There are probably a great many mana systems out there as alternative approaches to AD&D magic, but every one I have seen leaves something to be desired. But then, it is a rather daunting task to convert the AD&D magic spell system into something that is more versatile while maintaining enough of its original parameters so it isn't too different or out of balance. Yet, many try to do it. So I would like to briefly describe a few of the problems I saw while looking over a few of these systems, and finally provide you with my mana system as an optional rule your DM may incorporate into his or her game.
First, there is the question of what a mana system is. What is it? What the hell am I talking about? Simply put, a mana system is a point system where spell casters use spell points or mana points to cast virtually any spell rather than first having to memorize them. Many people prefer this since they feel they are otherwise severely limited in scope, perhaps always having the wrong spell memorized when another would be ideal. And when a spell caster has few spells to begin with, this can be a real pain in the ass. On the other hand, if you had a list of spells but didn't need to choose any ahead of time, then ideally you should be able to pick the one you really needed for any situation as it came up, greatly increasing your power and diversity. This, of course, has two apparent drawbacks. ONE, it takes far less skill and intelligence to play this way since you never have to plan ahead, and TWO, one may become dependent on certain spells while neglecting the others.
For example, in one system I have seen, a spell caster may cast the same spell again and again without any practical limits. A high level mage, for example, may cast nothing but Magic Missiles (a highly useful spell since it is extremely fast, always hits, may be directed at more than one target if they are close together, and there is no save against it). Normally, an arch mage (18th level) can cast about 132 spell levels, and if each casting cost a number of points equal to the spell's level (a common feature in mana systems), that's 132 Magic Missile spells (each at 5d4+5 damage). That's a heck of a lot of damage when it's done that way.
I saw immediately many of these systems do not take into account the level dependent spells. For example, a Magic Missile that throws out one missile for a first level mage cost one mana point while the same spell that throws out 5 missiles for a 9th level mage cost the same. Similarly, a 10th level mage pays 3 mana points for a 10d6 Fireball while a 5th level mage must also pay 3 mana points for a 5d6 Fireball. This is not right. Obviously, either one needs to severely limit the number of times one can cast the same spell, lower the total mana points, or make spells cost more than just their level in mana points (especially level dependent spells). All of this starts to immediately run far a field of the original parameters of the AD&D magic system, and you usually end up with mages who are relatively god like at low levels yet weaker at higher levels, mages who are incredibly powerful throughout their careers, or mages who are greatly weakened for all time, all in the name of greater diversity. This throws the carefully balanced system of spell casters out of whack.
After all, each of the spells in the PHB was play tested to fit into the current balance of power, and tweaking the spell system in such a way that greatly differs from the original parameters will almost certainly make the casters too weak or too powerful unless each and every spell is revisited and adjusted to fit into the new mana system as well. No one wishes to do this amount of work, and even if they did, no one wants to read it or get used to it all over again.
It would be a rare system, indeed, that made these classes identically powerful as they were before. I guess one would have to accomplish this by taking away raw power in exchange for diversity. Many systems do this by giving the spell casters only a few spell points (considerably less than they had before), or making the reacquisition of spell points a long, difficult process (perhaps taking days to regain points rather than hours). However it is done, you'll almost certainly have to get used to the entire spell casting classes again since their power levels will be different, and perhaps radically so. Ugh.
So, with a few of these things in mind, I tried to make something that was both similar enough to the original parameters of the AD&D spell system and yet diversified enough to accommodate those who felt limited.
The first thing I did was I decided upon the quantum theory. That is, energy comes in packages of particular sizes in nature (and not any old number on the continuum), and so I thought why not use the tables they already have in the PHB? They could be justified as quantum parameters. I won't go into the details of why this is so any further, but from this we limit our new system by the same tables as before. Simply put, this means that if before you could only cast four 1st level spells, then you can still only cast four 1st level spells, though now these spells do not have to be memorized beforehand.
