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    Vancian Magic | Comment | Change Password | Register

    I'm calling these vancian mages, since they cast spells-per-day rather than using a ST cost, as in Jack Vance's Dying Earth series. These mages are also similar to muses from Eric Nylund's A Game of Universe. The ST cost of the spell counts against the total spells a vancian mage can prepare, though. They CAN wear armor, but skill costs are just like a wizard's. I think they make an interesting alternative to wizards. Here is I have, so far...


    Vancian mages are more versatile than wizards because they may wear armor, they don't have to spend experience on learning spells, they may use a wider variety of spells, and they use their spells at no ST cost during play. They can't use staffs, however, which limits them to their ST for preparing spells and can only use the spells which they have stored, making them ultimately less powerful than wizards. Vancian mages tend to use mundane techniques more than wizards, some most relying on their wits and their skills and using magic only when they need to get out of a jam.

    Heroic talents are double, as with wizards

    May wear armor

    Cannot create staffs or use ST stored in them

    Do not need to learn spells but must use a spell book and can only store spells of their IQ or less

    Spell storage requires 5 minutes of preparation, after which each spell takes an additional minute and may only use ST which has not been used yet that day and is not invested in spells (available ST is replenished with at least 6 hours sleep after at least 12 hours awake).

    ST for variable ST spells must be specified at storage time

    May release an unused spell as an action and reclaim the invested ST to be used for storing other spells

    Spell book starts with one spell for each IQ point

    No cost to use stored spells

    zot : 2009-11-02
    This is probably obvious, but I added it to my document anyway:

    Storing a spell doesn't cause damage or fatigue, it just uses up points based on ST which would otherwise be available for storing other spells.

    zot : 2009-11-02
    Hello and welcome, Zot!

    Interesting concept. Of course when I started playing, it was D&D versus TFT, or Vancian vs. ST-based magic. I always enjoyed both games. D&D was more high fantasy and TFT was Sword-and-sorcery. I never really looked into bringing Vancian, fire-and-forget mechanics into TFT, as that was part of each game's flavor.

    But I like what you have done here. It seems pretty simpla and straightforward, and adds another dimension to spellcasting. Not sure about lifting the armor restrictions, but playtesting would tell that tale.

    One potential problem I see is designating the strength of spells beforehand, ie storing a 3ST fireball. You might just want a 1ST, but you are stuck with the big blast; and vice versa. But the larger problem, I think, would actually be spells that use a bigger variable, like Heal Wounds and the Death spell. You would have no way of knowing how many ST you need to heal before hand, nor the ST of the opponent you want to slap the Death spell on. Maybe you would set aside a "pool" of ST for these particular spells when you are memorizing?

    Interesting take - thanks for posting this!


    Kane : 2009-11-02
    Oh, yeah, and kudos for knowing the real origin of the tern "Vancian." Over the years, only a handful of gamers I have talked to are familiar with "Maziriam the Magician," and fewer have actually read it. Later stories do not adhere the concept as strongly (like the spells Cugel casts in "Eyes of the Overworld") but the concept of D&D spell progression originated there.
    Kane : 2009-11-02
    Yes, preparing your spells is part of the fun and challenge of a vancian mage. I actually DO have provisions for a "pool" of power in that you can release a stored spell to reclaim the ST and store new spells, provided that you have the 6 or more minutes to prepare them. So vancian mages can still be a bit flexible, if they have the time for it.

    Also, since they can use armor (and weapons -- I left that out by accident), they can use those to supplement the magic. I think that's a decent balance in exchange for not getting a staff -- they can use weapons and armor, but they're still not as good as a hero character, since they have to pay double for the talents. In Legends, it seems to me that experienced hero characters will eventually end up with sizable weapon skills, since they're cheaper than attributes of 11 or higher. Vancian mages end up paying through the nose for these, but they get to use potentially a much larger variety of magic than wizards.

    I think a decent strategy for fireballs or lightning is to store a couple at different ST levels, like 2 and 4. That would give you maybe 4 or 5 more ST to invest in other spells (with ST 10 or 11), like reverse missiles, iron flesh, or illusion. After an encounter, you can reorganize your remaining spells by spending the required 6+ minutes.

