Things to do with “spell slots”

A while back I read and commented on a post at Ten Foot Polemic. Mr. Young had an interesting idea about allowing clerics to create “talismans” (I keep on feeling like the plural should be “talismen,” but that’s silly) to reward the faithful with little situational bonuses.

It’s a cool idea and I’d like to give it a try some time, although it would need to be altered a bit to fit in with my devotions-and-boons model for priestly powers in YAOSC. Maybe have the creation of a talisman be a major boon that a priest can perform for the devout in an hour of need, and it grants a minor-boon-type benefit in response to being “charged” by the religious practice of its bearer? And then you could have relics created through miracles, capable of granting a variety of major or minor boons. In essence, a talisman or relic would be a portable, limited priest-substitute that gives you some modicum of blessing in return for your faith even when no actual priest is present. So people could get rosaries betalismanned, and use them in their daily prayers. I like it; that’s pretty cute, and provides an in-game justification for various religious practices.

That’s all tangential to the thought I wanted to write about, though, which comes from my comment on Mr. Young’s post: spells that work (in the D&D-standard Vancian magic system) by occupying slots rather than (or in addition to) being expended from slots. So now my head is full of possible ways to make it useful and interesting for a spell to be placed into a spellcaster’s headspace long-term (which reduces the flexibility of the character’s spell selection) rather than stored temporarily and expended with the day.

This is probably a thought people have played around with before. It shares something in common with an idea I’ve seen floating around the OSR, which is giving wizards “cantrips” that are just minor manifestations of the spells they have prepared, can be used without burning the prepared spell, and become inaccessible after the spell itself is cast. This is a really interesting mechanic that makes low-level wizards useful on a greater than once-a-day basis, and which also exerts pressure on the caster to retain spells in memory (and continue gaining minor benefits from their psychic penumbrae) rather than cast them (and gain a one-off greater benefit).

Back to the talisman thought: another method would be to offer a specific, significant power in return for a permanent reduction in spell-casting capacity. Perhaps a fantasy setting where all magic items, or a sci-fi world where all psionic items, are created and powered by their maker sacrificing one or more “spell slots” (or some equivalent resource). You have less mana for throwing fireballs because some of it is flowing into the magic sword you forged and allowing it to emit flames of its own, for example. It’s up to the specific game whether this implies a permanent mystic connection between the creator and the created (like the link between Sauron and his ring), and whether the sacrifice is permanent or can be reversed in a process that disenchants the item or ends the benefit.

A third possible mechanic that just occurred to me is similar to the “cantrip” one above, except instead of (or, in addition to) granting spell-like benefits that correspond to specific spells, it charges the caster up with an aura. Let me expand on that a bit:

* Each spell is associated with a “resonance” of some kind. These can be general categories like “white” and “black” (and red?) magic, or like the five colors of MTG. They can be complex and overlapping. They can be elemental, according to an Eastern, Western, or home-brewed rubric. They can be thematic (e.g. “healing,” “creative,” “destructive,” “metamorphic” etc.). Each spell could carry a single point of resonance, or a number of points corresponding to its power (level); in the latter case, they could be all the same kind of resonance, or they might be a mix.

* An obvious utility based on such a resonance system would be supernatural sensing. The more resonance, and the more resonance of a given type, a spellcaster is charged with, the more intense their supernatural aura is going to be. Fellow magicians, and animals sensitive to supernatural phenomena (including cats, of course), will presumably be the best at noticing subtle auras or deciphering resonance mixes, but this could be the mechanic by which common folk get a tingly feeling in the presence of powerful witches, or a creepy feeling in the presence of a necromancer.

* This also opens the door to mechanical things that work off of the resonance system. Instead of D&D standard spells to detect magic or alignment, you can have a spell to detect and read resonance. Magical items could have resonance, which doubles as “ego” if they’re sentient. Magical beings like elementals or spirits could have resonance. The power or effect of certain spells you cast could depend on your resonance rather than character level, making this a nice addition to levelless systems.

I could meander on, but these ideas have been sitting on the back burner for a long time now while we moved to a new town and started a new semester… and there’s only one month left in the semester. Time flies!

About Confanity

I love the written word more than anything else I've had the chance to work with. I'm back in the States from Japan for grad school, but still studying Japanese with the hope of becoming a translator -- or writer, or even teacher -- as long as it's something language-related.
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