Let's take a more concrete example. A ninth level mage may normally cast 4, 3, 2, 2, and 1 spell(s) of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th levels respectively. This will still be true in the mana system, but they no longer need to be memorized first. This will give the spell caster more diversity (the primary reason for these systems), yet not allow them to rest on one spell (or one level of spells) while neglecting others, cast too many spells of the same level, or engage in other obvious abuses typical of mana systems. However, with the extra diversity, this makes the spell casting classes much more powerful, doesn't it? So unless we are fine with letting the spell casters become exceedingly powerful, we must put a limit on them to help pay for this diversity.
A spell caster can still memorize and cast spells for normal cost, but to cast a spell on the fly (that is, without prior memorization - or what 3e now calls spontaneous casting) it will cost more. But cost more what? Thus, we will have to make up a new number for our spell casters, but I think we can use their current level as that number, so this is easy. For example, the 9th level mage will have 9 mana points or a 12th level priest will have 12 mana points. If they wish to cast a memorized spell, this cost no mana points, but if they leave some spell slots open (by taking BLANKS of that level) then they may use a blank of the appropriate level to cast a spell of that level. This will cost them mana points equal to the level of the spell. Note: Character classes that get their spell casting ability late in life do not get their level in mana points, but instead will have mana points equal to their current level minus the number of levels they had achieved before acquiring the spell casting ability. For example, a ranger will have N-7 mana points, a bard will have N-2 mana points, and a Paladin or Holy Warrior will have N-8 mana points, all where N is equal to their current level.
NOTE: Recall, one determining a character's level for a particular class, if that character is multiclassed, those other class levels do not count. For example, a 13th level character - 8th level mage, 5th level cleric - does not get mana points back as a 13th level spell caster, but as one 8th level caster for the arcane spells and one 5th level caster for the divine spells.
EXAMPLE: The twelfth level mage can cast four 4th level spells (amongst others). He takes Charm Monster, and Ice Storm, and two 4th level blanks. He has 12 mana points (since 12 is equal to his current level). He may also have four 3rd level spells. He takes Fireball, Lightning Bolt, Slow, and one 3rd level blank. He similarly fills out the rest of his spells either by memorizing some specific spells and/or by taking blanks of the appropriate level. Casting a memorized spell is handled normally, but casting a blank will cost him one mana point per spell level. Thus, if he needs to cast Minor Globe Of Invulnerability, he can for one 4th level blank and 4 mana points. He will have 8 mana points left after doing this. Later that day, he needs to cast Phantom Steed. This will cost him his one 3rd level blank and 3 mana points, leaving him with 5 mana points left. This greatly adds to the diversity of the spell caster while not going over board, limiting him to only a few mana points for his diverse needs.
To regain mana points one must simply wait. They are regained at the following rate. 24 hours/(maximum mana points) (round off). Thus, for example, a 12th level mage will regain mana points at 24 hours/12 or 2 hours for every one mana point. They need not rest to do this; it just naturally happens. A first level mage will need to wait 24-hours/1 mana point or 1 entire day per mana point. The point is, a spell caster's entire compliment of mana points should return in one day, but the hourly rate is their (maximum mana points)/24 hours OR the point rate is 24 hours/(maximum mana points). One should round off in a reasonable way to achieve this (but I have no wish to make a table or provide a math lesson). If the round off error bothers you, find the minutes/point rate. No one should complain too bitterly about losing a minute here or there. 1,440 minutes = one day. Thus, a 13th level priest will gain their mana points back at 1,440 minutes/13 points or about 111 minutes per mana point. One may, if they wish, use something other than 24 hours. For example, they may use whatever passes as one "day" on their planet or plane or whatever). Nuff said.
If you wish, as an additional option, those spell casters who have a high primary requisite and gain additional spells may also have additional mana points. Not wishing the low-level spell casters to be too powerful, I made the extra mana points equal to 1/2 mana point per prime requisite statistic point above 12 (round down). Thus, an 18 wisdom or 18 intelligence would have an extra (18-12=6, 6X1/2=3) 3 mana points. 17 and 16 would have 2, 15 and 14 would have 1, and below 14 would have no extra mana points.
