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I'm starting a campaign and will be the DM. We are basing our system off the D&D 3rd ed. Most of us (players and myself) don't really like the rules surrounding Wizards / Sorcerers when they have to prepare / memorize their daily spells. I find that it limits the creativity of the player and adds complication to the flow of the story. Even though I don't like the system I do understand the logistics behind the rules and the inevitable explanations in-game.

I was curious what alternative systems other DM's might have come up with to replace the memorize / forget system of magic. Are there any known guides for this house rule(s)?

Possible ideas could be a mana based system, or maybe a saving throw style system that increase or decreases it's modifier to correspond to level of tiredness or concentration ability.

To narrow down this question to a more specific answer I am looking for an alternative magic system for D&D that:

  • Allows the players to choose from all of their known spells at the time they wish to cast a spell.
  • Be balanced in roughly the same proportions that the memorize / forget system imposes.
  • Does not bog down the combat flow
  • Offers the ability to use spells outside combat
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Since we don't do lists of stuff hoping to randomly make a good guess at an asker's unstated requirements, this will probably get closed as currently written. To make this on-topic for the site, you should add what requirements you will use to judge answers by, so that answerers can skip suggesting magic systems that are clearly not what you're looking for. Or said another way: you don't like the current system, okay, but what are your goals for a replacement system? –  SevenSidedDie May 20 '13 at 0:00
    
OK will edit... –  Sukima May 20 '13 at 0:14
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Would you expand on your fourth point? Using spells outside of combat wouldn't be an alternative to 3rd edition. –  LitheOhm May 20 '13 at 1:21
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Worth mentioning: there are 6 prepared casting classes in the official books. Of those, 4 (Archivist, Cleric, Druid, and Wizard) are members of the "Big Five" (along with the Artificer), the five most powerful classed in the game. It may be very desirable to not replicate that when replacing the existing system. Much better balance is possible. –  KRyan May 20 '13 at 5:04
    
I seem to remember a question about reskinning Psionics for this. It's not perfect, but it might be useful. Here –  Dakeyras May 20 '13 at 10:21
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5 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

The simplest is to simply use the Sorcerer instead of Wizard - you get a small list of known spells, and a number of spells, and nothing else changes.

Slightly more effort, but more easily used for all classes...

Spell Points

Allow the usual numbers of known spells. Each spell costs spell points equal to twice it's level, with zero levels being treated as level 1/2. Total spell points available are found by totaling the number of spell levels availble per day and doubling. This does render the Sorcerer redundant, and the Bard can be switched to it easily enough (it's almost a non-change).

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That spell point option dramatically powers up classes that are already the most powerful in the game, which he explicitly doesn't want. –  KRyan May 20 '13 at 10:38
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I'm not sure how a spell point system would power up a spellcaster beyond what it already is. You still have the same potential number of levels of spells per day. You just have a little more variety and discretion by not having to select a specific list each day. Sure, you can cast more higher level spells per day than before, but then you're left with no points for anything else and run out of abilities quickly. –  BBlake May 20 '13 at 12:18
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@BBlake Take a caster with 4/4/4/3/2/1 spells per day (Lvs 0/1/2/3/4/5)... he now has 4+8+16+18+16+10=72 spell points. He can cast 7 5th level spells, or 9 4th levels, or 72 0th level... that flexibility is REALLY empowering. –  aramis May 20 '13 at 17:21
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@SevenSidedDie Caster creativity is precisely the sort of thing that makes them massively more powerful than non-casting classes. It's only casters who do nothing by spam fireball and cure wounds that can appear to be balanced against Fighter and Monk. Also, the rules don't change depending on how hard you optimize; there's no such thing as a "char-op" game vs. a "non-char-op" game, there is just a continuum of optimization levels. And even at low ends of the spectrum, spellcasters have an edge and have a larger edge with this variant. –  KRyan May 20 '13 at 19:26
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@KRyan Yes, there is such thing as a "non-char-op" game: it's one where people don't care about the power balance because their play objectives are orthogonal. Just because the power-balance axis exists in every game doesn't mean it's relevant to every game. –  SevenSidedDie May 20 '13 at 19:47
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I don't believe there is a magic system in 3.5 with the guidelines you're specifically looking for. Spell selection limitation is at the heart of many factors of balance within 3.5. Take the sorceror/wizard contrast for instance. The sorceror has access to a handful of spells throughout their career but gets more per day than the wizard, who can memorize/swap out spells on the fly. It's part of the balance - a prepared, thoughtful wizard can handle a greater spread of challenges than one who is neither precisely because of this limitation. I know of at least two separate ways to amend the spell system in 3.5, but not the memorize/forget system. I'll be checking back to see if anyone else has anything, though.

Allows the players to choose from all of their known spells at the time they wish to cast a spell.

Some classes allow this, see the beguiler from PHB2 for instance.

