Posted by : David Guyll December 31, 2014

In D&D gods don't intervene on your behalf,
you tell them what you want, when you
want, and x times per day they'll always listen.
When you think about wizards, what pops into your head?

Is it an old guy with a robe and wizard hat? A teenager that waves a wand about while spouting faux-Latin? I'm a Dresden Files fan myself, so wands and words are there, along with exhaustion and limitations that come from not being a dragon or anthropomorphic manifestation of summer or winter.

If your first  answer was “a person who casts one spell, then has to sleep before re-memorizing it out of a book no matter how many times he's previously cast it”, then you're almost certainly someone that plays Dungeons & Dragons, and for one reason or another never bothered to question why magic works the way it does.

Which given the "discussions" I've had, or rather tried to have with people in my genuine search for even a halfway decent explanation, wouldn't be terribly surprising.

Magic in Dungeons & Dragons has puttered along, advancing in small increments with each edition. I'm not sure if it was on the verge of possibly making some goddamn sense before 5th Edition—like so many other parts of the game—hauled it kicking and screaming back, and at this point I seriously doubt it's ever going to change.

So, here are five not-necessarily-comprehensive problems with "magic" in Dungeons & Dragons, that if addressed could make it at least halfway decent:

1. Only Some Spells Have An Arbitrary Daily Limit
Early editions of D&D put a hard limit on the number of spells you could cast in a given day. In 2nd Edition your 1st-level wizard could cast one 1st-level spell, which could range in efficacy from a tiny bolt of force that inflicted a pitiful amount of damage, to putting a bunch of creatures to sleep so as to allow for easier murdering.

3rd Edition increased the amount of spells you could cast in a day: you started with a number of 0-level spell slots, in addition to a 1st-level one, and having a high ability score could give you bonus spells (something that was for some reason formerly only afforded to the cleric). So now instead of one tiny bolt of force per day, you could throw out like, two!


Why the daily limit that imposes no penalties or drawbacks? No fucking clue. A commonly misused term for D&D magic is "Vancian magic", because it is purportedly based off of magic from Jack Vance's The Dying Earth, but if you actually read his books that's not at all how it worked: there're no spell levels or spell slots by the level, there's no daily limit, and spell preparation times were a lot quicker (plus, spells could also be cast right out of the book).

Others are content to sacrifice any kind of fictional explanation and logic for an easily circumvented "resource management system". Like, you have to be careful how you use your magic, otherwise you'll have to take a nap, which in nearly 30 years of gaming has virtually never been an issue (no, not even in "official" adventures).

Anyway, 4th Edition introduced spells that could be used whenever you wanted, spells that could be recharged with a bit of rest, and spells that could be cast whenever you wanted, it just took some time and usually had a cost. While it adds some much needed flexibility to spellcasters, it's somehow more unintelligible: why can some spells be cast all day long; why can some be recharged with rest; why can some be cast whenever, it just takes more time?

5th Edition further muddied the waters by keeping spells that could be cast whenever (either on a whim or with some preparation), and re-introducing spell slots, limiting other spells to x times per day. Of course it wouldn't be D&D if they weren't arbitrarily sorted: wizards can use fire bolt to shoot fire all damn day, no problem, but burning hands requires a spell slot. Detect magic can go either way: you can burn a spell slot to cast it right away, or spend time and cast it for free.

It's all so blatantly fucking arbitrary. Why isn't there an at-will version of shield that lets you, say, use a reaction to add even +1 to AC? How come you can't burn a 9th-level spell slot to even make it a +6 bonus? And what about rituals: why can I use comprehend languages whenever I want (given enough time), but not lightning bolt? I can't gradually gather up magical energy to unleash one, even over a 10 minute span?

I'm guessing either "tradition" and/or splatbook-moolah: WotC has an extensive history of shoving out books brimming with spells (because only spellcasters need nice things), which will work out nicely given that like Paizo they're more than happy to sell you content you already purchased back in 2000 and/or 2008.

Over five or so editions I have to ask: why (kind of) keep the daily limit at all? If all you're looking for is an easily circumvented resource management system, why not give the wizard something like spell points that she can spend on spells, spend more to beef them up, or spend to "fast cast" rituals? Yeah, I know, other games use points, but I'd rather use a system that is at least somewhat explainable "in-game", as opposed to something that only exists because of tradition.

Honestly that's the only conclusion I can make for it's continued existence: Gary Gygax for some reason took Jack Vance's magic system and discarded everything about it that gave it fictional coherence, and some people just don't like change. Or, at least very much of it/are totally fine if it's part of the "right" edition. It certainly explains how 5th Edition happened.

2. Everything To Do With Spell Slots
In most editions wizards have a number of spell slots, each with their own level. It used to be that when you memorized/prepared a spell, it filled up a slot that corresponded with its level. For example, magic missile is a (terrible) 1st-level spell, so when you memorize/prep it, it goes into a 1st-level slot. Once you cast it, you forget/complete the spell and have to memorize/prepare it again the next day.

Simple and straightforward. Granted it's not the simplest or most elegant way to go about it, but it's still pretty simple. The drawback is that there's no narrative logic behind it, which makes the designers come across as spectacularly lazy and uninspired, as there are systems that are simple, possess narrative logic, and still deliver the whole "resource management" feelz.

But, instead of going with any of them, they of course decided to just jumble the whole nonsense model about with 5th Edition.

Your spellcaster level now determines partially how many spells you can ready, as well as the number of slots you have available for a given level: at 1st-level you have two 1st-level slots, at 2nd-level you have three 1st-level slots, at 3rd-level you have four 1st-level slots and two 2nd-level slots, etc). When you cast a spell, you burn a slot of the corresponding level or higher: magic missile is a 1st-level spell, so requires a 1st-level slot.

Like 3rd Edition it's simple. Also, like 3rd Edition, it makes no goddamn sense.

See, some spells can still be cast whenever you want on a whim. There's no penalty, no drawback. In fact no matter what you start with at-will spells, and for some reason gain them automatically as you level up (though why you can only ever have five is anyone's guess). Others can be cast as rituals, which is still at will, it just takes a while. Finally, some spells get boosted when you use a higher level slot to cast them.

So what the fuck is a "spell slot"? What does it represent in the game's fiction, flavor, fluff, narrative, or whatever the hell you want to call it? I'd initially looked at it like a packet of energy, but then how are you powering your at-wills? How come no matter what you can't use lower level slots to cast a higher level spell, and if you use a higher level slot to cast a lower level spell you retain nothing?

For example I can't use all four of my 1st-level slots to cast a 2nd-level spell, and if I use a 9th-level slot to cast a 1st-level spell, it's completely gone, just as if I'd used it for a 9th-level spell. And this is before you get into rigidly acquired class features like Arcane Recovery, Spell Mastery, and Signature Spells, which let you do stuff like turn a 1st- and 2nd-level spell into an at-will spell, and cast a few 3rd-level spells for free.

And that's just for the wizards: clerics can "channel divinity" x times per encount—, er, I mean "short rest". There's no limit, so long as they take a break in between. How does channeling divine energy into this differ from channeling it into other spells? No idea. As a sidenote, why are all clerics capable of turning undead regardless of what their god is about? Also no idea, but that's okay because tradition.

Again, a spell point system would deliver the exact same "feels". The only "drawback" is that whole narrative coherence thing.

3. Different Flavor, Same Mechanics
Whether you are spouting indecipherable words and waving your hands around, petitioning a god for intervention, or trying to convince spirits to do you a solid, you always get to prep the spells you want, use them when you want, and they always works as advertised.

For wizards this makes as much sense as it can, what with the whole arbitrary limits and spell slots, but what about clerics? They get their powers from the gods, but operate using the exact same spellcasting mechanic, which means that they prep the spells they want, and cast them when they want. There's no impression of your god saving you, or having the backing of a higher power when you really need it: everything happens on your terms.

Even the Divine Intervention class feature is bullshit: every cleric gets it at 10th-level, you still have to decide to use it, at 20th-level it jumps from working less than a fifth of the time to every time, can only be used every seven days (but you can try every day in the likelihood you fail), and it's actual effect is very ambiguous (it states that any cleric spell is appropriate, so for all you know you're getting one more spell every seven or so days).

Druids "draw upon the essence of nature itself", which to me sounds like they should also use the exact same magic system, right? Oh, and in keeping with the theme, they also have the ability to magically change their shape into animals, but it's not at all tied to their spells per day. Make sense? Of course not, but that's okay because, you guessed it, tradition!

4. Contrary to What the Book Says, it's Safe, Orderly, And Explicit
A common trope with magic is that it is dangerous, mysterious, and/or unpredictable. Magic in D&D? None of that. This isn't inherently a bad thing, but it's misleading that the 5th Edition's Player's Handbook tries to claim that magic is "wild and enigmatic", that "manipulating the fabric of magic and channeling its energy into even a simple spell is physically and mentally taxing", when it's obviously none of those things.

