Fateful Encounter: Vancy Pants

Vancian Spellcasting. Two words more hated in all of roleplaying do not exist. It can ignite grognards and neckbeards with the fires of pure rage, and stoke the embers of Yet Another Edition War.

It only stands to reason then that I attempt to adapt it to the newly unreleased Fate Core. God have mercy on us all…

This recent post by Mark Olson over on his excellent Fate blog Spirit Of The Blank inspired me. If you saw my post on Google+ about it you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about: Skill Pyramid Vancian Magic.

For those of you too lazy to click the link and read his far-better-written blog, I’ll abridge it for you. Mark imagined a basic skill for magic use, in his example called Magic. It’s place on the skill pyramid determines your overall magical aptitude, and it would have its own stunts and so on.

What makes it different is that you would then have a separate pyramid of skills based on the different schools of magic. You know Abjuration Conjuration Evocation etc ad infinitum. The height of this magical pyramid would be the same height as your Magic skill on the traditional Skill pyramid.

You would roll each school to perform a spell from that school, similar to how the Dresden Files RPG handles freeform elemental Evocation. In fact, each one would have the four actions (Overcome, Advantage, Attack, Defend) of traditional skills, maybe even Stunts if you were feeling dangerous.

My take? Make it a column instead of a pyramid.

Skill Columns were, to my knowledge, introduced in the Dresden Files as an alternative to the traditional Skill Pyramid. In that game each row of skills needs at least as many, not more, skills on the row beneath it. You could have two skills at Good (+3), for example, and then only have two at Fair (+2) beneath them.

In my idea, you take a school of magic at the same skill level as your Magic skill. And then another one at a level lower, a third two levels lower, and so under your last school is at Average (+1). Still not getting it? Use the handy example below assuming a Magic skill of Good.

  • Good (+3): Evocation
  • Fair (+2): Abjuration
  • Average (+1): Enchantment

Need to make things explode? +3. Want to bend somebody’s mind to your will? +1. Simple.

If you wanted to go into even more detail, take a Rote Spell for each school equal to its rating. So in the above example you would have three rote spells for Evocation, two for Abjuration, and a single one for Enchantment.

Rote Spells were also introduced in Dresden Files evocation. They represent specific uses of magic that have the same cost and effect each time, that you have performed so often it is like second nature. Sounds an awfully lot like Vancian magic with spell levels, doesn’t it?

For fun, crack open the 3.5 or Pathfinder System Reference Documents and have a go at converting spells from the Wizard/Sorcerer Spell List into Fate. Quite a few of them can be reduced down to creating an advantage or using magic to perform an overcome, with the rest just attacking. Use the spell level as the amount of power required to cast it

Below I’ve attempted to convert Acid Arrow from Pathfinder into Fate.

Azelt’s Atrocious Acidic Arrows
Fair (+2) Conjuration Magic.
Attack: Use your Conjuration to make a Weapon 1 ranged attack against a target up to two zones away. If you succeed with style you may deal physical stress to the target equal to your Conjuration on the following exchange, as the acid continues to burn away at their body.

Not so bad for a quick conversion, but it’ll need to be properly balanced later. Give it a go yourself, and don’t be afraid to experiment. You could even expand this out to work with Prayer and Psionic Powers, since they both have subsets of abilities in the form of Domains and Disciplines.


Today’s Lesson: Steal like a game designer.