More Vancian!

Here-in are a set of alternate rules for casting magical spells, intended for use with the Crude Roleplaying Engine, but adaptable to other editions.  Part of the idea here was to avoid the Linear Fighter, Quadratic Wizard (LFQW) issue which certain pre-fourth editions have been accused of.

This material was originally inspired by Gorgonmilk's Memory Cell magic system, but eventually took a different shape here.  It was intended as a return to a more closely Jack Vance inspired magic system.


Spells are complex patterns of information which shift through multiple states, ultimately producing tangible effects in the mundane world.

A spell can be created initially through inspiration of a magician's mind learned on a particular subject, or as an outgrowth of some supernatural creature's being.  For instance a godling may be able to cast a spell at will that is in affinity with its own nature.

However, for most magicians the spell exists as a sort of mental wave-function, an unstable form which can be collapsed into one of two states:
  • Physical record - If the magician has the correct materials on hand, then the spell can be recorded into some physical medium.  This typically involves writing, but could take some other form instead.
  • Casting - If the magician collapses the waveform through certain outward physical words or actions then the spell is cast and produces some esoteric effect in the physical world.
In either case the spell is lost from memory after casting.

Preparing Spells

Preparing a spell in a magician's mind involves creating the proper wave form within the magician's mind.  There are four known ways of doing this:


Otherworldly beings, those for whom a spell is a permanent part of their nature, may find a way to impress it upon the mind of a willing magician. Although such beings may potentially have access to spells without a high intelligence or wisdom, the supernatural being may only imbue it into a magician's mind if the magician has a high enough Wisdom.

In effect this allows the magician to memorize the spell. Spells gained by mortals through this method may be cast in the typical manner, although only recorded through extraordinary means (i.e. the use of limited use "scrolls"). Magicians who have a spell memorized may imbue it into another magician's mind as well. Otherworldly beings imbuing spells to others through this method retain their spells, however magicians who imbue a spell from their own memory lose the spell and must rememorize it again.

Rote Memorization

Arcane magicians gain most of their spells by reading or otherwise impressing a physical record of the spell into their memories. This builds up the spell energy waveform in their mind in the same way that imbuing does.

Anyone with sufficiently high Intelligence can memorize a spell if they are literate in the language the spell is written in, although an Arcane Lore skill check (DC = (3 x Spell Level) +10) is necessary upon the first read-through of a new spell. Some spell transcribers get around the language barrier with an entirely pictorial spell representation, while use of the Read Magic makes spells in any language comprehensible and lowers the Arcane Lore check to (DC = (2 x Spell Level) +10). Arcane Lore checks for these purposes may be retried after a month of study.


Spells are so unnatural to the minds of mortal beings that spontaneously generating them is akin to expecting the minerals in a hillside to spontaneously fall together into the shape of a working sword. However, there are certain circumstances which might spontaneously generate a spell within a mage's mind.

One instance is inadvertent imbuing, where some bizarre esoteric or otherworldly phenomena drives a magician near the brink of madness and brings them back with some workable fragment of the unknown. Much more common, however is arcane research, which uses experimentation and analysis of physical phenomena to carefully construct a particular spell-form in the magician's mind.

Pact Creation

Pact creation does not really involve creating thought-forms within a magician's mind. Some "serious" mages consider it a cheat. During pact creation a magician convinces a spirit, elemental, fae, or other supernatural being to cast a spell on his behalf. The attending spirit then either donates a portion of their power to the sorcerer in the form of a stored spell, or tags along to cast the spell when the sorcerer requires it.

Pact sorcerers may seek out such beings easily, and even ally with beings of different types. However, there are some limitations on their abilities:
  • A sorcerer can only ally with beings found in their local area.  So finding spirits of carnage on a battle field will be easy, but finding friendly fae sprites deep within the lich-mage's tomb is unlikely.
  • Beings with divergent goals may not wish to ally with the sorcerer.  They may still do so, but the sorcerer will have to give them a very good reason to share their power.
  • Aside from the sorcerer's intentions, few entities will want to form a pact with a sorcerer who currently holds (or they feel too often holds) a pact with the a mortal enemy.  So healing spirits will not ally with a sorcerer who currently holds pacts for demons of torture, nor will fire spirits ally with sorcerers who hold pacts for producing water or cold.

The Limits of Memory

The maximum level of spells a character can prepare is equal to half their character level (rounded up).
A character can only prepare a number of any given category of spells at one time equal to their relevant ability bonus.  Thus:
  • Supernatural Patron - Allies of a supernatural patron can prepare a number of spells at once equal to their Wisdom bonus.
  • Arcane Student - Arcane students can prepare a number of spells equal to their Intelligence bonus.
  • Pact Sorcerer - Those who forge pacts for power can prepare a number of spells at once equal to their Charisma bonus.


In addition to prepared spells, a magician may also have an number of cantrips, orisons, and minor pacts (all zero level spells) prepared at one time.  The number of cantrips which can be prepared is one greater than the character's relevant attribute bonus.  However, cantrips are always in addition to higher level spells, and do not count toward the total number of spells prepared.

Additionally cantrips have a wave form so close to ground state that they are not lost from memory after casting.  Similarly: minor sorcerous pacts are fulfilled by lesser imps and sprites whose only goal is to hang out with and serve the sorcerer.

Preparation Time

The big constraint on spells is that they take 15 minutes per spell level to memorize, and interruption requires a restart.  Zero level spells only require 5 minutes of effort to switch one out of memory and gain another.  This and physical requirements (food, sleep, etc.) of the caster, are the only limitations on how many spells may be prepared and cast in a day.

Ex Librum Casting

Casting ex librum or "by the book" is a term used by wizards to describe the method for casting spells without committing them to memory.

Characters with at least 10 in their relevant ability score may become magicians despite the fact that they lack the qualities to hold prepared spells in memory.  Magicians may still prepare the spells in the usual manner, taking 15 minutes per spell level.  But instead of holding the spell's pattern in memory, the spell must be cast within 1 round of the magician completing the preparation.

Ritual Casting

Rituals are more elaborate processes for producing magical effects.  Performing a ritual is something like book casting.  However, the costs in time, effort, and materials are so much higher than those for casting typical spells, that even those lacking the appropriate attribute scores may execute a ritual if they follow the process exactly.

Among the more "common" rituals are methods for creating magical items and materials.

Magical Items

Magical items are artifacts meant to retain a spell-like wave form in an uncollapsed state, for use outside a magician's mind.  Some, like scrolls, only retain the pattern in a temporary manner until used.  Others hold the pattern in a more permanent and self-replenishing manner.  There are two major categories:
  • Casting implements - Typically charged to cast a spell one or more times and require someone with the appropriate intelligence to use.  Written materials (such as scrolls) can be used for memorization without expending the spell.  All casting implements may be used for book-casting without expending their charges.  If the caster has alternate means to prepare the spell related to the casting implement, then the implement may be recharged through the normal preparation process.
  • Tools, Weapons, Jewelry - In most cases these may be used by anyone, although some may have built-in limitations for race or other arbitrary requirements.  They may be built with charges or for unlimited use.