In fact it's very tame and reliable: your spells will never backfire (unless you specifically choose Wild Magic as a sorcerer), and perfectly functional magic items can be found in abundance (despite spellcasters kind of sort of maybe not being commonplace).

Each time you level you get a new sepll, and despite no practice or experimentation it will work just as well as the rest in your repertoire. You can even burn through all of your spell slots in a day, every day, and suffer no consequences: no exhaustion, premature aging, nausea, back pain, insomnia, magical cancer, nothing.


The sorcerer is likewise misleading: unexplained powers? Draconic Bloodline is at the least pretty damn explicit that it comes from draconic magic in your blood. Also, what's with this part:

"A sorcerer's magic wants to be wielded, and it has a tendency to spill out in unpredictable ways if it isn't called on."

I know D&D has a poor track record for stating something in the game's fiction/flavor content, and then constructing mechanics that actually back it up, but...how? The only part of the sorcerer that is in any way unpredictable is the Wild Magic origin due to rolling on the Wild Magic table, which isn't all that bad, but does require you to first either cast an arbitrarily slot-eating spell or use a specific class feature.

In other words you have to actually choose this one specific class feature, and even then you'll know what parameters might force you to make a roll, to see if you have to make another roll on a table that features both good and bad results (like coming back to life if you die within a minute).

Wish is really the only spell that comes to mind that has a drawback, to the tune of 5,000 XP in 2nd and 3rd Edition. That's...kind of heavy, but not anything you couldn't recoup with some adventuring (which had the added bonus of netting you more loot). In 5th Edition you instead take damage after using it when you cast spells until you take a nap, and your Strength gets knocked down to 3 for a week or so (but if it's already 3 or lower nothing happens...I guess the spell just knocks everyone to an arbitrary minimum).

The only real risk is that if you use it for anything aside from duplicating a spell, you have a 1 in 3 chance of never being able to cast wish ever again. No in-game reason; I guess when wizards got together to write the spell out they decided to put that in there to fuck with people. But, again, you'll know exactly what will require you to make the roll, so if you play it safe everything's fine.

5. It Is Everywhere And Assumed
The default assumption is not only that magic is in the game, but that there will be one or more people in your party capable of using it. Check out page 8, under The Wonders of Magic:

"Few D&D adventures end without something magical happening."

Aaand...

"For adventurers, though, magic is key to their survival. Without the healing magic of clerics and paladins, adventurers would quickly succumb to their wounds. Without the uplifting magical support of bards and clerics, warriors might be overwhelmed by powerful foes. Without the sheer magical power and versatility of wizards and druids, every threat would be magnified tenfold."

In other words we're back to 3rd Edition, where the muggles can only hope to get by thanks to the mandatory, predictable, reliable, frequent use of what D&D considers to be magic (something like, a game effect in which someone else makes a roll to see if they avoid it).

Just to be clear, I don't have anything against magic being a major part of the game or setting. I really dug Eberron, especially after yet another stack of uninspired Forgotten Realms drivel. What I have a problem with is it being essentially required just to get by.

4th Edition made it so that if you wanted to strip out magical healing—you know, like all the non-D&D specific fiction that doesn't feature priests spamming cure x wounds spells to keep the fighters on their feet—you could, without having to change any other part of the game.

But I guess that's too much for traditionalists. Gotta have complex wizards, with their massive lists of spells, and magical healing, because that's how it worked before, back when it was "done right".

{ 83 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. It sounds like you haven't looked at the DMG spell point options. That said.... Personally my preferred magic system of choice is in the BRP/Magic World/Runequest line of games, where it offers an interesting defined array of systems with a very robust mechanical level of support, and models powerful but fragile sorcerers very well.

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    1. @Nicholas: The only 5E thing I own is the Starter Set, and I don't particularly care if the DMG has alternate/optional rules: the game should make sense by default, and then if people want to tweak and twist it about so that there's no longer any reasonable explanation for what's going on, more power to them.

      Though, I'd still be curious if the spell point model makes sense and conveys the whole "wild, enigmatic, exhausting" magic, or if it's just like 3rd Edition's power points.

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    2. I love the pre 3.x magic system. Makes perfect sense to me.

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  2. Medium crunch system to manage my games? Usually Savage Worlds, that comes with a simple "mana points" system, lot of "effects", and the Master has just to put some flavor on. Done!
    Also, SW can be played without mana points (roll vs. difficulty to cast, bigger spells are difficult to cast and/or pretty fatiguing), or you can choose to manage the "special effects" (magic too) with the Super Heroes system, also pretty easy to grasp and fast and powerful to play.
    D&D? Not at my table... Vancian style, not in my house... :D

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    1. @Ishmadrad: Ironically if it was Vancian that'd be GREAT. Vancian magic, TRUE Vancian magic, makes perfect sense (again, Gary and other's that think D&D uses Vancian magic don't actually know how it works). It can be explained "in-game" without any problems.

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    2. "Based on" =/= "Exactly the same"
      Why use it? Because the game has always been about managing resources and it was a tool for management.

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    3. @Matthew: Which would be great if it made sense, but there are a number of models that can be used for managing resources that ALSO make sense. Like actual Vancian magic, or spell points.

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  3. Yes, you have some points. From a story stance, a lot of the magic system doesn’t make sense. But from a gameplay perspective, it makes perfect sense.
    In my time playing dungeons and dragons (and even before then) I heard one common complain from everybody: Spellcasters are OP. The Wizards and Clerics are the most powerful classes, yadda yadda yadda. The Spell Slot limitations are keeping them from breaking the game. How broken would it be if the wizard could cast meteor swarm every round? How wrecked would the game be if the clerics always cast heal?
    I’ve always seen spell slots and spell points as another form of “Mana”, if you would, like from final fantasy and world of warcraft. Spellcasters don’t have infinite magical energy to work with, and the spell slots/levels represent that limit.
    I can’t speak for 4th edition, because I never really got my head around it and the group as a whole never played it, save for a very short lived attempt when we first started. But from what I remember there was “at will”, “once per encounter” and “once per day” which makes perfect sense to me in gameplay and story. The at will are the easy spells, the generic “throw out there as an attack” spells, and the less you can cast per day represents the amount of energy it takes to cast. Maybe a GM could houserule a once-per-day can be cast twice, but the player will have their constitution halved for the rest of the day due to the stress they were under. (funny thing about d&d, house-ruling is a very handy tool)
    Also in 5th edition, the “10 minute ritual” rule is, from a gameplay perspective, a brilliant idea. Why are you complaining about it? I bet in 3.5/3.5/4.0, you never, ever used “comprehend languages”, I bet you never even prepared it, as it was a waste of a spell slot for an unlikely occurrence.
    With a ritual, you can cast such spells for free. Suddenly you don’t need to worry about preparing those niche spells that never get used, so long as you have time you can prepare them.
    From a story-perspective, it makes no sense. From a gameplay perspective, A+ fantastic idea. Now the spell casters can focus on the cool and flashy spells and not get burdened into “utility” roles.
    And again, when complaining about how magic is not safe and explicit… Would anyone honestly play the wizard if it wasn’t?
    In my group at least, I am literally the only person who has played wizard more than once. The rules of magic casting confuse at least half my players, who will always deviate towards divine or spontaneous casters because they’re a little more simple and easier to use. Clerics are always useful with spontaneous healing/harming. Sorcerers have what they can do set in concrete. I have sometimes gone entire sessions without casting a spell other than magic missile and scorching ray.
    Even I, the “resident wizard and rules lawyer” find magic confusing, especially spells themselves. I’m always re-reading the rules. If magic wasn’t safe and unpredictable, not only would nobody play wizard, nobody COULD play wizard.
    And also, try crafting magic items. I guaranteee you’ll end up with at least one cursed item.
    And you’re final point: magic is everywhere and assumed.
    I’m sorry but no fucking shit
    If people didn’t want magic, this would be “dungeons and the feudal ages” not dungeons and dragons. It’s a fantasy game and needs some aspect of fantasy. That’s like playing a sci-fi game and complaining about faster than light travel and lasers. And of course the players are reliant on the cleric/druid/paladin to heal them. That’s not exclusive to d&d. Play Team Fortress 2 and listen to all the demands for a medic.
    From a story perspective, I agree with you a lot. The magic system seems weird and unusual. From a gameplay perspective, how else could they have done it?

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    1. @Anon: Whoops, I reblogged a response to this over on Tumble, but I'll repost it here:

      "Yes, you have some points. From a story stance, a lot of the magic system doesn’t make sense. But from a gameplay perspective, it makes perfect sense.
      In my time playing dungeons and dragons (and even before then) I heard one common complain from everybody: Spellcasters are OP. The Wizards and Clerics are the most powerful classes, yadda yadda yadda. The Spell Slot limitations are keeping them from breaking the game. How broken would it be if the wizard could cast meteor swarm every round? How wrecked would the game be if the clerics always cast heal?"

