Variant Spell Preperation

Merlin the Wizard by Julek HellerCasters are overpowered in Pathfinder. It’s not exactly a controversial statement. They’re less overpowered compared to non-casters than they were in D&D 3.5, but that’s not saying much. Wizards were demoted from Gods, to merely Demi-Gods. Finding ways to creatively nerf wizards has become a side hobby of mine. I’d like to bring them in line with the other classes, without taking away of the flavor which I view as central to the class.

In early editions of D&D, Magic Users gained their spells at random, and that served as an effective balancing device. And while I think it’s a really cool idea, I don’t think it fits into the Pathfinder mythos very well. A Pathfinder wizard is a scholar; there is nothing random about how they go about their business. I’ve suggested before simply removing any spells that a wizard gains by leveling up, and instead offering the wizard spells as treasure. I still like this idea a lot, but I understand that not everyone can get behind such a large nerf. It has also recently been suggested that any spell a Wizard casts from a scroll should count against their total spells per day. I quite like this idea as well, but obviously it’s not sufficient to completely balance the class.

While reading a recent post over at Brendan’s site Untimately, I struck upon another idea. What if the spell slots of the Wizard (or any other Caster) were not level specific? According to the current Pathfinder rules, every time a wizard gains a new spell level, they have only 1 spell slot for that level. At the next level it goes up to two slots, two levels after that it goes up to three slots, and three levels later it maxes out at four slots. By level 20, a Wizard is able to prepare four spells from all ten spell levels each day, for a total of 40 spells every day. If they like, a lower level spell can be placed in a higher level spell slot, but that always feels kinda wasteful, doesn’t it?

Using this idea, a wizard will still have spell slots, and still prepare their spells using a Vancian “fire and forget” system. But instead of having X number of slots for Y level spells, the caster will instead gain generic spell slots which can be used to memorize spells of any level. The catch is that each spell requires a number of spell slots equal to its spell level to memorize. So a fifth level spell will require five spell slots.

The way the system scales is really quite interesting. Using the official Pathfinder rules, characters who reach a new spell level can only prepare a single spell of that level until they gain a new character level. Using system, however, characters probably have enough spell slots to prepare several of their highest level spells as soon as they gain access to them–but at the expense of only having a few spells to cast for the day.

I feel like I’m writing ‘level’ and ‘spell’ a lot.

Another interesting thing about this system is that it becomes remarkably easy to scale the wizard’s level of power until you find a good fit for your game. If you’re running a low magic game, Wizards start with 4 spell slots, and gain 2 new slots each time they gain a class level. If you’re running a game with more magic, wizards start with 3 spell slots, and gain 3 each time they level.

The system seems elegant to me, but I haven’t play tested it yet. I wish I could claim credit for coming up with the idea first, but it appears Brendan beat me to the punch by almost a year. And apparently an old sourcebook called The Principalities of Glantri Gazeteer beat him to the punch by several decades. Still, I think the idea deserves some consideration.

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9 thoughts on “Variant Spell Preperation”

  1. Thanks for the link!

    Would you still observe the current max spell level? From this write-up, it sounds like wizards would be able to cast 9th level spells at 9th level.

    1. That’s a good point, I hadn’t realized that aspect might be unclear.

      Yes, I would still observe the maximum spell level. Giving a level 9 character the ability to cast “Wish,” would be ludicrous. Especially since Pathfinder doesn’t have an XP requirement for the spell.

  2. Sounds like it could work, basically an MP system. I’ve also been partial to the system Microlite20 uses wherein wizards gain HP like every other class, but have to spend HP to cast spells.

    Small nitpick though, while wizards did learn some spells at random in early editions (I believe one per level, excepting the first 3 or 4 1st level spells) all the other spells had to be found as treasure or through research and libraries.

    1. It does have some aspects of an MP system, but it still relies on a “spells per day” system of management, rather than drawing from a pool of magical ability. In my humble opinion, that doesn’t work very well at the table. Though I must admit, I’ve been intrigued by casters who cast spells by taking HP damage.

      I am aware, actually, that wizards can still learn spells from scrolls/libraries/other wizards. In the past, I’ve posited that it might be interesting to make that the ONLY way to acquire spells.

  3. I *really* like this idea.

    I’ve never found Wizards to be all-powerful in my games. Granted, I prefer lower level games between levels 1 and 6 (max), and maybe that dulls their power a bit (I think we’re talking Level 3 spells at the high end). But it seems to me that the biggest advantage Wizards get is the 15-minute workday, and I’ve generally been able to avoid that in my games, too.

    I also like the idea of restricting Wizards to research-only spells. In my low-level games I don’t think it’ll have a lot of (negative) impact, but it seems like it would underscore the difference between Sorcerers and Wizards.

  4. One question just occurred to me: how does this system deal with level 0 spells? My understanding is that Level 0 spells can be cast repeatedly without expending them, but a Wizard can still only prepare 4 (I think those 4 slots are included in your count of slots a Wizard starts with). In places where the Level of a spell determines things like cost of a scroll, level 0 is counted as one half. So do you think Level 0 spells should take up full slots (since they aren’t expended) or half a slot (since they’re less than a Level 1 spell)? In the later case, wouldn’t that effectively increase the number of spells a Wizard can have prepared?

    1. I realized this after the fact myself.

      I think they should still take up 1 spell slot, but once they are prepared they can be cast as at-will powers.

      So yes, they take up just as much space as a 1st level spell, even though they are less powerful. But it balances out because they are not expended once you cast them.

  5. So to simplify what you said you use the split spell slot variant rule and adding in a combine spell slot rule?

    This is how I describe my system.

    On the note of cantrips, I make it to where any extra cantrip/orison takes you a lvl1 slot but casts as a cantrip. But they can only have bonus cantrips up to their INT Mod.


  6. FFd20 (Final Fantasy pathfinder variant) uses an MP system akin to this, and it might be worth checking it out for variant rules if you haven’t seen it.

    Personally, this is why wizards specifically (and casters more generally) are only powerful in the morning: If my MUs aren’t casting out every day, I’ve taken away slots. My clerics dread losing a carried high-level spell and needing to commune to get it back (something not often possible in many adventures). Getting 8h of uninterrupted rest is nigh-impossible in some locals, and I make use of that; a caster that relies only on his magic has always felt like a sloppy player, at best.

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