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    Canonfire :: View topic - In defence of the vancian magic system
    Canonfire Forum Index -> World of Greyhawk Discussion
    In defence of the vancian magic system
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    Apprentice Greytalker

    Joined: Mar 01, 2004
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    From: France

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    Mon Nov 03, 2008 2:35 am  
    In defence of the vancian magic system

    This is my take about the AD&D magic system based upon Jack Vance’s novels according to Gary Gygax himself.

    In short, a magic-user memorizes spells in the morning after a good 8 hours night of sleep, and when he casts one of them, “woof”, this very spell is erased from the caster’s memory. If this system works well in terms of game mechanics, it has made players scratch their head about the why of the thing.

    Why does a spell is erased from memory when cast? If my character knows a spell, and knows the words, the gestures and has the components – as he may know a song, a dance – why cannot he cast the spell ever and ever as he wishes? You do not forget a song when you have sung it, and you can sing it again and again! Some gamers – I do not say Power gamers Wink – do not understand this meaningless limit. And some have desired a point based magic system.

    Well, I like very much the vancian magic system and dislike a magic points system. So, I made an explanation I want to share with you. Casting a spell is not like singing a song, it is like… cooking. A spell is prepared as a cookie is cooked. In the morning, the M-U, when he “memorizes” spells, actually elaborates them as making cookies: brews the elements, mixes and cooks. Spells are like receipts: the more difficult the spell, the more complicated the cooking.

    Once finished the spells are ready to be eaten, but the M-U keeps them in his mind because spells are not as material as cookies: they are immaterial magic stuff. So it is said they are stocked in the caster’s memory, but they are just there in his spirit.

    When he casts a spell, he literally consumes the magic he has cooked in the morning and this is why the spell cannot be cast a second time (unless, of course the M-U has cooked the same spell twice). No question of losing memory, or sort of amnesia. The spells disappear as cookies when you eat them one after the other until you have nothing left, and you must cook them anew.

    So the level of the M-U determine the number of cookies he can make each day, because experience and practice allow him to make more of them at once. It is therefore of utterly importance to the M-U to know which spells to prepare before the adventure’s beginning, because the choice has to be made without knowing what he’s going to encounter. This is the challenge of playing a M-U: to know what he will have to “eat” today to be victorious in the adventure.
    Forum Moderator

    Joined: Feb 26, 2004
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    From: Ullinois

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    Mon Nov 03, 2008 7:32 am  

    Lol now I'm hungry. I like your bold culinary defense to the vancian system. I agree, wizards wouldn't forget the -all- the writings, but I guess in my own words it is wizards practicing the spell in their mind over and over. Some spells with lengthy casting times might indeed be speech length and will never be fully memorized(think about whens the last time you gave a speech without looking at notes). Also, inflection of words is important as the slightest misspoken word or missed word might botch the whole thing. So IMO vancian system is rest & memorization for clarity of mind and rote practice.
    Novice

    Joined: Apr 23, 2008
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    Tue Nov 04, 2008 12:11 pm  

    Check the 1st edition DMG. Gary Gygax describes how magic works, which is pretty close to your cookie definition Happy
    Adept Greytalker

    Joined: Mar 13, 2008
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    Tue Nov 04, 2008 3:09 pm  

    its not the official answer, but i always explained like this:

    each MU manipulate magic energy. as you level up, you can manipulate more and more.

    so, afetr you cast a spell, you "spend" some energy, so if you dont meditate and rest, you cant hold that much energy again
    GreySage

    Joined: Oct 06, 2008
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    Tue Nov 04, 2008 8:20 pm  

    Of course, there are always Sorcerers. Shocked Mad
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    Apprentice Greytalker

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    Tue Nov 04, 2008 9:38 pm  

    Joel Rosenberg’s Guardians of the flame novels have an excellent take on this. The stories are about a D & D group that get sent to the game world in the bodies of there characters. He describes spell a words that can be heard but not remembered. That is a paraphrase but he seems to capture the spirit of the Magic system very well. They 11 books in the set are a great read for gamers if you would like o check them out
    GreySage

    Joined: Oct 06, 2008
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    Wed Nov 05, 2008 6:14 pm  

    I remember them. Wink

    Personally, I didn't care for the characters' introduction of gun powder, guns and other twentieth century "Earth" technologies to the book's "world." Sad

    As I recall the story, the "real" characters were also "stuck" with their "fictional" character's "level" at that point (the fighter was level "H" Confused ) and they couldn't advance any further. Mad
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    Mad Archmage of the Oerth Journal

    Joined: Dec 09, 2002
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    Mon Nov 10, 2008 9:36 pm  
    Vancian magic described

    I've always seen spells as complex theorems like say geometry mixed with a bit of trig as well. Now trying to remember the exact somatic gesture for a spell that explodes 20ft away, taking into account this factor and that becomes maddening. Not to mention that the components must be mixed and produced at a certain time during the incantation lest the spell fail.

