Vancian to Zelaznian magic

KentDT

Explorer
I've been kicking around an idea for Wizard magic use since the early days of 3e. It was inspired by the 2nd Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny. I've heard somewhere that he was a guest of Ed Greenwood at least once at Gen Con around the time he was writing the books and I like to think that he was inspired to create his magic use system to better explain and perhaps answer the complaints prevalent at the time about wizards "forgetting" spells etc.

Of course 5e has largely changed the system by using spell slots and offered alternatives like sorcerers but I still like the aspects of what I'll call Zelaznian magic.
The way I'd like to home-brew it for 5e is that a Wizard can cast any spell in their book at any time, but it takes 1-2 minutes per spell level to cast. Essentially, every spell can be cast as a ritual.

In-world, this of course doesn't work in most (combat) situations. So, what wizards do is they cast the spell beforehand (instead of studying and memorizing it), leaving out a few key words and/or gestures. The spell is then "hung" in their memory. When they need to cast it, they do so with those few words/gestures, which comprise the casting times found in the PHB. Whether a spell is cast as a ritual or mostly prepared beforehand and then cast in the heat of battle, it counts against the spell slots available to the wizard.
The wizard is perhaps able to cast more than their allotted spell slots in a day but each time must make a hard check against their spellcasting ability, adding their wizard levels and subtracting the spell level. If they succeed they can cast the spell but gain a level of exhaustion. If they fail they are stunned for 1 round and lose 2 levels of exhaustion and the spell fails. I should note that I also home ruled an expansion to the exhaustion progression-giving it 10 levels instead of 6, so this isn't quite as deadly as it sounds.

Cantrips are the only spells that can be cast without preparation, at the casting times in the PHB, just as the RAW rules.

Other spell casters can cast as in the rules (all of whom seem to have a good, in-world explanation for how they receive or prepare spells). I think I would allow some to cast a little beyond their daily limit of slots using the same hard (maybe heroic for half casters) ability check and exhaustion.

Just curious, what do you guys think? Am I missing anything?
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I'm not quite sure how this works in practice. Can you walk me through this.

Say I'm a 6th level wizard. IF I want to cast spells quickly I need ot pre-cast them. So is this mean at some point actually picking a number of spells and taking time to cast them? Does that mean ahead of time I think of what I could want to do with my slots and pre-cast? If I may want to cast Lightning Bolt once or twice, Haste once or twice, Counterspell but likely once max, and Scortching Ray uplifted to 3rd once (for more precise targeting) or False like upast to 3rd level once that I then spend the time to pre-cast all of them at ritual speeds? (Plus all of how I want to do my lower level spells.) And it still locks me out of doing something like casting Copunterspell twice with my two 3rd level slots?

It seems like the time spent pre-casting is dependant on spells in your spellbook (expanding ever level if not more from found/bought spells) times spell slots and how you might want to use them, with some extra in there for spells that can be upcast. It sounds a high level caster might spend hours a day to pre-cast in all the different variations of what they want.

Also, many spells (divination, healing, etc) being able to be cast an unlimited number of times per day.

If you wanted this as an explanation I'd go the other ways around. Some game systems that are built around Heists put in flashbacks instead of actual hours of planning by players, so something can be established to have been planned areound. I'd do the same here - keep the existing system, but reskin it that the wizard pre-cast certain spells earlier - which being undefined until the spell is actually chosen during the day, but it just happens that was one pre-cast earlier.
 

Seramus

Adventurer
Zelazny magic would be closer to Warlocks.
Get 2-4 Spell Slots per short rest (level dependent).
Take 10 minutes of ritual time to put any Wizard spell in your book into those slots.

More flexibility than a Warlock because Zelazny could hotswap. Not exactly balanced against the current system, but probably more fun until the Vancian gets high level.
 
. Essentially, every spell can be cast as a ritual.
.., what wizards do is they cast the spell beforehand (instead of studying and memorizing it), leaving out a few key words and/or gestures. The spell is then "hung"
The original Fantasy Hero (1985) had the "Delayed" power modifier to do exactly that.
in their memory. When they need to cast it, they do so with those few words/gestures, which comprise the casting times found in the PHB.
D&D went from the "memorized" rubric to "prepared" a long time ago. Since 3.0, at least, though it might've been floated long before that.
 

KentDT

Explorer
I'm not quite sure how this works in practice. Can you walk me through this.

