Instinctive Casters – The Results

Right then. The polls in the last blog post have been running for two weeks and I think it’s time to draw a line under them. I think that everyone who cares has either had their say or cast a vote, so I’m going to move on. Which is not to say that I won’t read or take notice of any further feedback. If you have an opinion let me know.

Even taking into account Neil’s undocumented opinions, and Daniel’s last minute conversion to a Freecasting system, the winning proposals are obvious: and have a clearer mandate than any government elected in this country in the last seventy years. The majority wants instinctive casters to move to a Spell Points per Encounter system, and for the number of spells they know to be determined by Rounded Spell Levels.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s decided.

However, before I start writing up these new rules, there are three things that I would like you to decide upon.

How Many Spell Points?

We have a bit of a dilemma. Normally, I’ve converted spell points directly from the number of spells a caster can cast in a day in the published spell system. As we are resetting spell points after each encounter, that approach won’t work any more. There’s no poll to vote on in this regard as I only have one idea. However, if you have any other thoughts that you think will work better then please say so in the comments..

The number of spell points depends on your progression. Characters who cast all nine spell levels like a sorcerer have 2 spell points per level + their ability score per level. Those that cast up to level six (like a bard) have 1.5 spell points per level + their ability score per level (round down!). Those that cast up to level four spells (like a hexblade) have 1 spell point per level + their ability score.

So does this work?

A 1st level sorcerer with a  Charisma of 17 has a total of 4 spell points, and knows 2 levels worth of spells. A 10th level sorcerer with a Charisma of 17 has a total of 23 spell points. That sorcerer knows 44 levels of spells (from levels 1 to 5), so she won’t be able to blow through all her spells without taking a rest. However, given how long combats tend to last she’s unlikely to run out of spellcasting options before the end of the final round. By eighteenth level, the same sorcerer with a Charisma of 22 (let’s call her Ravenna) would have 42 spell points, but know 102 levels of spells.

A 1st level bard with a Charisma of 17 also has 4 spell points, and knows 2 levels worth of spells. At 10th level the same bard has a total of 18 spell points, and knows 28 levels worth of spells. By 18th level that bard (now with a Charisma of 22) has 33 spell points and knows a total of 74 levels of spells.

Does all this sound about right to you? Let me know in the comments. If you don’t say then I won’t know! I think the number of spell points seems fair as it looks as though a spellcaster can cast the most powerful spell they know four times before running out of spell points. I haven’t double checked that for every permutation of class and level, though.


Jon proposed that sorcerers (or other instinctive casters) should have the ability to carry on casting magic even if they ran out of spell points. Doing so should drain them in some fashion, meaning they would only attempt such a thing in dire circumstances. I have a few suggestions as to how this might work in practice. Have a read, then please vote below:

Option One: No Overcasting

A simple option. We just don’t go down the overcasting route. We keep things simple. Sorcerers and their ilk have a set number of spell points and no more. It may not be quite as evocative, but it keeps things nice and easy for everyone. I should point out that we had a form of overcasting in the rules for years, but no-one actually used it.

Option Two: Make a check or nauseated

When the instinctive caster overcasts magic they must make a Concentration Check. The DC is the same as casting defensively: 15 + double the spell level + spell levels over their normal spell point total. If they fail the check then the spell fails and the sorcerer is nauseated for a number of rounds equal to the spell level. Successive overcast attempts result in further Concentration checks, at an increasing difficulty as the number of spell levels they have tried to cast over their normal total also increases. If the spellcaster overcasts (whether successful or not) it takes 1 hour instead of a short rest (5 minutes) to regain their spell points.

This is the only option I’ve presented that requires the roll of a die. I don’t think that would be as much of an issue as the languor system as instinctive casters should only be overcasting very infrequently. The price of failure (the “nauseated” condition) is deliberately high. If you are nausaeted you can only take a single Move action on your turn: and no-one wants that in combat. The additional delay to regain your spell points (up from 5 minutes to 1 hour) if you overcast should discourage using this option outside combat unless absolutely necessary.

Option Three: Constitution Damage

An instinctive spellcaster can overcast their spells. However, any additional spell levels they spend over their normal spell point total is converted into Constitution damage. For example, a sorcerer has a maximum of 20 spell point but has already cast 18 spell levels. If the sorcerer casts a fifth level spell then they spend their last two spell points, and take three points of damage to their Constitution score. This ability damage heals normally.

This option has the advantage of being quick and easy to adjudicate. It’s also rather brutal as any damag to Consitution automatically affects the sorcerer’s current and maximum hit points. However, it is invocative of the sorcerer metabolising his own body and turning it into magic: a desperate last resort.

Option Four: Borrowing from Yourself

In this system, a sorcerer that overcasts borrows spell points from the spell points he would have had if he had the chance to take a short rest. The price he pays is lowering his maximum spell point total until his next extended (8-hour) rest. For example: a sorcerer has a maximum of 20 spell points. She casts all 20, but still needs to cast magic and opts to overcast. She casts a second and a third level spell using up 5 more spell points. When she takes a short rest to regain her spell points her maximum total is now 15 and not 20. Her maximum total remains 15 until she takes an extended rest at the end of the day.

