So as we have read in Legends and Lore back in February from Monte Cook, 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons will include vancian magic either in the core or a modular addition. That is a good idea when you consider the mission to draw elements from all editions to build a game that fans of all editions want to play together. Vancian magic was the mechanic in all editions but 4th edition, and should feel comfortable to most fans of Dungeons & Dragons who have been playing for five or more years. I have to admit that one of my reasons for burning out running 3.5 was this magic system. It was fine for the first few levels but as wizards, clerics, sorcerers, and other spell casters began to climb in number of spells that were available to cast daily and the numbers of spells that were available per level, the pace of the game could slow quickly.
There are several reasons vancian magic can negatively impact the pace of your game and a few changes that the designers of the next edition may consider to allow players a different way to use the venerable magic system that doesn’t take the game over. Don’t worry for every problem there is a solution, just sometimes not the right solution for everybody. Sometimes it wasn’t even a problem in the first place for anybody. With that in mind let us continue.
The first problem I have seen in my games is that a party will take a tremendous amount of time to arrive at a plan because the party has a lot of options for the magic wielding characters to consider casting before executing the plan. The magic wielding characters may also have had to sift thru spell options while gathering intelligence to formulate the plan. The decision of what spells will have to be layered and what are their durations so that they can be cast for maximum effectiveness during the coming events has to be given some thought as well. That is a lot of a game time that can be dedicated to the magic aspect of D&D. The non-spell casters can contribute as well by stealth, preparing an ambush point, and other things but these are usually handled quickly since they are often not covered in the rules and require quick descriptions with a couple of dice rolls to complete.
The easiest way to address this and pick up the pace of casting is to limit the amount of spells that a caster has running at one time. Allowing a maximum amount of spell levels to be running simultaneously equal to the caster level +1 will help the pace not drag and allow the non-spellcasters more opportunities to get involved in the game. Caster level +1 allows a first level caster to have two first level spells working at the same time. Every time the caster gains a level he gains in his ability to control more magic power at one time. A rogue who is stealthy will still be a valuable scout at 10th level because the wizard will not be able to cast fly, invisibility, protection from normal weapons, blur, mirror image, and stoneskin, all at the same time by 7th level. That was in 3.5 D&D, so you could adjust the levels of spells a bit in D&D Next but I think players have become accustomed to the levels of their fireballs, magic missiles, and flamestrikes.
This allows the other characters to perhaps get involved in the game a bit more. The wizard is much less likely to sneak on ahead and have a look if he can't layer up like a magical stealth tank. Watch the rogue get their jobs back. If 4th Edition taught us anything it was that a spell and a ritual could be two separate ways of casting magic. The rogue's Open Locks skill is still a great skill that can get a lot of use if the wizard doesn't have a knock spell available with the flick of a wrist. When the rogue can't pick the lock or a door can't be opened by picking or bashing the party takes ten minutes and the wizard handles the obstacle. The cleric does not tend to do too much in the way of overlap at the the lower levels but at mid levels can begin to duplicate fighter pretty well in 3.5 D&D. Teamed with the other caster characters, they can combine for twenty minutes of real world time spent layering before opening a door. That is time that the non-spell casting players don't really get to play the game.
Sure they can talk with each other in character at the end of the table but after a few minutes it is distracting to the DM who is trying to keep track of the spell stack being built in a few game rounds but way too much real world time. They can describe themselves as sharpening weapons or polishing armor but it is really just filler until their characters get to play again. The other night one of my players kicked an ancient, ornately carved door in that was seemingly valuable without a second thought and I was excited that the party would actually adventure instead of overwhelming the encounter with superior spell stacking. I hope the designers of 5th Edition remember that defensive spells as interrupts took care of the need to stack magic before a fight. Interrupts are good for defensive actions!
I would never fault my players for using their heads and taking advantage of the resources available to them to accomplish their goals. That is exactly what I do when I play. In fact I appreciate that my players ask questions about their environment, it makes me think of lots of things on the fly and work on my DM skills while filling out details of my homebrew world. I think a few tweaks to allow a bit of the positive things from 4th Edition and a rule or two like the Level +1 active magic rule, 5th Edition can allow for adventure and diversity in the feel of magic that 4E lacked. Only with a balance that shares the game time and spotlight with the rest of the players. I am pretty sure some of you are going to tell me what you think and I appreciate your passion for your hobby. Until next time, Roll Hard!