Say I'm a 6th level wizard. IF I want to cast spells quickly I need ot pre-cast them. So is this mean at some point actually picking a number of spells and taking time to cast them? Does that mean ahead of time I think of what I could want to do with my slots and pre-cast? If I may want to cast Lightning Bolt once or twice, Haste once or twice, Counterspell but likely once max, and Scortching Ray uplifted to 3rd once (for more precise targeting) or False like upast to 3rd level once that I then spend the time to pre-cast all of them at ritual speeds? (Plus all of how I want to do my lower level spells.) And it still locks me out of doing something like casting Copunterspell twice with my two 3rd level slots?

It seems like the time spent pre-casting is dependant on spells in your spellbook (expanding ever level if not more from found/bought spells) times spell slots and how you might want to use them, with some extra in there for spells that can be upcast. It sounds a high level caster might spend hours a day to pre-cast in all the different variations of what they want.

Also, many spells (divination, healing, etc) being able to be cast an unlimited number of times per day.

If you wanted this as an explanation I'd go the other ways around. Some game systems that are built around Heists put in flashbacks instead of actual hours of planning by players, so something can be established to have been planned areound. I'd do the same here - keep the existing system, but reskin it that the wizard pre-cast certain spells earlier - which being undefined until the spell is actually chosen during the day, but it just happens that was one pre-cast earlier.
First, remember I'm talking about wizards, not clerics or any other caster. I think the other casters in-world explanation for preparing or getting their spells is interesting enough.

So, yes in my system wizards would have to choose and then prepare the spells they want to be able to cast quickly. But, that was exactly how magic user/mage/wizard spells worked in 1e and 2e and, to a lesser extent, 3e. You also seem to not like the time spent having to cast the spells beforehand but in the PHB/Wizard/Spellcasting it says
"You can change your list of prepared spells when you finish a long rest. Preparing a new list of wizard spells requires time spent studying your spellbook and memorizing the incantations and gestures you must make to cast the spell: at least 1 minute per spell level for each spell on your list." Not a whole lot different than what I'm proposing.

Yes, with my system wizards would lose the flexibility of being able to prepare a spell once and then cast it more than once in a day. But, wizards would gain the flexibility of being able to cast any spell as a ritual, using an available spell slot.
They would also gain the flexibility of being able to prepare (or "hang" in Zelaznian terminology) a spell at any time, not only after a long rest.

They could theoretically hang 5, 10 or even more copies of the same spell, if they have the time (although in Zelazny it is explained that a hanged spell starts to deteriorate after about a week or so-which might be a good limit to enforce)

They also gain the possibility of being able to cast more spells than their spell slots, at the risk of exhaustion levels.

Keep in mind that all cantrips, signature spells or any "at-will" spell is permanently "hung" or prepared in their mind and they can always cast it (using an available slot or according to RAW)

Does that help explain it a little more? Any other thoughts or suggestions?
 

KentDT

Explorer
Zelazny magic would be closer to Warlocks.
Get 2-4 Spell Slots per short rest (level dependent).
Take 10 minutes of ritual time to put any Wizard spell in your book into those slots.

More flexibility than a Warlock because Zelazny could hotswap. Not exactly balanced against the current system, but probably more fun until the Vancian gets high level.
As I said in my reply to Blue, I'm only thinking of using this for wizards, because I like the in-world story of how magic works (for a wizard). I like how warlocks currently just get spells known from their pact and can then just cast them at the casting times in the PHB. Warlocks don't really study to gain magic, they took the seemingly easy way out and made a pact.

I guess I'm interested more in the story than the mechanic but want the mechanic to fit the in world story that I like.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
So, yes in my system wizards would have to choose and then prepare the spells they want to be able to cast quickly. But, that was exactly how magic user/mage/wizard spells worked in 1e and 2e and, to a lesser extent, 3e. You also seem to not like the time spent having to cast the spells beforehand but in the PHB/Wizard/Spellcasting it says
"You can change your list of prepared spells when you finish a long rest. Preparing a new list of wizard spells requires time spent studying your spellbook and memorizing the incantations and gestures you must make to cast the spell: at least 1 minute per spell level for each spell on your list." Not a whole lot different than what I'm proposing.
These aren't apples to apples at all. If a core wizard casts all of their spells and the next day wants their same adventuring list, they spend zero time. With yours it's every day when renewing spell cast.