    Now as a wizard levels he gains a bit more understanding of how magic works and how to manipulate the forces around him a lot like physics for those keeping up. He learns how to tap into larger pools of energy without as much expenditure from himself. However, the spells he learned before become a bit easier and he is capable of remembering how to perform these spells more and more every day, though he must always bring that spell to mind and make adjustments, etc...

    Just my thoughts...
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    Apprentice Greytalker

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    From: Long Beach, California USA

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    Wed Dec 03, 2008 7:33 am  

    You know I thought with the newer edition I wouldn't miss the old Vancian system but I do. It's a piece of D&D history regardless and I still love it even if it seems strange. So my GH games will always be set in a previous edition.

    Jim Happy
    Adept Greytalker

    Joined: Sep 21, 2003
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    From: Germany

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    Thu Dec 04, 2008 2:06 am  

    Many old threads on ENworld posited a sort of quantum theory of magic to explain Vancian casting. Spells are learned in valences similar to an electron's energy levels.

    This most prominently features in Sepulchrave's famous Story Hour.
    Journeyman Greytalker

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    Sun Dec 07, 2008 11:42 am  

    Just replace the word memorize with prepare and it all works.
    Apprentice Greytalker

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    Mon Dec 08, 2008 11:05 pm  

    This is very it, Andy, spells are not memorized, they are prepared. Wink
    Apprentice Greytalker

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    Mon Dec 08, 2008 11:33 pm  

    yohn34 wrote:
    Check the 1st edition DMG. Gary Gygax describes how magic works, which is pretty close to your cookie definition Happy


    Indeed, my campaign is ruled in 1st edition, and I hope I stick nearest I can to Gygax's description.
    Apprentice Greytalker

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    Mon Dec 08, 2008 11:35 pm  

    rossik wrote:
    its not the official answer, but i always explained like this:

    each MU manipulate magic energy. as you level up, you can manipulate more and more.

    so, afetr you cast a spell, you "spend" some energy, so if you dont meditate and rest, you cant hold that much energy again


    By the way, Rossik, your explication is closed to a point based magic system.
    Apprentice Greytalker

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    Mon Dec 08, 2008 11:37 pm  

    Mystic-Scholar wrote:
    Of course, there are always Sorcerers. Shocked Mad


    Well, as I said, I play in 1st edition rules, and sorcerers are not covered by these rules. Confused
    Adept Greytalker

    Joined: Apr 26, 2002
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    Tue Dec 09, 2008 12:50 pm  

    Mystic-Scholar wrote:
    I remember them. Wink

    Personally, I didn't care for the characters' introduction of gun powder, guns and other twentieth century "Earth" technologies to the book's "world." Sad

    As I recall the story, the "real" characters were also "stuck" with their "fictional" character's "level" at that point (the fighter was level "H" Confused ) and they couldn't advance any further. Mad


    Yeah, that really honked me off too. Introducing gunpowder and describing real-world technology as "magic" pretty much soured me on anything written by Rosenberg after that. Sad

    The way I see it is that what's written down in the spell book is a specific way of absorbing, channelling and releasing magical energy. When you're "studying" a spell, you are in fact absorbing a certain amount of energy from the magical ether and shaping it in a certain way, ready to be released. The gestures, words and material components allow you to release that magical energy, and once the energy is released in that specific way, it's gone from your mind.

    The information in the spell book is more than just a specific set of words-it's a specific way of absorbing magical energy and preparing it for release. It's imprinted in the wizard's memory to be released in a specific way, and once the energy is released, the ability to channel it that specific way is gone. A wizard can continually regain the specific spells he wants to cast, even memorize several of the same spells at once, but he needs his spell books or some other means of channelling the energy, such as a spell scroll.

    Studying and memorization are something of a misnomer, I think, simple terms that wizards use to explain to laypeople exactly how magic works. It's not that a wizard actually forgets the specific gestures and magic words, but unless he or she takes the time beforehand to gather the energy and store it the right way in his or her mind, the chants and movements won't do anything.
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    Apprentice Greytalker

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    Tue Dec 09, 2008 11:23 pm  

    Cruel Summer Lord, your view is pretty close to what I wanted to suggest.

    BTW, I tried to read the thread in ENworld about the quantum theory and valences - see Thanael's post. But I didn't understand anything... Sad

    Is there a good soul here who could explain it in simple terms?
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