With the system described above one may obtain the diversity they seek without having to radically alter the power structure of AD&D. This diversity does make the spell casters a bit more powerful without making them overly powerful.
All of this is simplicity itself to adopt, and in the end, I felt it far better to go this way than to try to come up with an arbitrary spell point system, especially since all the systems I had previously seen made the casters disproportionately more or less powerful than the original system. I didn't like that, but this mana system method works well and it is still very AD&D like.
A few notes: 3rd edition D&D is coming and they will allow all spell casters to gain spell bonuses for their primary requisite. Priests, Paladins, and Rangers still use wisdom, for example, but Mages will use their intelligence on that same table while Bards may use charisma. They will, however, also allow priests to use any memorized spell as a healing spell (one that restores hit points). This is fine, but I'm not sure how that will work without changing the standard levels for the cure wounds spells since they suggest the priest may do this and heal 1d8 per level of the spell. (They may simply get rid of those healing spells for all I know, but will the reverse be available?). For example, the priest may have Detect Lie (a 4th level spell), but choose to heal one target for 4d8 instead. Yet, this is more powerful than the 4th level spell Cure Serious Wounds, so I'm not sure what they are planning on doing to fix that yet. Oh well, speculation is pointless.
NOTE: Since writing this article in 1999, we've learned 3e has retooled the spells, and now Cure Serious Wounds, is a 3rd level spell instead of a 4th level spell. Thus, this is no longer a problem. See below.
In the interim, let us have our priests able to use any spell as a healing spell for 1d4/level. This will cost no mana points. They may do this for 1d4 of healing/level of spell (since this is less powerful than the peculiar 1d8 in 3rd edition that seems more powerful than their regular spells). Thus, they may use a memorized 4th level spell (like Speak With Plants) to cast a 4d4 cure wounds spell. This will cost no mana points. Yet, they may also use a 4th level blank to cast Cure Serious Wounds, and this will cost no mana points as it is a healing spell. If they use a 4th level blank to cast, instead, Tongues, then that will cost them 4 mana points. They may not, however, use Speak With Plants to cast Tongues, since that is NOT a healing spell nor was it a blank. If they wish to cast something other than a healing spell, then they must use a blank they have held in reserve and this will cost them mana points. (Remember, Cure Blindness, Cure Disease or other spells that may be construed as healing are not considered "healing" for this purpose, but only Cure Light Wounds, Cure Moderate Wounds, Cure Serious Wounds, and Cure Critical Wounds or the 1d4 healing/level may use a blank for no cost in mana points).
This will mean, of course, there is no longer any point in the Pre memorization of Cure Light Wounds, Cure Moderate Wounds, Cure Serious Wounds, or Cure Critical Wounds since by taking a 1st, 2nd, 4th, or 5th level blank (respectively), the priest can always cast those for no extra mana points, yet preserve the option to cast something else as well if healing is not needed. Note: This extra healing ability is more of a reflection of the new power of the priest class in 3rd edition than it is a reflection of the mana point system.
Thus, mages and priests are treated identically under this system with a few exceptions noted here amongst the following rules:
One.) Mages still use spellbooks in the normal way, but when using a blank, they may only choose from their list of spells in their spellbooks and not any spell in the PHB. Apparently, they do not need their spellbook with them at that exact moment to do this. This may even mean they never need their spellbook with them if your DM allows this, but in my opinion they should at least have a spellbook somewhere at home. If your DM does not like this (and I don't, so I maintained the spellbook mystique and still require my mages to carry them), then in order to use a blank, the mage must have had access to their spellbook within the last day.
I have adopted the following rule and suggest all others do this as well: A mage may use an Nth level blank and N mana points to cast an Nth level spell that they have seen in their spellbook within the last 24 hour period (or whatever passes as one day on their planet).