They would also gain the flexibility of being able to prepare (or "hang" in Zelaznian terminology) a spell at any time, not only after a long rest.

...

They could theoretically hang 5, 10 or even more copies of the same spell, if they have the time (although in Zelazny it is explained that a hanged spell starts to deteriorate after about a week or so-which might be a good limit to enforce)


These both do help some, thanks for pointing them out.

The first because if you assume that you won't have more than 2 or so encounters before you can find 5-10 minutes safe then you can hang more of the spells that were actually used, so you only need to prep-prep that many spells and just refresh the ones in use, not having to prep-prep for an entire day on the off chance you'll need uncommonly used spells a lot.

The second means that there's some hang-over from previous days. That's good in terms of time spent, adds a minor hassle in term of bookkeeping in that now you need to track when each spell was cast but it could be as simple as a in-game date or a hash-mark when taking a long rest. No big deal.

Yes, with my system wizards would lose the flexibility of being able to prepare a spell once and then cast it more than once in a day. But, wizards would gain the flexibility of being able to cast any spell as a ritual, using an available spell slot.
That's a problematic amount of flexibility. For example, there are a lot of out of combat spells that overlap what other classes do. Invisibility, Knock, Longstrider, Unseen Servant (for setting off traps), Detect Thoughts, etc. Heck, Disintegration. Being able to not only mimic much of what another single character can do, but being able to replace for multiple classes since it's any spell in your book - that really steps on toes.

Add in things like regular fly spell on a melee combatant, renewed all day, regular divination, and other things of that nature can really impact the ability to run adventures.

And this gets to be even more at higher levels. Imaging casting Wish to duplicate any other 8th level spell with just a minute or 2, as often as you want during the day. Cast Foresight without taking up your 9th level slot. Antipath/Sympathy - lasts 10 days, no concentration or expensive material component. How many Clone and Simulacrum spells can you cast in a day? Everyone in the party Mind Blanked every day.

And that's just looking at the beginning and end of the list. Most of the meat of the spell lists I haven't looked at.
 

Seramus

Adventurer
As I said in my reply to Blue, I'm only thinking of using this for wizards, because I like the in-world story of how magic works (for a wizard). I like how warlocks currently just get spells known from their pact and can then just cast them at the casting times in the PHB. Warlocks don't really study to gain magic, they took the seemingly easy way out and made a pact.

I guess I'm interested more in the story than the mechanic but want the mechanic to fit the in world story that I like.
I was suggesting that a faithful representation of Zelazny magic would resemble a more flexible version of how the Warlock casts spells. I feel like your version breaks the KISS rule a few times.
 

KentDT

Explorer
These aren't apples to apples at all. If a core wizard casts all of their spells and the next day wants their same adventuring list, they spend zero time. With yours it's every day when renewing spell cast.

Thanks, your replies are helping me to clarify things in my mind. This point exposes my thinking stuck in past editions, where it did work as I was thinking ie. if a wizard (or magic-user) cast all their spells they would have to re-memorize them the next day.
 

KentDT

Explorer
That's a problematic amount of flexibility. For example, there are a lot of out of combat spells that overlap what other classes do. Invisibility, Knock, Longstrider, Unseen Servant (for setting off traps), Detect Thoughts, etc. Heck, Disintegration. Being able to not only mimic much of what another single character can do, but being able to replace for multiple classes since it's any spell in your book - that really steps on toes.

Add in things like regular fly spell on a melee combatant, renewed all day, regular divination, and other things of that nature can really impact the ability to run adventures.

And this gets to be even more at higher levels. Imaging casting Wish to duplicate any other 8th level spell with just a minute or 2, as often as you want during the day. Cast Foresight without taking up your 9th level slot. Antipath/Sympathy - lasts 10 days, no concentration or expensive material component. How many Clone and Simulacrum spells can you cast in a day? Everyone in the party Mind Blanked every day.

And that's just looking at the beginning and end of the list. Most of the meat of the spell lists I haven't looked at.
I think I might not have explained well (again, thanks for helping me clarify). In my system wizards could “hang” as many spells as they have time but only cast a spell out of combat as a ritual, limited by their slots available each day. So, for example, it would be impossible to renew fly all day. It still only lasts 10 minutes, you still have to concentrate the whole time, you still lose 1 3rd level or higher slot each time you cast it. Even a 20th level wizard only has 3, 3rd level slots per day. That also makes the wizard no better at taking over roles of other classes than in RAW. The number of slots they can use to actually cast the spells is the same.

