D&Dish RPG: Ruminations on a Replacement for Vancian Magic (Part 1)


I hate Vancian magic.

The magic system in Dungeons & Dragons is influenced by Jack Vance’s Dying Earth series (did you know that the name of the famous D&D lich, Vecna, is an anagram of Vance). It’s the “fire and forget” system. It’s stupid:

  1. It makes wizards—I hate the old-school term magic-user— ridiculously weak at low levels. You cast magic missile, and then you are useless until you rest to re-memorize a low-level spell that you’ve probably cast several times before. Later editions attempted to address this via cantrips, but I don’t think they’re the best solution.
  2. Wizards at high levels are way too powerful, but I don’t like D&D’s typical balance-by-subtraction at low levels method.
  3. The whole concept of a spell being wiped from the wizard’s memory after casting is silly, but spell points are equally silly.
  4. Having to prepare spells in advance makes it a guessing game. The party’s thief dies, but you failed to memorize the knock spell? Too bad. Later editions’ use of spell slots is too metagamey and dissociated for my taste.
  5. Limits on casting based on spell level—how many you can memorize and how often you can cast them—seem silly have no real in-game justification.
  6. Other classes have to roll in order to do things, but wizards often don’t when they cast spells. Similarly, targets of spells often get a saving throw, but targets of melee or missile weapons don’t (as a side rant, this is a contradiction that proponents of a “unified mechanic” tend to ignore). Later editions muddy the waters with some spells requiring a roll vs. AC and some granting a saving throw to the target.

So what I want to do is to design a system that has the following characteristics:

  1. Wizards must always perform some sort of roll in order to cast. Failure would represent either the wizard failing to properly remember the spell or failing to control or focus its arcane energy. Alternatively, such effects only occur on a critical failure, and the spell caster is rolling against some sort of target value that is similar to AC.
  2. There should be some sort of mechanic for spell fizzle or miscasting.
  3. There are no explicit casting restrictions based on level.
  4. Higher level spells have a greater base chance of failure and negative consequences.
  5. Chances of spell failure (and perhaps its consequences) decrease as wizards gain levels.
  6. There are no saving throws; a different mechanic will be used.
  7. Perhaps include some model of cumulative fatigue from spell casting.
  8. Perhaps include some sort of counterspell mechanic other than a lame counterspell spell.
  9. Extremely powerful spells will be lengthy and potentially dangerous rituals.

Later posts will cover these in detail.


D&Dish RPG: Ditching Alignments


I’ve been throwing around ideas in my head for a home-brewed, D&Dish roleplaying game. I don’t want to simply make a retro-clone like Swords & WizardryLabyrinth Lord, or OSRIC. I want it to be D&D as I want to play it.

That being said, I think I’m ditching alignments and going with the allegiances system in the d20 Modern SRD:

A character may have up to three allegiances, listed in order from most important to least important. These allegiances are indications of what the character values in life, and may encompass people, organizations, or ideals. A character may have no allegiances (being either a free spirit or a lone wolf) or may change allegiances as he or she goes through life. Also, just because the character fits into a certain category of people doesn’t mean the character has to have that category as an allegiance. […]

A hero’s allegiance can take the form of loyalty to a person, to an organization, to a belief system, to a nation, or to an ethical or moral philosophy. In general, a character can discard an allegiance at any time, but may only gain a new allegiance after attaining a new level.

Having an allegiance implies having sufficient intelligence and wisdom to make a moral or ethical choice. As a result, a character must have Intelligence and Wisdom scores of 3 or higher in order to select allegiances. […]

An allegiance can create an empathic bond with others of the same allegiance. With the GM’s permission, the character gains a +2 circumstance bonus on Charisma-based skill checks when dealing with someone of the same allegiance—as long as the character has had some interaction with the other character to discover the connections and bring the bonus into play.

AD&D Demystified: Missile Fire Into Melee

Nothgrim (2) and Thorkell (3) are in trouble! They are currently engaged in melee with a troglodyte (4), hobgoblin (5), and two bugbears (6 & 7)! It’s up to Elestren (1)!


First the DM must assign probabilities to each melee participant according to size.

  • Small: 0.5
  • Medium: 1
  • Large (those not too much much larger than man-size): 1.5

Nothgrim (2) is dwarf, so his size is small. Thorkell (3) is a human, so his size is medium. Therefore: 0.5 + 1 = 1.5 = 1 (rounded down)

Bugbears are large; hobgoblins and troglodytes are medium. Therefore:  1.5 + 1.5 + 1 + 1 = 5

The ratio is 1 :  5. This means that if 6 arrows were fired, 1 would have a chance to hit Elestren’s (1) friends (2 & 3) and 5 would have a chance to hit the monsters (4. 5. 6. & 7). However, since Elestren (1) is only firing one arrow this round, the DM must convert the ratio to percentages.

  • Chance it will hit party: 1/6 = 17%
  • Chance it will hit monsters: 5/6 = 83%

The DM then rolls 2d10 to determine which side gets hit. The DM rolls a 15! This means that either Nothgrim (2) or Thorkell (3) has a chance to get hit. The DM then randomly determines who. Suppose even on 1d10 means Nothgrim (2) and odd means Thorkell (3).

The DM rolls a 7. Now a to hit-roll must be made against Thorkell (3).

AD&D Demystified: Initiative and Combat


Declaring Actions

One difference between AD&D and later editions is that players must declare their actions before rolling for initiative; though not explicitly listed as a step on page 61 of the DMG, it is inferred by the rules.