      I’d only started hearing that in 3rd Edition. In our 2nd Edition campaigns no one wanted to play a wizard because you only got 1 spell at 1st-level, and there was no way to get more (only clerics got bonus spells for having a high Wisdom).

      Players didn’t even want to necessarily play a cleric, but you HAD to have one, because of a pittance of hit points and no way to easily/quickly get them back: I think a day of rest healed, what, 1 point?

      There’s a huge middle ground between going with some other spellcasting mechanic and “wizards casting meteor swarm every round”. You mentioned spell points and mana, and those would both work perfectly fine AND make sense.

      "I’ve always seen spell slots and spell points as another form of “Mana”, if you would, like from final fantasy and world of warcraft. Spellcasters don’t have infinite magical energy to work with, and the spell slots/levels represent that limit."

      See, that’s the thing: spell slots CAN’T represent energy.

      Let’s say that a 1st-level spell costs 1 point, and a 2nd-level spell costs 3 points, and I have 7 points. That’s enough to cast four 1st-level spells AND a 2nd-level one, OR I can cast one 1st-level spell and a few 2nd-level ones.

      From a story perspective it makes sense: I’ve only got so much magic juice, and I’ve gotta ration it wisely or else I’m going to be tapped out.

      Spell slots do not work that way. I know the book makes that claim, but then how come I can’t use ALL of my 1st-level spell slots to cast even a single 2nd-level spell? How come I can’t use all of my 1st- AND 2nd-level slots to cast a single 3rd-level spell? How come if I use a 9th-level slot to cast a 1st-level spell, there’s nothing left?

      How come I can cast cantrips ALL day long, with no penalty or cost? The mechanics don’t back up the claim.

      "I can’t speak for 4th edition, because I never really got my head around it and the group as a whole never played it, save for a very short lived attempt when we first started. But from what I remember there was “at will”, “once per encounter” and “once per day” which makes perfect sense to me in gameplay and story."

      But they don’t make sense: at-will spells have to cost something, right? There has to be SOME expenditure of energy for them to work, but no matter how many times I cast them, nothing happens. Same for encounter spells: I can cast them all day so long as I wait 5 minutes between each use, so…where’s that energy coming from?

      How come I can cast one fire spell whenever I want, another every 5 minutes, and one only once per DAY? I’m assuming that the per-day one takes a lot of magic juice, but then how come I can keep using all of my other spells without ANY problem?

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    2. "The at will are the easy spells, the generic “throw out there as an attack” spells, and the less you can cast per day represents the amount of energy it takes to cast. Maybe a GM could houserule a once-per-day can be cast twice, but the player will have their constitution halved for the rest of the day due to the stress they were under. (funny thing about d&d, house-ruling is a very handy tool)"

      House-ruling is a handy tool for any game, which is something I’d considering doing in my 4E games: allowing you to spend healing surges to recharge various abilities to reprsent exhaustion. The problem is that it still doesn’t fix the problem of there being four types of spells (including rituals).

      "Also in 5th edition, the “10 minute ritual” rule is, from a gameplay perspective, a brilliant idea. Why are you complaining about it? I bet in 3.5/3.5/4.0, you never, ever used “comprehend languages”, I bet you never even prepared it, as it was a waste of a spell slot for an unlikely occurrence."

      You’d be wrong! About me, anyway: I’m sure most groups didn’t use those spells, or had them on scrolls or whatever.

      My longest lived arcane character was a diviner in 3rd Edition, so I loaded that shit up and used scrolls and wands for other spells. Mind you I’m not complaining about rituals in concept, I’m complaining about their “in game fictional operation”: how come I can gradually gather up magical energy to cast comprehend languages, but not, say, a lightning bolt (or some other attack).

      I could see plenty of situations where the party is preparing to ambush some monsters, so the wizard would take time “slow-cassting” a free attack spell, or invisibility, and so on.

      "With a ritual, you can cast such spells for free. Suddenly you don’t need to worry about preparing those niche spells that never get used, so long as you have time you can prepare them."

      Again, no problem with rituals in concept. I have a problem because spells seem to draw from like, 11 different pools of energy: you’ve got cantrips, 9 levels of spell slots, and then rituals.

      "From a story-perspective, it makes no sense. From a gameplay perspective, A+ fantastic idea. Now the spell casters can focus on the cool and flashy spells and not get burdened into “utility” roles."

      I’d agree if it were the only way to go about it, but it’s not. Spell points are an obvious solution, as would something like “true-Vancian”, where all wizard spells take up 1 “slot”, wizards can only every have up to 5 or 6 at a time, there are no levels, and they can be reloaded in about 10 minutes (of course spells would need to be modified to account for more frequent usage).

      Spells could also cost hit points, representing a wizard becoming exhausted with use, or a wizard could have a separate pool of points that spells draw from, and when you run out you start eating up hit points (so more experienced wizards could unleash more powerful effects before having to tap into their hp).

      "And again, when complaining about how magic is not safe and explicit… Would anyone honestly play the wizard if it wasn’t?"

      My main criticism is that the Player’s Handbook claims that magic is wild, enigmatic, and physically exhausting, when it is objectively none of those things. I don’t think magic HAS to be any of those things. I think it can make things more interesting (like for DCC or Dungeon World), and that yes, people would still play it.

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    3. "In my group at least, I am literally the only person who has played wizard more than once. The rules of magic casting confuse at least half my players, who will always deviate towards divine or spontaneous casters because they’re a little more simple and easier to use. Clerics are always useful with spontaneous healing/harming. Sorcerers have what they can do set in concrete. I have sometimes gone entire sessions without casting a spell other than magic missile and scorching ray.

      Even I, the “resident wizard and rules lawyer” find magic confusing, especially spells themselves. I’m always re-reading the rules. If magic wasn’t safe and unpredictable, not only would nobody play wizard, nobody COULD play wizard."

      You’re wrong about all of that, and there are plenty of people playing DCC and Dungeon World, maybe Dragon Age (I’d have to recheck the book, but I think too much magic/failed rolls can conjure various demons), Call/Trail of Cthulhu, and so on. I think even Warhammer Fantasy has “dangerous” magic, but I’m not sure (never played it, that’s just what I’d heard from someone who has). Heck, 5E even has the Wild Magic origin for sorcerers, which mixes good and bad results.

      "And also, try crafting magic items. I guaranteee you’ll end up with at least one cursed item."

      Wait, what game are we talking about, now? In 3rd Edition it is impossible to craft a cursed item, and in 5th Edition you can only make a magic item if the DM permits it.

      "And you’re final point: magic is everywhere and assumed.
      I’m sorry but no fucking shit"

      Read that point again: my criticism is the assumed bit. Magic should not be mandatory for the party to get by.

      "If people didn’t want magic, this would be “dungeons and the feudal ages” not dungeons and dragons. It’s a fantasy game and needs some aspect of fantasy. That’s like playing a sci-fi game and complaining about faster than light travel and lasers."

      No, that’s like playing a sci-fi game and complaining that if your party doesn’t have access to light speed and lasers that you can’t do anything at all.

      Also, Game of Thrones is a good example of a setting that has mysterious, strange magic, undead creatures, and dragons without making healing magic absolutely necessary to get anything done.

      Not that I’m advocating for a “fantasy game with no fantasy”. I’m advocating for a fantasy game that doesn’t require one or more resident spellcasters in the party, something more inline with, say, Conan, who did not have to have a priest following around poking him back to life.

      "And of course the players are reliant on the cleric/druid/paladin to heal them. That’s not exclusive to d&d. Play Team Fortress 2 and listen to all the demands for a medic."

      I, what? You’re seriously trying to tell me that because a completely different game (in tone and genre) demands a healer that it’s cool for D&D to also require one?

      So, can I build things in D&D by hitting a pile of metal and wood with a hammer a couple times? If I drop an explosive at my feet will I just soar through the air? If I die will I just respawn after a couple of seconds, with all of my gear intact?

      4th Edition didn’t require a magical healer. In fact with minimal tweaking you didn’t need a healer at all. That’s one of the reasons it’s so awesome: anyone can play whatever they want, and the game runs just fine. You don’t HAVE to have a cleric spamming heals: having a cleric is useful, just like having a fighter or ranger is useful.

      "From a story perspective, I agree with you a lot. The magic system seems weird and unusual. From a gameplay perspective, how else could they have done it?"

      Judging by all the other role-playing games out there that DON’T rely on nonsense pseudo-Vancian magic, at least several different ways. Again, spell points are an obvious go-to. I know they’ve “been done”, but it actually does the job of conveying a wizard’s internal reservoir of magical energy.

