The Seven-Sided Die

D&D spells in Savage Worlds: Feedback?

Posted Monday November 10, 2008 at 09:24 PM

I've been thinking about how to handle pseudo-Vancian magic as it appears in D&D-based settings like Forgotten Realms. I want any magic house rules I come up with to maintain the spirit of Savage Worlds, so easy handling and bookkeeping is important. The important part I want to keep about Vancian magic is the thrill of discovering a cool new spell in a dusty tome, and the New Power Edge just doesn't do that.

Having just read Savage Worlds: Three Don’ts at Tales of Rambling Bumblers, I'm not in a hurry to settle on a system until I've got a decent number of play-hours with Savage Worlds under my belt, but I can speculate until then. I would love some feedback from any experienced Savagers and D&D grognards out there, especially those who count themselves as both.

Going old-School

What I've been pondering is making spells a purely in-game element that are acquired by character actions, such as transcribing them from an allied mage's spellbook, research, buying them, or (the most important) finding them in a long-lost spellbook buried in a treasure trove or clutched in the dead(?) fingers of an entombed wizard. Each spell would have a Power Point cost, a more SW-like duration, and a minimum Rank requirement, though this last might trend slightly low relative to D&D spell levels because of the disadvantage (relative to SW's Powers system) of having to search them out in the first place. A Spellcasting skill roll would be used just as with vanilla SW Arcane characters.

To make it work, I was thinking of having the Arcane Background grant access not to the New Power Edge, but instead to a New School Edge with a choice of one of the eight Schools of magic first introduced in AD&D 2nd edition. (For the non-D&D players that's Abjuration, Evocation, Divination, Conjuration, Illusion, Transmutation, Enchantment, and Necromancy.) To learn and cast a given spell would require having access to the spell's School of magic. The Arcane Background Edge would give spellcasters access to three such Schools to start, and more would require spending an advance on the New School Edge.

I'd like some feedback on that idea. I'm not wedded to that particular School-based setup, but I do think an Edge or set of them is necessary to keep D&D-style spellcasters working well in a SW system alongside non-spellcasters. Am I going astray? Is there a better way of representing a world full of many diverse spells without an explosion of Powers, most of which a given mage could never get with their limited number of Edges? I want to keep the awesomeness of Savage Worlds' rules, but I don't want to entirely re-write the parts of the Forgotten Realms that have been shaped by Vancian magic assumptions.

Further variations

I'm considering a couple of tweaks on top of that base, though I think these will happily co-exist with a variety of magic schemes, including vanilla SW Powers.

Using Levi's Overloaded! as a way to manage Power Points

Instead of having a total that goes down, spellcasters keep track of how many points they've cast. They can go over their 10 Power Points (or however many) limit whenever they want, but each spell cast that adds points while the mage is over the threshold triggers a Vigour roll to avoid Fatigue. The effect is that a spellcaster can go all-out if they want, but only with a significant risk of temporarily wrecking or maybe even killing themselves. The usual per-hour Point regeneration would instead bring the accumulated total down away from the danger zone.

Extending spell durations an order of magnitude or two

For example, a spell with a duration of 1 (being 1 round) would last 1 minute or even 1 hour. Buffs could be applied before combat and last long enough to matter; the 2nd order of magnitude change would mean the town priest could bless the heroes before they go to slay the dragon, and it would actually last long enough to matter.[1. I got this part of the suggestion from someone else's post about extending spell durations, but for the life of me I can't find the post to link to it now. Anyone know who I'm stealing from?

Update: I found the source of my inspiration. It's Chris Kucsera's short-but-sweet Hedge Wizards, Wise Women and Adepts: An Alternate Magic System for Savage Worlds, downloaded from Savage Heroes. After re-reading it, I'm thinking of adapting Chris' item-creation rules for my purposes too.] However! The catch is that casting time wouldn't be just an Action, and would be increased by the same order of magnitude. (Or so. A spell that lasts for hours might take ten minutes to cast rather than an hour. Details are for later.) Blessing a party would be an extended ritual, not just a perk tossed off in 6 seconds.

I'm detailing this backwards, since that's really not very D&D-style. To bring this back into line, the above can be mitigated by mages by casting spells with their original casting time (usually one Action). Spells cast like this would have the normal-magnitude spell duration. So, a well-prepared mage might get an entire dungeon's worth of fighting out of one Armour spell and save herself a lot of Power Points, but a mage who found the need for Armour only after coming under attack would be able to maintain it for a very short period of time. Of course Fireballs and the like aren't amenable to longer casting times and are rarely, if ever, useful when there is time for leisurely casting, so spells of Instant duration have round-magnitude casting times.

I really like this modification because it rewards deliberate mages and encourages the use of utility spells without making mages useless when caught unprepared.