Initiative Determination

At the beginning of each combat round, initiative is normally determined by rolling 1d6 for each side. The side with the higher result possesses initiative for that round. Remember that each combat round consists of 10 segments. If party A rolls a 4 and party B rolls a 2, party A possesses initiative for that round and will get to act first. Which segment each party gets to act is determined by the opposite party’s initiative roll; for example, party A acts on segment 2, and party B acts on segment 4.

Dexterity Bonuses and Penalties

Individuals’ Dexterity attacking adjustment for missile weapons will modify the initiative on an individual basis. Therefore, it is possible that an individual on a side that lost initiative will still be able to perform a missile attack before the other side. These bonuses do not apply to individuals carrying more than light gear (see PHB page 102); penalties always apply.

Multiple Attack Routines

When an individual is permitted to use an attack routine multiple times during a round, special initiative rules apply.

  • If the attack routine may be used twice:
    • If possessed by one side, those individuals attack first and last
    • If possessed by both, use initiative rolls to determine who strikes first and third and second and last.
    • If an individual can only use an attack routine once per round, their attack will occur in between those with two, with order being determined by initiative rolls when necessary.
  • If three times:
    • The other party rolls for initiative to see if it or the multi-routine individuals strike first the midpoint of the round.

Note that a target must survive damage from previous attacks for one to follow their attack routine.


When opponents are begin a round over 1″ away (10′ indoors, 10 yards outdoors) from each other, melee is not possible. One side may either spend the round closing the distance or charge. Encumbered creatures are not allowed to charge.

Those receive movement bonuses:

  • Outdoors:
    • Bipeds: +33 1/3%
    • Quadruped: +50%
  • Indoors:
    • Doubled

Dexterity bonuses to armor class do not apply when charging. Those with no Dexterity AC bonus suffer a +1 to AC. There is no penalty for those with an AC of 10.

Initiative is not checked at the end of the charge. The opponent with the longer weapon attacks first. Charging creatures gain +2 to-hit if they survive.


Casting times determine when spells will be completed. If there is a tie, initiative breaks the tie.

If a spell caster is being attacked by a melee weapon and the attacker has won initiative, the weapon strike will always occur first. If initiative is tied, compare the casting time with the melee weapon’s speed factor. If the attacker loses initiative, subtract the attacker’s initiative from the weapon’s speed factor; treat negative numbers as positive, and compare the result.

If the spell caster is being attacked by a missile weapon or natural weapons without a speed factor and the attacker wins initiative, the attack will always occur first. If the attacker loses initiative or initiative is tied, the attack will occur on the segment indicated by the caster’s initiative die. Compare it to the spell’s casting time.

If the attacker has multiple attack routines, only the first attack can disrupt the spell (unless the spell’s casting time is a full round).

The caster cannot use their Dexterity bonus to avoid being hit; otherwise, the spell is disrupted. Any successful attack interrupts the spell.

Weapon Speed Factor

When initiative is tied and both are using melee weapons with speed factors, weapon speed factors determine order. The melee weapon with the lower speed factor strikes first. Under the above circumstances, one may be entitled to multiple attacks. If the difference between speed factors is 5-9, the one with the lower speed factor is entitled to 2 attacks before the opponent can attack. If the difference is 10 or greater, the one with the lower speed factor is entitled to 2 attack before the opponent can attack, and they are entitled to 1 more attack at the same time their opponent is finally able to attack.

Speed factor considerations do not apply when closing or charging to melee.

AD&D Demystified: Surprise (Even Further Clarification)


Both the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide make reference to a condition known as complete surprise. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, it isn’t explained. Let’s look at examples. On page 168 of the DMG under crossbow of speed:

In surprise situations it is of no help, but on complete surprise situations the held crossbow will enable its user to fire in the 2nd segment portion.

So what the heck does complete surprise mean? Could it be that regular surprise is a result of 1 on 1d6, whereas complete surprise is a result of 2?

To make things even more confusing, however, take a look at page 23 of Dungeon Module G1-2-3 Against the Giants. When describing wererats encountered in the secret room on level 2:

They always attack either by surprise (1-3) or complete surprise (4-6).

So is complete surprise is actually anything more than 3 segments? Page 51 of the PHB, in the description of the 6th level cleric spell, aerial servant:

The aerial servant will always attack by complete surprise when sent on a mission, and gain the benefit of 4 free melee rounds unless the creature is able to detect invisible objects, in which case a six-sided die is rolled, and 1 = 1 free round, 2 = 2 free rounds, 3 = 3 free rounds, 4 = 4 free rounds, and 5 or 6 = 0 free rounds (the opponent is not surprised at all).

The only reasonable conclusion, I believe, is that 4+ is complete surprise. As a side note, on page 6 of OD&D’s Eldritch Wizardry supplement:

*Complete surprise is basically a die of 2 when checking

AD&D Demystified: Surprise Segments


When a party is surprised, the individuals on the other side can perform a full round of melee attacks each surprise segment (DMG page 62).

If and individual in the surprising party has a missile weapon readied beforehand, a full round of missile attacks can be made at three times the normal rate—otherwise a full round of missile attacks at normal rate—each surprise segment.

When moving, however, only one segment of movement can be carried out (see PHB page 102).

Magic-users and clerics in a surprising party can cast a spell with a casting time of 1 segment or begin casting a spell with a longer casting time.

Spell casters seem to get shafted by these rules. Furthermore, the advantage given to readied missile weapons seems overpowered. If I’m in a party that surprises a group of monsters, and I have composite bow (rate of fire is 2) readied with an arrow, that means I get six missile attacks in the surprise segment! My potential damage range against a small or medium creature that segment goes from 2-12 to 6-36!