Be balanced in roughly the same proportions that the memorize / forget system imposes.

Unfortunately I don't believe there is a balanced system where this exists. Apart from radically limiting their spell selection or spells per day I can't think of how this might be accomplished.

Does not bog down the combat flow

The system you propose where they can cast any spell on their list would bog down combat, I believe, and here's why: When I first played 3.5 I had a sorceror who got into the Mage of the Arcane Order prestige class. One of the benefits of this class (from Tome and Blood originally but it's republished more currently in Complete Arcane) is being able to cast any spell on the person's list, as you have in mind. All the caster had to do, essentially, was concentrate for one full round to bring the selected spell to memory. I slowed down combat a lot at first because not only was I new to the system but I had virtually no limitations on spellcasting within that system.

Offers the ability to use spells outside combat

I don't quite understand this requirement. Rather I don't understand how it would be limited to only combat? Do you mean unlimited spellcasting outside of combat or something like that?

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+1 for pointing out that there are a lot of classes that do get spontaneous casting. There's even a couple on the divine side to replace Cleric (Favoured Soul and Healer) –  Allen Gould Jul 10 '13 at 15:47
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Firstly, spellcasters such as Bard and Sorcerer do not prepare spells. They simply know only a select few spells that they can cast “spontaneously” without special preparation.

Other classes, namely the Beguiler (Player’s Handbook II), Dread Necromancer (Heroes of Horror), and Warmage (Complete Arcane) expand this idea: they cast spontaneously from their entire list, which is of course smaller than the Sor/Wiz or Cleric list.

These classes are still limited in how many spells of each level they may cast without rest, but that’s a matter of needing to recharge rather than forgetting spells.

The Dragonfire Adept (Dragon Magic) and Warlock (Complete Arcane) cast spell-like abilities called invocations. These may be cast at-will (no recharge), but these classes are restricted to learning only a very few invocations, which are usually much weaker than spells at the same level.

Meldshapers (Magic of Incarnum) and Binders (Tome of Magic) have supernatural abilities that can generally be used at will, though these classes have daily preparation sessions that dictate which subset(s) of their options they will use that day.

Tome of Battle has a very nice system for handling martial arts; some of these, for the mystic Swordsage class, are supernatural and quite “magical” (Desert Wind lets you throw fire, Shadow Hand has a number of ice-based attacks and at least one force-choke).

The Tome of Battle system is so nice that a very detailed homebrew magic system was made based on it. These “Codices of Spellshaping” have been rather well-received by the 3.x homebrew scene.

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I'm typing from my phone so I can't get a link to Spellshaping right now. Will edit it in when I get a chance, but I'll be extremely busy for the next week. –  KRyan May 20 '13 at 2:48
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I found a GITP post that seems right. I'll link that, and if it's not the right one, it will at least serve well enough until you can replace it. –  SevenSidedDie May 20 '13 at 4:09
    
@SevenSidedDie That's the one, thanks. –  KRyan May 20 '13 at 19:27
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I know it's been some time since you asked the question, but consider looking into Thieves world. The spell system is very well done and doesn't use the "forgetme"-system that standard D&D does. It was made for D&D as a setting expansion, but i absolutely fell in love with the magic system.

features:

  • No memorization or no spell slots; you take non-lethal damage equal to the spell level.

  • take the chance and cast a higher level spell than your level allow.

  • a spell can take more than one round to cast.

  • cast your spells as rituals for a greater effect.

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Here is a link to Thieves World And I think this is the book on Amazon correct? –  Sukima Jul 11 '13 at 16:02
    
@Sukima Thanks for the links, that is exactly to book in question, I believe that this edition was made for D&D 3.0 or 3.5. The The Chaosium Box Set however is the way old edition (it was released in '81) and isn't specifically for D&D (it is more of a universal setting), so i wouldn't recommend using that for a D&D game. –  Jinx Jul 11 '13 at 16:32
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Scribe Scroll Feat

In D&D, any spell caster with the Scroll Scribe feat can write out a copy of their known spells, which they can then cast by reading from it, so there is no need to memorize it.

When I played a wizard, I always had at least one scroll for every spell in my spell book. This allowed me to have a large variety of spells handy without having to take up spell slots. The disadvantage for the spell caster, is that it costs gp and xp to scribe scrolls.

Microlite d20 Approach

An alternative is to borrow from Microlite d20. Spell casters can cast any spell they are capable of (based on level), and mana (hit points) are deducted according to a formula (Spell Level x 2) + 1. 0th level spells cost 1 mana, 1st level spells are 3, 2nd level spells are 5, etc.

In addition to not stifling creativity, your main concern, it greatly reduces the amount of bookkeeping and decision making (what spells to memorize) that only slows down play.

Microlite d20 is compatible with D&D and so uses the same spells.

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