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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Vancian Magic in Savage Worlds

by Ken Newquist / May 5, 2010

I love Savage Worlds. Half of the guys in my group love Savage Worlds. But part of what keeps the other half from jumping on board, at least for a fantasy campaign, is the lack of a Vancian magic system (aka the "fire and forget" memorization system from Jack Vance's Dying Earth series and popularized in Dungeons & Dragons). I know that many Savage Worlds fans see this as a feature rather than a bug, but it's a concern with the Blackrazors, who have 12+ years of D&D 2E/3E under their belts.

So what would a Vancian magic system look like in Savage Worlds? There are two key elements to a Vancian system: discovery and flexibility. Discovery comes from being able to find spells in scrolls and spellbooks, and add them to your own growing library. Flexibility comes from being able to pick the right spell for the right job, and not being locked down to a pre-determined power suite.

Recreating a Vancian system in Savage Worlds requires you to retain these discovery and flexibility while still working with its default power point system. Here's my take on it.

Arcane Background: Wizard

 

Table 1. Wizard Spells Prepared Per Day
  Novice
Spells
Seasoned
Spells
Veteran
Spells
Heroic
Spells
Novice
3
-
-
-
Seasoned
4
1
-
-
Veteran
5
2
1
-
Heroic
6
3
2
1

The Arcane Background: Wizard represents an arcane spellcaster who has mastered a large library of spells, but is only able to prepare a handful of these spells each day. Wizards may learn and cast any spell except for greater healing, healing and succor.

Table 1: Wizard Spells Prepared Per Day shows how many spells a wizard can prepare each day per advancement tier (Novice, Seasoned, Veteran, Heroic). Once prepared, a wizard can use spell points as normal to cast the spells.

Wizards receive 15 power points per day but unlike other spellcasters, these points do not regenerate. Holding the spell patterns in one's mind is mentally and physically exhausting, and thus each day wizards must get eight consecutive hours of rest in order to recover their power points. In addition, each morning the wizard must spend 1 hour studying to prepare his spells for the day; if he wishes to reuse the same spell list from the day before, this time is reduced to 15 minutes.

Wizards begin with three known spells at the Novice tier. If they encounter arcane spells in a scroll or spell book, they make a Knowledge: Arcana check to copy that spell into their book. The Target Number for the check increases for +2 for each difference in advancement tier standing between the character and the spell (e.g. a Novice Character attempting to copy a Heroic spell would need a TN 6).

New Edge: Wizardly Insight

Each time you take the Wizardly Insight, choose an advancement tier: you can cast one additional spell per day from that tier. You may take this edge multiple times.

Design Notes

My goal here is not to do away with the Savage Worlds magic system entirely -- wizards would still need to make skill checks to cast spells because that mechanic determines whether or not they got a raise, and that's part of the excitement of Savage Worlds. What I want to do is create something that recreates the spirit of the Vancian magic system, and addresses certain player's need to have greater flexibility when it comes to picking and casting spells.

I kept the power points at 15, rather than lowing it as an offset for their increased spell lists, because that's all they get for the day. Unlike other arcane casters, wizards power points don't regenerate throughout the day, so they'll need to horde their resources. Does this infect Savage Worlds with the 5 minute work day that D&D saw? Maybe, but that may not be a bad thing, depending on your preferences. That said, allowing power points to regenerate normally AND having a diversified spell list seems too much.