Recently I took the time to read through the entirety of Dragon Age Set 1. I’m talking cover-to-cover. Not many games have read as easily as this one did. It fired me up to start talking DARPG again. So looking back at my first post and all the comments that resulted from it, I want to take another stab at the beast that is Vancian magic.

Before I go too far, let me be clear that this work is being done toward a home-brewed setting that I’ve been struggling to find a system for. This setting is steeped in the Elric stories of Michael Moorcock, seen through the lens of Jack Vance with a dash of H.P. Lovecraft thrown in for spice. I know that many gamers today are not into the fire-and-forget style of spells, but it is near and dear to my heart. So here it is…

Last time I spent a lot of time trying to equate the mana point system of DARPG to a spell slot system that mimicked the memorized spells of the Dying Earth series of stories. I had a lot of calculations in order to allot those same mana points as memory points to simulate filling the mage’s mind with the chaos that is the spell. As I was sitting playing with the Dragon Age Forge character generator spreadsheet, it dawned on me. It was so amazingly simple I’m kicking myself for not thinking of it sooner. It boils down to two words: known spells.

Known Spells

DARPG assumes that a mage can pick from any of the spells they know and spend the points to cast said spell. There is never a case of having ‘more’ spells than you can cast. But in Vance’s stories, the mages know lots of spells, the ones they can cast are those they spent the time memorizing. By making this simple distinction between spells known and spells memorized the system falls into place.

To apply this to the game we only need make some very minor changes. Whenever the class description states that the mage gains a new spell, they are instead gaining the ability to memorize an additional spell. Level 1 mages start being able to memorize 3 spells. At Levels 2 & 4 they can now memorize four and five spells respectively. Looking ahead to Set 2, when the mage gains a new spell for a school Talent at Journeyman or Master, they can now memorize an additional spell, but only from that school, over and above those they can normally memorize due to class level.

Currently mages start knowing 3 spells. In the Vancian system they would instead know 3 + Cunning spells. They can only memorize 3 spells at first level, but they get 3 or more spells to pick from. This would give the mages a little more versatility based on the needs of the adventure. Their starting spells would be in the mages spellbook.


Building on my previous post, a mage begins play with a spellbook as standard equipment. Spellbooks can hold up to 10 spells each and ink used to transcribe a found spell into a spellbook costs a number of silver pieces equal to the target number for that spell’s casting roll; Daze would cost 11SP to transcribe into a spellbook. It is important to transcribe a found spell into the mage’s own spellbook as this allows for notes regarding the casting of the spell.

Situations should present themselves throughout adventures for the mage to find or be exposed to new spells in other spellbooks. No spell is automatically gained for gaining a level; mages must adventure, barter and search for new spells to expand their arsenal.

Learning & Memorizing

Before adding the newly found spell to their spellbook, the mage must see if the spell can be learned. To learn the spell the mage makes a Cunning (Arcane Lore) test against the target number of the spell’s casting roll. If successful, the mage has learned the spell and can transcribe it into their spellbook, if not, the mage may try again after gaining a level. As a varient to this roll, the Dragon Die can be used to determine the number of minutes/hours/days study required (GM’s discretion) to properly learn this spell.

The mage must have access to their spellbook in order to memorize spells. This process takes one hour (no matter how many spells they are memorizing) and may only be performed after completing 6 hours of rest. This process need not be done if the mage wishes to keep the same spells memorized; they only need perform this when they want to change which spells are memorized.

By memorizing the spell, a mage has a large degree of control over the magical energy they are channeling. Without that mental edge it is much more difficult to perform magic. A mage may try to cast a non-memorized spell they know directly from their spellbook. In order to do this, the mage makes a spell casting roll with a -2 modifier; if the spell has not been learned by the mage the roll has a -3 penalty. In either case, if the roll is a failure, apply the rules for magical mishap (from the Open Playtest document).

There is plenty of opportunity to expand from this basic framework. Imagine organizations that possess a particular list of spells. This could be shared in the form of tutelage (requiring silver, gold or services performed) in order to gain access to those spell. This can also be a form of policing to ensure that certain spells are only used by properly trained mages. It also opens up potential dramatic effects if a mage tries to cast a spell from a book without first learning it.

This is a first pass revision of my previous work. As before, feedback is welcome.