Advertisements

Dungeon Master Assistance

A place to share thoughts and ideas about Dungeons and Dragons

D&D 5E – Mana-Based Spellcasting (Variant Rule)


There has always been a lot of discussion regarding the magic system used in Dungeons and Dragons. It doesn’t seem to be very “logical” and there are other systems that might be better. This is my attempt to address this with an alternative to the “spell slots” system that fifth edition uses. This uses the same spells and everything else as presented in the Players Handbook (PHB) except for replacing its “spell slot” system with a “mana” system. There are several systems out there that use Mana or Spell Points for magic. Let me know what you think of mine.

Magic Points – Mana

Each day a spell casting character has a magic threshold. We’ll call these mana points.

The mana cost of a spell is equal to the spell’s level. So to cast a 2nd level spell would require deducting 2 mana from a character’s mana points. Casting the spell does not remove the spell from the spell casters memory, and the same spell can be used over and over as long as there are mana points in the character’s mana pool. Spells that can be cast at higher levels require one additional mana point for each additional level.

Cantrips use a negligible amount of mana and do not deduct from a character’s mana points. Refer to the tables in the PHB for the number of cantrips each class receives based on their level.

To recover mana a character must rest. All spell casters except for Warlocks recover 100% of their mana after a long rest. Warlocks recover 100% of their mana after a short or long rest.

Wizards

You cannot cast a spell that you have not memorized. To memorize a spell it must be in your spellbook. You prepare the list of wizard spells that are available for you to cast. To do so, choose a number of wizard spells from your spellbook equal to your Intelligence modifier + your wizard level (minimum of one spell). The spells must be of a level that you can cast.

Bards, Clerics, Druids, Rangers, Sorcerers, and Warlocks

You prepare the list of spells that are available for you to cast, choosing from the spell list for your class. When you do so, choose a number of spells equal to your primary ability modifier + your spell caster level (minimum of one spell). The spells must be of a level you can cast. The primary ability for Bards, Sorcerers, and Warlocks is Charisma. The primary ability for Clerics, Druids and Rangers is Wisdom.

Paladins

You prepare the list of spells that are available for you to cast, choosing from the Paladin spell list. When you do so, choose a number of spells equal to your primary ability modifier + half your Paladin level (minimum of one spell). The spells must be of a level you can cast.

All Spell Casters

You can change your list of prepared spells when you finish a long rest. Preparing a new list of spells requires at least 1 minute per spell level for each spell on your list.
When you gain another level in your current spell casting class, you can replace one spell that you know with another that is on your list and that is of a level you can cast.
Spells of 6th level and higher are particularly taxing to cast. You can only cast two spells each of levels 6th and 7th, and one spell each of levels 8th and 9th. You can’t cast another spell of the same level until you finish a long rest.

Multi Class Spell Casters

You add your total mana points from all your classes. Multi class Warlocks only recover mana points equal to their mana points as a Warlock during short rests.

Mana Points Table

The maximum number of mana points a spell caster can have and the maximum level any spell can be is listed on the following table:

Bard, Cleric, Druid, Sorcerer, Wizard Paladin, Ranger Warlock
LVL Max. spell level Mana LVL Max. spell level Mana LVL Max. spell level Mana
1 1st 2 1 1 1st 1
2 1st 4 2 1st 2 2 1st 2
3 2nd 8 3 1st 4 3 2nd 4
4 2nd 10 4 1st 4 4 2nd 4
5 3rd 16 5 2nd 8 5 3rd 6
6 3rd 20 6 2nd 8 6 3rd 6
7 4th 24 7 2nd 10 7 4th 8
8 4th 28 8 2nd 10 8 4th 8
9 5th 36 9 3rd 16 9 5th 10
10 5th 42 10 3rd 16 10 5th 10
11 6th 48 11 3rd 20 11 5th 15
12 6th 50 12 3rd 20 12 5th 15
13 7th 54 13 4th 24 13 5th 15
14 7th 58 14 4th 24 14 5th 15
15 8th 62 15 4th 28 15 5th 15
16 8th 64 16 4th 28 16 5th 15
17 9th 72 17 5th 36 17 5th 20
18 9th 76 18 5th 36 18 5th 20
19 9th 82 19 5th 42 19 5th 20
20 9th 90 20 5th 42 20 5th 20