I did mention before that I expanded the exhaustion system to 10 levels and allow wizards to make a hard ability check to cast another spell beyond their daily limit but even on a success it costs a wizard a level of exhaustion. The check is progressively harder to make so, at most, a wizard might be able to greatly weaken themselves and cast maybe 5 more spells per day, at a progressively higher risk. So I’m not really thinking its an unbalancing problem.
 

KentDT

Explorer
I was suggesting that a faithful representation of Zelazny magic would resemble a more flexible version of how the Warlock casts spells. I feel like your version breaks the KISS rule a few times.
I understand what you’re saying but I guess we just disagree (and that’s OK, of course). I’ll admit it adds a little book keeping and player/character planning but not too much for my taste. I suppose it’ll help if any player of a wizard in my game has read and enjoys the Zelazny books and buys into my interpretation.
 
If you have not done so, you could always grab a copy of the old Amber Diceless RPG and see how they did the magic system in that. Maybe it would give ideas for what you want to do.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I'm not quite sure how this works in practice. Can you walk me through this.

Say I'm a 6th level wizard. IF I want to cast spells quickly I need ot pre-cast them. So is this mean at some point actually picking a number of spells and taking time to cast them? Does that mean ahead of time I think of what I could want to do with my slots and pre-cast? If I may want to cast Lightning Bolt once or twice, Haste once or twice, Counterspell but likely once max, and Scortching Ray uplifted to 3rd once (for more precise targeting) or False like upast to 3rd level once that I then spend the time to pre-cast all of them at ritual speeds? (Plus all of how I want to do my lower level spells.) And it still locks me out of doing something like casting Copunterspell twice with my two 3rd level slots?

It seems like the time spent pre-casting is dependant on spells in your spellbook (expanding ever level if not more from found/bought spells) times spell slots and how you might want to use them, with some extra in there for spells that can be upcast. It sounds a high level caster might spend hours a day to pre-cast in all the different variations of what they want.

Also, many spells (divination, healing, etc) being able to be cast an unlimited number of times per day.
The spells don't go away until they are cast. Well, in the books they eventually go stale, but that takes weeks at least, possibly months. A high level wizard would not need to spend hours daily unless they ran themselves out of spells. Also, in the books there didn't appear to be any limit to the number you could hang as long as you spent the time to do it, but of course that wouldn't work for D&D.

For D&D the trade off would be in requiring the wizard to choose spells in advance, but allowing more spells to be cast daily. If you use your one counterspell in a combat, just take some time after the combat and hang another one.

It also opens the door for feats or class abilities to allow quick hanging of spells a limited number of times per day, or signature spells that you could always hang quickly.

It's an interesting idea, but it might be too powerful to add that many extra spells to the wizard's daily allotment.
 

Greenfield

Adventurer
Having read the books and considered this, there was one aspect that caught my eye: Casters "Hung" spells (i.e. prepared them) and they could stay there for a few days before fading. The character involved was specifically Merlin (no, not *that* Merlin), and he tended to hang a few defensive spells, an attack or two and that was it. As he put it, "After that it just came down to throwing raw power at each other."

That last part was the big difference between Zelazny's magic system and D&D/Vancian magic. Unused ability (i.e. spell slots) could be used as direct assaults, and presumably defenses. Just raw, formless magical power.

So if you want to use Amber style magic, all you really need is to define what raw magical attacks and defenses look like, from a mechanics point of view.

I wouldn't give them an element type (that is, they aren't Fire or Cold or Electricity or Acid or Sonic). They're just magic.

Now, does that mean that they'll bypass standing defenses, such as Fire Resistance? If so it makes those element-specific defense spells obsolete.

Do general "throw raw power at them" defenses apply to element specific attacks? As in, does a Fireball bypass a general defense?

I'm not sure. I'd almost class "raw power" as yet another element type, for the purpose of game mechanics.

Now this approach actually gives raw power something of an advantage, since you can always switch to it on the fly in combat. Any non-dedicated spell slot is instantly available for that sort of offense or defense.

