Since forever I've used a mana point system for spells IMCs.
If the rules allow a PC to cast 4 1st level spells and 1 2nd second level, they instead have a total of 6 mana points to be cast as they desire. They could cast 6 Magic Missiles, or 3 2nd level spells, or any combination thereof.
No memorization of spells, just praying, or a bit of study after each 8 hour rest and you can potentially cast any spell you know.
How difficult would it be to implement this system into 5e? My main concern is overcharging a spell by utilizing it in a higher level slot.
Would I simply make that Magic Missile cost two mana points instead of one?
The problem I have always had with a straight Vancian system is that spell level doesn't correspond perfectly to a spell's relative power.
For example, it is easy to compare the damage dealt by a 1st Magic Missile spell (of any caster level) versus a second level Melf's Acid Arrow (cast by the same level caster). Some (few) spells work out exactly right, but others fall woefully short. The biggest problem I have always had is with Cone of Cold. It is a 4th level spell that does the same average damage over a comparable area of affect as a 3rd level Fireball or Lightning Bolt spell. (I'm referencing older versions of D&D here, not 5th, so bare that in mind.)
I suggest counting 1st level spells as 1 point each and adding a half point for each level beyond that. You may find that some spells (like Wish) need to be given an extra cost (if you aren't using spell components). Of course, later editions put caps on some of the damage-dealing spells, like MM, Fireball, and Lightning Bolt, but older editions did not. Thus, such a spell cast by an 18th level caster in AD&D will be far more powerful than the same spell cast by the same level caster in 3.x. Thus balancing the power of spells of various levels will need to be done solely considering their effects in 5e. But, you see how that can be a problem when Charm Person, for example has remained pretty much the same since its inception in Basic D&D, but other spells of the same level have had their power altered.
I'm not sure how useful this is going to be to you, but I want to type it up. Forgive me because it's mostly 3.x related (but since 5th is a continuation in many aspects of 3.x, maybe that is okay).
As Skip pointed out, there are often balance issues with the assigned levels for spells. Cone of cold is a great example of a spell assigned the wrong level. In 3.x, it's 5th level, 1d6 cold/level (max 15d6), 60 ft. cone burst from your square. Versus fireball, which is 3rd level, 1d6 fire/level (max 10d6), 20 ft. radius spread at long range. The range is definitely in fireball's favor but let's look at those areas (we're going to ignore volume, for simplicity's sake, but it should be pointed out that, at higher levels when you are having to deal with opponents on the ground and in the air, volume because vastly more important): cone of cold has an area of either 104 or 108 squares, depending on the cone's orientation. Fireball has an area of just 44 squares. Since range is in fireball's favor but area and max damage allowed are in cone of cold's, I'd say that cone of cold is 1 order better than fireball and I would make it a 4th level spell (plus, how often do you need to use all 60 ft. of the cone's area? It's a massively great spell for owning a small battlefield...if you want to be right next to the thick of things, which most mages do not).
Anyhow, I think it can be helpful to think of spell levels in terms of CR and so that is how I would approach mana as a resource. 3.x almost does this but gets it terribly wrong (the CRs of traps using magic spells are just way off: for instance, a CR 10 trap could be a summon monster 9 which can summon a CR 14 nalfashnee). Were I to redesign a d20 system's magic system, I would assume that half of a straight-classed caster's CR comes from being able to cast his highest level spell once per day (assuming no bonus spells for high stat) and the other half comes from his access to spells of the other, lower levels. Thus, at 17th level, a wizard can cast one 9th level spell. Thus, a 9th level spell should be CR 15 (as two CR 15s make a CR 17 [ignore the fact that pathfinder starts PCs at CR 1/2 instead of 1]).
This system also lets you visualize how dangerous a spell should be when cast by the earliest level it can be cast at. For instance, a 1st level spell should be able to kill a CR 1/2 creature (or at least knock it to 0 hp, which amounts to the same thing most of the time) when cast by a 1st level mage 50% of the time, imo. A 5d6 fireball should be able to kill CR 3 monsters 50% of the time. And a 9th level spell should be able to kill a CR 15 monster 50% of the time.
Obviously, there's lots of variables with scaling of damage dice and area of effect, but that is how I think you might look at magic in 5e for your mana pool. A spell of one level should, imo, be twice as good as spells two levels below it (except 3rd level should be as good as a 1st and 2nd together and 2nd level should be as good as two 1st level spells). If you would rather cast the same 3rd level spell twice rather than 1 5th-level spell, then the 5th-level spell is too weak.
For this system, I would do the following:
Spell Level-mana points:
In fantasy novels, even novice mages could summon up a usable spell in most situations.
What I've always disliked about the Vancian system is the inflexibility. Unless one is mid to high level, the odds of memorizing the exact spell you need in most situations are minimal at best.
After purchasing the 5e books, and understanding the system a little better, I am ok with the idea of preparing a number of spells that do not disappear from memory when cast. The spell slot is used up until a short or long rest. (Another mechanic I am less than pleased about, but that is another story)
There is even a Spell Points variant system in the back of the 5e DMG.
This thread talks about classic Vancian slots, then over to mana/spell points, then it starts to discuss spell balance (which is its own, wholly separate, subject)...
Are you interested in implementing the classic fire and forget system? If so, for which classes? (By that I mean will you return to the 3e split between Wizards and Sorcerers)
Or do you want to switch from slots to mana points? If so, you yourself have found the easiest solution: the spell point variant of the DMG is already ready for use. (Incidentally, the playtest/UA material on psionicists use this exact rule for power points)
Or do you want to rebalance spells in general? (A huge endeavor, which I'm not entirely sure I recommend you embark upon)
Anyhoo - I suggest you start one thread for each subject
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