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    4. 2. Everything to do with Spell Slots

      So what the fuck is a "spell slot"?

      It is defined in the PHB on page 201 under “Spell Slots”. “Manipulating the fabric of magic and channeling its energy into even a simple spell is physically and mentally taxing, and higher-level spells are even more so. Thus, each spellcasting class’s description (except that of the warlock) includes a table showing how many spell slots of each spell level a character can use at each character level.”

      What does it represent in the game's fiction, flavor, fluff, narrative, or whatever the hell you want to call it?

      This is a philosophical question and I’m not going there.

      I'd initially looked at it like a packet of energy, but then how are you powering your at-wills?

      This is answered in the PHB on page 201 under “Cantrips”. A cantrip is a spell that can be cast at will, without using a spell slot and without being prepared in advance. Repeated practice has fixed the spell in the caster’s mind and infused the caster with the magic needed to produce the effect over and over.

      How come no matter what you can't use lower level slots to cast a higher level spell, and if you use a higher level slot to cast a lower level spell you retain nothing?

      You’ve mentioned many times in this article, “penalties or drawbacks”; well this looks like both to me.

      http://saveversus.wordpress.com/

      Delete
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  5. You're attacking every edition of D&D and that's your prerogative but I'll just try to offer a counter to your 5th Edition gripes that will be summarily dismissed.

    1. Only Some Spells Have an Arbitrary Daily Limit

    5th Edition further muddied the waters by keeping spells that could be cast whenever… It's all so blatantly fucking arbitrary. Why isn't there an at-will version of shield that lets you, say, use a reaction to add even +1 to AC? How come you can't burn a 9th-level spell slot to even make it a +6 bonus? And what about rituals: why can I use comprehend languages whenever I want (given enough time), but not lightning bolt? I can't gradually gather up magical energy to unleash one, even over a 10 minute span?
    I think it’s not really that hard to decipher why some spells have a daily limit. Their power/effect on gameplay or combat. A wizard blasting out lightning bolts every round is going to dominate the game. Why play another class?

    http://saveversus.wordpress.com/

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    1. Because no matter how good you are at blasting out a lighting bolt a dagger in the ribs will still kill you?

      Or because not everyone is interested in playing the most powerful press-X to win character?

      Delete
  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. I would like to know what was said here and why it was removed, as if this is an intellectual discussion a person's response should be allowed to be heard; if it is hate speech or harassment, then I understand.

      Delete
    2. @Sean: I can't speak for Wolvercote, but I'm assuming they were duplicate posts: Blogger emails me with every comment that gets posted, and the only comments I can find are the 1-5 list.

      Delete
  7. 3. Different Flavor, Same Mechanics

    … you always get to prep the spells you want, use them when you want, and they always works as advertised. …but what about clerics? They get their powers from the gods, but operate using the exact same spellcasting mechanic, which means that they prep the spells they want, and cast them when they want. There's no impression of your god saving you, or having the backing of a higher power when you really need it: everything happens on your terms.

    This is a philosophical question in part so I’ll give this a shot. I think a cleric being able to cast spells that have been provided by his deity is the equivalent of his god saving him. If he is not following his faith properly, he would lose favor and therefore his ability to cast spells. You sound like you want a wild-magic cleric. That sounds potentially interesting for a cleric of some trickster or chaotic deity.

    Even the Divine Intervention class feature is bullshit: every cleric gets it at 10th-level, you still have to decide to use it…

    I’m not sure why this is a problem for you. It’s how the spell works. A DM can always interject divine intervention (not as a spell) if he sees fit. I have plenty of times.

    at 20th-level it jumps from working less than a fifth of the time to every time, can only be used every seven days (but you can try every day in the likelihood you fail), and it's actual effect is very ambiguous (it states that any cleric spell is appropriate, so for all you know you're getting one more spell every seven or so days).

    The ambiguity is where the DM comes in. You’ve mentioned “narrative” in your article; this is pretty much up to the DM’s interpretation. He can award whatever he sees fit.

    http://saveversus.wordpress.com/

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    1. Look back at 1st Ed.
      Spells don't have a 100% chance to complete. Wizards have a spell failure rate, so do clerics.
      Also, you people are acting like these rules are some gospel handed down via stone tablets. It's a *game*. If you wanna have other spells or rules which you think make sense or seem fun, them use them! That's what Gary encouraged (I've played with people who helped develop D&D way back in the day, and they all said that).

      1st Ed was a well-balanced ruleset (only using phb, dmg, and monster manual, before Gary Gygax was kicked out of his own Intellectual Property basically). The rules were MUCH more detailed than some of the stuff today, and I see that going back to the origins of D&D might actually help people settle some of these issues.

      Also, yeah, what's with the hate toward 5th Ed Magic? It's a game, an abstraction of a fantasy world. Wizards have enough power to zap out basic cantrips repeatedly, but only so much access to the magical plane/endurance/intellect to hold a certain number of spells beyond that. What's the big deal?

      If you don't like a rule, then change it.

      Delete
    2. “Look back at 1st Ed. Spells don't have a 100% chance to complete. Wizards have a spell failure rate, so do clerics.”

      Looking back at 1E, spells have a 100% chance to complete.

      “Also, you people are acting like these rules are some gospel handed down via stone tablets.”

      Did anyone say that, here? Did anyone even imply that?

      “It's a *game*.”

      Who here is claiming that it isn’t a game?

      “If you wanna have other spells or rules which you think make sense or seem fun, them use them!”

      Didn’t need your permission, but that’s the plan.

      “1st Ed was a well-balanced ruleset (only using phb, dmg, and monster manual, before Gary Gygax was kicked out of his own Intellectual Property basically).”

      Disagree, but that’s not even remotely within the scope of this blog post.

      “The rules were MUCH more detailed than some of the stuff today, and I see that going back to the origins of D&D might actually help people settle some of these issues.”

      Just so happens I have a 1E PH: where does it explain spells in such detail that they actually start to make sense?

      “Also, yeah, what's with the hate toward 5th Ed Magic? It's a game, an abstraction of a fantasy world.”

      I’d ask if people aren’t “allowed” to hate games, but I know that the reality is that you aren’t allowed to hate CERTAIN games. Like 5E: for some reason people like you think that 5E is in some sort of protected class of games you just aren’t allowed to dislike.

      “Wizards have enough power to zap out basic cantrips repeatedly, but only so much access to the magical plane/endurance/intellect to hold a certain number of spells beyond that. What's the big deal?”

      As illustrated in the blog post (that you apparently didn’t read), the “big deal” is that it doesn’t make any sense. If you disagree, feel free to explain how. This post is nearly two years old at this point, so I won’t hold my breath.

      Delete
  8. 4. Contrary to what the book says, it’s safe orderly and explicit.

    I’m not going to dig into this too deeply as it’s an opinion of yours but perhaps it’s safe, orderly and explicit for spell casters since they have the training to make it so.

    5. It is Everywhere and Assumed.

    /shrug.

    @savevs

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    1. safe + (orderly + explicit) = BORING

      Delete
    2. I agree, though some people seem to think that when I talk about strange, dangerous magic, that I'm saying, "If you roll a nat 1 you explode and die instantly!" :-P

      Delete
    3. I much prefer "roll a nat 1 and things get really weird."

      Delete
    4. @Jmz: For wizards, we're doing a random Mana cost, which takes away from your hit points if you run out of Mana. So you can't reliably plot your magic reserves, and if you try to link up a bunch of magic talents for a big-ass spell you might knock yourself out, first.

      Delete
  9. Right on! I've been saying the same things about D&D for many years. I love the idea of playing a wizard, but the spell slots totally put me off. I've noticed in the groups I've played in that people avoid wizards and sorcerers because of exactly the reasons you state. I still play clerics, but it's despite the spell-slot system. It really is the one major part of D&D which has always been broken. 4E was a refreshing change, I wish they'd built on it for 5E.

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  10. Replies
    1. @Michael: I own that! But, I moved around four months ago and haven't exhumed all my books: can you sum up how magic works in it?

      Delete
  11. Have you even read the 5th edition books? You realize that pretty much anyone who wants it (especially a high elf) can have an attack spell (how about that 1d10 dmg, 100' range Fire Bolt) that they can use every round with no spell slots - at first level. At 4th level any character can have whatever cantrip they want - still no spell slot, used every round.
    The idea of the "spell slot" has been around for almost 40 years. This is the simplest magic system there is: a spellcaster has certain spells they can cast, they decide that at the beginning of the day. They use them up and they're gone. If your players can't grasp that there's not much hope for them. I'd say have them play fighters (which they can do now in 5th edition quite successfully) but there are things to remember there too. Do they have trouble remembering how many arrows/daggers/throwing axes they have or do you not like the arbitrary limit to weapons - should there just be a generic missile attack and a generic melee attack because having to remember that a character has a certain "weapon" is just too difficult a concept? Is armor too difficult as well?
    These are just part of D&D. There are other games out there if these ideas don't work for you... but i wouldn't go anywhere near Pathfinder, because that is going to be way too complex.

