Article Header Image
Putting the Vance in Advanced
Legends and Lore
Monte Cook

G ary Gygax loved fantasy fiction. One of my favorite stories from the early days of TSR involves Gary at a Lake Geneva bookstore, browsing through the science fiction and fantasy section. He has a stack of new purchases with him. Along comes another fellow with a similar stack. The two begin chatting about the books they have in common as well as those they do not. By the end of the conversation, Gary offers the man a job at his new company. That man, James Ward, not only takes the job but stays with the company for decades and produces, directly or indirectly, hundreds of wonderful products that still shape the game today.

So yes, fiction was important to Gary.

He loved the works of Jack Vance. Vance wrote all sorts of fiction, but the ones most important to D&D are the books in the Dying Earth series. In these books, wizards prepare spells with names like “The Excellent Prismatic Spray.” These spells are so complex that a skilled wizard can keep the components—the words, the gestures, and the mystical aspects—of only a few of these spells in his head at once. And once used, at least as Gary interpreted it, the spell was gone until prepared again.

And that's where D&D got the “Vancian” magic system. Wizards (and most other casters) prepare their spells ahead of time and once used, the spell is gone.

As great of a writer as Jack Vance is, D&D is not The Dying Earth role-playing game. For several reasons, other than just nostalgia, we are exploring putting Vancian spellcasting back into the game. It's good for gameplay. It requires casters to think about what spells they want to cast ahead of time. It requires them to use their abilities judiciously. In other words, smart play is rewarded. You need to have an idea of what kind of adventure you are about to undertake to optimize your character, which often takes planning and perhaps research. But some players don't like that kind of play. Some Dungeon Masters don't reward it. And some players just don’t want to use their spells judiciously.

As a result, we'd like to include Vancian spellcasting as only one type of magic in the game. And according to a recent poll here, a majority of you seem to agree—that we should incude both Vancian and non-Vancian spellcasting systems as part of the core.

For example, inspired by 4th Edition design, we want to give casters something interesting to do when they're not using their limited spells. Something cool and magical, but not spells. This concept is particularly intriguing, because it opens a door to the idea that expressions of magic other than spells exist in the world and are available to characters. It’s a fun notion to play around with both from a mechanical and a story perspective.

One idea we’re considering is a magical feat. These feats represent magical abilities that a character can use all the time. For example, we might have a basic feat called Wizard Mark. This feat could indicate that a character is an arcane spellcaster, and it might grant him or her a minor, at-will ability. Maybe a minor blast of force. Maybe a telekinetic ability like mage hand. More potent feats could then be accessed later. Imagine a Disciple of Mordenkainen feat that grants a spellcaster a magical hound companion (a la Mordenkainen's faithful hound) or a Disciple of Tenser feat that grants him or her a floating disk to use.

This concept accomplishes two things: First, it allows us to give new life to some spell effects that get lost in a traditional Vancian system compared to fireballs and magic missiles. Second, it provides a way for casters to be magical even when they're not using their limited resources.

One of the most interesting aspects of this system is that it allows us to design a class that relies entirely on these magical feats instead of spells. Such a class would be far easier to play than the wizard, with no spells to prepare, but would still have a number of interesting magical offensive, defensive, and utilitarian options to call upon. In effect, a non-Vancian caster with 4th-Edition-style arcane powers.

We see other possibilities that can live alongside casters that use the Vancian D&D approach. Casters that have other controls on their resources, such as the 3rd-Edition style sorcerer or a point-based caster like the old psion class, could easily exist in the same D&D world as a traditional wizard.

On a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being “strongly dislike” and 5 being “strongly like,” rate the following systems for D&D spellcasting:

 Daily/Encounter/At-Will spellcasting  

 Vancian spellcasting  

 Flexible spellcasting (such as the 3rd Edition sorcerer)  

 Point-based spellcasting  

 If you could choose only one spellcasting system, which would you choose  
Daily/Encounter/At-Will spellcasting
Vancian spellcasting
Flexible spellcasting (such as the 3rd Edition sorcerer)
Point-based spellcasting

Last Week's Poll

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being "Completely Disagree" and 5 being "Completely Agree," rate your level of agreement with each of these statements about D&D play:

It is difficult to play (as a PC) at high level
1 803 17.0%
2 1069 22.7%
3 1334 28.3%
4 1044 22.1%
5 468 9.9%
Total 4718 100.0%

It is difficult to run games (as a DM) at high level
1 286 6.0%
2 315 6.6%
3 764 16.1%
4 1627 34.3%
5 1750 36.9%
Total 4742 100.0%

High level games require special considerations to run well (as a DM)
1 108 2.3%
2 76 1.6%
3 312 6.6%
4 1448 30.6%
5 2791 58.9%
Total 4735 100.0%

High level games require special considerations to play well (as a PC)
1 233 5.0%
2 623 13.2%
3 1441 30.6%
4 1508 32.1%
5 900 19.1%
Total 4705 100.0%

High level is just low level with bigger numbers
1 2658 55.7%
2 1294 27.1%
3 418 8.8%
4 198 4.1%
5 204 4.3%
Total 4772 100.0%

High level play should be no different from low level in feel
1 2160 45.4%
2 1257 26.4%
3 700 14.7%
4 326 6.9%
5 311 6.5%
Total 4754 100.0%

High level play should be no different from low level in gameplay
1 1356 28.7%
2 1333 28.2%
3 1084 22.9%
4 597 12.6%
5 357 7.6%
Total 4727 100.0%

I dislike high level play
1 1733 37.3%
2 903 19.4%
3 1081 23.3%
4 563 12.1%
5 366 7.9%
Total 4646 100.0%

I dislike low level play
1 2926 59.5%
2 877 17.8%
3 660 13.4%
4 266 5.4%
5 190 3.9%
Total 4919 100.0%

There are no comments yet for this article (or rating). Be the first!