Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Limitations of Vancian Magic

I'm a LBB guy. When it comes to D&D, that's my thing. I have come to appreciate all the quirks and idiosyncrasies and love the game for them. One of those is Vancian magic. It is very flavorful, yet tactical at the same time. It also imposes some rather strict limitations on how magic works in a particular world.

When I work on my campaign world (which has been off and on since '91), one of the first things I like to do to tie the mechanics to the world is tweak magic. There are two main forms this takes: Ley Lines (or mana pools, or whatever I decide to call flows or fonts of magic power), and Colleges. Not as in Abjuration, Invocation, etc, but as in centers of magical learning. Oftentimes I try to combine the ideas.

The problem with Vancian magic is that there is very little about it that is variable. For the most part things are automatic; spells are always cast successfully, their maximum parameters are based on either caster level or target HD, or are fixed, acquisition of ability occurs at a constant rate. It is very difficult to modify any of that based on training or proximity to a power source.

I don't know. Maybe I'm just bitching, but I'm just not satisfied with the idea of the benefits of studying at Beavis' College of Fire Magic simply adding an additional distance to their range on a Fireball. I could allow the player to choose a parameter each time the spell is used, and improve it by 10%. There is just something about that that leaves me feeling flat. Maybe I'm the one with limitations.

I just like some sort of spell point or fatigue system. Actually, I like magic to be somewhat risky, and the player never knowing for sure how much longer it will obey his commands. With spell points it is too easy to know just how much longer you can keep casting. That's one thing that's cool about magic in Spellcraft & Swordplay. Depending on the casting roll, the M-U can either just keep firing away with the spell, or he may lose the use of it altogether until after he re-studies it.

I know what you're saying. House rule it in. I'm a purist when it comes to my LBB D&D. Wholesale system changes won't work. Besides, once I start down that dark road, I start changing other things, and before you know it ADD takes over. It may creep in anyway. This kind of angst usually opens the door for it. I guess we'll just have to see.

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