the others exist and are compared.
    More than any other virtue or vice of the system, it should be remembered thusly;

    Vancian magic is part of what makes the whole thing Dungeons & Dragons to begin with, and not a different generic fantasy game. Not many other role-playing games that aren't themselves direct clones of Dungeons & Dragons actually incorporate it, and thus it becomes as iconic to Dungeons & Dragons as its other identifiable facets. This has been pointed out as a potential flaw, that it's not something most audiences would be as intuitively familiar with as other works, but I feel that there are some serious issues when you try and remove something that's genuinely iconic to the game because of that.

    And the fact is, it has remained the most enduringly popular fantasy role-playing game on the market for forty-six years. The only areas where it suffered were when it was poorly managed for a while. And in the second of those instances, the game which picked up the slack was Pathfinder, which continued the existing version of Dungeons & Dragons complete with its use of Vancian magic.

    If you don't want Vancian magic, you should be playing a different game. I can recommend a dozen or so off the top of my head;
    • Ars Magica
    • Burning Wheel
    • The Dark Eye
    • Earthdawn
    • Exalted
    • Fantasy AGE
    • GURPS Fantasy (esp. Dungeon Fantasy)
    • HarnMaster
    • HARP
    • Rolemaster and MERP
    • RuneQuest
    • Stormbringer
    • Talislanta
    • Tunnels & Trolls
    • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay

    None of these use Vancian magic, and I think a couple of them such as Fantasy AGE deserve more prominence. There are even games that run on the d20 system like Thieves' World and Black Company which use different magic systems.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Max_Killjoy View Post
    A game setting does need to be designed to be fun and functional to game in.

    But there's more to good worldbuilding than piling the "parts to game in" on a big pile.

    Farmland isn't there to be adventured in, primarily, but one assumes it's still there and part of the landscape -- just because adventurers don't go there often doesn't mean it doesn't or shouldn't or needn't exist.

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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    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.
    I do this now in 5E. I have a set of glass beads in nine colors and enough of each that I can run a full caster to 20th level, if need be. It helps visualize things.

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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    Quote Originally Posted by AceOfFools View Post
    Except for the fact that they literally are. You can make so many spell bullets when you prepare spells each morning, and due to their nature, you can’t stockpile them (well, not without crafting scrolls or wands, etc).

    But you are literally loading up spells every morning that are expended exactly like bullets or grenades.
    In my head canon for AD&D (it doesn't work in 5e unfortunately), spells are discrete entities. Not truly alive, but not precisely not-alive either. Putting spells into your brain is like putting frogs into your pocket; you have those specific frogs and no others. If you release one, it's gone and you have to go back to the pond to get another frog, even if you want another one of the exact same species.

    (Also, don't put spellbooks too close together or they'll fight. And if you're extremely unlucky, you could get a spell stuck in your brain that's so scary no other spell will dare enter your head while it's there.)
    Quote Originally Posted by MaxWilson View Post
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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    Quote Originally Posted by JoeJ View Post

    (Also, don't put spellbooks too close together or they'll fight. And if you're extremely unlucky, you could get a spell stuck in your brain that's so scary no other spell will dare enter your head while it's there.)
    Wasn't this exactly the case with Rincewind in Disk World?

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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    Quote Originally Posted by Democratus View Post
    Wasn't this exactly the case with Rincewind in Disk World?
    Yep. That's what I was referring to with the blue part.
    Quote Originally Posted by MaxWilson View Post
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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    Quote Originally Posted by Kishigane View Post
    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.

    Vancian magic has all the flaws you talk about and most of us hated it for the same reasons.

    HOWEVER,

    Vancian magic has advantages and wasn't nearly as bad as they made it out to be in some early editions.

    For one thing, the total number of spells you might have memorized used to be a lot higher.

    Spoiler
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    Like, literally an extra Mage worth of spells, especially the higher level spells. And for wizards over 20th level, their Epic spell list dwarfs the epic list of some later editions. Obviously, the more spell slots you have memorized, the more variety you could have stored in there. AD&D spells also included several "container" spells and "mimic" spells. Container spells might be in the form of contingency spells, or a higher level spell containing 2 or more lower level spells. There were even spells that allowed you to fetch a chosen lower level spell from your spell books.

    But mimic spells were probably the most useful. Spells like Limited Wish, Alter Reality, and Wish, could imitate multiple spells. Nearly all of them, and in some RAW cases, with no penalties, depending on what "rules" of not screwing the campaign/abusing power you followed.