But raw power magic can't do any of the specific things, like heal wounds, open doors, help someone fly or go invisible, so that's a weakness. That also means that caster's will most likely prepare/hang utility spells and perhaps some element specific attacks/defenses. Raw power is whatever is left over.

Just sort of rambling there, but I think I may be rambling in a workable direction. You are, of course, free to think otherwise.
 

Greenfield

Adventurer
Following up on my own ramble: In D&D, different classes have different spell lists. Some, like the Bard in D&D 3.*, were really light on combat spells. Like, nearly none. (Glitterdust actually counted as an offensive spell for a 3.* Bard. That's how starved they were for damage dealing spells.)

The Zelazny style of magic would tend to blur the lines from one class to another. Suddenly every caster of every stripe is a combat caster.

Not sure if that's a good thing or not. Leaning towards "not" though, since the different spell sets were one of the aspects that defined a class, the advantage you sought or the price you paid for choosing that class. It makes that choice almost meaningless in many ways.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Having read the books and considered this, there was one aspect that caught my eye: Casters "Hung" spells (i.e. prepared them) and they could stay there for a few days before fading. The character involved was specifically Merlin (no, not *that* Merlin), and he tended to hang a few defensive spells, an attack or two and that was it. As he put it, "After that it just came down to throwing raw power at each other."

That last part was the big difference between Zelazny's magic system and D&D/Vancian magic. Unused ability (i.e. spell slots) could be used as direct assaults, and presumably defenses. Just raw, formless magical power.

So if you want to use Amber style magic, all you really need is to define what raw magical attacks and defenses look like, from a mechanics point of view.

I wouldn't give them an element type (that is, they aren't Fire or Cold or Electricity or Acid or Sonic). They're just magic.

Now, does that mean that they'll bypass standing defenses, such as Fire Resistance? If so it makes those element-specific defense spells obsolete.

Do general "throw raw power at them" defenses apply to element specific attacks? As in, does a Fireball bypass a general defense?

I'm not sure. I'd almost class "raw power" as yet another element type, for the purpose of game mechanics.

Now this approach actually gives raw power something of an advantage, since you can always switch to it on the fly in combat. Any non-dedicated spell slot is instantly available for that sort of offense or defense.

But raw power magic can't do any of the specific things, like heal wounds, open doors, help someone fly or go invisible, so that's a weakness. That also means that caster's will most likely prepare/hang utility spells and perhaps some element specific attacks/defenses. Raw power is whatever is left over.

Just sort of rambling there, but I think I may be rambling in a workable direction. You are, of course, free to think otherwise.
If I remember correctly, raw power also took a lot more power to accomplish the same thing a refined spell could accomplish. So you hung a fireball, or used much more power to just destroy an area the size of a fireball.
 

Greenfield

Adventurer
If I remember correctly, raw power also took a lot more power to accomplish the same thing a refined spell could accomplish. So you hung a fireball, or used much more power to just destroy an area the size of a fireball.
I don't recall that particular detail, but it's been a few years since I read the books, and they weren't exactly written with game adaptations in mind. (The original Nine Princes in Amber series pre-dated D&D by at least a decade.)

If that were the case though, you'd think major wizardy types like Merlin would keep his hung spell pool damned near full.

But again, it's a story, and there was no requirement that things in there fit gamer logic. But it was (at least the original series) a really well written tale.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I don't recall that particular detail, but it's been a few years since I read the books, and they weren't exactly written with game adaptations in mind. (The original Nine Princes in Amber series pre-dated D&D by at least a decade.)

If that were the case though, you'd think major wizardy types like Merlin would keep his hung spell pool damned near full.

But again, it's a story, and there was no requirement that things in there fit gamer logic. But it was (at least the original series) a really well written tale.
Merlin often put it off because it was a hassle. He wasn't the most focused wizard out there. That and he had bot Frakir and Ghost to help him out of trouble.
 

KentDT

Explorer
I don't recall that particular detail, but it's been a few years since I read the books, and they weren't exactly written with game adaptations in mind. (The original Nine Princes in Amber series pre-dated D&D by at least a decade.)
Yes, but the original series had nothing about this magic system. That all came in the second “Merlin” series, which was published after D&D came along. That’s why I referenced Zelazny’s attendance of Gen Con as Ed Greenwood’s guest and the possibility that the magic system explanation was in answer to criticisms of the Vancian “memorize and forget” that was the current D&D magic system.
 

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