Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Why Vancian is Better Than Spell Points (and what to do about it)

First, let me lay out my credentials for my click-bait title.

Over on our Discord, (mail me if you want in on chances to play elf-games online), we have been playing a lot of Lodoss Companion, a game I translated from Japanese. It uses a stat called MP (magic points) to cast spells from. If you run out of MP, you faint.

About a couple years back I was in another RPG that uses spell points (run by Fear of a Black Dragon's Tom), Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying 1e. We played through the Enemy Within adventure path thing.

On the Discord, we also spent a few months going through my other big fanslation project, Double Moon. Dubmoon, being from the same publisher as Lodoss, shares a lot of its DNA, including the MP system, using Psychic Points called PPs, much to our amusement.

Finally, also on the Discord, we messed around with my hack of Arduin for a while. Uncle Dave "Killmepleasedaddy" Hargrave used a hybrid between Vancian and spell points back in the day. He also gave levels to spells because he was basically using 0DnD. I opted to just have spell points spent just be the level of the spell, let PCs cast any level of spell, and kicked Vancian restrictions out of there.

So all of these systems used points is my point. What is the problem I've noticed time and again? You are extremely incentivized to cast the same spells each combat. It was really bad in WHFRP. Once I learned Lightning Bolt, I would try to cast it each round. We could point out here that RAW material components would have ameliorated the problem, but like most groups we ditched those rules.

In Lodoss it's usually the same routine. Cast buffs on the fighter. Summon a spirit to fight. There is a bit of deja-vu each combat. My players do like the system though. One said they really dig not having to choose spells that they might use each game morning.

The Arudin games were a bit better, probably because of the sheer amount of gonzo spells the players wanted to try out. Also, without level restrictions, they could consider casting powerful, yet expensive spells.

 So, what's my solution to keep a game with spell points interesting? Well, I have a few.

  • Spell points are still a thing, but whenever a player casts a spell, it is gone for the day (sneaky Vance). 
  • Spell points are still a thing, but each additional time you cast a certain spell in a day costs one extra point per level of the spell (Vance tax).
  • Use DCC-style Mercurial Magic, which may make the player prefer to cast different spells for different situations. You don't need DCC tho; I got a d60 list of crazy spell requirements and effects.
  • Incentivize spell prep with Memorization Side Effects (using a Vancian hybrid or pure Vancian).
  • Use those material components up. Boo. Hey, maybe have all your spell-casting based on material components to make it better?
  • Seed a whole lot of situations that will require spells as tools. This one is hard to do, because utility spells are usually taken care of by equipment or the thief's abilities. 
  • Spells are free-form, but you can never cast the same spell twice (the Barony/Conrad's Game method).

Got more ideas? That's what comments are for!

Share good posts with good goblins. Claytonian at the gmails.


Tamás Illés said...

I like HackMaster's system. Mages there can memorize one spell per spell level available, and casting them requires spell points. Non-memorized spells can be cast at twice the cost, and every spell can be amplified in various ways by spending more SP on casting. The GMG also has complicated spell mishap rules for overcharging, wearing armour, and doing other careless things.

jmettraux said...

Thanks for sharing this piece of wisdom! I've started a campaign with point magic. I'll watch for the symptoms you describe before it's too late.

Claytonian said...

That's a good fusion. I like choices in my elfgames!

tipsta said...

What is Barony / Conrad's Game? This sounds interesting

Claytonian said...

Barony is actually a topic you can find on this here blog's search-bar.

Conrad's Fantasy is an earlier itteration. Both are on drivethru https://www.drivethrurpg.com/m/product/248341

They're like ancient Dungeon World-esque games

John Bragg said...

Something I've kicked around, but will probably never get around to running: Spell Exhaustion. Oh yeah, and I coupled this with a Mana system that runs on Usage Dice.

You need to let players know a healthy number of spells, or they'll run out and be sad. Also means that you can drop a lot of spells one or more spell levels.

Spell Exhaustion. When you cast a spell, the spell is Exhausted (including cantrips). This means you cannot cast that spell again until you take one minute to refocus, take a breath and reset your mind. You can refocus while walking at your normal movement rate, but not while running, and not while people are actively trying to kill you.

Mana Dice. Casters have Mana Dice which determine how many (whether) they can cast spells. Roll your mana die (“spend 1 mana”), and if you roll a 1-3, “decrement” to the next lowest die. (If you decrement a d4, you’re out of mana for the day). To cast a 2nd or 3rd level spell, roll 2 or 3 mana dice (same type), and decrement 0, 1, 2 or 3 times based on the rolls.

Lee B said...

I've seen Lodoss, and Deedlit summons the same undine in like every fight, yo. Saving cel drawing time aside, I think one issue is that many traditional spell lists, especially at low level, rarely provide choices when the tactic is roughly the same. At higher lever or given multi-class aptitude, its not so worrisome.

Claytonian said...

Course she does. She has to follow the rules

Pilgrim Procession said...

Maybe make all magic scroll based, and MUs can make a certain number of scrolls when they would usually prep. So you might have 3 scrolls of firebolt and 2 scrolls of control rope or something. If you use up all your firebolt, guess you gotta kill the orcs with rope. You can cast them with or without MP, so the fighter can cast from your scrolls but you are better at it. Scrolls are cheap to buy, but memorizing them in a way you can replicate takes a lot of time and research cause all the magic-salesmen have magical antipiracy, glyphic trap-streets, and metaphysical connections that are required to make the scroll.

Spwack said...

I feel like this could be improved by making spells worse/more specific/both. For example, Lightning Bolt might actually come from the sky, and only hit the tallest target or the one wearing the most metal. Fireball might be exceedingly dangerous to use, or even create a kind of magical grenade that has to be lobbed (and can be thrown back if you're not lucky)