Advertisements

28 responses to “D&D 5E – Mana-Based Spellcasting (Variant Rule)

  1. Ron Purvis April 14, 2017 at 6:05 am

    I like the use of spell points. I have always felt that the slot system was too restricting and as a longtime Rolemaster player, I can honestly say that I much prefer a points based system for magic. I can see a lot of similarities in what you are proposing here to what I am used to in RM and I like it. I just wish that something like this would have been included in the PHB as an alternate or possibly in another supplement book, thanks for this I may have to apply it in a game or two and see how it works for us.

    Like

    • Ron Purvis April 14, 2017 at 6:09 am

      I have also noticed that you and I are in the exact same profession, Architectural CAD and renderings 🙂

      Like

      • Ronny April 14, 2017 at 8:56 am

        Welcome fellow CAD guy. Don’t you find that some of the same discipline and problem solving skills used in this line of work are helpful in DMing?
        I had to bite my tongue last week when I was playing in a game where the DM used a slightly modified fort dungeon map he had found on-line as a modern office building in downtown Denver. It had foot thick walls, defensible, winding corridors, nonsensical room placement, a single exterior door, no toilets, and a complete disregard for safety regulations.

        Like

      • cyandm December 1, 2017 at 6:54 am

        My wife also is in your line of work and she helps me with my campaigns constantly.

        Like

      • Ronny December 1, 2017 at 9:20 am

        cyandm,
        You are fortunate. Tell her I said thank you for helping.
        Ronny

        Like

    • Ronny April 14, 2017 at 8:46 am

      Check out the Spell Points variant on page 288 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. I think what I have proposed is simpler, but theirs may actually work better for you.

      Like

  2. Anonymous April 14, 2017 at 8:04 am

    I always dug Mana/Points systems. I just wonder if this would break the game. Has anyone play tested it?

    Like

    • Ronny April 14, 2017 at 8:38 am

      I have not play tested this.
      I tried very hard to keep the total power levels in line with the PHB rules. My main concern, like I say in the post, is that without some way to limit the casting of higher level spells it could break the game. I have suggested the Spell Casting Strain rules, but I am not entirely satisfied that it will have the intended result.
      One option would be to re-write all of the spells and to add a spell casting limit to higher level spells. Another would be to just limit the number of spells of each spell level you could cast by your caster’s level. But that would look just like the spell casting tables in the PHB which would make this just like spell slots with a different name.
      It just occurred to me that you could scrap the Spell Strain rules and add something like this:

      Spell Limits:
      Regardless of the amount of mana the spell caster has and the number of spells he can prepare, there is a limit to the number of spells he can cast based on the level of the spell. Between long rests (short rests for a Warlock) the maximum number of spells you can cast are four 1st lvl, three 2nd, 3rd, & 4th lvl., two 6th & 7th lvl, and one 8th & 9th lvl spells.

      Of course, if you do that you may want to just scrap this entire idea and go back to using spell slots.
      If someone could play test these rules and report back here, I would be eternally grateful.

      Like

      • Paul Lee April 14, 2017 at 8:42 am

        I am out of my depth in trying to tweak something like this so I defer to your experience and knowledge, but would making higher level spells cost more mana work? Like double the amount of mana points for high level spells? Also I do not play casters much myself but I am interested in this alternate system here.

        Like

      • Ronny April 14, 2017 at 9:23 am

        That might help, but without changing anything else it wouldn’t solve the main issue. If you increase the number of points required to cast higher level spells, you must also increase the number of points you give to higher level spell casters.
        The Spell Points variant in the DMG (p. 288) uses different spell points for different spell levels and solves our problem by having you expend a number of spell points to create a spell slot of a given level, and you use that slot to cast a spell, and you can only create one spell slot of 6th level or higher. Then it has a table for different spell point cost per spell level and another table for the number of spell points and maximum spell level based on your class level.
        I don’t find their option goes far enough to simplify the magic system, but it is more balanced then mine. Perhaps I should do as they do and only allow casting of one 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th level spell between long rests. I might then have to examine the table to see if number of mana points I am giving to higher level spell casters needs to be adjusted.