NOTE: The reason for reacquainting oneself with their spell repertoire is, apparently, that the nature of the magical energies imprinted on one's mind continuously scramble themselves over time and this tend to make things fuzzy or unclear. This is called drift. Reacquainting oneself with their spellbook is just a means to maintain focus. And this is, by the way, the explanation for why wizards tend to forget things after they are cast, as well. It might be natural to think spell casters should be able to remember things - especially with their level of intelligence or wisdom - but the truth is that running that kind of energy though one's brain tends to make them forget certain things, and thus spell casters are forever praying for spells again, or rememorizing spells from their spellbooks, or just refocussing their mental image of these things each time they glance through their spellbooks or chant their prayers. So like an epileptic whose brain is misfiring electrical signals left and right, such people tend to forget the actual attacks themselves - and so, too, do spell casters tend to forget the details of any spells they cast, and that's why they can't do it again until they prepare for the spell anew. But I digress.
NOTE: Memorized spells are far less susceptible to drift than blanks are. Blanks will drift far enough out of focus within 24 hours, while truly memorized spells may lay ready for years. In fact, according to the rules, they may lay ready forever, but in actual practice they, too, will drift and even the casual glance through a spellbook or a recitation of certain prayers tends to refocus these prepared spells.
I do not insist the players roleplay this, but automatically assume that, unless they have been separated from their spellbook for more than 24 hours, they can and will do this without actual comment to the DM. This means most spell casters are probably constantly looking over their spellbooks whenever they have a free moment, and this allows them to cast emergency spells like Feather Fall, or combat spells, like Magic Missiles, without having to look at their book at that exact moment. But if they lose their spellbook, watch out. 24 hours later, their blanks become worthless. (I suppose if you wished to be mean, you could rule that if the mage had no light to see by and couldn't peruse their spellbooks for more than 24 hours, then they couldn't use their blanks until they got a look at the spellbooks in the light again). One more note. A mage must use (see) their own spellbook, and may not, for example, glance at a spell in a captured spellbook and expect to be able to use a blank to cast one of those spells. They must first roll to see if they can learn it, and probably transcribe it into their own spellbook before they can cast it, normally, or with a blank. Even if they had a spell in their own book, a similar spell in a captured book may be sufficiently different, so they must still roll to see if they can know it. Mostly, mages are limited to their spellbooks. To use a captured spell, they will have to transcribe it into their own spellbook, and that takes time.
By the way, it still takes time to memorize a blank. A 4th level blank, for example, still takes 40 minutes to memorize - the 10 minutes/spell level rule still applies to these blanks. While they don't actually memorize a spell, they do prepare and condition the mind for the appropriate amount of power for that level - and this is what a blank represents.
A more complete description of how one regains their spent spells on my world is found by following this link:
The Reacquisition Of Magic Spells. (How Long Does It Take And What Are The Limits?)
Two.) Priests may choose any spell in the PHB for their blanks, provided they can normally memorize that spell by virtue of the normal restrictions due to their deity's spheres of control, etc. These priestly blanks also take 10-minutes/spell level to pray for after they have rested the required amount of time (like all spell casters must rest before they regain their spells).
Three.) All spell casters use their primary requisite on the priestly wisdom table to gain extra spells.
Four.) Priests have more options when using their blanks for healing and the option to replace any memorized spell with an Nd4 cure wounds spell where N is the level of the replaced spell.
Five.) Mage Specialists may not take BLANKS for the extra spells they receive due to their specialty. That is, the one bonus spell per level must be filled with a spell from their school of specialization or not at all. Furthermore, if they use a BLANK to cast a spell from their school of specialization, this will not receive the full bonuses afforded their normal spells from this school. That is, opponents will NOT suffer the -1 penalty to their saving throws from the spells of the specialty school if they come from a BLANK. They are not hung properly (memorized correctly) to give them this power.