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    1. Yes, it has been around for almost 4 decades but it is not by any means the simplest magic system there is. At the surface of the system seems simple but it is counter intuitive plus what David mentioned above, it makes no sense in the fiction.

      Delete
    2. @Doc: No, obviously I haven't. All the stuff I mentioned? How the magic works, that comprehend languages is a ritual, and what wish does? I just fucking guess all that. How do I know I "guessed" it all correctly?

      I dunno!

      It's not the simplest system out there. If you think so, go play more games.

      To clarify, NOTHING about this has anything to do with complexity, but EVERYTHING to do with the fact that it makes NO sense from a fiction/flavor/narrative perspective.

      Try this exercise:

      You are a wizard. Explain how all of your magic works WITHOUT using game mechanics to someone interested in learning/understanding magic.

      Delete
    3. I don't play D&D for I find that not only does the magic narrative fail, but the whole systems narrative fails, its not built on narrative, its build on table-top miniature rules, and game play logic, for fairness.. which in a real life situation isn't fair.. some classes/races/traits would be extremely OP if it were all based on narrative..

      Imagine a setting where no mage had invented a spell above 4th level? or another where there were no animals larger than a squirrel for a druid to copy, or the bronze age, where all warriors, armour & weapons pale in comparison to other classes, none of which are fair, but D&D tries to 'balance' these things to make a fair and equal board game for the players..

      That said..

      I am a wizard of the D&D world, and I shall explain to you the nature of magic.. you see we have these things, call them midichglorians if you will, and as a mage we are taught to create inner organs which breath in magic and store magic and exhale magic.. as a first year apprentice we are taught to inhale the simplest cantrips, through much study and effort we learn to take in many of these cantrips.. after a few years, many mages can exhale these cantrips without thinking.. and they come back naturally, because, well just like breathing...

      but imagine also that we have a kind of mouth, that stores saliva.. magical mouth with magical saliva.. I don;t normally keep that mouth full of saliva, but if I want to I can summon it slowly and build it up ready to spit it.. and some spells, are like that saliva..

      But other spells are like farts, you can hold one in, and loose it at an appropriate time, but you can't gather a new one quickly.. you need to rest.

      Each of these kinds of spells have different magical 'places' around our essence, and are stored differently.. its a complex process, so we don't normally explain it to muggles.. but there you go..

      Delete
    4. @Bannister: You can build a game on narrative and still have it be balanced. Like, if every spell was at-will in D&D, you obviously wouldn't have them do the same thing. You'd scale them down.

      You could make every spell an encounter spell, adjusting what they do and reducing the amount you can have at any given time.

      You could have them burn hit points to cast them, or to boost what they do, require a skill check, or have a skill check determine what the spell does.

      Though it still makes no sense, your explanation at least comes across as one of the more...honest ones people have pitched at me. :-P

      Delete
  12. I started playing D&D back in '77, and found wizards frustrating from the get-go. Two HP, a dagger, and a Sleep spell? (Because you were crazy to take anything other than Sleep at 1st level.) We managed to make them playable using our own house-rules, many of which were really rules misinterpretations. (We did not understand how to read a 4-sided die.)

    I don't recall being especially bothered by spell slots or what they represented within the fiction. However, I was greatly perturbed by the "memorization" mechanic. I was like, "Really? I forgot how to cast Fireball? And if I want to cast two Fireballs, I have to remember it twice?!"

    I also hated the idea that I had to plan in advance the spells I'd want in a given day, even though many of them were maddeningly situation-specific. (You don't often need Stone to Flesh, but when you do, you really, really do.) In 3rd Edition I played a sorcerer solely because I wanted to be a wizard but hated those mechanics.

    For me, 4th Edition was great. One always had a useful at-will. The situational spells became rituals. I didn't worry about why some spells were per-encounter and others were daily, because I'm willing to trade some verisimilitude for playability. It might not make logical sense, but it serves the narrative. It's the same reason Godzilla doesn't spam his atomic breath, and only uses his devastating "spiral ray" as a finishing move.

    Haven't played 5th Edition yet, but from what I've read, I do appreciate that it at least tries to address some of my concerns, even if it disappointingly goes back to spell slots.

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    1. @David Thiel: The memorize/forget model makes sense if you stick to Vancian magic. D&D uses a pseudo-Vancian model, which is why you look at it and go, "What the fuck?"

      While I think 4th Edition made spells more usable (which is why I'm surprised 5th Edition retained even a decent portion of it), but they COULD have come up with a spellcasting model that would have retained play ability but still made sense.

      5th Edition goes back to a lot of disappointing things: restrictive classes, having some spells require a saving throw, monsters that either don't do anything interesting/require you to reference enough book for their bizarre pseudo-Vancian spells, mandatory magical healing, etc.

      Delete
  13. Do you have any suggestion for 4E magic?

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    1. @Anon: Depends on how you wanna go about it.

      If you want Vancian magic, turn all wizard spells into encounter spells, make every spell usable at 1st-level (but have their effects scale by level), and allow wizards to only ready one to, I dunno, maybe seven at a time (one at 1st-level, plus one every 5 levels). Any spell can be cast as a ritual (ie, directly out of the book).

      To help compensate for a lack of at-will spells, make wizards more effective in combat (wear light armor, more hp, more healing surges).

      If you wanted spell points, then make every spell at-will and allow you to spend spell points to boost them up. Spell points recover after a short rest. When you run out of spell points, allow the wizard to lose hit points or healing surges (representing exhaustion).

      Delete
  14. When you memorize a spell, you are locking that spell's arcane energies into your mind. When you cast the spell, you are unlocking and releasing that spell's arcane energies. As you become a more experienced wizard, you learn how to lock more (in both quantity and power) spell's energies into your mind.

    Thus, spell slots. Thus, getting more spell slots per level. At least, this is how I've always considered D&D magic to work. It's not about the wizard's power, it's about the wizard knowing how to capture, store, and release the spell's power.

    Clerical magic, yeah... I agree with you. That really should not follow the same mechanics.

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    1. @Tim: I get the concept that WotC claims to be going for, but the mechanics don't support it at all:

      How come no matter how many cantrips I cast in a day (or in rapid sequence), I suffer no loss or penalty?

      How come I can only cast certain spells as cantrips, and others as rituals?

      How come I can't use lower level spell slots to cast a higher level spell? For example, why can't I use four 1st-level slots to cast a 2nd-level spell, or four 1st- AND 2nd-level slots to cast a single 3rd-level spell?

      How come when I use a 9th-level spell slot to cast a 1st-level spell, nothing is retained? Like, if I use a 9th-level slot to cast shield, it is completely used up: there isn't even a 1st-level slot's worth of magic juice left over.

      Delete
    2. So, there's never been an official WotC (or even TSR before that, that I'm aware of) answer to those questions. I can only answer them from my interpretation of how the mechanics model the system. That said...

      Cantrips are a type of spell, not a method to cast a spell. You can't cast Magic Missle as a cantrip because, well, it's not one. I don't know why you can't cast ANY spell as a ritual in 5E; I agree, that seems pretty odd...

      ...although I don't know why you'd want to cast a spell like Magic Missile as a ritual. I can't picture anyone who you'd attack with Magic Missile waiting around while you place candles and draw chalk figures on the ground, heh.

      You can cast cantrips over and over because they're the trivial spells that, during your apprenticeship, taught you how to cast spells in the first place. They are, by their very nature, minimal in requirements. (In my games they're so minimal by their very nature, and they've been so practiced by the character, that as soon as you cast one you almost instinctively "re-memorize" it.)

      You can't use lower level slots to cast higher level spells because the higher level spells require more "energy" than a lower level slot contains. I must say, though, I do like the idea of combining lower level slots to cast a higher level spell. That's a good idea. (I've got Fireball as a known spell, which is 3rd level, and I've got 3 1st level slots. I'm going to use all those to cast Fireball!) Similarly, there's nothing left over if you use a 9th level slot for a 1st level spell because all that "energy" came blasting out of you. Much like the old "bucket of water on the top of a door" practical joke, once the bucket is tipped over all the water spills out.

      It seems to me that you've got some good ideas for making the D&D magic system work for you in your game. They'd be easy to do, you should do them and post about how they works.

      The changes you're talking about are easy to make

      Delete
    3. I actually wrote a response-ish piece on my own blog:
      http://gibbering-mouther.blogspot.com/2015/01/on-d-magic.html

      Delete
    4. @Tim

      I saw your post, and made my own because I've very liable to forget about any comments I make (especially when, unlike G+ and Facebook, I don't get any alerts).