This option requies a little more paperwork on the part of the player, and has the potential to make the instinctive caster more powerful. If the instinctive caster overcasts more than twice his spell points (40 spell points in the example above) then the overflow at thay point would be converted to Constitution damage as per option two.

Words of Power

The rules for Words of Power can be found on the Pathfinder PRD. I’m not going to try and explain the mechanics. Have a read and see if you can understand them. It is a magic system without spells. The idea is that you take the fundamental elements of a spell and build a magical effect on the fly. If you ignore the Pathfinder-flavour it’s an extremely evocative and appropriate system for untrained, instinctive spellcasters.

Daniel has proposed that we adopt this system. If we did, then I’d want to apply it across the board to all sorcerers, oracles, wilders, inquisitors and the like. The Words of Power ‘spells’ would replace the class’s normal spell list. The class wouldn’t be able to select normal spells, they would choose words of power instead. Any additional spells granted by class abilities – such as a sorcerer’s bloodline powers, or an oracle’s mysteries – would still be spells from the normal spell list.

We’d still use spell points per encounter and rounded spell-levels if we adopted Words of Powers. The mechanics of the system wouldn’t change, just the content of the individual class’s spell lists.

Be under no illusion: this would be a massive change to the way magic works in the game. Certainly in keeping with Iourn thematically, but a sharp right turn for those players who have instinctive casters as their characters.

What’s Next?

Once we’ve made these last decisions, I’m going to consolidate the rules for the final time and then get them up on I’m not planning on introducing any further house rules for third edition/Pathfinder. I wouldn’t like say that I’m done with the system, but I’m not sure there’s any thing else I want to fundamentally alter. What the future holds is converting third and fourth edition material in to the new rules. I’d like to see the warlock and the swordmage properly supported in the hybrid game.

Looking to the far future, I like a lot of what I’m reading regarding 5th edition – I am cautious, however, as I liked most of what I read about fourth 4th edition as well. I also envisage not running games set on Iourn as much as I have in the past decade. These hybrid rules that we’ve worked on for the last few years will become the system I use to run games on Iourn. However, I think I might just be adopting 5th edition for any new campaigns set outside that setting.


7 thoughts on “Instinctive Casters – The Results

  1. Might i suggest for overcasting that you use the ability damage method, but make it either hitpoint damage or Wisdom damage. HP damage would probably need some kind of catch that it cannot be healed by magic (and probably do more damage, spell level squared perhaps), but both give you the same concept; the ability to overcast by sacrificing stats (which i think is an excellent ability from both a narrative and gameplay standpoint) but without the vicious brutality that is Con damage.

    Personally I’d vote for a Wis damage based overcasting system; thematically it adds the idea of mental fatigue to overcasting; as you overcast you get more and more tired, your mind becomes less and less focused untill eventually you hit 0 Wis and just fall unconscious from the overexertion; it gives the PC’s the option to overcast without the knowledge that doing so is going to slam them upside the face for (potentially) hundreds of points of damage.

  2. @Neruz
    Charisma for Sorcerers – you can see in their faces – all wrinkled as they suck their very essence from their bodies….

  3. Well, that’s an interesting idea you’ve both raised. I deliberately avoided the idea of ability damage to one of the three mental ability scores. After all, instinctive casters come in all shapes and forms and it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that INT, WIS, or CHA could be the ability score that governs spell-casting.

    I thought that the drain from overcasting targeting the same ability score that you use for your spell-casting as being a bit harsh. Do you not agree?

    A sorcerer that has her Charisma damaged could well lose access to her highest level spells until that damage was healed. Now that would certainly discourage over-casting on a regular basis!

    I picked CON as it seemed to fit, and was also a nod to the old subdual damage system we used. But I take the point that the reduction in hit points is a pit of double whammy for the instinctive caster.

    Would STR work better? Or would you prefer to hit the instinctive caster where it hurts?

  4. Honestly, the drain from overcasting targeting your casting ability score is less harsh than targeting your Con. Con damage is by far the worst kind of ability damage because it’s it takes out your HP, your Fort Saves AND it’s the only ability that kills you when you drop to 0.

    At least with primary score damage, sure if i overcast i might lose access to some of my more powerful spells, but at least you can overcast without effectively committing suicide and if you need to to prevent a tpk you can go all the way down to 0, draining everything you have for one last hit that saves the day and lets your teammates drag your unconscious and spent form away from the battle.

  5. I’ll jump on the casting ability damage. Very good arguments made so far.

    Obviously I’ve voted for Wordcasting. The one thing I’ll say to the suspicious is that it’s simpler than it looks. For spontaneous casters it’s just a case of understanding what your limited selection of words can do. Wizards and Clerics would have a harder job picking from their vast lists but, as always, Sorcerers etc just need to understand their own little section of the spell list.

    I really think Jon in particular would love it when he got his head round it. It’s so much more freeing than standard spell lists and it rewards creativity.

  6. @dan

    Yes … I 100% agree that if I could get my head around it… it would be great….I foresee 2 issues

    1. I’ve tried… and as yet my head isn’t turned – let alone all the way round this.

    2. If I do get my head around it – Neil would need to have a equal level of understanding – otherwise there will be SOOOO many arguments i’d get accused of being a “Diva” again.

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