    Furthermore, there were spells that had huge variety of consequences, such as Polymorph Other and Polymorph Any Object, such as turning local fog into Lava, to imitate a solid firespell. Demishadow magic that imitated existing spells, and so on.

    These are quirky exceptions, but with 2-3 in your belt, you ended up having way fewer vancian limits. By 2e, "Cantrip" was "all cantrips" and basically level 1 Wish - it did whatever you wanted within the limits of the power of cantrip. Illusions back then were similarly potent. An AD&D illusionist had some limits, but his same phantom this or that illusion spell could summon hundreds of different types of things, complete with unique combat features. Despite being "1 spell, memorized" that seldom felt "restrictive".

    DONT GET ME WRONG...

    some spells definitely felt chokingly restrictive and useless. imagine you have identify (magic item) memorized and you go into a dungeon with 1) lots of bad guys and 2) no magic items to be identified in the entire dungeon start to finish...
    when what you really want is another magic missile or burning hands. I feel your pain.

    The unspoken/Forgotten Advantages of Vancian Magic


    First, if you actually read the DMG in 1e, Vancian spells have variable rest and memorization times. They do NOT require a full night's rest or 24 hours. That came in later editions for simplification.

    1st and 2nd level spells:
    your body had to have rested for 4 hours. Each spell required 10 minutes for a 1st, and 20 minutes for a 2nd level spell to download.

    There are 24 hours in a day, and obviously, when you hit 8+ hours of rest, you have all your rest. So how many spells is that, really?

    well, the dimes of memorization take multiple spells per hour, so in 4 hours of memorization, you get 240 minutes of memorization. that's 24 spell levels divided into 1-2. 3rd and 4th level spells required 6 hours, and a half hour/40mins each.

    Thus:
    4+ change
    4+ change
    4+ change
    4+ change
    = 16 hours of resting in a 24 hour period, however, and 8 hours of memorization/adventure time (most dungeons can be walked in far less than 1 hour moving at walking speed - which is about 600 boxes x 5 ft each). Deeper dungeons actually require multiple days, and thus get even more mileage out of wizards). Each four hour block requires up to 25 percent of your 8 hours for memorization, or up to 2 hours a piece, 120 minutes, 12 spell blocks, which could for instance be 4 x 1st level spells and 4 2nd level spells, though probably fewer since your memorization cap is usually lower. That lower cap however means more remaining adventuring exploring minutes.

    so 2-3 1st and 1-2 2nd level spells 2/2 or 3/1 to 3/2 is most probable, making your total spells 3-5 per rest, x 4,
    = 12-20 Vancian Spells per 24 hours.


    Holy Fireball Batman!

    Flipped over to Fireballs, the 6 hour track gets you 3 blocks totalling 18 hours of rest + 6 hours of memorization/exploration, which is up to 360 minutes, 36 spell blocks, split 3 ways, 12 spell blocks each. or 3-4 fireballs 3 times a day. To provide some measure of adventuring time, you'd want to stick closer to 3 fireballs x 3, and get 9 fireballs per day...

    Did anyone mention monsters have about 1/3rd the hit points and fireballs go up to 20+d6?
    ...or that high level fireballs bypass some/all magic resistance?

    ... or that Vancian 1e fireballs have a radius and range measured in YARDS outside?
    33,000 cubic yards... and back then, fireballs had water pressure.. so they would shape shift to move around corners and fill up tunnels until their total volume was reached. That's like 27 fireballs each doing mechanically triple to sextuple damage...

    and you got 9 of them per day if pressed. (or was it six?)†

    †Note that some versions and editions back then had different units. Sometimes 10 minutes per level was used (2ePHB, full night), sometimes 15 minutes (1e PHB ††), and sometimes 30 minutes was used (1e DMG). Your mileage would vary based on which reference book. So you might only get 6 fireballs a day. Depended. Of course there's also the ethereal and astral planes where time moves differently...
    ††"as a rule of thumb allow 15 minutes of game time for memorization of one spell level, i.e. a 1st level spell or half a 2nd level spell"
    this puts your fireballs at 6 hours +45 minutes, so 6 hours +90 minutes for two is 7.5 hours, so you could get 6 fireballs + 90 minutes of adventure time, toss in another fireball for 45 minutes adventure time, and get 7 fireballs. If you had a contingency and chain contingency loaded, you could get 2 more fireballs from another day's memorization, for a total of 9 fireballs.


    But its memorized...

