D&D General It's all Jack Vance's fault

Stormonu

Legend
Runequest offered a brilliantly flexible, interesting, tactically nuanced magic system which didn't overshadow martial characters or relegate the usefulness of skills in 1977.

I'm astonished at the claims being levelled at magic point systems in 2022, and the willingness to make them without evidence of any kind, but while demanding evidence to the contrary. Standard hypocrisy.
Heck, Rolemaster did a spell point system too, as did D&D's 2E player's option books. Point-based systems been around for a while, they're just generally not accepted as "D&D" for some reason.

And it isn't just the magic system - a psionic system that uses a point-based system just seems to go against the 5E designer's design specs for some reason. It's all rather bizarre, like the designers have a phobia of keeping track of anything past 4 of something.
 

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Thomas Shey

Legend
Vancian magic has--not with Mr. Vance's fault, but with others'--become the reductive "this is what magic should be." Not just spells--magic, practically EVERYTHING supernatural, is forced into this one, single, narrow, limiting space.

It's quite frustrating to me, and a big part of why I prefer classes to avoid using spell slots and instead go for other types of stuff. I'm a big fan of "rune word" magic, for example, where you can assemble spells via the right runes in the right sequence. Spell slots are a horrible application of that system, yet it SHOULD be something quite doable in D&D.

Well, to people attached to the D&D sphere. You'll occasionally see fire-and-forget spells as an option outside of it, but that's about it. Its not how GURPS magic, RQ magic or Savage Worlds magic works, just as three well known non-D&D examples. This is largely because once you get away from fiction where magic is very much occult (in the original meaning of the term) and functionally unplayable from a PC POV (and rarely is being used by a protagonist), fictional magic only tends to look like that when the setting is D&D derived in the first place (and not always even than as magic in the Dragaera books shows).
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
Jack Vance's magic is basically Q from James Bond. Near the start of the story the protagonist goes to Q/The Library and picks up a couple of spells/gadgets that will do useful and unusual things during the story then mostly blow up or get wrecked/erase themselves from memory. Flexible plot coupons that don't seem like ass-pulls because they were set up at the start.

Of course the greatest Vancian archmages could memorise at most six spells at once. In 1e that's a fifth level wizard - and by 3.0 it was a third level specialist wizard with Int 14. I don't think Vance is to blame for that.

I used to, during my most D&D-hostile period, refer to D&D magic as "having all the charm of a man with a bag full of varied hand grenades".
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I liked Earthdawn's system. You have a limited amount of available "spell matrices" that you could insert a spell into. Doing so took time, and changing out spells on the fly required a difficulty Spellcasting test. Spells required a Spellcasting test to succeed. While a spell was then at-will, powerful spells required you to attach "threads" to them to grant them power. So a powerful attack spell like Earth Darts would take two turns to fire off; one for the Thread Weaving test, and then the Spellcasting test on the following turn.

Further, Spellcasting tests were based on one attribute (Perception, as I recall, since Earthdawn didn't have Intelligence), but their effect was based on your Willpower.

As you gained more experience ("Legend Points") and advanced in levels (called "Circles"), you could gain abilities to add more spell matrices, put multiple spells in a matrix, pre-weave threads to a matrix, and increase the effect of your Willpower rolls for spellcasting effect.

Further, thread weaving was required to attune to magic items.

You started with a set number of spells known, and to learn new spells, you had to find a Grimoire.

All in all, it dispenses with "fire and forget" casting, while still remaining balanced, and not giving players access to all spells at once.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
So what are the options?
  • A complicated system to see if you can even cast a spell? So if you can crank up your odds of success (people will usually find loopholes) you can cast any spell you want? In addition, it's going to add extra time and overhead to play while simultaneously making it frustrating to play a caster.

I'm not a fan of purely cast success spell systems, but its not like these can't be solved (among other things, if you have loopholes its because you put them in, maybe for what seemed like good reasons at the time, but its still a self-inflicted wound on the designer's part)

  • Spell points or mana? That sounds great and it works well enough in video games. The problem is that it can be a lot of extra tracking and overhead. It also leads to weird situations where people can spam relatively powerful spells because they have enough mana to cast higher level spells.

I've been in enough games with them that the tracking is hardly awful (its certainly not any worse than keeping track of two dozen separate spells), and that's still solveable; the easy way is to make higher level spells cost progressively more; if third level spells cost 6 points and first level spells cost 1, you'll still see some first level spell usage (and you can set the numbers so that you're just not going to get that many third level spells out of it; if you have 18 spell points do you really want to have just those three fireballs and nothing else?) And that's assuming, of course, that you have to have the steep progression of D&D spell levels in the first place.
 

RealAlHazred

Frumious Flumph
This sounds like it might be one of the versions "Caltech D&D" which I was referring to earlier, aka Warlock. I haven't been able to find a complete rules-set for it - ironically the link someone set up in 2012 to preserve the 2000 version of it is now dead.
I'd dearly like to find it myself. I used to think it was an expansion (or Part 2) of the Perrin Conventions, but I've never found the full document. You find various people claiming to reproduce it online, but the early articles mention that it's 6 pages, and most copies I've seen are one or two pages.
 