      "Cantrips are a type of spell, not a method to cast a spell. You can't cast Magic Missle as a cantrip because, well, it's not one. I don't know why you can't cast ANY spell as a ritual in 5E; I agree, that seems pretty odd..."

      I could see wizards wanting to ritual certain spells if they have the time. Like, if they come across a wooden door and want to blow it off its hinges with a fireball, get the drop on something, or encounter a creature or obstacle that cannot move (or cannot move beyond a certain area).

      "You can cast cantrips over and over because they're the trivial spells that, during your apprenticeship, taught you how to cast spells in the first place. They are, by their very nature, minimal in requirements. (In my games they're so minimal by their very nature, and they've been so practiced by the character, that as soon as you cast one you almost instinctively "re-memorize" it.)"

      You don't memorize spells in 5th Edition. That stopped in 3rd Edition, when wizards "prepared" spells.

      "It seems to me that you've got some good ideas for making the D&D magic system work for you in your game. They'd be easy to do, you should do them and post about how they works."

      I suppose I could make a bunch of houserules, but I don't really care about D&D anymore. It's had decades to figure itself out, and here we are back at 3rd Edition. Rather than just bolt on yet more houserules, I'm just going to go all out and make my own d20, fantasy game that does everything I want out of D&D (which includes mechanics that mesh with a fiction that make sense).

      Delete
  15. This is why I don't play casters.

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  16. @Ben: I'm more of a Sons of Ether man, though I prefer Forces.

    @Anon: This is why I'm making my own D&D clone.

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  17. I found this because I'm about to be playing a Sorcerer in a D&D campaign. While I would rather not be playing D&D, its what my gaming group wants to do for now. I completely agree that the magic system makes no sense game wise, and is only set up for mechanic and balance purposes.

    I drastically prefer GURPS. The magic in that system makes sense for mechanics and lore. Spells are treated as individual skills that take time and study to learn, and can be improved through more study or use (spending awarded character points). Using spells tires you out (you spend fatigue), but the better you know a spell, the cheaper it is and the faster you cast it. Your mage or wizard can also be your healer, there is no monopoly on healing magic by clerics. The magic in that system is also very utilitarian, there are many spells that have no use in combat except to the most creative of players.

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  18. @Anon: I agree about the mechanic/balance purposes, but it's a really inelegant way of going about it. The only conclusion I can draw is nostalgia/tradition/pandering.

    In your experience, how difficult is the GURPS magic system to learn and/or use?

    I'd considered a system where you can spend talents to bump up spells (or generic magic effects, like a magic attack), along with spending hit points and taking one or more rounds to cast a spell, but I don't want anything too cumbersome/difficult to manage.

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    1. From my experience, GURPS magic is dead simple. Skills are learned as a bonus to an attribute, and there are only four attributes. Almost all magic is based on Intelligence. If you learn a really basic skill and you learn it to competency, you can learn spells that are related but more advanced...so it's a skill tree.
      If you want to cast a certain spell, you have to learn all the spells that come before it in the tree.

      Delete
    2. @Jmz: When you say skill, does that mean you have to roll for it to work each time?

      We're doing something with talent trees: if you want to learn Fireball, you gotta learn Burning Hands and Scorching Ray, first, and if you want to learn Phantasmal Killer you gotta trek down the Illusionist tree for a bit.

      Delete
  19. You cool with me linking to this? I don't feel like writing out everything I think about D&D magic when someone else already said it all.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Idea for a magic system that could maybe work with dnd spell lists etc.
    So you pick a spell casting class, and you have the features of that class (like a sorcerer with the wild magic thing would have charisma and constitution dependence and the wild magic table still exists, but you adjust any reference to the spell slots to fit with the following system) except caster levels and spells per day etc are changed. Caster level becomes what it would be under the old rules, if your character level were equal to your ability score (not bonus, score) in your class' primary ability (int for wizards, cha for sorcerers, etc.). As to how many spells you can cast, it is equal to your constitution score plus your class level in your spellcasting class. Well, not quite equal, that is the number of levels of spells you can cast. So if you are a first level wizard, with a constitution of 13, you could cast spells from your list whose levels add up to 14. To control this, casting above your caster level from your ability score costs half again the number of levels rounded up, but still. So our hypothetical wizard has an intelligence of 16 or so, so he can pull from the 8th level of his class spell list, so he could cast one of those and one sixth level spell, and then he would be done, for the day. If he tries to cast more spells, then he rolls a d20 and if he rolls (0+(level of spell attempted x number of spells cast since limit reached [inclusive])) or lower, then the wizard must make death saving throw at a disadvantage equal to attempted number of spells over the limit and if that roll is failed, then he dies. The spell is still cast, but the wizard dies. this makes the most sense for arcane casters, to me, but it also works for divine casters. Especially with some modification. Like making a 1/100 chance that any spell they cast will fail due to their god not paying attention. Or something. I just think that this system would be an improvement on the current one for arcane casters. Got the idea from the malazan book of the fallen, and it could be made a system like that by pairing with the outer planes as power sources etc, but even just this system can be grafted into a game in theory.

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  21. The short answer as to why all this stuff works as it does:

    It's a game. Don't think too hard. Deal with it.

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    1. @Endarire: Didn't have to think hard at all to realize all of these issues, and I am dealing with it by making my own games.

      Saying "it's a game" MIGHT be all well and good if no other games out there had magic systems that held up to scrutiny, but oddly after all the editions D&D is still one of the odd games out with utterly nonsense magic.

      Delete
  22. It's a game. It works. Don't think too hard. Deal with it.

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    1. @Endarire: I'll repeat:

      Didn't have to think hard at all to realize all of these issues, and I am dealing with it by making my own games.

      Saying "it's a game" MIGHT be all well and good if no other games out there had magic systems that held up to scrutiny, but oddly after all the editions D&D is still one of the odd games out with utterly nonsense magic.

      To save you and--more important--me some time, I will refrain from publishing any repetitive comments you make. Either address what I said, or move on.

      Delete
  23. OOOH! I like nerd fights. Hello Mr. Guyll. It looks like you met some other 5th edition fans. Don't worry - I am not here to argue anything. I actually agree with you. I bet you feel honored! I have to admit I have trouble with the 5th edition magic system myself. For me, it's hard to manage as a DM because of casting time - most casting times are immediate or instantaneous. The unlimited cantrips drive my bat crap crazy. My group are all around 7th level and their asking, "why haven't we found any magical weapons/items/shit" - It's because you are all heroic gods on your own.

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    1. @Anon: Funny thing is I know and have gamed with people that play 5E. I don't take much issue with at-will cantrips, though it would be interesting to have more spells require more than one action to cast.

      You could get back some of that older edition feel, where wizards had to declare their spells and could possibly get interrupted.

      For FrankenFourth, I've been thinking on a way to have some spells require more than one turn to cast, forcing a wizard to choose whether to zap someone for just a bit of damage, or build up for a much bigger attack.

      Delete
  24. Hey there, stumbled upon this, read the comments, and thought I'd toss my two cents in if you didn't mind. For full disclose I've been taking for a bit over two decades, running organized events like convention games or game store events as well as long campaigns St home. I own over 50 different RPG systems, regarding D&D I started with the 90's Rules Cyclopedia and have played since.

    As far as why the authors wrote the game as they did, it's simply because that's how they did it. A combination of established tradition, customer expectations, and feedback during the D&D Next Beta Playtesting tweaked the classic model as opposed to throwing the baby out with the bath water. This is a double edged sword statement: If you don't like it, don't play it. There are numerous other takes on magic (I'll mention some of my favorites) that you could play instead, and just because you don't like it doesn't mean the authors must bend to your will. From the tone of the article I'm assuming that's not an issue.

    Since clarifications on points you've made. Casting spells at higher levels, or 'metamagic' as we might call it, it's not only a thing in 5E it's baked into most spells. Instead of having Cure Light Wounds and the numerous variants instead there's just 'Cure Wounds' which adds extra dice for casting the spell at a higher slot. Most damage spells work the same way, and a lot of utility spells offer different effects for casting at higher level. Regarding 4E's Encounter spells, spellcasting classes have tricks found in their class features which allow them to regain spell slots after a short rest.

    So what does this mean in practice, as a spell casting character? 5E is a lot more flexible in options without resorting to numerous sourcebooks. A Wizard walks around with a good arsenal of spells and with his memorization works be doesn't have to 'save the Fireball castings for the end of session boss' and with adjustable spell strength your low level spells aren't useless against high level encounters. Spell slots ultimately are for the sake of not allowing spellcasting to be unstoppable but don't feel like you're restrained, past 5th level Wizards and such become silly with the amount of encounter control and/or obstacles and sidestepping they can do. They're still very powerful but in a different sense.