    Memorized spells didn't disappear when you slept. They didn't disappear when you were knocked unconscious. And your interrupt period for concentration was measured in units of initiative, NOT rounds. Meaning if your spell had a casting time of 1 (like magic missile) there was exactly 1 segment in which a person could try to disrupt your spell. Once that initiative value had passed, the time for interruption was over. They also couldn't interrupt your spell before you began casting. So if you got stabbed on 6, you might then begin casting magic missile on 4 (or 8 depending on the direction of initiative counting). Fireball had a casting time of 3, so for 3 segments, you could be interrupted, before and after that, there was little anyone could do unless they physically restrained you.

    And if you got captured, stripped naked, stuck in a prison cell, and left for dead, with no spell book, ANY spell you had memorized would still be in your head. Spells like Stoneskin, Teleport, or Knock (to unlock the prison). Charm Person (to deal with the guards) or polymorph other (to target the rats). Granted, once cast, it was gone, though while memorized, you could use your memorized slot to copy the spell down.

    So what might happen, is you burn off 1 or 2 spells from memory, with hopes to get those spells back later, make your escape, then get to a place where you can copy down your other remaining memorized spells, then of course, re-memorize those. Then go on a mad-cap murder hobo quest to get your REAL spellbook back. Many wizards had multiple spell books, so you might only be hunting down 1 spell, while busily returning to your home to review the other spells in your library.

    You can even turn this into the purposeful plot. Going in dressed like a peasant, or even wearing armor and carrying some sword, then when you get into a town, in normal clothing, let lose with a bunch of spells you had memorized days or even YEARS ago. Vancian spells never disappeared until cast...

    which means your enemies never really know what level you are, or what you have up your sleeve. You could be pretending to be a level 5 wizard, but actually have a whole set of spells only available to a 7th level Mage. So it becames a Cloak and Dagger approach. A Poker Game. If you were clever and your enemy had Spellcraft or familiarity with magic, they would never really know if you had run out of spells, or knew something awful, and were going to turn them or their family into slimes. You could start imitating such a spell as part of a bluff..
    or in some cases, NOT a bluff.
    Last edited by anthon; 2021-01-07 at 09:38 PM.

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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    Quote Originally Posted by PhoenixPhyre View Post
    To which fantasy fiction? You'll never get a single system that handles anything like a measurable fraction of the magic systems out there.
    That's the issue with the whole "Vancian doesn't model the genre well" objection. It's true, but it's vacuously true, because the alternative systems don't model the genre any better. Yes, there are things that don't work like Vancian Magic. But that doesn't mean we should replace it with Spell Points, because there are also things that do work like Vancian Magic and things that don't work like Spell Points. The answer is, of course, pluralism. Vancian Magic works well for some things (notably, it's a total home-run for the Wizard). But it doesn't work well for other things. D&D is a Kitchen Sink Fantasy game. It can, and should, contain a variety of things. One of those things can be Vancian Magic, but that doesn't mean they all have to be.

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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    @Anthon

    Several things about your detailed description - wondering if this is a difference between 2e and earlier editions.

    Fireball wasn't limited to 10d6?

    You could use Contingency on Fireball?

    You need components for most spells in 2e - good luck finding sulfur & bat guano in prison. Many spells, though, had much more readily available components (eye lash, wool), or even no components at all. So it depends on what you had memorized at the time.

    In 2e, at least, the "damaged" condition lasted throughout the round, preventing spellcasting. (The SSI gold box series definitely had this mechanic)

    Good to know where I got the "15 minutes per spell level" bit from.

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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    @Anthon

    Several things about your detailed description - wondering if this is a difference between 2e and earlier editions.

    Fireball wasn't limited to 10d6?

    You could use Contingency on Fireball?

    You need components for most spells in 2e - good luck finding sulfur & bat guano in prison. Many spells, though, had much more readily available components (eye lash, wool), or even no components at all. So it depends on what you had memorized at the time.

    In 2e, at least, the "damaged" condition lasted throughout the round, preventing spellcasting. (The SSI gold box series definitely had this mechanic)

    Good to know where I got the "15 minutes per spell level" bit from.
    No. 1e fireball had no 10d6 limit. The Death Knight for instance, cast a 20d6 fireball. Even bigger fireballs were known. An artifact of the 20d6+ fireball still exists in the 2e monsters because the publishers at the time favored monster growth + character nerf as their revision philosophy.