Comments (8)


Monday November 10, 2008 at 10:11 PM

Quick answer: Have you looked at Cliff Black's article on Rituals in Sharkbytes Issue 2. It's aimed a bit more at magic in a setting like Call of Cthulhu, but I think it's a suitable basis for having a big honking book of slow-to-cast spells as well as a handful of iffy quick-cast spells.

Longer answer: I'll write a post about how AB: Scholastic magic works in my Haunted Realm setting (not that it's been playtested at all yet)

Joshua’s last blog post: Now That’s A Dungeon Setting!


Monday November 10, 2008 at 10:45 PM

Here's a variant on your going old school option:

Arcane Background: Gives initiate access to four schools (spell levels 1-3).

New School Edge: Gives initiate access to an additional school.

Advanced arcane study edge: Raises access in two schools from initiate to journeyman (spell levels 4-6) or from journeyman to mastery (spell levels 7-9) or one from i to j and one from j to m.

Instead of giving different spells different spellcasting rank requirements, require a spellcasting roll to learn the spell.


Arcane Background lets you learn spells. To successfully learn a spell/copy it into your spellbook requires a spellcasting roll. To memorize a spell requires a spellcasting roll. These spellcasting rolls are hard. No other edges are needed, though there should be several that make you better at learning/memorizing/casting certain types of spells.

Stuart’s last blog post: Magical material science


Tuesday November 11, 2008 at 02:37 AM

I remember one of the Toolkits has a system for learning spells/powers from books without spending an Edge. Don't have it handy but I think it was a Smarts roll with some penalty based based on the rank of the spell.

Chuck’s last blog post: Savage Worlds: Grim & Gritty


Tuesday November 11, 2008 at 07:28 PM

Another option - set power point costs of spells on par with spell levels and treat Power Points as Memorization Points...

Stuart’s last blog post: Magical material science


Tuesday November 11, 2008 at 09:09 PM

Thanks for all the suggestions!

Stuart, I can see some trouble with that variant if a Novice spends Edges to get to Master in a School as soon as they can. Assuming they don't take Advanced Arcane Study until after character creation, they could get to mastery before they even hit Seasoned. Granted they'd still have to go find the high-level spells, but I'd rather not have to restrain that with GM fiat during play by withholding spells.

One of the parts of Vancian magic I want to ditch with Savage Worlds is memorisation. The bookkeeping for mages in *D&D is a chore that drives many players away from the class, and I like the idea of using just Power Points and spells known as the limiter. I don't mind making D&D-genre mages more like 3e sorcerors. D&D novels never show a mage being "out" of spells. Memorisation also makes players to some sub-optimal (story-wise) things, like avoiding utility spells and saying, "Sorry, I can't cast water breathing for this adventure unless we go waste a day resting. I prepared for combat only."

I'm of two minds about spellcasting rolls to learn spells. On the one hand it's a source of frustration that is very D&D-style, which I don't like. On the other it's a limiter on the available spells list a mage can have, and with more sorceror-like casting I'm going for in SW, that might be important.

As for the spells themselves, I don't think I want to use them straight from D&D material. I'll want to pick and choose the spells initially available and translate them in to more SW-like rules. That's especially true if I use 3e sources since that game has a very different philosophy about codification of mechanics. I'm more likely to go with 1e/2e spells as sources because they're more freeform, like Joshua's has observed, and so describe more about their fictional effects than their mechanical ones. So, hanging things on D&D spell levels is out, though they'll be useful when doing the translations.

A-to-Z Semi-Monthly RPG Blog/Discussion List Issue 3 » Inkwell Ideas

Thursday November 13, 2008 at 03:40 AM

[...] S “Seven Sided Die” looks at D&D Spells in SAVAGE Worlds. [...]


Monday November 17, 2008 at 03:21 PM

I've just posted a (rather long) description of a new arcane background for SW to allow characters to have spell-books with a lot more spells than they have ready to cast. You might find it of interest for a pseudo-Vancian SW magic system.

Joshua’s last blog post: Spell Books and Spell Variety in Savage Worlds


Monday November 17, 2008 at 08:55 PM

Thanks for the link! I'd already read that when it was posted, but it's good to have a link from this discussion.

I think it does Vancian magic even better than D&D does, and it's very flavourful. I think I'd make the time to create new Rituals much longer, more on the order of AD&D's spell research times, but other than that I really like it.

I'll have to throw that in the pot to stew for a while and see what comes out. I'm hoping to run a one-shot tomorrow with standard magic rules, and I think that will give me a better idea of what changes I want to make. The hardest part of a decoupling spells from the New Power Edge is that it adds another layer of lists that need to be fleshed out before the system is usable. I'm still trying to find the line between Vancian-feeling spells and Savage Worlds' Fast! Furious! Fun! philosophy.