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  25. As far as fluff it's still very much a Vance novel. Dude consults his books (Spells known), fills his brain with the spells of his choice (memorization) and because magic is so unfathomable and complex his mortal mind can only hold so many spells (spell slots). I consider it more being able to recite the words and gestures to cast the spell, not expelling the energy itself as that energy comes from the Planes and you're simply manipulating and exploiting it. Cantrips are child's play to a wizard, casting Light with 's mere snap of the fingers and a single syllable, while casting Raise Dead requires meticulously moving your hands to weave necrotic energy while hissing cryptic and profane hymns. The only real niggle is that while you memorize so many spells, you can cast only one you memorized as much as you want (slots permitting) if you desire for game flexibility.

    That all said what about alternatives as there are many good ones out there. 5E does offer an alternative point syst though I haven't needed to use it.
    WarHammer Fantasy Roleplay drops 'slots' in exchange for risk, you decide how many D6's you roll (up to your Magic Rating) when casting. Weak spells need only a 3+, normal spells around a 7+, more powerful spells as high as 24+.theres a catch, however, rolling doubles will anger the vindictive God of Magic and he'll punish you. Rolling triples, quadruples even, can mean not only death for the wizard or the party, but possibly the world!

    Dungeon Crawl Classics, one of favorite games at the moment, makes spells incredibly rare, potent, and dangerous. LEARNING a spell is a task on its own, usually resulting in murdering another wizard to steal his book, which isn't a guaranteed bet you'll be able to comprehend and learn the spells within! Once you learn you can cast the spell as much as you want until you bungle it up (you forgot a line or a rune) and lose the spell until you study it again. The strength and effect of the spell depends on the d20 roll you make and the sacrifice you give to ensure it works, with results of 30+ having world shaking results. On the flipside take could mean corruption, angering your magical Patron, or worse.

    Those are just two examples and they work for their setting, but I've been really successful running 5E as is. Players have fun, I never see anyone discouraged by spellcasting (in fact most of my players multi class at some point, dipping into Warlock of what not), and it seems to have attracted people from all prior editions which gets a big thumbs up in my book. Check out DCC or WFRP though, maybe it'll suit you better.

    Happy gaming!

    -Max

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    1. @Max:

      “Since clarifications on points you've made. Casting spells at higher levels, or 'metamagic' as we might call it, it's not only a thing in 5E it's baked into most spells…”

      I am aware of some spells allowing you to burn a higher level slot to cast them, in order to get more out of them. That’s not my problem.

      My problem is that only SOME spells operate in this manner (and that others can be cast all day without issue, or whenever you want so long as you have the time).

      This is before you get into higher levels, where wizards can juggle around which spells become encounter spells, and maybe others become at-wills?

      “...Spell slots ultimately are for the sake of not allowing spellcasting to be unstoppable but don't feel like you're restrained, past 5th level Wizards and such become silly with the amount of encounter control and/or obstacles and sidestepping they can do.”

      I’d argue that there are simpler, more elegant, and more fictionally consistent mechanics for this. I’d also argue that mechanics could be created to convey unpredictable and dangerous magic, if you want to go that route.

      “As far as fluff it's still very much a Vance novel…”

      No, 5E wizards “ready” specific spells, and then cast them in whatever combination they want so long as they have a spell slot of a sufficient level available.

      In The Dying Earth, wizards had to specifically choose which spells they memorized, which was how it worked in 3E and prior (though those editions still had the nonsense slots-by-level).

      “That all said what about alternatives as there are many good ones out there…”

      I’m fully aware that there are other games with other systems that actually make sense (or maybe make more sense), but that doesn’t absolve 5E from all of its flaws.

      Though, that brings up an interesting point: magic in DCC is unpredictable and dangerous, with mechanics to back it up, while magic in 5E is perfectly predictable and safe, despite it stating that magic is wild and enigmatic.

      “Check out DCC or WFRP though, maybe it'll suit you better.”

      Nah, just gonna make my own games that do everything I want. Been playtesting them a couple times a week and they’ve been working amazingly well.

      Delete
  26. Here is my beef with the whole spell slot/memorization mechanics. Why doesn't this apply to melee fighters? If magic has to be memorized so should fighting. Used your battle axe for 1 turn? Darn, you just now forgot how to use it and will have to wait and rest to remember how to use it. But in the mean time you can use your daggers all day because for no apparent reason you can remember how to use it all the time but not your axe. Sounds asinine right. Well it is for magic too. I would rather see some sort of over time spell point/slot regeneration with out any loss of memorization of the spell. If WOW had the same stupid spell caster mechanics as D&D no one would ever play them. The spell caster mechanics in D&D are too gimped IMO.

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    1. Have you actually read the chapter on magic explaining memorization. Or even the sections on magic for that matter.

      Delete
  27. @chris: I don't think that everything needs to use the same mechanics. The problems with pseudo-Vancian magic isn't that it's different from other actions (like stabbing with a sword) or runs out, but that it makes absolutely no sense under scrutiny.

    A system where spells take a while to cast, so wizards cast and retain them for later use (memorization by another name), would make sense if it actually stuck with flavor of The Dying Earth, doing away with the nonsense, needless, slots-by-level.

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  28. I run a campaign based on ancient mythology (Greeks, Egyptians, Sumerians) which uses a Spell Point system, with combat based on the 3rd Edition rules. Clerics are either priests or druids (shamans), magicians are either sorcerers (using black magic, especially involving demons or undead) or wizards (using ancient science, such as alchemy, artifice, and astrology). All of them earn spells according to their experience level, but are free to learn and use whatever spells they discover along the way - as long as they have the Spell Points available. Priests must keep the alignment of their deity, and wizards must have the required material components to do whatever they are trying to do. Everyone must have 8 hours rest in order to use magic that day. Other than that, I pretty much let spellcasters use whatever magic they know with the Spell Points they have available. Use of scrolls, tablets, and magic items requires a skill roll but no expense of Spell Points or material components (which have already been used to create the item). Players do not need to keep a list of what spells they've "memorized" today - just a list of what spells they've learned through study and what spells they can cast using items. It keeps things pretty simple IMHO.

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    1. How do you determine the number of spell points they get and what are the values you place on the spells to spend points?

      Delete
  29. Everything you hate about D&D magic is what I love.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. @Unknown: And? Doesn't make them suddenly make sense: just means you're content with lazy nonsense mechanics. I suppose, if nothing else, makes it easier on game "designers".

      Delete
    2. pre 3.x magic makes perfect sense to me. What are you not understanding?

      Delete
    3. @Unknown: Leveled spell slots, and it's not that I don't understand them, but that they don't make sense.

      Delete
    4. I think you are saying I don't like it, rather than it does not make sense. Understand=makes sense. You just don't like the system. I thought you were misunderstanding something. You apparently understand and just don't like it. That is cool. I understand 4E magic, I just don't like it.

      Delete
    5. @Unknown: You can think whatever you want: D&D magic doesn't make sense, therefore I don't like it.

      Also, understanding how something works doesn't mean it makes sense: I understand how the mechanics of D&D magic work, but it doesn't make sense when you analyze it from an "in-game"/narrative/whatever perspective, all of which I said above in the actual article.

      Delete
  30. So everything is bad because nostalgia, huh? Really love your vague, half-assed proposed "solutions".

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    1. @Kefke: Nope. D&D magic is bad because it makes no sense.

      Delete
  31. David, you're right on many points, but in his view. On the other hand, many of the things you do not approve in the game are points that players of D&D enjoyed. The truth can be seen in the 5th edition where we return to the old D&D parameters (in many cases).

    The fundamentals of magic in D&D are very well documented in each edition of the game. There are many books and texts, deepening a rich magical universe. All you questioned there coherent explanations. For a choice of designer, from the player's perspective, magic is more accurate, but the same is not true "ingame". The magic system in the rules of the Core Books are quite simplified, but the same is not true in D&D settings, from the perspective of the characters. Like HP, AC and Saves ... Spell Level and Spell Slot are also abstractions of the rule system. Magic is much more complex in reality of the characters. Much of this complexity and variations in magic is explored in supplements. There is much that the spellcaster can model in their spells.

    Exploring worlds like Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms you can understand more of the magic fundamentals in D&D universe. I advise Ed Greenwood books for this theme, as well as several books on magic these two campaign settings. These two worlds, for example, explain why the spells memorization.

    In addition to these, rule books that can help you are: AD&D PHB 1st Edition, AD&D DMG 1st Edition, AD&D PHB 2nd Edition, Unearthed Arcana 1st and 3rd Edition; Player's Option: Spells & Magic, Tome of Magic 2nd Edition, The Complete Wizard's Handbook, The Complete Priest's Handbook, College of Wizardry, Wizard's Spell Compendium, Priest's Spell Compendium, Complete Wizards Complete Mage.

    I hope I have helped you and apologize for my English!

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    1. @Rodrigoalcanza:

      "David, you're right on many points, but in his view. On the other hand, many of the things you do not approve in the game are points that players of D&D enjoyed. The truth can be seen in the 5th edition where we return to the old D&D parameters (in many cases)."

