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Alternate Vancian Magic System for OSR Games

Beware where you prepare your spells!
Okay, let me get his out straight away. I am not an Jack Vance scholar, literature major, or real wizard. I just love OSR games, love what I’ve read of The Dying Earth Series and other Appendix N books and really like to tinker with game systems (as well as create stuff). So I’ve come up with an alternate Vancian Magic System that makes spellcasting more flexible, leveless (even though you can still use the standard spell list in your game of choice) and insert some risk in the sorcery art (which I think is essential, as we are dealing with unnatural forces).

In the stories I’ve read, magicians, when they were imparting the spell energies in their minds to cast them later, would make increasingly greater effort to put as many spells as they could in their memory. There was not definite limit. Some could impart more, some less, and this could vary. They could risk filling their minds with spells, but if they pushed too hard, they could lose and release all that energy uncontrollably. Of course some of you might see this differently, but that’s what my imagination has captured out of those stories.

So here is my proposed Alternate Vancian Magic System!

Magic-Users can safely prepare a number of spell levels equal to their own character level plus their Intelligence modifier. So a 1st level MU with a Intelligence of 16 can safely prepare 3 levels of spells safely. This could be 3 1st level spells, a 1st level spell anda 2nd level spell or even a 3rd level spell. They would still cast the spells as a first level character though, so a Fireball would still do only 1d6 points of damage.

These spells would be cast normally as the game system used proposes.

Preparing additional spells beyond the safe limit: A character may attempt to prepare additional spells beyond his level limit, but that is risky. Each additional spell prepare triggers a Saving Throw with a penalty equal to the additional levels of spells prepared beyond the safety level. So if a character has already prepared all the spells within his safety level and tries to prepare a 2nd level spell, he will have to make a Saving Throw with a -2 penalty to the roll. This penalty is cumulative and stacks even if it fails. So if after that the character tries to prepare another 2nd level spell, he would have to repeat the Save with a -4 penalty.

Success means the spell is prepared normally and can be cast as if safely prepared. Failure however prevents the spell from being prepared and triggers a backlash. The character than rolls 1d6 and adds the total amount of spells levels prepared beyond his safe limit and consults the table below.

1d6+ Spell Levels
Forces a Saving Throw to keep the lowest prepared spell still memorized.
The character suffers a number of points of damage equal to the number of additional spells levels he has attempted to prepare this day.
The character must make a Saving Throw not to release a offensive spell on himself he has prepared right away.
Character becomes blind as they only see the infinite energies of magic for 1d6 turns.
The energies channeled turn against the sorcerer and cause 1 point of damage per additional spell levels he tried to prepare today to everyone within 30 feet, as raw energy blasts our reality.
The chaotic energies from the planes beyond our reality impregnate the character and his chances of a rolling a random encounter are double for a number of hours equal to the total levels of additional spells he tried to prepare.
The character is blocked from the currents of magic, and cannot cast spells for a number of turns equal to the total number of additional levels of spells they tried to prepare.
The energies of the many planes that fuel sorcery assault the character’s mind and they fall unconscious for a number of turns equal to the total number of additional levels of spells he tried to prepare.
The accumulated energy from the currents of magic is too much for the character and he must make a Saving Throw to keep his spells prepared. He must make the roll for 1d6+1 spells determined randomly.
Crackling entropic energy from the elemental planes blasts the character and their companions within 30 ft for 1d6 points of damage per total number of additional levels of spells he tried to prepare. A Saving Throw may reduce this damage to half.
The energies the character was trying to impart in their mind actually blocked his arcane channels and now the character cannot cast any of his spells for a number of hours equal to the total number of additional spell levels he tried to prepare.
The energies of the chaotic plane infuses the character and now all the spells he cast must be accompanied by a Saving Throw. Failure means the spell turns against him according to the evil imagination of the referee.
Every time the character casts a spell, the planes of magic demands more and more energy, making the allies of the caster within 30 ft pay the same amount of HP points as the level of the spell cast. This lasts for a full day.
The Void drains the life energy of the caster and their allies within 30 ft range to power their spells. Everyone affected suffers a points of damage distributed between their Strength, Dexterity and Constitution for each additional spell level the character tried to prepare.
The character accidentally summons an entity from the planes, possessing a number of HD equal to the total number of additional levels of spells he tried to prepare. The entity is determined to devour them and their allies.

The penalty to the Saving Throws to prepare additional spells beyond the safe limit can be offset by sacrifices as the referee deems fair. A character may burn points of abilities scores to offset these penalties as 1 per 1. So to offset a -2, the character might take 2 points of damage on this Strength score. This damage can only be healed if the character spends a full day resting without preparing any additional spell level beyond his safe limit. Other kinds of sacrifices might be accepted, as very valuable items, living sacrifices and things like that.

The Saving Throw penalty resets after a full day of rest. However, if there are still levels of spells prepared beyond the safe limit, that number of levels is immediately applied as penalty to prepare any new spells.

This is, of course, a system still being tested and experimented with. I plan on publishing this im the future together with other things for OSR games. But I wanted to share with you what I am working on and thinking about. What did you think of it?


  1. I really like this, gives the player a chance to make some tough choices.

    1. Thank you! That's what I always want on my games!

  2. I like the idea of this, but I dislike that the player rolls when the spells are being prepped, not when they try to use them. It seems to me that there would be more band for your buck to make the risk happen later when the action happens.


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