Laurefindel

Legend
Hi, my name is Laurefindel and I like neo-vancian magic.

I may have my doubts on certain individual spells, or whether this spell requires concentration or not, but 5e framework of neo-vancian casting is simple, relatively precise, and works well in a quick succession of rounds on which D&D’s combat system is built.

There are good magic systems out there, but 5e neo-vancian is one of the best and fits D&D’s gameplay perfectly, to the point where it almost defines it. I heard people call it an artifact of previous editions, an abomination of true Vancian magic, a lazy system, one that lacks imagination or inventiveness; it’s none of that. Some people may not like it or appreciate its own flavour, but it’s a robust system. It better be, because if any role playing game is going to put a magic’s system robustness to the test; it’s D&D.
 

Hi, my name is Laurefindel and I like neo-vancian magic.

I may have my doubts on certain individual spells, or whether this spell requires concentration or not, but 5e framework of neo-vancian casting is simple, relatively precise, and works well in a quick succession of rounds on which D&D’s combat system is built.

There are good magic systems out there, but 5e neo-vancian is one of the best and fits D&D’s gameplay perfectly, to the point where it almost defines it. I heard people call it an artifact of previous editions, an abomination of true Vancian magic, a lazy system, one that lacks imagination or inventiveness; it’s none of that. Some people may not like it or appreciate its own flavour, but it’s a robust system. It better be, because if any role playing game is going to put a magic’s system robustness to the test; it’s D&D.
I mean, it absolutely is a lazy system and lacks of inventiveness or imagination, but none can deny that it is relatively robust.
 

niklinna

Legend
Heck, Rolemaster did a spell point system too, as did D&D's 2E player's option books. Point-based systems been around for a while, they're just generally not accepted as "D&D" for some reason.

And it isn't just the magic system - a psionic system that uses a point-based system just seems to go against the 5E designer's design specs for some reason. It's all rather bizarre, like the designers have a phobia of keeping track of anything past 4 of something.
Well, you need a degree to count past 4, don't you know. 😉
 


RealAlHazred

Frumious Flumph
I disagree with the first part but at this point it’d be a « it is not! / it is too! » kind of fight, leaving only one reasonable way to settle this argument: pie-eating contest!
Or pie-throwing*!

*Disclaimer: Management disavows any responsibility for injury, loss, or death stemming from pie-throwing. This is not meant as an endorsement, encouragement of, or interest in, pie-throwing.
 


fuindordm

Explorer
It really feels like the magic in Rhialto is a totally different thing than in Dying Earth, Overworld, and Cugel. Enough that I wonder when he decided magic involved sandestins, daihaks, and the like.

In any case Rhialto didn't come out until 1984 and so was too late to be an influence on early D&D.

As an aside, I also really recommend the "Songs of the Dying Earth" tribute anthology that has stories that fit the differing feels of each of the original books.

He refined his notions of magic again in the Lyonesse trilogy, where the magicians also use both sandestins and spells.
 


Cadence

Legend
Supporter
He refined his notions of magic again in the Lyonesse trilogy, where the magicians also use both sandestins and spells.
Another reason I need to read those! (They've come very highly recommended by a couple other users on here, and I just got sidetracked by some other projects).
 

Staffan

Legend
Well, to people attached to the D&D sphere. You'll occasionally see fire-and-forget spells as an option outside of it, but that's about it. Its not how GURPS magic, RQ magic or Savage Worlds magic works, just as three well known non-D&D examples.
It is how some Runequest magic works – specifically, divine magic (that's what it was called in 3rd edition, I think it was rune magic in other editions). It's been a while since I played, but as I recall divine magic consists of sacrificing permanent Power to a deity in exchange for a spell (which was usually significantly more powerful than the regular Spirit Magic (or Battle Magic)). For an initiate (most PCs), this was a single-use spell, but an ordained priest (or maybe a Rune Lord) would be able to regain it by spending time praying and working in a proper temple.
 

RealAlHazred

Frumious Flumph
Another reason I need to read those! (They've come very highly recommended by a couple other users on here, and I just got sidetracked by some other projects).
Lyonesse is better than a lot of other fantasy series. I put it up there with The Lord of the Rings and the Earthsea Trilogy.
 

fuindordm

Explorer
Actually, I don't think we actually see any magicians use sandestins, but it's definitely the same magic system, with several of the same spells.
If I remember right the magic mirror is a trapped sandestin, and Shimrod discusses them with Madouc. But Shimrod, Murgen, and the others frequently make use of weird extraplanar entities that like the sandestins of Rhialto are completely literal-minded and confused about the material world.

I remember a scene where one of these psuedo-sandestins (controlled by Shimrod) was chasing another disguised as a moth. The latter briefly joined a swarm of moths around a lamp and then went on its way, while the first stayed behind to watch the swarm. When Shimrod asked for an explanation, the being explained that since it couldn't distinguish the moths from each other, it thought that by staying to watch the swarm it had a higher probability of fulfilling its mission.

It's a great illustration of how even a magician controlling a supremely powerful entity can still be thwarted!
 



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