      5th Edition magic shares very little with "old D&D parameters": of the top of my head you've got at-will spells, ritual spells, you don't prep spells x times (you just prep x spells and use slots to cast them), at higher levels you can turn spells into encounter spells (and even switch which ones are encounter spells), and so on. Of course, just because players seem to like it does not make it good, or even the best/only way they'd like something.

      "The fundamentals of magic in D&D are very well documented in each edition of the game. There are many books and texts, deepening a rich magical universe. All you questioned there coherent explanations."

      Then give me some examples, along with books and page numbers so I can check myself.

      "For a choice of designer, from the player's perspective, magic is more accurate, but the same is not true "ingame". The magic system in the rules of the Core Books are quite simplified, but the same is not true in D&D settings, from the perspective of the characters. Like HP, AC and Saves ... Spell Level and Spell Slot are also abstractions of the rule system."

      No they aren't: a character could say "I can only cast x number of these spells [rattles off all the spells he prepped at the start of the day], I can cast these spells so long as I spend this much money [rattles off ritual spells and their gp costs], I need this amount of time to do that, etc" Or, are you saying that a wizard doesn't know how many times he can cast his spells, how long it takes him to prep more spells/swap out his encounters, and so on?

      "Magic is much more complex in reality of the characters."

      No it's not: every spellcaster knows precisely how much magic they have, what it will do, and even in the case of the wild magic sorcerer knows exactly what to do/not to do to avoid having to roll ont he wild magic table. Magic in D&D is, as I said above, VERY predictable and explicit.

      "Exploring worlds like Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms you can understand more of the magic fundamentals in D&D universe. I advise Ed Greenwood books for this theme, as well as several books on magic these two campaign settings. These two worlds, for example, explain why the spells memorization."

      I'm not going to read through a bunch of Dragonlance/Forgotten Realms novels, because they're usually terrible and I'm very busy, for what will in all likelihood be an explanation that either A) still does not make sense, or B) makes sense but is not accurately modeled by D&D rules.

      "In addition to these, rule books that can help you are: AD&D PHB 1st Edition, AD&D DMG 1st Edition, AD&D PHB 2nd Edition, Unearthed Arcana 1st and 3rd Edition; Player's Option: Spells & Magic, Tome of Magic 2nd Edition, The Complete Wizard's Handbook, The Complete Priest's Handbook, College of Wizardry, Wizard's Spell Compendium, Priest's Spell Compendium, Complete Wizards Complete Mage."

      I've read 3rd Edition's Unearthed Arcana, Complete Mage, and Complete Arcane. I specifically recall an explanation in Complete Arcane or Mage that talked about the importance of a good night's sleep, but it did not explain spell slots/levels. Of course, this was prior to 4th and 5th Edition, the latter of which has further muddied the waters as I explain in the post above.

      Delete
  32. For more "dark & dangerous" magic you might check out the magic in Low Fantasy Gaming rpg (d20 variant with a low magic base) - free PDF or print on demand: https://lowfantasygaming.com/

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  33. I've felt like you do David, that magic in dnd was forced to follow game rules over narrative logic. My best experience with framing magic with logical rules was with a DM that broke up magic into 3 categories: 1-3rd level spells, 4th-6th, and 7th-9th. As your wizard leveled up your low level spells would become spell- like abilities and eventually supernatural abilities (he told me he based it on the shadowcaster class). As your mage got more powerful, he would only have to memorize (need components & spellbook) to cast high lvl spells and magic missle has been memorized so much that you only need to sleep to remember it. It simplified how to play a wizard (I was just starting to play D&D then), plus allowed for a natural evolution of your character's understanding of magic. Not a perfect system but I did enjoy it at the time.

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    1. @Josh: Depending on the edition, I could see doing something like that, and maybe beefing up lower level spells to make them more useful.

      Could also see giving a wizard some sort of point/slot system, so they could choose to have a number of lower level spells become spell-like/supernatural abilities, or fewer high-level ones.

      Delete
  34. Point-by-point for efficacy:
    1. System is a catalyst for gaming/storytelling. Means to an end, not end in itself. Magic system is built exclusively for balance purposes. A point which you mention but never really acknowledge. It is similarly pointless to argue that Infinity engine did not calculate THACO in BG the same way as p&p version.
    2. It would be hard to give "ingame" explanation for magic system due to huge amount of d&d source books and fiction books. Every author had his vision how exactly magic works. It works differently in FR, DL, Planescape, Al Qadim and even in same-world fiction it works differently because it was written by different authors and storywise they needed it to work the way it did. One of high points of 5e is to not rain on any of the campaign settings from previous editions... a prudent decision both from marketing and fan perspective. Check any other magic system, if it was written by a multitude of authors during a long period of time.. it is going to have consistency problems (Star Wars, WoD - any setting, GURPS - differences for edition to edition and setting to setting although SJG has the best proofreaders ever, kudos to them!, 7th Sea, etc.)
    3. You don't have problems with other internal consistency rules? Action surge n/day? Why only n per day? Are you exhausted? If so, why can fighter run and fight effectively as before surging. Barbarian's Rage, Druid's Shapeshift, Bard's Inspiration. The list goes on through every sing class and every single archetype. There are many more internal consistency problems. For instance, female humans do not have penalty to STR score. This is never explained in any game system or setting (and rightly so). Everybody knows why there is no numeric STR difference in human males and females and no one needs and in game explanation even though it can fit in one (in game) + one (additional explanation) sentence: "Gods of Kvern(Reg.) have deemed fit that human females be as strong as their male counterparts. Female actin and myosin fibers work more efficiently giving them same power input with less muscle cross-section area. Sounds stupid... I (mostly) agree bit it is a viable explanation.
    4. You sir are rude. Calling designers lazy while you yourself can't be bothered to read a few paragraphs of a few books. In two hours time you can torrent few of those books in ebook format, use Ctr+f option to search a few well defined keywords and read no more then 10-15 pocket book pages all in all. (Btw, this is completely legal under fair use laws since you use book excerpts for educational purposes... so torrent away!). No need to inform us that "you don't have time to read bad written fiction".

    If you really wanted an (idea of) in game explanation you should have formulated you blog post as a question and not as an criticism based entirely on your preference. The former makes you look wise (intelligent?) and the later only makes you look petulant.

    Take care!

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    1. @Anon:

      1. Are you saying that a magic system cannot both be "balanced" and make sense in-game?

      Because there are magic systems that use spell points and drain and so on. The Dying Earth has you cast spells, load them into your head, and release them later (the magic system D&D allegedly uses). You can also cast them right out of the book, and there are no leveled slots or per-day limitations.

      They make more sense but are still “balanced” (whatever that means: I guess you could say in those games wizards don’t end up being ultimate god characters that can do everything, including ignoring the whole hp thing and kill/banish/remove things with a single action).

      In our D&Dish game we used a random drain mechanic for wizards and sorcerers. Makes sense, and none of the wizard/sorcerer players have complained that they're too good or bad. We also use other magic systems for other characters, because it never made sense for wizards, clerics, paladins, bards, etc to all use the exact same magic system.

      2. I disagree. All Gary had to do was make a magic system that made sense (such as using actual Vancian magic) and explain this to the authors. If people wanted to change it for other settings, they could tweak it and work on an explanation that also makes sense. And if it didn't make sense? Oh well, too bad, try again.

      Delete
    2. 3. Sure. Check out this one for issues I have with bards:
      https://daegames.blogspot.com/2014/07/5th-edition-uninspired-bard.html

      There are other problems with the game, but before I could get around to them/rather than just blog about them I made my own game that addresses them, and does all the stuff I wish D&D would have done a long time ago.

      In I think 1st Edition D&D women did get a penalty to Strength (which made sense because women on average are weaker than men), but I'm guessing Gary or whoever removed that because it's frankly not that big of a deal.

      But, sure, you can explain it that way if you want, but why don't you explain D&D magic in a way that makes sense, since that's the point of the article?

      4. I have no idea what you're referring to here. Yeah, I say that the designers come across as lazy, but what books and terms are you talking about?

      Since I say that in the section on spell slots, all I can say is that I've read the D&D books and I've read Dying Earth: D&D uses at best a pseudo-Vancian magic system that doesn't make any sense at all, while Dying Earth's magic system does make sense.

      For our D&Dish thing I actually made a Vancomancer class for people that prefer that sort of magic. It was very easy (you can store x spells per level, takes 10 mins to prep them, effects are based on level), and there's no reason why WotC couldn't have done that except for, well, "tradition/nostalgia".

      This blog post isn’t about my preference, it’s about D&D magic not making any sense, because if it DID make sense then I frankly wouldn’t have a problem with it. So, again, why don’t you explain D&D magic in a way that makes sense?

      Delete

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