Musings on Magic

One of the most odd parts of D&D is the Vancian magic system. You have to memorize spells, then, once you use the spell, it is erased from your memory. Why? When you tell a story it isn’t wiped from your memory! So I propose a change to the SimpleDnD Magic system.

Magic Points – Mana

Each day a magic user character has a magic threshold. We’ll call these mana. Spellcasters gain mana by adding their level plus their ability modifier, Intelligence for Wizards or Wisdom for Clerics.

Spells are already grouped by level, so instead we’ll use the level as the mana cost. So to cast a 2nd level spell would require deducting 2 mana from a character’s mana pool. The spell is NEVER removed from the spell casters memory, and the same spell could be used over and over as long as their is mana in the character’s mana pool.

To recover mana a character must rest. Assuming that a full 10 hours of rest can recover 100% of a character’s mana, then for each hour of rest a character would recover 10% of their total mana.


No spell caster could cast a spell for a cost higher than their level.

The spell caster cannot take any other action in a round when casting a spell.

A spell caster who cannot speak or is bound can not cast a spell.

If the spell caster takes damage before their turn in combat, the spell is interrupted and lost.

The spell caster must be able to see the target the spell is to be cast on.

Spells are just like using a skill. The spell caster must roll d20 plus their modifier (WIS/INT + Level) vs a DC 10 + spell cost/level. If they do not meet or exceed the required number the mana is used, and the spell fails.

Wizards cannot cast spell in which they do not have the formula. This means that they must have the spell, on a scroll or have the spell book and in hand, at the time of casting. If they lost the scroll or the spell book, they lose the intricate knowledge and cannot use the spells any more.

Clerics on the other hand have a limited number of spells provided by their gods. Unlike a spell book, their magic is divine and cannot destroyed, but it can be taken from the character if the character does something against their god’s (DM) wishes. In addition, the cleric must have their holy symbol in one hand to cast their spells.

OPTIONAL: It is recommended that the DM limit the spell choices clerics can choose from. The DM has the final say in spell picking for a cleric, and is the limit of choosing a god driven character.

Potion of Mana

Like a potion of healing, the potion of mana can restore 1d8 mana to a spell caster. Mana can never exceed the maximum value available. These potions are expensive, rare and coveted by magic users. Typical costs are 800gp and up.

Sacrifice Self

A spell caster can choose to use their hit points in the event that they run out of mana. Only after a caster’s mana pool has reached zero may they use their health. 1 hit point = 1 mana. Damage taken to a character this way heals like normal.

What are you thoughts on spell casting systems? Is there a system you love and you think would be better? Post a comment below!


13 thoughts on “Musings on Magic

  1. Wholeheartedly agree ! Also, it always bothered me in D&D that a spellcaster’s level was different from the spell levels. To me the spell level should match to level of spellcaster that should be able to cast it (and the subsequent cost in effort/strain/mana as you describe above).

    An optional rule I’ve used is that a spellcaster can choose to suffer hit point damage as strain to gain a additional mana in crisis situations.


  2. Yeah that’s a good system. I particularly like the HP to Mana idea.
    Another idea you could try would be to allow people to regain a few spell points every hour – like 1 spell point per level, per hour… or half that perhaps (or perhaps 1 spell point per point of bonus on their relevant Int or Wis stat). That way they get rewarded for carrying on and not doing the old *have fight then go and sleep for eight hours in the middle of the day*.


  3. Always thought it was weird that nobody in the D&D or Pathfinder development teams has ever considered a revised magic system (Though I thiiink there are rules for a mana system in D&D 5?). The flavor is very particular, too, and considering we’re presumably running games in a wide variety of fantasy worlds with different magic systems, I’d say it makes sense to provide alternatives.

    A mana system is logical, and I’ve seen it work well in the paper-and-dice Everquest RPG. That system put the constraint on that you could only still prepare up to 10 of your spells in a single day. The preparation helped to mitigate the extreme advantage a spellcaster would get from having a solution to almost every problem on demand.

    I also love the idea of adding something from the psionics system: channeling. For example, with spells like Burning Hands that scale damage up with spell level. You could have the option to spend more mana to amp up the spell’s damage. Additionally, metamagic feats would increase mana costs rather than requiring a higher spell level.

    The Level + Ability scheme for mana pool seems alright. Means that most casters will be able to throw 2-4 spells at 1st level, which is close to what the system allows. It’s possible that if channeling is included as an option that mana costs would have to be individually balanced, along with the mana pool. That’s a project I’d consider taking on for Pathfinder, maybe, in my copious spare time. :p

    Anyway, sorry for the ramble, and thanks for the read!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I always liked channeling as a magic system. I like your idea too. Increase the burn!
      My old D&D group did it a bit differently – you could make a check to channel out extra Spell Points – but if you failed, then you’d end up with your mind fried, going unconscious and a few other nasty effects. And of course, it got harder and harder to channel (risky, but rewarding).


  4. Spell points have been around since (at least) the 3.0 unearthed arcana book, so if you need some more ideas you can check that out.
    Personally, the thing I like least about magic in D&D is the limited role of spells. I’d prefer something with a little more creativity involved than picking out which “trick” to do.
    Lastly, as a DM the last thing i want to do is hands my cleric a list of spells and say “you can only cast these today”. There is way too much license to be an a-hole for that to be a realistic option for anyone, in my opinion.


      • Spell lists associated with individual gods would be the best solution if you want to limit the cleric’s spell choice. I’m not sure that’s really necessary, though, seeing as how most of the cleric’s spells don’t generally affect battles directly.

        Which reminds me, do wizards need to have their spellbook out and open to cast spells? I don’t see much difference between in a backpack and “lost down a hole”, at least on the first day. And the spellcasting DC seems rather high to me as well. If I’m a level 1 caster with a +3 bonus, that means I have to roll a 14 to cast a first level spell. There’s only a 35% chance I’ll be able to pull it off, and lose a quarter of my mana in the process. Then I have to wait 2 1/2 hours to get it back. If I’ve only got a +2 bonus, that drops to a 30% chance of success. Taken together, only one of my initial mana points is likely to mean anything.


  5. Hello all! I’ve been working on a variant spellcasting system, cobbling together ideas I’ve seen here and there, and I thought I’d share it. The link below leads to the actual document, but here is the gist of it:

    -arcane casters memorize spells and can cast a number of levels of spells based on their caster level.

    -when arcane casters “run out” of spell levels, they may still cast a spell, though they must make a roll based on spell level, failure meaning they suffer levels of exhaustion (cribbed from 5e Dnd) that could ultimately lead to death.

    -divine casters use a similar system, but once “out of spells”, may petition their deity for additional spells based on Divine Favor (a new characteristic based on level) – most of the time, if a spell is granted, Divine Favor is lost, increasing the likelihood of further spells not being granted and incurring the deity’s displeasure.

    -recovering Divine Favor can happen in a myriad of ways: donations; quests; fasting, etc.

    Please check out what I have now and give me some feedback!


      • Thanks! I am definitely looking to simplify it. I’ve used spell points/mana before and for some reason just found it unsatisfying. What I think I’d like DnD to emulate is something like magic in the Shannara books – Allanon the druid could fling firebolts left and right, with prolonged castings seeming to tax his endurance to some degree.

        Your post “SimpleDnD Fate Core Style Encounters” influenced the Divine Favor roll – perhaps I could take DF out of it all together, and allow anyone to cast more spells than they are allotted if they pass a DC 15+spell level check, adding the appropriate Ability Focus bonus (1/2 Level)? Only on a “Roll less than 5 below required number and fail with a negative result” roll would anything bad happen, perhaps left up to DM fiat.


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