Making Arcane Characters More Powerful?

Yeah, yeah, I know what you are thinking.

But this isn’t that.

In my campaign setting, there is a reason that magic works the way it does (ala D&D standard). A big part of that revolves around the nature of magic being irrevocably altered by a catastrophe called the Sundering. Before that event, magic was much more powerful and sweeping in scope.

Now, this is just window dressing to the world, but the pcs have recently traveled to another world…a world where this never happened. As such, by my cosmology, arcane magic should be much stronger.

Given my druthers, I’d love it if there were some effect based system for OSR magic out there, but I’ve never seen one. Other than spell points, or additional slots, or other effect, there aren’t many ways I can think of to change the magic system to reflect the fluff (not without literally tearing it out and replacing it with something completely different, which I’ve never really seen attempted in the old school days).

For PCs, I’ll probably just let them maybe have an extra slot per spell level or something to represent their unfamiliarity with the new power they have coursing around them.

But is there any other way? Does anyone know of anything I could do, or perhaps have some suggestions beyond spell points or more slots or increased caster level? Are there easily usable OSR friendly alt-casting methods I don’t know of?

I do realize that the spell builder rules could kind of be used for what I’m thinking about, but frankly, I feel that the intense math would slow me and my players down too much for spells cast on the fly.

The strength of arcane magic could be analyzed as follows:

  1. Who can do magic?
  2. How often can they do it?
  3. What can they do with it?
  4. What are the limits of what can magic do?
  5. How long does it take to do it?

Who: In ACKS, only mages and related classes can do magic. If magic is more powerful, perhaps everyone has access to some minor degree of magic. 

Frequency: In ACKS, mages are strictly limited in the number of spells they can cast per day. If magic is more powerful, perhaps these frequency caps are greater. Or perhaps the magic is *always* available, but access it comes at a risk - lose 1d3 hp per spell level, or lose 1 point of CON temporarily per spell level, or make a saving throw to avoid being stunned.

Breadth: In ACKS, mages have to work very hard to keep their spells in their repertoire. In an alternative world, perhaps mages can cast any spell they've got in their spellbooks. 

Limits: In ACKS spells greater than 6th level are Ritual magic. In an alternative world, perhaps 7th-9th level spells are standard spells, and ritual magic exists at the 10th-12th level. 

Length: In ACKS, all spells take 1 round, except for occasional spells noted as taking 1 turn and ritual spells that take weeks. If magic were more powerful, perhaps most spells would take 1 action - meaning you wouldn't need to declare in advance, could move and cast, etc. Perhaps 10 minute casting time because one round, and ritual casting time becomes 10 minutes.


You could think in terms of 3Es metamagic feats. Perhaps all spells with a random die roll receive the maximum result, or are enhanced 1.5x. Perhaps you have to make two saves against it, and take the lowest result. Stuff like that.

God Alex, if I wasn’t already a fan boy… :wink:

First of all, thanks for taking my problem and breaking it down so nicely.

Who: this is a great idea. I love it. And, it gives me a great use for a table of random magical affinities out of Theorems & Thamaturgy (which I just got from the Lulu sale).

Frequency: I like the ‘always available’ idea. I may use that for natives. For the PCs they may just get one slot per spell level (or maybe pull out the bonus spells for high int like out of 1st Ed).

Breadth: Hmmm… maybe combine this with the previous. So perhaps you can cast spells you ‘know’ i.e. in your book by taking damage, while those in your repertoire you cast more safely.

Limits: Yeah, this one I’d already planned on doing… :wink: There are going to be a few VERY high level mages out there (ala Sorcerer Kings from Dark Sun) who have 7th-9th spell slots, and I like the idea of 10th level Rituals.

Length: that’s another good idea…magic could be ‘quicker’. I dig that.

While I still wish there were a way to do something ‘Ars Magica’ like to dnd, I think that’s a bit too much work for what is hopefully simply a detour in the campaign. However, this will definitely make things feel different for the characters. :wink:

You could put a few more restrictions on regular magic: specific implements needed for casting different types of spells… So you know he can cast something blasty from his Iron rod (don’t snigger at the back there) but he can’t pull off a sleep spell unless he readies a silk fan.
Then let your players cast without and let them decide how widely they want people to know about their abilities…
Then at 5th level, tell them to pick one 1st level spell that they can cast without preparation… and the next time they get a spell interrupted, let them cast that spell instead using the slot they just lost.
At 10th, let them do the same with a chosen 2nd level spell.
No, if they ask, that spell doesn’t have to be in their spellbook at the time… :wink:

Actually, mentioning Ars Magica suggests another pair of axes that could vary:

  1. How much variety can they handle? In the spirit of another set of variant classes recently posted, expand their repertoire.
  2. How much variety can they learn? Make magic research easier.

I’d combine 6 & 7. As foreign mages, there are all sorts of things going on magically that are new to them. Time spent in that world is automatically counted as magical research towards additional spells (presumably of your choice, flavored to that world, or just randomly rolled on a table flavored to that world) that get added to their repertoire as a surprise. “Oh, you’ve been here a day, you observe mumbledy fluff and realize that in this world you can now cast ((level 1 spell X)). Three days? Contratulations, ((level 2 spell Y)).”

If they take time & gold before leaving that world, they can scribe these new spells in their spellbook and still have access to them in the old world.

Thread necromancy:

One major area of magic that seems to have been neglected: magic item creation (also necromancy, crossbreeds, and constructs). One of the stated explanations for all the cool magic items in dungeons is the possibility that they were easier and more practical to make at one point. You can easily drop down the cost, time and magical research roles to make magical items in the super-magic world until they are reasonable to mass-produce (making a more D&D-like magic world).

Another possibility would be to shift to a spell point / mana-based system, and use the spell construction guidelines from the PC to create spells on the fly (and have the cost in points from the PC be the cost in spell points for the caster).