From D&D Campaign to Fantasy Novel – Part 5

In Dungeons & Dragons, some character classes are capable of casting spells. Spells are divided into discrete levels based on how powerful they are. As a character advances in experience level, they gain access to spells of higher level, and can cast more of them per day. The two different uses of the word “level” is confusing, and I’m surprised that the issue still persists today given how easy it would be to resolve it.

The rules also state that spell-casters have to specify in advance which spells they might cast on a particular day, because spells have to be memorized. This came to be known as the “Vancian magic system”, named after author Jack Vance. In several of his stories, characters had to basically force a spell into their memory in order to use it. And being fiction, they always seemed to have just the right spell. (Kind of like how James Bond always seems to have just the right gadgets for his missions.) Not surprisingly, this system works poorly in actual play. The majority of spells are simply ignored. Clerics have no choice but to memorize large numbers of healing spells. Sadly, even in the most recent edition of D&D, this system persists to some degree.

In my books you won’t find people memorizing spells. They cast the spell they want, when they want. This is a direct result of my D&D campaign employing what is known as a “spell point system”. Casting a spell consumes spell points, and the number of spell points available increases with the character’s level. But compared to the standard rules, the number of spells that can be cast each day is reduced. This keeps the game balanced.

One interesting aspect to using spell points is that some spells can be made more powerful by expending more of them. Or less powerful by expending less. A Fireball spell can be cast that’s too weak to kill anyone, but which would make a fine deterrent. Spell points also allow for a single spell to replace multiple older spells. Recovery is the primary healing spell in my world, replacing Cure Light Wounds, Cure Serious Wounds, etc. A cleric can even use it to cure things like paralysis and disease by expending more spell points. In gameplay, it works beautifully, and it works in the books as well.

How is a spell cast? Does it require gestures? Incantations? Material components? For the most part, my spells require only a simple gesture and speaking the name of the spell. My assumption is that the real casting is internal—the caster focuses their will and visualizes what they want to happen. There are spells that are more complicated, but they’re generally not the type employed in combat situations.

As a final note, some of the spells in my D&D campaign (or at least their name) were taken from an anime called “The Slayers”. That anime, of course, was clearly influenced by D&D.

In Part 6, I will discuss religion in my campaign, and how it is portrayed in the books.

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