        Like

      • Paul Lee April 14, 2017 at 10:05 am

        Interesting. Right now I am toying with the idea of multiclassing my 4th level BattleMaster fighter when I reach 7th level. Using my ASI at 6 to put 2 pts in Intel bringing me to 13. So when i read this it sparked my interest.
        I know, why did I not go with Eldritch Knight instead of BattleMaster. Well, intimidation frankly.
        The last time I played D&D was 1991. So getting back into it last year I wanted to build a simple fighter. The Magic was a little much. Now however, I am gaining more confidence in the new system. Much easier to use than what I started in all those years ago, in many ways.

        I am going to bookmark this in case the discussion does not keep going so i might find it easier.

        Thank you for all the posts and tinkering you do with the rules. I enjoy reading your work very much.

        Like

      • Ronny April 14, 2017 at 10:11 am

        Thank you for your comments. It really helps me when I get feedback. Too many times people just read a post and don’t comment one way or the other. I just want you to know that I appreciate you taking the time to participate.

        Like

  3. Paul Lee April 14, 2017 at 12:04 pm

    I am just getting to the point where I fell comfortable to talk earnestly about the system. With help from various areas including reading your work here.

    Like

  4. Jonson May 23, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    Looks pretty good. Though you should add a line about multi classing. Make it clear that you just add your total mana points from all your classes. Also, a specific rule should be added that multi class Warlocks only recover mana points equal to their mana points as a Warlock during short rests. Otherwise everyone will just take a level in Warlock to be able to recover all mana after a short rest.

    Like

    • Ronny May 23, 2017 at 4:08 pm

      Excellent point. I hadn’t even thought about how this would work with multiclassing. Do you think that Warlocks should keep their Warlock mana points separate and only use them for warlock spells?

      Like

      • Jonson May 24, 2017 at 1:34 am

        No real need to do so. Since by default you can use the Warlock spell slots to cast spells from your multi class and vice versa. You can just lump the mana points together as normal, but limit the amount of mana recovered in a short rest according to the Warlock’s max mana points.

        Like

      • Ronny May 24, 2017 at 7:52 am

        I modified the post. Thank you for your input.

        Like

      • Jonson May 24, 2017 at 9:58 am

        Looks very good. This system would make for a really flexible spellcaster.

        Like

  5. Gonz July 21, 2017 at 9:51 pm

    Wow. This looks simple and straightforward… I-ll do my best to convince one of my players to playtest it for a few sessions. I have one question, though: For casting at a higher level you’d need to spend more mana points and that’s it, right?

    Like

    • Ronny July 21, 2017 at 10:38 pm

      That is correct. To cast a spell at a higher level, you spend the number of mana points that it would cost to cast a spell of that higher level.
      If you do play test these rules, please let me know how it goes.

      Like

  6. Phabio August 26, 2018 at 9:37 pm

    So I playtested a similar system in 3.5 and I honestly have to say it made me more willing to use low-level spells. Suddenly those 1st level buffs were worth it because it was so cheap. But in the end, it did cost me one or two higher spell slots that I likely wouldn’t have used anyways. As long as I had 9 points for a meteor swarm I didn’t care.

    The only time it ever became a problem was with spell scaling. We had to set up new rules for Warlocks because one of the guys got a few real damage spells and he turned into a god because 5 min-rests come like popcorn.

    Like

    • Ronny August 27, 2018 at 9:01 am

      Thanks for your perspective Phabio,
      A 5 minute rest must be a house rule. A standard 5e short rest is 30 minutes. But that still isn’t much of a handicap.
      Honestly, although I still like the concept of using mana points, in play it just doesn’t seam to be worth it. If it simplified the spellcasting rules that would be different, but it just substitutes a different set of rules and, as you mention, complications set in. I am not using this in my fifth edition D&D games.
      I really wish there was a simple way for players to create their own spells on the fly. I have tried various different ways to do this and can’t come up with a way to do it that doesn’t bring combat to a halt while the spellcastter comes up with a level appropriate spell.