    Another important work that has vancian magic is the second chronicles of Amber. Merlin "hangs spells" on the logrus and the pattern so that he can use them later.

    zot : 2009-11-03
    6 minutes doesn't seem like a lot of time to be able to change your spell around. For the armor, I would say that if there are gestures to the spells, they the armor bonus should be the spellcasting penalty.


    jygro : 2009-11-03
    Maybe I should have just said, "mages can only store spells when they're not in an encounter," but I wanted to put a rough number on it, so I said 5 minutes + 1 minute/spell. I think that amount of time is fine, because it's too long to do in combat and you have to read a book so you have to do it between encounters. Too much longer than that and it's really not practical, so you may as well not have a rule for it.

    The original reason armor hampered magic from TFT was that iron interfered with magic; it had nothing to do with gestures. Silver armor didn't hamper magic. Normal iron weapons also hampered magic in TFT as well, but don't in Legends. I think the idea that armor interferes with gestures might from D&D.

    Note that I'm not trying to emulate D&D with this system. I'm just trying to create an alternative magic system that uses spells-per-day instead of a ST cost and allows mages to use weapons and armor. I expect vancian mages will be more like bards or rangers from D&D in that they're not as good at fighting as warriors and not as good at magic as wizards. They're somewhere inbetween heroes and wizards.

    Maybe that description makes them sound unattractive, but I like the idea of a rogue with a few tricks up his sleeve.

    zot : 2009-11-03
    The other motivation for 5 minutes + 1/spell was for PCs to be able to prepare all their spells in the morning (which could conceivably be 10 or more spells) and store a few more later in the day using the same rules.

    You don't want vancian mages to have to spend 2 or 3 hours in the morning preparing their spells for the day. That would just make for silliness.

    zot : 2009-11-04
    I've been thinking about Bret's idea of a pool and it sounds like a good idea to me. Just allow variable cost spells to draw on unallocated ST. If you need more, you can use an action to release a spell.
    zot : 2009-11-04
    I am intrigued by this concept, the more I think about it. I am in the midst of writing an adventure right now, and I need to keep the characters somewhat vanilla for playtesting, but I am going to test the vancian mage concept out afterward.

    I think this is one of the strengths of a looser set of rules, almost guidelines, rather than a rigidly defined set of rules. We have gone over doing "advanced" rules for several years, on the boards and in our internal conversations at our secret antarctic base. It is because of this kind of innovation and personalizing of the rules that we are leaning strongly toward keeping them as simple as they are. I really like this kind of tinkering, treating LAW more like a toolkit.

    Good stuff, zot, I want to hear how this character concept plays out for you. Keep us informed, please!


    Kane : 2009-11-05
    Here are some flavor options I've been thinking about:
    • Bard: performs to cast spells (sings, dances, tells stories, ...). Really should have the Bard skill.
    • Trickster: rogue with several tricks up his sleeve. Should probably convert these spells from Wizard and Warrior: slient movement, lock/unlock, tunnel.
    • Cleric: specializes in healing and smiting evil
    • Alchemist/Artificer: enchants items/creates potions, allowing other characters to use them. ST for variable ST spells need to be invested up-front for items/potions.

    Alchemist/Artificer introduces the option for other characters to use the spells. This changes the flavor of the mages a lot and makes them much more of a "buffing" character for a party

    zot : 2009-11-05
    Oops, that's Warrior and Wizard, of course.
    zot : 2009-11-05
    Wow -- that text came out black. It says: Warrior and Wizard. The link is

    zot : 2009-11-05

    Play report

    We started OHM today (3 characters, 34 pts, 5 skills). I played a vancian mage: ST 11 DX 11(9) IQ 12, sword +1, bow +1, enchanting +1, short sword, long bow, leather armor (and a bunch of spells). I played him pretty much like I expected -- supplementing weapon usage with spells (assist and illusion so far).

    The other characters are a wizard and a warrior (with the werebear spell). The wizard;s staff allowed him to use magic a lot more than my character, which is also what I expected.

    So far, so good.

    zot : 2009-11-06

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