HD&D: An Alternative Magic System?

My apologies for not pressing on with the posts on Combat, Weapons and so on. My attention has been somewhat diverted by the upcoming weekend game. Once that it is out of the way, I shall be able to devote a greater proportion of my time to HD&D. However, the following occurred to me this morning, and I wanted to joy down my thoughts while they were still fresh.

As I am sure you remember, I’m currently proposing we use a Recharge Magic system in HD&D. Obviously, we’re a long way from playtesting and when we do playtest, I have every intention of trying out the recharge system. However, there was a fair amount of opposition to the idea, so I have been thinking of possible alternatives, that don’t involve reverting to a spell-points. Here’s one of them:

Skill Checks to Cast Spells

Many roleplaying games run magic off the skill system – i.e. you have a roll to make a skill check in order to cast a spell. Any spell. At any time. The limitation placed upon spellcasting is not an arbitrary number of spell points, or limiting the casting of a spell to a certain number of times per day. The limitation is that you might simply fail the skill check.

“Hang on!” you might say. “Doesn’t HD&D already do this?” Well, no. It doesn’t. Not quite. In HD&D you often have to roll a Spellcraft check when you cast a spell, but this is not a check to cast the spell. This is a check to overcome the defences of your target. The Spellcraft check is an attack roll that replaces an opponent’s saving throw. As it stands, you do not need to roll a die simply to cast magic.

If we were to embrace this system instead of Recharge Magic, every spell would require a skill check to cast – even if you’re just detecting magic. Every spell would have a chance of failure. If you were targeting a spell at an opponent, then we would need to adopt the same mechanics I’ve already proferred for many of the combat manoeuvres: i.e. one die roll against two DCs.

For example, if you wanted to cast a Lightning Bolt at a foe you would make one roll on Spellcraft skill. The result would be compared to two DCs: the difficulty of casting the spell, and the Reflex defence of your target. Only if you rolled high enough to beat (or equal) both DCs would the spell work successively.

This is preferable than making two die rolls to cast a spell (one to cast and one to hit) as that tends to skew probability –  as well as slowing down combats. The DC to cast a spell would be pegged at the “average” DC depending on the level when the spell first becomes a available. So the DCs would be:

  • 1st level: DC 15
  • 2nd level: DC 16
  • 3rd level: DC 17
  • 4th level: DC 18
  • 5th level: DC 20
  • 6th level: DC 21
  • 7th level: DC 22
  • 8th level: DC 24
  • 9th level: DC 25

Now, as you rise in level the chances are that the DC to cast the spell is lower than the DC of the defences of your enemy. Therefore in combat, the difference is minimal. However, this is still a limitation. If you try to cast a spell and fail, then you still use up any material components. However, you can still try again the following round. With a suitably high spellcraft skill you could effectively cast low level spells indefinitely.

The disadvantage of this system is that it does make spell casting more complicated. There are also some spells that we don’t really want characters to be able to cast indefinitely – particularly healing magic. Therefore, there are still some kinks in the idea that need to be ironed out.

One can imagine how many of the traditional trappings of D&D could be layered onto this system. Using a metamagic feat increases the DC to cast a spell. If you don’t get eight hours sleep then you lose access to your highest level spells the following day and so on.

The principle of this is sound. You roll to cast a spell. If you fail the roll, then the spell doesn’t go off. It’s simple, and doesn’t involve any extra die rolling in combat. The question really is whether this is enough of a limitation to stop magic completely dominating the game.



2 thoughts on “HD&D: An Alternative Magic System?

  1. Hmmmm. I don’t think I am keen on this one. Outside combat environments utility spells will be used excessively without another factor to limit their use. Personally, I don’t object to recharge magic as said utility spells might only recharge every few hours outside of a combat environment.

    If you do adopt this system then one dice roll for both DCs is the way forward otherwise it drastically reduces the chance of hitting anything.

    Furthermore it would lead to some very silly scenes e.g. Narramac appears before the assembled on the top of mount Korvast and casts a spell to turn Garnir on his head and freeze time. He then rolls a 1 and says “sorry guys, hang on a minute I can get this” while he recasts. Plus one in twenty times the firewalker would look a dope as he failed to light his cigar.

  2. Hi Steve. The roll to cast a spell is a skill check, but it is not an attack roll. That means that a natural 1 is not an automatic failure. Of course, you’d still have to be a pretty high level to be able to cast spells with no chance of error. On average, you’d have to be 15th level before rolling a 1 on a d20 would still be enough to succeed in casting a first level spell.

    Should high level wizards and the like be immune to these sort of mishaps in casting magic? A high level fighter still has a 1 in 20 chance of failing to hit the broad side of a barn. So there’s precedent already in the system.

    However, I do take your point. Rolling to cast magic (all magic) greatly alters the character of the magic system. It is a potential misstep. The magic system won’t feel the same any more, and that was something I was hoping to avoid.

    It’s also a pretty poor way of regulating unwelcome (or “utility”) spells outside combat. Even if a healing spell recharges every five minutes, that still limits the casting of that spell to just 180 times per day (assuming an hour off for lunch). Under the skill system, if we assume that every other casting is a success, then the same spell could be cast 4500 times per day.

    So, yes. I still prefer the Recharge idea. But many others didn’t, so I’m just throwing this out there.

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