      Like

  7. Emily Yanzer December 9, 2018 at 7:16 am

    This helps quite a bit for the home brew game I’m trying to create. I’m trying to develop a magic system based on Aura, which in the world’s universe it’s a sort of emotional liver that can extend from your body, have varying stretch, color, and effects on others, and are used to power things. What makes it difficult to translate as mana is just the amount people would start with. Your Aura is like an extension of your soul, but it’s also tied to the body and personality in a way that it acts as indicators for both. It kinda just replenishes itself almost immediately after use. Although, if the spell has a huge scale or needs a lot of concentration then it may take a while to replenish.

    Currently I’m thinking of something like “You regain x amount of Aura Points once it’s your turn again” something small, not too OP.

    As for calculating how much Aura you can expend, it’s a little more difficult. I have this idea that your highest Ability score (which have a corisponding color) is your primary Aura color/where your power is directed towards. Basically, if you had Dexterity as your highest score then your Aura would be primarily purple and you’d obviously be more adept at using spells from the rogue class.

    But then there’s the fact that Aura is tied to your life force in some way. Basically, if you managed something crazy like cutting off your entire Aura, you’d die. So it’s a debate for me if I should use the highest score, or constitution to gauge how many Aura Points you have. I thought maybe both? But then how many points is too much or too little for a level 1 character?

    Like

    • Ronny December 9, 2018 at 10:39 am

      Hi Emily.
      Good luck with this. I like the idea of Aura points. I never thought of that. It could work but it won’t be easy to come up with easy and workable rules. Have you considered using different colored auras to represent different schools of magic? The number of aura points needs to be tied to your character level as well as your ability score. I think regaining aura points after each round may be too much, regardless of how how small the amount is you could easily regain them all between encounters. A round is only 6 seconds after all.
      Let me know what you come up with.

      Like

      • Emily Yanzer December 9, 2018 at 12:32 pm

        Thanks so much for the advice ^_^
        The world I made really doesn’t have different schools of magic. Although it could be worked on given the pantheon I have for it.

        The colors of your Aura more so represent who you are as a person and what you value rather than any specific type of magic. Strength is Red, Charisma: Orange, Wisdom: Yellow, Constitution: Green, Intelligence: Blue, and Dexterity Purple.

        I tried to think of different schools similar to the Elder Scrolls Universe, but Aura is just too flexible and versatile. I went more with the WoW method in that utilizing Aura for specific things would result in elemental uses. Using it to affect plants and animals would be Nature, using it to produce a flame would be fire (although it wouldn’t necessarily be a real flame), and using it just as it’s own raw energy is Arcana, although I call it Aura energy.
        It’s more accurate to say that someone with primarily warm colored Aura has an easier time casting something like a fire ball than those who have cool colors.

        Commitments (which is just what I call classes) are a way of preventing just anyone from having the most OP thing. There is a class called Everyman, which is kinda like a jack of all trades, but because they aren’t committed to a specific usage of their Aura, they will never max out to the same level of power as say a Soldier would with conjuring weapons, or a Magician would at large scale bursts of energy. ( side note: Conjuring objects with Aura doesn’t make the object real. The energy is being condensed and shaped to look and feel exactly like that object. Loss of concentration weakens the structure)

        Like

  8. shadowofthevoid December 24, 2018 at 8:36 pm

    The Vancian magic system in D&D never made sense to me, either. It was never very flexible and the fixed number of spells you prepared for a given day may never need to be used, whereas you might need to use one you don’t have prepared. Ambushed by a creature vulnerable to electricity but not fire and cold, yet you didn’t have any electricity-based spells in a slot? Need to communicate with someone who speaks a language nobody in the party understands but don’t have a Tongues spell in a slot? You’re just SOL in either case. You might never know what the DM has in store, so it’s a guessing game as to which spells you might need in a given day. Maybe some players like it that way because it’s tradition or because they like the added layer of having to improvise if the DM throws your party a curve ball, but I personally don’t like how overly restrictive it is. D&D’s spell slot system was clearly designed to limit the power of magic users, presumably with the expectation that a wizard or cleric or whatever would likely use maybe one or two of a given spell per day of in-game time.