    I for one went with the 10 minutes/level memorization, but i was running my Grognard Hybrid. In that hybrid "cast some spells with no components" was also an option. As to casting fireball in prison, that wouldn't be my first choice. Bat Gauno is ubiquitous if you have a city with wizards and just buy a pet Bat. You could probably get a DM to approve a Bat for a familiar too if desperate, or polymorph a rat into a bat. Technically, there were lesser polymorph cantrips. Hold on...

    Cantrip: Mouse - Summon a mouse
    Cantrip: Change - Can change a small animal into another Mouse--> Bat. (duration ranges from 10 minutes to a few days)
    Page 1054 of Volume 4 of Wizards Spell compendium.

    Spells & Magic came out many years later, 1996, and we just stuck everything together we liked. For 1e wizards though, you didn't get any points for your Wizard, but if you were a human, you got 10 points. No Components cost 5 points to pick 1 school for 1 spell from each 1st-9th level to have no components, and 8 points let you pick from all your schools for the same 9 slots. Obviously, if running out of Bat Excrement is a big concern, or you simply don't want to run around smelling like a sewer, then this option is awesome.


    Casting fireball in prison though is bad idea, as you are trapped in a small space with sharp angles, and fireballs filled volumes like pressurized water, so you would have about a 100 percent change of suicide unless you were immune to fire. Knock on the other hand is Verbal only, and has no material components, and is level 2. It opens wizard locked doors, stuck doors, held doors, and most importantly, locked and barred doors, like prison cells. It also opens chests, boxes, and "will loose shackles or chains as well". The only thing it wont do is lift super heavy gates or porcullis, but if they were mechanically locked, it would solve that problem.

    Other imprisoned Vancian spells for your tool kit:
    Detect Evil: lets you know who you might be able to trust, bribe, or expect to betray you;
    Light/Continual light: improvised blind/distract
    Shocking Grasp: 1d8+level no limit (most guards would drop dead above level 3)
    Magic Missile: Probably the smartest prison combat spell to fend off evil rodents, hunting hounds, or weak guards. This spell also had no cap originally, so at 21st level you had 10d4+10. 3d4+3 is about right to drop 1 guard, who typically had between d6+1 and d8+1 hp (5-9).
    Hold Portal: magically bars a door, so the guards can't chase you through the dungeon

    These are all low level and have no material components, and are better choices than suicide by fireball.
    Last edited by anthon; 2021-01-08 at 04:05 PM.

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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    Quote Originally Posted by anthon View Post
    Other imprisoned Vancian spells for your tool kit:
    Detect Evil: lets you know who you might be able to trust, bribe, or expect to betray you;
    Light/Continual light: improvised blind/distract
    Shocking Grasp: 1d8+level no limit (most guards would drop dead above level 3)
    Magic Missile: Probably the smartest prison combat spell to fend off evil rodents, hunting hounds, or weak guards. This spell also had no cap originally, so at 21st level you had 10d4+10. 3d4+3 is about right to drop 1 guard, who typically had between d6+1 and d8+1 hp (5-9).
    Hold Portal: magically bars a door, so the guards can't chase you through the dungeon

    These are all low level and have no material components, and are better choices than suicide by fireball.
    You left off Charm Person. In 1e AD&D it's 1st level for wizards, has no material components, has a 3 week interval between saving throws for a human of average intelligence, and it will make the jailer treat you like a "trusted friend and ally to be heeded and protected," even to the point of being willing to try holding back a charging dragon for a round or two to save your life.
    Last edited by JoeJ; 2021-01-08 at 05:25 PM.
    Quote Originally Posted by MaxWilson View Post
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    Default Re: Vancian magic

    Quote Originally Posted by JoeJ View Post
    You left off Charm Person. In 1e AD&D it's 1st level for wizards, has no material components, has a 3 week interval between saving throws for a human of average intelligence, and it will make the jailer treat you like a "trusted friend and ally to be heeded and protected," even to the point of being willing to try holding back a charging dragon for a round or two to save your life.

    i agree 100%. i missed it flipping backward and stopped at "friends" for examples. I just wanted people to know the infinite duration of memorization has some unique uses.

    I highly recommend switching down from the 15 minute/spell level to 10 minute per spell level duration for memorization. While It won't make an actual difference in play, it will make your players much more confident knowing if pushed to their limits.

    When I was in 5e we had a DM who only did long rests, so all advantages and game balance dedicated to short rest powers was nullified. Vancian wizards who do repeat rest periods in a day will have similar strategic considerations to 5e Warlocks and their Short-rest spells.

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