Six.) And, of course, if one is a multiclass spell caster (like a mage/priest, for example), they need to keep two separate sets of mana points. Each set returns at its normal rate independent of the other. To use a priestly blank requires priestly mana points; mage mana points may not be used for priestly spell blanks (And, vice versa). Also, priestly blanks may only be used to cast priestly spells, and mage blanks may only be used to cast mage spells. One may not, for example, use a 4th level mage blank to cast Cure Serious Wounds (or even a 4d4 healing spell) since mage blanks do not do priestly things.
More complete examples of the rules for this mana system may be found by following the link below. If you feel at all confused about something, perhaps it will help. There is also a new table for bonus spells and bonus mana points there if you wish to see it.
OK, that's it. I hope you can find something of use in this system. Feel free to email me any comments or suggestions on how to improve my system. Thank you.
P.S. It has been suggested that, especially at low levels, spell casters with a high primary requisite and many mana points are much more powerful than before. This is probably true. Here are four options to fix this problem if the DM feels such characters threaten the balance of the game.
a.) Do not allow bonus mana points. Make the number of mana points a spell caster has equal to their level for that class (period).
b.) Allow bonus mana points, but limit them to no more than their normal mana points. i.e. if they have 3 bonus mana points coming, they get one at 1st level, another one at 2nd level, and their third and last one at 3rd level. This option is so good I'm thinking of employing it myself.
c.) Make the payment for this diversity much higher. It might cost, for example, fatigue points to use blanks, or even N+1 mana points to cast an Nth level spell. This would mean even a priest using a blank to heal will have to spend 1 mana point (no matter what level the spell blank). This will seriously curtail their newfound power while still leaving the primary goal of the mana system intact (diversity).
d.) As always, be more careful about letting characters get stats that reach into the less probable realms. Even for a primary requisite, above a 15 may be awfully generous. If you do not roll up characters but allow a great deal of leeway in character generation, you may have to watch out for these stat-climbing players a bit more closely. If you watch them roll 3d6 for each stat in turn, then perhaps they actually do deserve such power if they genuinely rolled an 18.
Of course, these rules were written for the 2e system (and not the new 3e system) but they can be easily adapted. However, doing so makes the whole point of the sorcerer class kind of lost, so one may wish to not use that class, or not use this mana system. Personally, I think the mana system has a place in 3e even despite the inclusion of the sorcerer class, so if you have any players who wish to take sorcerer as a class, please advise them that use of the mana system for normal wizards does slightly encroach upon the realm of the sorcerer. If they are fine with that, good, but if not, well, maybe they should just play a normal wizard.
ADDENDUM 1: Now that 3e has come and gone (3.5e is out already, go figure) good clerics (or neutral clerics of good gods or gods with Healing as a domain) should be allowed to spontaneously cast cure wound spells in place of memorized non-cure spells of the same level, but this should cost something extra. To make it cost something we suggest such spells only heal 1d8/spell level and not 1d8 +1/level. A basic premise of this system is that it should cost something, however little, to spontaneously cast, as opposed to forethought and good planning and preparing one's spells ahead of time. But ask your DM.
ADDENDUM 2: Optionally, wizards may still spontaneously cast spells, though this might seem to make the 3e Sorcerer class pointless since they are all about spontaneous casting of arcane spells. However, to make them more attractive to play, recall that Sorcerers never need spellbooks, and also their skill at spontaneous casting is always greater than a normal wizard's. For 3e, we will no longer use mana points. Wizards will now be required to sacrifice the contents of two filled spell slots in order to spontaneously cast one spell of equal of lesser level to that of the lowest level spell slot sacrificed. For more on this and for some examples, follow this link.
OK, that's it (again). I (still) hope you can find something of use in this system. Feel free to email me any comments or suggestions on how to improve my system. Thank you.
Email Jim Your Comments (Send Praise, Critique, Complaints, Suggestions, Ideas, or Submissions).
© November of 1999