    Mana or magic points like the ones used in video games just seem like a more flexible and intuitive system. In old-school Final Fantasy, you could use any spell at any time, but the more powerful the spell the more MP it would consume (and at higher levels you typically used appropriately high-level spells like Firaga, Curaja, Flare, etc.).

    However, a mana system has issues of its own. At high levels this means players could potentially spam a ton of low-level spells, which is especially problematic for spells that get a damage boost from casting at higher levels as it presents a problem of proportionality. While it may seem intuitive for a 9th-level spell to cost nine times as many MP to cast than a 1st-level spell and three times as many MP to cast than a 3rd-level spell, spell power doesn’t scale proportionally with spell level. For example, casting Fireball (one of the first huge damage-dealers a wizard can learn, along with Lightning Bolt) at its base 3rd-level power deals 8d6 damage, while casting it at 9th level bumps it up to 14d6, a 75% increase. To maintain proportionality, the 9th-level Fireball should expend no more than 75% more MP to cast than a 3rd-level one, otherwise it’d be more efficient to just spam 3rd-level Fireballs. If a 9th-level Fireball costs, say, 9 MP to cast to deal 14d6 damage, then you’d be better off expending that 9 MP on three 3rd-level Fireballs for 24d6 damage total, especially if you’re limited to only one 9th-level spell per day. Granted, power scaling is already a problem in D&D as is, but if we’re going to use a different magic system those balancing issues still need to be addressed.

    One way to balance things is to greatly reduce the amount of MP at the player’s disposal relative to the MP cost of spells. Let’s say we give a wizard 20 MP at Level 1 and 10 MP for each additional level, maxing at 210 MP at Level 20. A spell’s MP cost is it’s spell level times ten. With these numbers, then those lower-level spells become more valuable. The player still has the flexibility of a pool of magic points, but not the capability to spam spells willy-nilly. Sure, a 20th-level wizard could use their daily MP allotment of seven 3rd-level Fireballs, but it wouldn’t leave them with anything else.

    This doesn’t get rid of the issue of power scaling for spells with upgradable damage output, though, so instead of (or in addition to) the above perhaps one of the following solutions could be implemented:

    1) Casting a low-level spell at a higher level doesn’t amplify its MP cost to that of an actual higher-level spell. Since a 9th-level Fireball does 75% more damage than 3rd-level one, then it would not cost three times as much MP to cast. Instead, each additional hit die would cost only 5 additional MP if we go by the “MP total = (Level × 10) + 10, Spell MP cost = Spell level × 10” formula above. This means a player would only expend 60 MP casting a 9th-level Fireball with 14d6 damage, vs. spending 70 MP on a Delayed Blast Fireball that only does 12d6 damage. It could very well be argued that this is unbalanced (though then again DBF does allow for more tactical depth than the regular Fireball). Plus it’s still more efficient to just use the spell at a lower level, as they could expend 60 MP firing off two 3rd-level Fireballs for a total of 16d6 damage.

    For other spells, the additional MP expenditure would have to be appropriate for the spell. For example, casting Magic Missile at 1st-level fires off three missiles for a cost of 10 MP, so perhaps each additional shot would require an additional expenditure of 3 MP. Meanwhile, a Cone of Cold’s base MP expenditure would be 50 MP for 8d8 damage, plus 6 MP per each additional d8. The math doesn’t always work out perfectly, but it’s close enough to provide some degree of proportionality.

    2) Tweak base damages and ensure rough proportionality between a spell’s base damage and its damage at higher levels. If a 9th-level Fireball costs three times as much MP to cast (and esp. if it’s limited to one per day), then it should do at minimum three times as much damage. Of course, as I mentioned earlier 3rd level offensive spells are already more powerful at their base damage than they used to be. Fireball and Lightning Bolt used to start off 5d6 if and when learned at Level 5 and they scaled up to 10d6 (1d6 per caster level maxing out at Level 10 and becoming available at Level 5), but now they start off at 8d6 and scale up to 14d6. Maybe a nerf to the base damage of some spells is in order. For example, if we retain the “MP cost = Spell level × 10” formula, then Fireball and Lightning Bolt would have a base damage of 6d6, gaining an additional 2d6 per spell level, and would be capped at 12d6. So, the damage scale would look like this:

    3rd level: 6d6 (21 avg.)
    4th level: 8d6 (28 avg.)
    5th level: 10d6 (35 avg.)
    6th level: 12d6 (42 avg.)

