As much as I like the system in D&D 4E, I'm slightly nostalgic of Vancian magic. The idea of the mage having to re-memorise the spells each day. Obviously it came with the baggage of resting every 5 minutes but is there a way to get round this?

I was thinking of changing wizard encounter spells into lots and lots of pre-prepared dailies. So they have 3-4 daily slots, rather than 2-3 encounter spells and 1 daily? I can imagine balancing that would be a massive hassle though.

Do any pre-existing systems for 4E do this already?


I think the RAW approach here would be to take a look at the essentials mage.

Each time the mage chooses daily, utility or encounter powers they choose two of the same level. Each day they prepare a set of spells determined by level (at level 1 its 1 daily, 1 encounter, at L2 its 1 daily, 1 utility and 1 encounter etc.). This gives you more of the flexibility of vancian magic without changing the balance between the wizard and the other players.

As far as the homebrew approach I would think about the following:

Leave daily spells as is, you already have a slot sytem that works well enough there, although you may want to allow players to insert encounter spells into the daily spell slots if they feel its a better use. This will make the player slightly weaker in a day, but give them more balance overall.

For encounter powers use the number of encounters you typically play per day times the number of slots a character would have at level. This would give you a pretty wide array of spells at higher levels. However, it would be overpowered on a short day and underpowered on a longer day.

The difficult part here is the at-will slotting system. 4e characters are designed to be able to fire off at-will attacks constantly throughout the day. I don't know how to fix this particular problem. I would probably just ignore this and let them stay as is.


I just made the following guidelines, I have played 4e for some time and now I am playing 3.5 . I hope the following offers wizards the feel you want them to have from 3.5 . I tried to maintain a degree of the 'balance' and power stability 4e offers by not introducing 9 spell levels and keeping it rather simple.

1) The wizard does not gain powers/spells as other classes. Instead, at each level up he can learn 2 wizard powers of his level or less (he must still be a member of an epic destiny or PP to be able to learn it's powers)

2) A wizard can learn any ritual or battle spell(powers, non-ritual arcane magic) he finds in a scroll, by scribing it in his spellbook. He can only cast spells of his level or less, but he can try an Arcana check with DC=spell level+10, in order to cast a spell with a level higher than that from a scroll. Regardless of failure/success the scroll's magic is expended, like in 3.5 .

3) There is no spell a wizard can cast indefinitely, all spell uses must be prepared in advance, taking 1 hour of meditation after an extended rest, during which the spellbook must be accessible. Previously prepared and unused spells remain in memory until they are used or another spell preparation is completed and overwrites their slots. A wizard may prepare spells no more often than once every 16 hours.

4) Wizards have 3 tiers of spell slots they can memorize (at will, encounter, daily) each day. Utility spells are categorized based on their frequency of use/color_code.

~"Green slots", lesser spells, at-will powers, first tier~
Number of slots = 1 + (character_level / 2) + Intelligence Modifier

~"Red slots", advanced spells, encounter powers, second tier~
Number of slots = (character_level / 5) + (Intelligence_modifier / 3)

~"Black slots", greater spells, daily powers, third tier~
Number of slots = ( character_level / 10) + (Intelligence_modifier / 3)

5) During preparation, a wizard can choose to convert one or more spell slots to another tier with a ratio of 2 (eg it takes 2 lesser slots to get an advanced one, or 4 to get a greater one. A greater slot gives you either 2 advanced ones, or 4 lesser ones) .
A spell slot can be filled with any spell of it's tier in the caster's spellbook that is of the caster's level or less.

6) Spells slots can be expended at-will with their regular casting times and the same power/spell may be prepared more than once expending the appropriate slots. One could cast Disintegrate twice, followed by 3 lightning bolts sequentially in 5 rounds, expending their slots.

7) Notes: I made the above on-the-fly, it seems rather balanced considering they lose their infinite low level powers.
For further balance you may want to consider implementing the necessity for spell components, verbal or somatic ones. I took some time with the numbers by they may be fine-tuned at your discretion, currently they seem to make wizards a little more powerful at higher level, which I find suitable.
Concentration-like skill checks could be used as well.
Keep in mind that existing PPs and EDs may need to be changed to work with a spell slot Vancian system, and various details may need to be filled in accordance to 3.5's concept of how mages worked.

Regardless, good luck with this, I hope my ideas help you.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This seems like it would leave the wizard twiddling his thumbs at low levels. \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Feb 2 '12 at 15:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ I know, but honestly even in RAW they are not that good unless you do some really good optimization. Plus I kinda find it appropriate for a wizards' power to scale in this way, being weak at low levels yet powerful in epics. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eldebryn
    Feb 2 '12 at 19:42

Here's a contraian point of view:

Don't take the high numbers of spells from 3.5 as "vancian" casting. Actually borrow from how vance does it, such that a high level character will have 4-5 spells per day.

The first thing to do is reflavour the at-wills to be mechanical/skill based instead of magic. The AoEs are throwing flasks of a caustic substance, magic missle is a crossbow, etc. This keeps the mage "useful." Think more of the bladesinger than a "wizard." Have "magic items" that produce these effects rather than an intrinsic quality of the mage.

The next thing to do is to deal with encounters. Since you will effectively be removing them, you need to add an equivalent amount of damage/status to the dailies. The current framework of daily slot allocations works in terms of the original text. To capture the feel of a vancian mage, I would chain an encounter attack with the daily and capture it all under one impressive name. While this results in a net decrease of damage over time, the "double-attack" should be sufficient to compensate from a "nova" perspective. You may want to balance this in game by adding additional "encounter" attacks with a cast, depending on the overall effectiveness of the wizard.

For utilities, just require daily only.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Whilst that would probably work better to fit how Vance deals with magic, I'm more interested in implementing something from 3.5e than the books. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 2 '12 at 15:36

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