Vancian Magic in Adventurer Conqueror King
Vancian magic is one of the topics that old-school gamers love to argue about. Most love it, some hate it, everyone discusses it.
Here's the core rules for spellcasting in ACKS: "During any single day, spellcasters can cast the number of spells of each level indicated on the Spells Progression Table for their class. Unlike other fantasy games, in Adventurer Conqueror King, spellcasters do not have to “memorize” or “prepare” their spells in advance; they can choose which spells to cast at the time of casting from among any and all the spells they know (see below). Once spellcasters have cast all of their available spells for the day, they must have 8 hours of rest and one hour of prayer or study before they can cast again."
In the early days of the Auran Empire campaign that build ACKS, I was inspired to take this "free casting" approach by a comment made by Frank Mentzer in Dragonsfoot. Back in 2009, the great Mr. Mentzer wrote, "the lack of the Vancean restriction actually helped play, imho. Instead of trying to outguess the DM and pick a useful spell before the adventure, players felt more confident and more versatile, even with only 1 or 2 spells per day. The players of magic-user characters had more fun.... Ever see a magic-user take, and then actually use, a simple Light spell? It happened in my game. In the second session the 3rd level party coped with a terrible Troll thanks to a Levitate spell... which very probably would have been omitted in favor of a Web or something had we stuck with btb Vance. There are other examples with which I won't belabor you... but it worked and it worked well." (http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=10717&start=4455) We implemented free-casting into our own campaign, and found it had the same beneficial effects.
However, we did not combine free-casting with the 1e/3.5e style of spellbook, in which a magic-user/wizard has nigh-unlimited capability to add spells to his spellbook. Instead, we built on a modified version of the spellbook rule in the Basic/Expert set: "Arcane spellcasters know only a limited number of spells, representing their personal collection of dweomers and enchantments. Each arcane spellcaster keeps a set of spell books, containing the magical formulae for each spell the arcane spellcaster has learned, written in a magical script that can only be read by the arcane spellcaster who wrote it, or through the use of the first-level spell read magic. An arcane spellcaster’s spell book can contain a maximum number of spells equal to the number and level of spells listed for his level, modified by his Intelligence bonus. For instance, a 3rd level mage is able to cast 2 1st and 1 2nd level spell per day. If he has 16 INT (+2 modifier) he can have up to 4 1st level and 3 2nd level spells in his spell books."
Thus, mages have a very tight selection of spells available to them, especially if they have a low INT, but they can freely cast from that narrow selection as they wish. This makes them somewhat akin to 3.5e's Sorcerers, except that they do have spellbooks, and must find, research, or learn their spells.
What if a mage wants to change his selection of spells in his spellbook? "An arcane spellcaster can rewrite the spells in his spellbook at a cost of 1 week of game time and 1,000 gp for each spell level. For instance, Quintus is a 1st level mage with INT 16. He is eligible to have 3 1st level spells in his spellbook. Over time, he has recorded read magic, shield, and sleep into his book. He finds a grimoire holding magic missile and decides to replace shield with his new find. This costs 1 week of game time and 1,000gp. He now has the ability to cast read magic, magic missile, and sleep, but no longer knows shield."
Thus we retain the ability of mages to alter their selection of spells as they learn new ones, or to meet different or changing needs, but it's a much longer and more expensive process. This creates downtime, which is an important part of long-term campaign play.
As for clerics, they too enjoy free-casting, but they also have substantially narrower spell lists that have characterized 1e-3.5e of our favorite roleplaying game. "Divine spellcasters receive their spells directly from the deity they serve, and they automatically know each spell of each level they can cast on the spell list made available to them by their deity (but not necessarily every divine spell in existence). The Cleric Spell List, below, represents a general list of spells that might be provided to clerics of powerful gods with broad spheres of influence (such as clerics of Ammonar). Because clerics gain their spells from a specific deity, however, the exact spells available for any given cleric could instead include a variant selection from this list combined with spells drawn from other sources; for instance, a deity devoted to healing may refuse to grant their cleric’s reversed healing spells, but might offer special curative spells available only to her clerics. Just because a spell is listed below as a divine spell does not necessarily mean it is available to every cleric. The DM will determine which spells are appropriate for any given cleric based on the power he serves. The Bladedancer Spell List, also below, is an example of a spell list for a divine spellcaster designed around a specific deity (Ianna, Goddess of Love and War)."
One final rule regarding magic is the notion of the spell signature: While spells have general effects that are common to all who cast them, the specific sensory effects associated with the spell will vary from caster to caster. This specific sensory effect is known as the spell signature. A spellcaster should write a short description of the signature for each spell he can cast. For arcane spellcasters, the signature may be based on a particular school or style of magic, or simply be a reflection of the spellcaster’s personal taste. For divine spellcasters, the signature reflects the caster’s relationship with his deity. A character’s choice of proficiencies can be suggestive of appropriate spell signatures. EXAMPLE: Sargon pursues necromantic magic and black lore. His player decides that all of Sargon’s spell signatures will revolve around death. His magic missiles appear as shards of bone. His sleep spell places targets into a nightmarish slumber where they dream of hell. His lightning bolt is crackling blue-black energy. His wall of stone has the appearance of tombstones graven with the names of the dead.
Using Spell Signatures is a great way to add character to your mage PCs and NPCs. It also broadens the "feel" of the spell list without having to make an inordinate number of spells. Sizzling bolts of red energy, crackling blue-black energy, and golden rays of light are all lightning bolts. There's some specific mechanics around Spell Signatures that let you identify the spellcaster if you know his or his school's Spell Signature, but you'll have to read the rules for that.
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