    If we instead combined this nerf with the proposal in #1, then Fireball & Lightning Bolt would essentially cost 5 MP per hit die, starting off with a base damage of 6d6 for a cost of 30 MP and working up to a max of 12d6 for a cost of 60 MP.

    If we placed additional limits on the number of higher-level spells a player can use, then the curve needs to be enhanced to favor higher-level versions of the spell. For example, if we’re limited to casting only two 6th-level spells per day regardless of remaining MP, then casting Fireball at level 6 needs to be worth it if it can only be cast twice per day, perhaps by bumping it from a d6 to a d10. Or the daily cap on high-level spells could be either be tweaked (ex.: three 6th-level spells, two 7th-level spells, and only one each for 8th- or 9th-level spells), or just have it to where low-level spells cast at 6th level or higher don’t count against your daily allotment of actual 6th+ level spells, though it would come at an equivalent MP cost.

    3) Give the player the option to permanently upgrade a lower-level spell. For example, if the have their wizard learn Fireball when they reach Level 5, once they get to Level 9 they could have the option to upgrade the spell from a 3rd-level spell to a 5th-level spell. But such a process would be irreversible. They’d have to choose between being able to fire off multiple weaker shots or a couple of powerful shots.

    4) Do away with the ability to enhance certain spells by casting them at a higher level. Fireball and Lightning Bolt are already much more powerful in 5e than in previous editions anyway. A wizard will still get the chance to learn Chain Lightning (10d8 dmg.) and Delayed Blast Fireball (12d6 dmg.) when they reach Levels 11 & 13, respectively.

    5) Go back to the system from previous editions where a spell with variable power is dependent on the caster’s level rather than the casting level. Fireball and Lightning Bolt inflicted 1d6 per caster level, maxing out at 10d6. Of course, the main drawback of this one is that lower-level spells would often be more cost-effective than higher-level ones unless they scale properly with player level, and that would be very difficult to do properly.

    6) Place a cap on the number of times a specific spell can be used. For example, 1st through 3rd level spells can be used up to 3 times per day at most, 4th to 6th level spells two times per day, and 7th to 9th level spells only once per day. So, while a 20th-level wizard would have enough MP to cast up to seven 3rd-level spells in a day, he could only cast Fireball three times. Casting a lower-level spell at higher levels eats into that spell’s number of uses. For example, using Fireball or Lightning Bolt as 4th, 5th, or 6th level means you’d burn through the equivalent of two uses of the spell, leaving you with the ability to cast only one more at 3rd level, while if you cast it at 7th-level or higher that essentially makes it the only time you can use it.

    7) Instead of either a single large pool mana points or traditional spell slots, we have a compromise system where those numbers in the spell slot charts in the Player’s Handbook simply represent the number of times a spell of a given level can be cast in a day. A wizard or cleric could cast any spell they know at any time without having to prepare them for the day like in the core rules, but only as many times as they have spell slots. For example, any Wizard above level 5 normally has three spell slots for 3rd-level spells. Instead of having to prep three 3rd-level spells at the start of the day not knowing what lies ahead, they could instead cast up to three 3rd-level spells that they know at any time during the day.

    So, what do you think of my proposals? Sorry it went on a little long, but an intricate system like magic needed a bit more detail than a few sentences.

    Like

    • Ronny December 26, 2018 at 9:09 am

      I appreciate your detailed suggestions. I intend to look them over more closely later (unfortunately I am going to be very busy for the next few weeks). These looks like they are all ideas that could work.
      Again, thank you for sharing. Perhaps there is someone else reading this that has some ideas. I do intend to attempt to grok this later and respond.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: